Microphone Types: How to Choose the Best Mic

VD July 07 2021

The microphone invention revolutionized human communication. You have probably already noticed for yourself that not all microphones are the same and in the meantime discovered the countless types of microphones. So that you can quickly find your way through the jungle of microphones, you get the important details for each microphone type at a glance.

This article gives you an overview of the common types of microphones as well as their purpose and best practices. One thing is certain: There is the optimal type of microphone for every purpose!

Microphone types

There are two main types of microphones in practice. This distinction is based on the transducer principle that these microphones use. This means the conversion of sound waves into tones. In the end, the technical details are not that important for podcasters or YouTubers.

It is important to know that there are dynamic and condenser microphones in particular, which are the most common. 

Dynamic microphone

This is the most common type of microphone. The most popular here is the special shape of the moving coil microphone. There is a membrane that vibrates and, to put it simply, these are then converted into electrical signals (the sound).

Dynamic microphones are not as sensitive and do not offer as high a recording quality as a condenser microphone, but they are often cheaper. In addition, this type of microphone is robust and an extra power supply is usually not required. Robust construction ensures that you can use the microphone for longer, however, it has a lower sensitivity and cannot record the same wide spectrum

A subtype of the dynamic microphone is the ribbon microphone. This has been around for a long time and was very popular, especially in the middle of the last century. In the meantime, it has been replaced by the condenser microphones in most areas, but one or the other is just rediscovering this type.

Here an aluminum ribbon is used, the movement of which within a magnetic field is responsible for the recording. This is a very precise method, but also very sensitive to vibrations and wind. You need some experience using this type of microphone. The ribbon microphone is not suitable for podcasters and YouTubers.

Condenser microphone

The condenser microphone is also very common, especially among podcasters and YouTubers. It has an electrically charged membrane and a fixed opposite side. The distance between the membrane and the counter electrode changes due to the sound waves and this is exactly what is then measured and converted into tones. Due to the technology, however, an extra power supply is usually necessary (48 volts).

Condenser microphones are also popular because they are more sensitive. Among other things, this enables very natural voice recording. Low noise also ensures very good quality. Unfortunately, these microphones are often more expensive than dynamic microphones and they need to be handled more carefully as they can withstand limited sound pressure.

When it comes to condenser microphones, a distinction is made between small-diaphragm and large-diaphragm microphones. As the name suggests, this subdivision relates to the size of the membrane used. This is usually either smaller or larger than 1 inch, although not every manufacturer adheres to it exactly.

The large-diaphragm microphone usually offers a better sound that comes close to professional quality.  There is also excellent noise performance, which means that the recordings are very clear.

On the other hand, the small diaphragm microphone can often be recognized by its more compact design. In addition, the small diaphragm microphones often have a better directional characteristic, which means that background noise is less disturbing. This offers a detailed sound image.

The best type: Cardioid microphone

Named for its shape in the diagram, cardioid is a sound characteristic. Because the sound hitting the side and rear is absorbed attenuated, this has a great advantage that feedback can be minimized. That makes a cardioid microphone an all-rounder for speech. One of the best-known cardioid microphones is the SM58 from Shure or the E835 S from Sennheiser. It is widespread and used for a wide variety of applications.  

The right microphone type for you

All microphone types have their raison d'etre. The different properties, peculiarities and advantages, and disadvantages ensure that these microphone types are better or worse for different applications.

Both types of microphones are suitable for podcasters and YouTubers. The condenser microphone offers a better sound, a natural voice reproduction, and the noise behavior ensures that you get recordings that sound very good.

However, if you have a lot of background noises (cars, neighbors) and e.g. do not want the typing noises on the recording, then a dynamic microphone is the first choice. Dynamic microphones are also used more often for events, reports, or live music, but they are not used continuously either.

The best recommendation would be to try one or the other type and make a decision depending on your own requirements and wishes.