Unsigned Advice

Different Types of Microphones: Which Ones Do You Need?

Different Types of Microphones: Which Ones Do You Need?
October 10, 2023
We all know how vital a good mic is to a strong live or recorded performance. But do you know the key differences between the different types of microphones and which one you should be using for your specific music needs?

Full-time musician or beginner producer, choosing the right type of microphone is a huge decision that greatly impacts the quality of your audio. To help you get to grips with the different types of mic you need to be using - and for what - we’ve broken down the key takeaways every artist needs to know.


What type of microphone do I need for my music?

Making sure you use the right type of microphone that suits your particular musical requirements, budget and performance style is only going to help you improve your overall sound. But which type of mic and polar pattern you need depends on whether you're wanting to use it for performing live, recording at home, and if you're trying to project vocals or instruments.

Each of these will ideally require a different type of microphone for each, so it's useful to know which one you need for each specific task.

Different Types of Microphones: Which Ones Do You Need? - Musician performing on stage


What are the different types of microphones?

Let’s start with the basics. The microphones you’ll use as a musician will likely fall into one of three main categories:

1. Dynamic microphones

2. Condenser microphones (large-diaphragm & small-diaphragm)

3. Ribbon microphones

So far so good. Let’s take a closer look at how we differentiate between the 3.


What is a dynamic microphone?

Best for: Performing live vocals

Up first, dynamic microphones. Probably the most common type of mic you’ll come across when performing on the live circuit, dynamic microphones are universally recognised for their durability and versatility. 

They work by converting your musical sound waves into electrical signals using diaphragms, coils, and magnets. Whenever your music's sound waves hit the dynamic mic diaphragm, this vibrates and causes the voice coil to move within the magnetic field. This movement then generates electric currents that lead to sounds being projected. 

Different Types of Microphones: Which Ones Do You Need? - Singer using a microphone on stage

But enough of the technical stuff, what are dynamic mics used for? Well, due to their awesome ability to handle high sound pressure without distorting your sounds, dynamic mics are often the go-to choice for live vocal performances, recording drums and when using other loud instruments.

On top of this, they’re usually relatively affordable and don’t require external power sources, making them an excellent choice for independent musicians on a budget.

Here are some of the best dynamic microphones we’ve come across recently. Check them out if you’re looking for a new mic to step up your singing.

Different Types of Microphones: Which Ones Do You Need? - Shure SM58

The best dynamic microphones

1. Shure SM58

The Shure SM58 is one of the most popular mics on the market, renowned for its robust construction, reliability, and excellent sound quality. It is commonly used by live vocalists and has become a staple across the music industry.

2. Sennheiser e835

Popular for its clear sound projection on the big stage, the Sennheiser e835 is a well-loved and reasonably priced dynamic mic choice that’s highly popular within live music circles.

3. AKG D5

Another great dynamic microphone option is AKG’s D5 mic. Used around the world by both lead and backing vocalists to project clear vocals even at the loudest of venues. 


What is a condenser microphone?

Best for: Recording your vocals

Next up - condenser microphones. Typically chosen for their excellent audio quality and sensitivity to sound, condenser mics operate using thin diaphragms and backplate capacitors to transform sound waves into electrical signals.

Condenser microphones are usually found in recording studios due to their responsiveness to highly nuanced sounds. This trait makes them perfect microphones for recording vocals and acoustic instruments. 

Different Types of Microphones: Which Ones Do You Need? - Singer recording vocals

Within this mic category, we find both large-diaphragm condenser microphones and small-diaphragm condenser microphones. Large-diaphragm condenser mics tend to be used for capturing studio vocals as well as acoustic instruments. They pick up wide frequency ranges and provide you with detailed sound, making them a common choice for recording vocals.

On the other hand, small diaphragm condenser microphones are ideal for recording instruments like violins and acoustic guitars that require perfect clarity. 

Unlike dynamic microphones, condensers do require a power source to be used - usually coming from batteries or through phantom power

We’ve listed out some of our favourite condenser mics below to help you record your chilled-out tracks in the studio.

Different Types of Microphones: Which Ones Do You Need? - Neumann u87

The best condenser microphones

1. Neumann U87

The legendary Neumann U87 condenser microphone has become the gold standard in professional recording studios. Its high-quality and versatility makes it suitable for projecting both vocals and instruments.

2. AKG C414

A versatile condenser mic found in recording studios around the globe. The C414 is regarded for its impressive sound clarity and detail.

3. Rode NT1

Another popular condenser microphone known for its highly transparent sound. A solid mic that’s used to record vocals and acoustic instruments in quiet environments.


What is a ribbon microphone?

Best for: Recording different instruments

Last but not least, we have ribbon microphones. This less common microphone type is known for its vintage sound reproduction and can be used to record near enough any instrument you want to, with ribbon mics often being used to capture multiple vocals and instruments at once.

Different Types of Microphones: Which Ones Do You Need? - drum kit and keyboard in music studio

Ribbon microphones generate sound by using thin metal ribbons suspended in magnetic fields. Despite excelling in capturing vocals and acoustic instruments, ribbon microphones are generally more fragile and sensitive to handling than dynamic and condenser mics, making them more suited to your home studio rather than the road.

Some common uses of ribbon microphones include recording vocals, various acoustic instruments, pianos and percussion instruments. They can capture a natural and clear sound, which makes them popular for picking up the delicate nuances of acoustic performances. If you're after a classic sound, then you'll want to look into investing in a decent ribbon mic.

Different Types of Microphones: Which Ones Do You Need? - Beyerdynamic M160

The best ribbon microphones

1. Beyerdynamic M160

The reliable M160 features a unique double-ribbon design which in turn offers musicians enhanced sensitivity and extended frequency response. This mic is often used for capturing louder instruments like electric guitars and drums.

2. MXL R144

MXL’s R144 model is perfect for musicians looking to record brass instruments, vocals or guitars. Basically, it’s got you covered across the board.

3. Coles 4038

The Coles 4038 is an iconic ribbon microphone renowned for its smooth and natural sound reproduction, particularly when capturing orchestral instruments. Famous for its robust build and reliability.


What type of microphone is best?

Now we’ve seen what each type of microphone has to offer, it’s time to decide which one is the best option for you and your music.

If you're recording vocals, a high-quality condenser microphone is always going to be a decent starting point. Something like a Neumann U87 is going to help elevate your voice and result in a quality recording.

More interested in getting the most out of your live show? Then a popular dynamic mic such as the SM58 will probably be the way to go. 

What about if you’re recording multiple instruments during the same session? If so, it might be best to consider using a ribbon microphone. 

Note: Consider using a mix of microphone types to give your music more flexibility.

With the vast range of versatile and high-quality microphones available to musicians and producers in 2023, it’s hard to go too far wrong with most dynamic, condenser or ribbon mics, but we would suggest following this guide if you’re looking to focus on one specific type of recording or performing.

If you have the tools at hand, why not consider using a mix of microphones to capture different tonal characteristics of your music? Using a combination of different mics to record will give you way more flexibility during the mixing and post-production stages than if you were to just use one.

Different Types of Microphones: Which Ones Do You Need? - A collection of different microphones

So there we go. Your guide into the 3 main types of microphones you’re likely to use as a musician. 

You'll still need to carefully consider your individual budget and the specific acoustics of your recording environment, but the mic options listed in this guide will definitely help you get your music to where it needs to be in 2023.

Different Types of Microphones: Which Ones Do You Need?

Music Promo
Want to get amazing distribution, industry standard features and career boosting advice? Join Ditto Music the truly independent solution for musicians.
Join Now


Get the latest unsigned advice, straight to your inbox.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Our newsletter is packed full of tips, tricks and hacks to take your music career to the next level! 

Related Posts

++ Comments

Back to top