Recording instruments using a microphone is a lot more complicated than using MIDI and virtual studio technology. It involves actual sound engineering skills that could go a long way once mastered. It also involves different types of microphones, depending on the instrument’s sound that you want to capture.
When I wanted to record some guitar riffs and vocals at home for the first time, I had no idea that you needed a specific mic. I didn’t know I needed different mics for recording various instrument types. I just went on ahead and used the same Shure SM58 dynamic mic for vocals, drums, and electric guitar.
As you would expect, the audio did not sound very professional. I didn’t even have an audio interface back then, imagine how that would sound.
Because of the power of the internet, I had a clearer idea of the specific equipment I needed for recording and finally figured out the difference between a condenser and a dynamic microphone.
To put it very simple, the difference between condenser and dynamic microphones is its power. A condenser mic needs phantom power so you can use it for recording. Without a sound card or audio interface, condensers would not work. Dynamic mics, on the other hand, do not require power, which makes it much louder and ideal for live performances.
In terms of capturing sound, a dynamic mic is ideal for capturing louder sounds with a substantial amount of gain i.e., drums and electric guitar. In contrast, a condenser microphone is better for capturing soft and dynamic sounds with higher frequencies like studio vocals or even soft acoustic guitar sounds.
Used for: Recording Vocals and Acoustic Instruments
Condenser microphones are capable of capturing the quietest of sounds with a higher degree of accuracy. Each of these mics contains a diaphragm that is made of thin metal and a black plate. Condenser mics will need a source of electricity and power for it to work.
Types of Condenser Microphones
Let’s do a quick overview just in case you don’t have much background knowledge.
This type of condenser mic is the standard for recording vocals in the music industry.
Most pop stars you see in music videos or movies are using a large-diaphragm mic.
Because of its larger diaphragm, this mic is better at picking up lower frequencies.
My mid-range way to go is usually a Stellar X2.
Also known as a pencil microphone, small diaphragm condenser mics specialize in recording instruments with high frequencies such as cymbals, acoustic guitar, and other percussive instruments such as chimes.
The primary purpose of a condenser mic, specifically large-diaphragm condenser microphones, is for recording vocals.
You can create all the other tracks with virtual and software instruments on your laptop or computer. Still, you will definitely need one of these mics to record vocals. If you are a songwriter and a singer, a condenser microphone would be an essential piece of gear in your studio.
The Rode NTK Premium microphone has very impressive reviews. The design has a vintage look, and the condenser is just great with recording vocals and acoustic instruments.
Used for: Live recording, recording high-gain instruments such as electric guitar, bass, drums, and aggressive vocals.
Dynamic mics are less sensitive to higher frequencies, which makes them ideal for recording instruments with higher gain, such as aggressive vocals for punk and hardcore genres. A dynamic mic has built-in phantom power, which can be used with or without a powered mixer. However, it will sound much better for live performances with a powered speaker.
Dynamic mics are ideal for recording an electric guitar, bass, and acoustic drums. Because these mics are much louder than condenser mics, they are often used for live gigs and concerts.
The Shure SM58 is the number one go-to microphone for live performances and for recording aggressive vocal tracks. A lot of musicians from the pop-punk, metal, and rock genre use this microphone because of its wide dynamic range. This mic can handle a lot of high-gain aggressive vocals.
Other Kinds of Microphones
There are also a few other types of mics that aren’t very common. Let’s take a look!
A Ribbon mic is neither condenser nor dynamic microphone.
It is a unique type of with a unique kind of construction. It uses an aluminum ribbon to capture a wide frequency of audio.
Ribbon mics are more durable than dynamic mics and have a higher frequency sensitivity. They are suitable for recording more astronomical instruments such as classical grand pianos, violins, brass, and many more.
If I were to pick one for the first time, I’d go for something mid-range like sE Electronics Voodoo VR2.
This microphone type shares the same characteristics of a condenser microphone. The only difference is the unique shape of the housing. The unique casing is designed for capturing sounds that reflect off a surface or wall.
A boundary mic is used in the studio when you are trying to record several instruments at the same time.
Setting up this mic for recording can be a lot challenging because you need to strategically place it where the sound bounces off without capturing the other frequencies in the studio.
If looking for a decent boundary mic, I’d suggest avoiding MXL and going for something like Crown PZM30D.
Acoustic Treatment in your Studio
Treating the studio will affect the sound characteristics, which can make the mic sound better when recording.
The room plays a significant role when recording as it affects the vibrations before the mic captures the sound.
It may also affect the noise when you are listening to the playback after recording.
Treating the room varies from room to room, and the mic as well.
Some expensive mics do not require a lot of acoustic treatment to sound better.
If you can’t afford to soundproof your room (who has extra $3000 around), I suggest getting something like Auralex Acoustics DeskMAX.
Tips for Recording with a Microphone
Here are some tips for you, guys. Should be helpful if you are just starting out!
Tip #1: Every Recording Session will be Different
Each recording session will be turn out different and have different outcomes depending on the mood of the vocalist and producer.
No matter how consistent the singer is, the output will always turn out differently every time, so don’t expect the same result every time.
Make sure you archive all the recording takes, so you can choose which one makes the final edit.
Tip #2: Effects Cannot Fix Technique
Using tons of AU and VST effects cannot fix technique.
It is always best to capture a high-quality raw file, instead of trying to patch things up with effects.
Make sure you do a lot of experimenting with the mic positioning to get the best output possible.
Tip #3: The Best Mic Depends on the Song
In recording, there is no go-to mic for every song.
Interchanging and deciding which mics to use will depend on the type of song.
Experience is the best teacher to help you figure out which mic to use on every recording session.
If you only have one mic, you might have to change the input and output settings suitable for each singer.
Tip #4: Record Longer Phrases
Avoid patching up too many lines together to build a section of a song.
Try to record longer phrases, or if you can, try to record songs with minimal breaks as possible.
If you can, try to record the whole song in one take.
This method brings out the best outcomes and the natural style of the singer or musician.
Tip #5: Don’t Stand Too Close to the Mic
Singing too close to the mic will cause audio problems such issues as loud plosives, clipping, booming, and worst of all, it could damage the mic’s diaphragm.
You can use a Pop Filter to eliminate this problem.
Tip #6: Size Matters
The size of the room can affect the sound for a number of reasons.
If the room has less acoustic treatment, it is better to position your mic at the center of the room for reverb and echo balance.
However, you can always purchase a portable vocal isolation booth to reduce flutter and echo.
Tip #7: Use A Mic Stand
Using a mic stand can solve and successfully decouple the mic from the floor.
Some vocalists like to express themselves by movement.
It is possible for them to hit the stand and cause unnecessary noise.
To avoid this problem, install a shock mount under your mic stand.
Tip #8: Feed the Singers Monitor with a Little Reverb
Sometimes vocalists find it hard to monitor their voice.
Try to feed a little amount of reverb to the singer’s monitors, so that they could hear their voice without getting overpowered by the instrumental tracks.
Tip #9: Check Levels
Before starting a vocal recording session, make sure you check and adjust the levels first.
While the singer is warming up, make sure you try to use this opportunity to check the sound and levels.
To avoid clipping, you can add compressor and noise gate effects.
Tip #10: Use Closed-Back Headphones
Sometimes vocalists tend to use only one side of their headphone monitors to hear themselves while singing. It may cause the mic to capture the backing track.
Make sure you feed the live feed of their vocals into their monitors so that they could hear themselves without removing one side of their headphones.
Also, you should probably invest in a good set of studio headphones. Some producers overlook these small details that could significantly improve the quality of their tracks.
Best Mic for Vocals
The best mic you can use for recording vocals is a large-diaphragm condenser microphone. These types of microphones have more accuracy and sensitivity, which will come in handy if you want to capture the singer’s dynamics and nuances.
However, you should watch out for unnecessary noise. Because large-diaphragm mics are so sensitive, it might pick up unwanted noise that could get caught in the mix.
You could try the Neumann TLM 102. This microphone is one of the best microphones for recording warm and bright vocals.
If you are recording aggressive vocals, a dynamic microphone would be much more suitable. Because dynamic mics are much less sensitive, you can record loud and screaming vocals with a lower chance of clipping.
The Sennheiser MD 441-U is a very capable mic for recording these types of vocals. It is a little bit pricey, but the sound quality makes up for it.
Best Mic for Electric Guitar and Bass
For recording electric guitar and bass, you will need a dynamic microphone.
Since you will position the mic against a loud amp, dynamic microphones are the better choice for doing the job.
The Shure SM57 is an affordable microphone that does the job very well.
It is my go-to mic for recording hi-gain lead and rhythm guitar parts.
Best Microphone for Drums
The Shure DMK57-52 Drum Mic Kit would be your best bet for recording acoustic drums.
It comes with all the mounts and the number of mics you need for recording a standard drum kit.
It includes three SM57s and one Beta 52A microphone.
It also consists of a 3-piece mounting system and a carrying case.
Best Microphone for other Acoustic Instruments
Different acoustic instruments require different kinds of microphones and settings. For instruments like a grand piano, you can use the 3:1 rule. You will need two mics, place the first mic close to the piano strings, and the other mic 3 feet away.
For this task, you can either chose between a large-diaphragm condenser or ribbon microphone. The mic you place further away will adjust the natural attack and ambiance of the piano, unlike using a MIDI controller where you can adjust the parameters easily.
The Rode NTR Premium is an excellent ribbon microphone that you can use to record a wide selection of acoustic instruments from grand pianos to percussion.
Extending the Life of your Microphones
If you want to maximize the use of your mics, make sure that you maintain them properly. Microphones are not cheap, so you better protect your investments by handling them properly.
As much as possible, do not take your equipment outside the studio. Accidentally dropping the make could contribute to unnecessary wear. Also, keep your mics away from dust. If your microphone accumulates dust over time, it may lose its integrity and frequency response. You can avoid this by storing them properly or wrapping them in protective plastic when not in use.
Watch out for humidity, make sure you use a pop filter when a singer is recording. A pop filter can prevent moisture from entering your microphone. Throwing a few packs of silica gel can prevent moisture when your equipment is stored in a case. This method works for any instrument in storage, such as guitars in hard cases and many more.
- Which is better? XLR or USB output?
USB microphones such as the Audio-Technica AT2020 USB, do not require the use of an audio interface.
Although it sounds convenient to eliminate one piece of equipment, I would still recommend using an XLR mic and audio interface for several reasons.
Using an audio interface will translate the analog signal into a digital sound wave much better.
Plus, you can get a substantial amount of gain you need because of the audio interface’s built-in phantom power.
Another reason is that with an audio interface, you can adjust the dynamic range and levels.
A USB mic will have fixed levels that might not be suitable for recording in high-quality.
However, for recording audio such as podcasts and live broadcasts of YouTube videos, the quality you can get from a USB microphone should be substantial enough.
- What is the difference between an omnidirectional mic and a cardioid mic?
To put it simply, omnidirectional mic from the word itself captures audio coming from multiple directions.
On the contrary, a cardioid mic captures the sound where it is pointed. It only captures a sound coming from the direction it is facing.
Using an omnidirectional mic is excellent for recording in acoustically treated rooms.
You will capture the voice and the room characteristics which can produce unique outcomes.
If you have minimal acoustic treatment or recording in a small room, a cardioid mic will be more suitable.
Now that you know the difference between condenser and dynamic microphones, you cannot really compare these two mics with each other.
They are both excellent for their own specific purposes.
If you are trying to record a rock song, you wouldn’t be able to do it properly without one of the other.
So, if you are planning on recording a demo for your band, or someone else’s, make sure you have the right equipment and know how and when to use them.
Last update on 2020-04-02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API