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How to pick the right microphone?

To help pick the right microphone for your content recording, ask yourself the following:

  1. What sounds will you be recording? 
  2. Where will you be recording?  
  3. Where will you place the microphone?   

Considering these three points before purchase will really help you narrow your microphone options and help select the right microphone for your content.

The Right Microphone for Your Content-Type

What sounds will you be recording?

Different microphone types have strengths and weaknesses depending on what sounds you will be recording.

For example, if you are recording speech a large-diaphragm condenser microphone is the best choice.

If you are recording low and powerful musical instruments such as drum and bass, a dynamic microphone is the best choice. 

Matching what you will be recording to the right microphone type is really important. 

Below is a quick reference guide that will help match microphone types to recording situations.

Content 

Microphone Type

Comments

Podcasting

Condenser 

(Large Diaphragm) 

or Dynamic

Large-diaphragm condenser microphones are great for vocal recordings, both singing and speech.

The large-diaphragm design picks up wonderful detail and produces a recording with great clarity and brightness. These are audio qualities that are very desirable for vocal recordings. 

If you are producing a podcast in a noisy studio or “round table” setting, it may be worth exploring some of the dynamic microphones on the market that are designed for podcasting.

Dynamic microphones are less sensitive than condenser microphones therefore will pick up less noise. This can be a good thing if you have a studio full of people, drinking tea and shuffling papers.

Audio Books

Condenser 

(Large Diaphragm)

To get clear speech recordings, a large condenser microphone is always a great option.

Game Streaming

Dynamic or CondenserIn a game streaming situation, either a dynamic or condenser microphone will work well. 

Dynamic microphones can be a better choice for some game streamers as it will pick up less room noise, such as clicks from your game controller or movement. 

You still want to capture clear vocals, so if you do select a dynamic microphone as a game streamer ensure it is recommended for vocals and check the specifications.

Musical Instrument Live Performance

Dynamic All live performances are recorded on dynamic microphones as they pick up less environmental noise in comparison to a condenser microphone. 

Vocal Recording [Studio]

CondenserFor studio-based vocal or speech recordings, condenser microphones are always a great choice.  With this microphone type, you will get brightness and clarity in your vocal or speech recording. 

To learn more about the three main microphone types, namely condenser, dynamic and ribbon microphone and explore in more detail why different types have different recording properties, check out my article, “What are the three most popular types of microphone?”

Three Main Microphone Types

Where will you be recording?

Considering your recording environment before investing in a microphone can dramatically improve your recording quality and experience.

I know it can be really tempting to be seduced by online user reviews and beautifully designed microphones but it is important to remember that every microphone has strengths and weaknesses in certain recording environments.

The right microphone matched to the right recording environment will give you the best recording with minimal interference and external noise.

How to evaluate your recording environment or studio before buying a microphone:

The three key areas to consider in your recording setup when choosing a microphone are: 

1 – Identify Potential Noise Sources

2 – Evaluate Room Acoustics

3 – Location Recording

Potential Noise Sources

The golden rule when recording audio for your content is to avoid noise at all costs. Once you get “noise” on a recording or vocal take, it can be really difficult to remove it. 

As many content creators, from Podcasters to YouTubers,  use their homes as their studios, noise could be everyday sounds that you just don’t hear as they are always present.

For example, potential noise sources in your home recording studio could be the low hum of your central heating or the high frequency of a neighbour drilling in their garden shed or just the consistent fan noise from your PC….there is noise everywhere! 

By listening to your environment and considering what noise you need to filter out, you can pick a better-suited microphone for your needs. 

For many content creators, recording vocals is their main focus.

Typically, large-diaphragm condenser microphones are the best for recording vocals, speech or singing, as they produce wonderful clarity in vocal recording.

A microphone in the £100 to £200 price range is great for home DIY content creation in untreated recording studios.

So many content creators and musicians equate the cost of a microphone with quality. Of course, you often get what you pay for but with microphones, more expensive does not mean better.

Here is an example from my own experience of how a really expensive microphone was the wrong pick for my recording environment.

During the pandemic, when most of the world was working from home and in “lockdown”, I used a Neumann U-87 in my home recording studio for a vocal recording.

The Neumann U-87 is one of the best microphones in the world for vocal recording and is found in all the top studios across the world. It costs around £2000.

You may think – “yes please,  – a £2000 microphone will make my content sound awesome!”

In this instance, this amazing microphone picked up every hum and buzz in my untreated home studio.

I would have had a better day recording if I had chosen one of the cheaper microphones that were less sensitive. (With microphones, the sensitivity means how well they pick up sound)

Such high-end microphones are best suited to quiet recording studio environments as they are often “too sensitive” to use efficiently outside of a professional quiet studio.

In this example, picking a cheaper and less sensitive microphone would have produced a much better result.

background music depiction

Evaluate Room Acoustics

Evaluating the acoustic ambience of your recording environment can help you get a better recording.

If you are recording indoors, there is a lot of basic acoustic treatment you can use to help and improve the quality of your recordings. 

Some tools you can use are vocal shields, pop shields and acoustic foam to help improve the quality of your recording, therefore, it may be worth factoring the cost of these extras into your microphone purchase.

There is still a lot of debate amongst us technical acoustic folk as to how effective vocal shields and acoustic foam is in helping the home studio recording engineer or content creator, however, if used correctly, you can make an improvement.

It is all about using the right tool for the job. 

Pop Shield / Pop Filter

Some words, particularly words starting with “p”, “b” or “t”, move a lot of air when sang or spoken.

To the average ear, this is inaudible, but such words can force puffs of air onto the microphone violently, resulting in thumps or pops being heard on the recording.

A pop shield or pop filter is a piece of fabric that will reduce the impact of these “puffs of air” on the microphone resulting in a better quality recording without noise.

They really work, and the best type to buy is a nylon screen hoop placed a few inches away from your microphone.

Buy Pop Filter

Vocal Shields

A vocal shield is a barrier, typically made from dense foam, that wraps around the back of the microphone. In theory, they should give a nice close studio sound to your vocal recording as they will reduce the impact of the room acoustics.

You will read mixed reviews on vocal shields and their efficiency. Some people swear they are amazing and others disagree strongly.

Personally, I believe that vocal shields have a positive impact when used correctly.

If you get a vocal shield with dense foam and position your microphone so when you speak, most of the vocal sound is being captured within the vocal shield, you will hear a difference.

From my own experience, particularly if you are recording in a large space or a room with lots of shiny gloss surfaces, for example, a kitchen, using a vocal shield will make your recording sound more “studio” like.

vocal shield

Location Recording – Outdoor Recording

So much recording is done outside due to the massive surge in content creators on location. This introduces a new level of technicality to your recording.

If you are outdoor recording, you need to purchase a microphone suited to an outdoor windy environment and factor microphone windshield accessory costs into your price.

A directional or shotgun microphone often works best in outdoor situations as you point the microphone at the sound source and most of the surrounding noise is ignored or reduced. 

Microphone Placement

Where will you place the microphone? 

Every microphone has an optimum position for recording. If placed in the optimum position, a microphone will pick up the most sound. 

Every well-manufactured microphone will come with a “polar pattern” diagram. 

A microphone polar pattern shows you the optimum recording position for your microphone i.e. how to position the microphone so that it will pick up the most sound.

When you shop for a microphone online, look out for this pattern.

Here are some examples of polar patterns and their corresponding names.

MIC POLAR PATTERNS

The black solid line on the diaphragm is the position your sound source should be relative to the microphone so the microphone will pick up the most sound.

You can find out the polar pattern for your microphone by looking at its datasheet.

Let me explain via an example:

Let’s assume you are recording an around the table podcast. In this situation, you would place your microphone in the middle of a table and everyone would sit around in a circle.

In this situation, you need a microphone with an omni-directional polar pattern as it can pick up sound sources from all around the microphone. Some microphones have more than one pattern. Always ensure you physically look at the microphone as some microphones are capable of multiple recording positions and have switches to switch between patterns for optimum recording positioning. 

POLAR PATTERN OF MIROPHONES

Conclusion

When choosing a microphone for your content recording it will help to consider,

  1. What you will be recording? 
  2. Where you will be recording?  
  3. Where you will place the microphone? 

When choosing your microphone, always consider your recording environment and application.

Consider any external noise that you need to filter out. For example, the sound of your PC fan in the studio or wind noise when recording outdoors.

Picking your microphone for your recording environment will really help you create better quality recordings.

When buying a microphone be sure to check out the datasheet and look out for the “polar pattern” to ensure you position your microphone correctly for optimum sound recording quality.

The polar pattern tells you the optimum position from which your microphone will pick up the most sound. 

If you are in the market for a good microphone, I recommend Gear4Music as a supplier.  They have a great selection, are trustworthy and include detailed microphone specifications on their website.

Happy producing!

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as a guide only for educational and informational purposes. It is not legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or matters.

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