Are You Finding The Best Mic For Your Home Recording Studio? Tips For Selecting A Microphone 2021: Tip 2

This is the second in a 5 part series by our friend Mike White about how to choose the correct microphone. Be sure to stay tuned for tips #3-5! And be sure to check out Mike’s fantastic blog. It’s jam-packed with real-world engineering and production advice!

Style Matters

Mike White: In my first post on the Top 5 Tips for Selecting a Microphone, I gave a brief primer on the different types of microphones. It’s important to understand what each type of mic is used for. Each mic has strengths and weaknesses that need to be matched up with the sound source they will be used to record. A mismatch will lead to sounds that are too bright and harsh, too dull and muddy, or just plain blah. Tip #2 will cover how musical style can affect the choices you make in selecting the right mic.

The Voodoo That You Do

What style of music do you play and record? The style of music you perform can play a big role in the choice of the best microphone for your recording needs. Why? All microphones are not created equal. If you think about the thousands of mics that are available on the market today, trying to find the right one can really seem overwhelming. On the glass half full side, it also means you have a lot of great choices to cover your needs.

So where do you begin? Think about how you like to perform. Do you perform better with a handheld mic? How loud is the music you play? Do you play guitar solos with your teeth or are you a folk artist? Whatever your creative inclinations, there is a microphone that will best suit your need. Most mics will work well at a medium performance level, so let’s take a look at the extremes.

The Headbanger

If loud is what you do, you will have to look for certain features in a microphone that will handle what you put out. Primarily, you will be looking at dynamic and condenser mics when going in this direction. Let’s take a closer look at each.

  • Dynamic Mics: Most, dynamic mics are specifically designed to handle the rigors of what will make most people’s ears bleed. For relatively little money, you can get loads of quality and not have to worry too much about babying your mics. For almost any instrument in a standard rock setup, dynamic mics will serve your needs well. Kick, snare, toms, guitar, and bass amps, even vocals, all can work great.
  • Condenser Mics: In the headbanger category, you should be primarily looking for one feature when purchasing a condenser mic. A pad. The “pad” on a condenser mic usually comes in the form of an attenuation switch typically anywhere from -6 to -20 DB. The idea of the pad is to prevent the internal electronics of the microphone from distorting due to the high sound pressure levels. A condenser mic without a pad is more likely to distort at high sound pressure levels.

For cymbals and percussion, consider small diaphragm mics. They will also serve you well when you pull out the acoustic guitars for the unplugged version of your favorite death metal tracks. For vocals, look at large-diaphragm condenser mics unless your voice is harsh sounding. If you have a naturally bright or harsh voice consider a quality dynamic mic as an option. Dynamic mics will add warmth and body to the voice while also limiting the harshness.

The Lighter Side

If your musical tastes lean a bit more toward the lighter side where detail is the priority over pure rage, consider buying mics that will lean towards quality over brute strength. In this world, all 4 mic categories can work well for you, here is a brief description for each type.

  • Dynamic Mics: It never hurts to have a couple of dynamic mics around for those songs that have a little extra dynamic range. They also serve well to warm up a sound that comes across as harsh or brittle when using a condenser mic.
  • Condenser Mics: This will be the mainstay of your mic selection because there is a lot of value here for your dollar. The ability of condenser mics to capture detail will give you a lot of flexibility. Consider large diaphragm mics for big instruments and vocals. Small diaphragm mics for acoustic guitars, cymbals, and percussion.
  • Tube Mics: If you can afford it, and you are good at caring for your equipment, consider a tube mic for recording vocals and other acoustic instruments. This is a great option for jazz and classical artists where the warmth and depth of a sound are integral to the production style.
  • Ribbon Mics: I don’t often recommend ribbon mics unless you already have a good stable of mics. A ribbon mic offers a unique sound when the need arises but also requires special care. If you need a different flavor in your mic collection, a ribbon mic might be right for you.

Whether you have narrowed or expanded your list of potential mics, you should be a step closer to finding what you want. In the next Selecting a Mic Tip, I will focus on finding the right mic for your voice. Because this is the most common question I get in terms of mic recommendations, it deserves special attention. If you missed my first post, Tip #1 Learn the Basics click on the provided link to get some basic need-to-know info about mics.

Check out the microphone tips collection here!
Tip 1
Tip 2
Tip 3
Tip 4
Tip 5

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