“Rob, what microphone should I use?”

This is something I get asked all the time, that and “Do you know where the toilets are!” (I always point at the sign above their heads). There are thousands of different microphones to use, but before we jump down that slippery slope of all the professional quality microphones there are , let me first explain what is a microphone is.

What is a Microphone?

Microphones are captivating devices that serve a vital role in capturing sound and transforming it into electrical signals. Whether you’re singing your heart out, recording a podcast, or addressing a large crowd, microphones are your trusted allies in ensuring your voice is heard clearly.

History and Invention

Who Invented the Microphone?

who invented the microphone
Wheatstone | Gray | Bell

The journey of the microphone began with its invention, and it was Sir Charles Wheatstone who is often credited with coining the term “microphone” in 1827. However, the earliest forms of microphones were developed by inventors like Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell during the late 19th century. Their innovations laid the foundation for the amazing microphone technology we have today.

Here are examples of microphones associated with each of them:

Elisha Gray: Liquid Transmitter Microphone

Elisha Gray, an American inventor, developed a liquid transmitter microphone as part of his work on telephone technology. In his liquid transmitter design, he used a thin diaphragm made of a flexible material like animal membrane. This diaphragm was placed in contact with a chamber containing a conductive liquid, such as water or sulfuric acid. When sound waves from the speaker’s voice hit the diaphragm, it vibrated and caused variations in the pressure of the liquid. These pressure variations in the liquid caused corresponding variations in electrical resistance, which could then be transmitted as electrical signals down the telephone line. Gray’s liquid transmitter was one of the early methods used to convert sound into electrical signals for telecommunication.

Alexander Graham Bell: Carbon Microphone

Alexander Graham Bell, also an American inventor, is widely known for his work on the telephone. He developed a type of microphone known as the carbon microphone or carbon button transmitter. This microphone used variations in pressure on a diaphragm to modulate the pressure applied to carbon granules. As the pressure on the carbon granules changed, so did their electrical resistance. These variations in resistance created electrical signals that could be transmitted over telephone lines. Bell’s carbon microphone was a crucial innovation that greatly improved the quality and efficiency of early telephony by providing a more reliable method of converting sound into electrical signals.

Both Gray’s liquid transmitter and Bell’s carbon microphone played essential roles in the early days of telecommunication, helping to pave the way for the development of modern microphone technology.

Evolution of Microphone Technology

From the carbon microphones used in early telephones to the advanced condenser mics and dynamic microphones of today, the evolution of microphone technology is a testament to human ingenuity. As technology progressed, microphones became more sensitive, accurate, and versatile, catering to a wide range of applications in entertainment, communication, and recording.

How Microphones Work

Basic Principles of Microphone Operation

Microphones work by converting sound waves—those fluctuations in air pressure—into electrical signals. This transformation takes place through the interaction of various components, including a diaphragm, a magnet, and a coil. When sound waves hit the diaphragm, it moves, causing the coil to generate an electrical current. This current is then transformed into an audio signal, which can be amplified and heard.

Types of Microphones

Here are the different types of microphones:

  1. Dynamic Microphones:

    • Robust and durable.
    • Can handle high sound pressure levels (SPL).
    • Often used for live performances and studio recordings of loud sound sources.
  2. Condenser Microphones:

    • More sensitive and accurate.
    • Require external power (phantom power) or batteries.
    • Common in studio recording for capturing vocals, acoustic instruments, and detailed sound sources.
  3. Ribbon Microphones:

    • Delicate, high-quality audio reproduction.
    • Can be damaged by high SPL or wind.
    • Often used in studio environments for recording vocals and instruments.
  4. Lavalier Microphones (Lapel Microphones):

    • Small clip-on microphones.
    • Used for hands-free applications like interviews, presentations, and broadcasts.
  5. Hairline Microphones (Head Mics):

    • Small mic in the hairline.
    • Popular in musicals
  6. Headset Microphones (Madonna Mics):

    • Small boom mic close to the mouth.
    • Used for hands-free applications like musicals, presentations, and broadcasts.
  7. Shotgun Microphones (Directional Microphones):

    • Highly directional, focused on capturing sound from a specific direction.
    • Used for field recording, film, TV, and outdoor broadcasting.
  8. Boundary Microphones (PZM – Pressure Zone Microphones):

    • Placed on surfaces to capture sound reflections.
    • Commonly used in conferences, theatre productions, and recording dialogues.
  9. Contact Microphones:

    • Capture sound by physical contact with an object.
    • Used for experimental sound design and capturing unique textures.
  10. USB Microphones:

    • Incorporate analog-to-digital converters and connect directly to computers.
    • Ideal for podcasting, home recording, and basic voiceovers.
  11. Measurement Microphones:

    • Designed for precise audio measurement and analysis.
    • Used in acoustic testing, room analysis, and sound system calibration.
  12. Stereo Microphones:

    • Have two or more capsules to capture spatial audio information.
    • Used for creating realistic stereo or immersive sound recordings.
  13. Multi-Pattern Microphones:

    • Can switch between different polar patterns (e.g., cardioid, omnidirectional, bidirectional).
    • Offer versatility for various recording scenarios.

Dynamic Microphone

Dynamic microphones are a type of mic that operate based on electromagnetic induction. They are commonly used in various audio recording and amplification scenarios due to their specific characteristics. Here are the key points about dynamic microphones:

  1. Robust and Durable: Dynamic microphones are known for their rugged construction. They are designed to withstand rough handling, making them suitable for on-stage performances and other situations where equipment might be subject to physical stress.
  2. High Sound Pressure Levels (SPL): These microphones are capable of handling high sound pressure levels without distortion. This makes them well-suited for recording or amplifying loud sound sources, such as guitar amplifiers, drums, and powerful vocalists.
  3. Live Performances and Studio Recordings: Dynamic mics are commonly used in both live performances and studio recording environments. They excel at capturing the energy and impact of loud sound sources, making them a popular choice for rock concerts, metal bands, and other genres where powerful sound is a key element.
  4. Electromagnetic Induction: Dynamic microphones utilise a diaphragm, a coil of wire, and a magnet to convert sound waves into an electrical signal. When sound waves hit the diaphragm, it moves the coil within the magnetic field, generating an electrical current that represents the sound.
  5. Directionality: Most dynamic microphones are inherently less sensitive to sounds coming from the sides or rear. This directional characteristic is known as a cardioid or hypercardioid pattern, making them effective at isolating sound sources and reducing ambient noise.
  6. Examples of Use: Dynamic microphones are often used for miking guitar amplifiers, drums (especially the snare and kick drum), vocals (both on-stage and in the studio), and other loud instruments in both live and recording contexts.
  7. Limitations: While dynamic microphones are excellent for high SPL and durable use, they may not capture the same level of detail and nuance as condenser mics. They are generally less sensitive and may not reproduce the subtlest aspects of sound as accurately.

Remember that dynamic microphones are known for their ruggedness and ability to handle high sound pressure levels, making them ideal for stage performances and situations where durability is key. The choice of microphone ultimately depends on your specific needs and the type of sound you’re aiming to capture.

Condenser Microphone

Condenser microphones are a type of mic that uses an electronic component called a capacitor to capture sound. They are known for their sensitivity, accuracy, and ability to capture a wide range of frequencies. Here are the key features of condenser microphones:

  1. Sensitivity and Accuracy: Condenser microphones are highly sensitive and can capture subtle nuances in sound, making them suitable for recording detailed audio sources. They can reproduce a wide frequency range with precision, resulting in clear and accurate recordings.
  2. Capacitor Principle: Condenser microphones use a diaphragm placed close to a backplate, forming a capacitor. When sound waves hit the diaphragm, it vibrates, causing changes in the distance between the diaphragm and backplate. These changes in capacitance are converted into electrical signals, which are then amplified and processed.
  3. External Power Requirement: Condenser microphones require an external power source to operate. This power is often provided through “phantom power,” which is supplied by a mixer, preamp, or audio interface. Phantom power is typically +48V DC and is required to charge the internal electronics of the microphone.
  4. Batteries: Some condenser microphones are designed to operate using batteries, which can be useful when phantom power is not available or practical. Battery-powered condenser microphones are commonly used for field recording and mobile applications.
  5. Studio Recording and Detail Capture: Condenser microphones are widely used in studio recording environments. Their high sensitivity and accuracy make them ideal for capturing vocals, acoustic instruments (such as guitars, pianos, and strings), and other sources that require precise audio reproduction. They excel in capturing the nuances of a performance, delivering a natural and detailed sound.
  6. Variety of Polar Patterns: Condenser microphones often offer switchable or adjustable polar patterns, such as cardioid, omnidirectional, and bidirectional. This allows the user to tailor the microphone’s directional sensitivity to the specific recording scenario.
  7. Popularity in Professional Settings: Due to their exceptional sound quality, condenser microphones are commonly used in professional recording studios, broadcast facilities, and live sound setups for capturing high-quality audio. They are also favored in podcasting, voiceovers, and other audio production tasks.

It’s important to note that while condenser microphones offer many benefits, they can be more delicate and susceptible to handling noise than dynamic microphones. They are also typically more expensive. Choosing the right microphone for a particular application involves considering the microphone’s characteristics and the requirements of the recording environment.

Ribbon Microphones

Ribbon microphones is a microphone that utilises a thin strip of metal (the ribbon) as its primary transducer element to capture sound. They are known for their unique sound characteristics and are valued for their ability to provide a smooth and vintage-like audio reproduction. Here’s a bit more detail about ribbon microphones based on your provided points:

  1. Delicate, high-quality audio reproduction: Ribbon microphones are highly regarded for their ability to capture audio with a natural, warm, and smooth quality. They often exhibit a gentle high-frequency roll-off, which can contribute to a vintage or classic sound character that’s particularly appealing for certain recording applications.
  2. Can be damaged by high SPL or wind: Ribbon microphones are delicate and sensitive devices. They can be easily damaged by high sound pressure levels (SPL), such as those produced by loud instruments or amplifiers, which could cause the fragile ribbon element to be torn or damaged. Additionally, ribbon microphones are susceptible to damage from strong winds, which can similarly impact the delicate ribbon. As a result, careful handling and placement are crucial to preserving their longevity and performance.
  3. Often used in studio environments for recording vocals and instruments: Due to their unique sonic characteristics, ribbon microphones are frequently employed in studio recording environments. They are well-suited for capturing the nuances of vocals, acoustic instruments (like guitars, pianos, and strings), and other sources where vintage or smooth sound is desired. Ribbon microphones can add a distinct coloration to the sound, contributing to a rich and warm quality that complements many musical genres.

While ribbon microphones offer exceptional sound quality, their delicate nature requires careful handling and consideration of their limitations, particularly when it comes to handling high sound levels. Proper placement, wind protection, and a suitable preamplifier with sufficient gain are essential to getting the best results from a ribbon microphone.

Lavalier Microphones

Lavalier microphones, also commonly known as lapel microphones, are small clip-on microphones designed to be attached to a person’s clothing, usually near the collar or lapel. They are particularly useful for hands-free audio capture in various scenarios, including interviews, presentations, broadcasts, and live performances. Here’s a bit more detail:

  1. Attachment: Lavalier microphones are typically attached to the user’s clothing using a clip or pin. This placement ensures that the microphone remains close to the user’s mouth, allowing for clear and direct audio capture.
  2. Discreetness: Due to their small size and inconspicuous design, lavalier microphones are minimally intrusive and don’t obstruct the user’s movement or visibility. This makes them ideal for situations where a microphone needs to be hidden or where the speaker needs to be unencumbered.
  3. Hands-Free: Lavalier microphones free up the user’s hands, allowing them to focus on other tasks, such as speaking, presenting, or performing. This is particularly valuable in situations where the speaker needs to use visual aids or interact with objects.
  4. Interviews: Lavalier microphones are commonly used in interviews, whether for television, radio, or podcast recordings. They ensure that both the interviewers and interviewee’s voices are captured clearly, regardless of movement.
  5. Presentations: In public speaking engagements, lavalier microphones help presenters deliver their content without the need to hold a microphone. This enhances the presenter’s mobility and the overall engagement with the audience.
  6. Broadcasts: Lavalier microphones are a staple in broadcasting, where hosts, reporters, and on-air talent need to move freely while maintaining consistent audio quality.
  7. Theatre and Performances: Actors and performers often use lavalier microphones to amplify their voices on stage without being tethered to a stationary microphone.
  8. Vlogging and Content Creation: Lavalier microphones are popular among content creators, vloggers, and YouTubers who want to ensure high-quality audio without the need for visible microphones.
  9. Conferences and Seminars: During conferences and seminars, speakers can use Lavalier microphones to address large audiences clearly and without being restricted by microphone stands.

Lavalier microphones come in both wired and wireless versions. Wireless Lavalier microphones provide even more freedom of movement since they eliminate the need for a physical cable between the microphone and the recording device. Overall, lavalier microphones are an essential tool in many professional audio and communication settings due to their convenience and versatility.

Hairline Microphones

Hairline microphones, also known as wig mics or hair mics, are a specific type of lavalier microphone setup commonly used in theatre productions, particularly musicals. These microphones are discreetly hidden within an actor’s hairline, often attached with special clips that blend with wigs or hairstyles. The goal is to capture the actor’s vocal performance while minimising the visibility of the microphone and cables.

Hairline microphones offer several benefits for stage performances:

  1. Discreetness: The microphones are hidden within the actor’s hair, making them less noticeable to the audience. This helps maintain the illusion of the performance and prevents distractions.
  2. Sound Quality: Placing the microphone close to the actor’s mouth ensures clear and accurate audio capture, enhancing the overall sound quality of the performance.
  3. Consistency: Hairline microphones provide consistent audio levels, reducing the variability that can occur with handheld or stand-mounted microphones.
  4. Movement: Actors can move freely on stage without being restricted by microphone cables or stands.
  5. Aesthetics: The microphone setup doesn’t interfere with the costume or the visual aesthetics of the performance.
  6. Reduced Feedback: Close proximity to the actor’s mouth helps reduce the potential for feedback issues, which can be problematic in live theatre settings.

These microphones are a crucial tool for achieving high-quality sound in live musical theatre productions, where maintaining the integrity of the performance while ensuring clear and balanced audio is of paramount importance.

Headset Microphones

“Headset microphones” sometimes referred to as “Madonna mics,” is a microphone that is designed to be worn on the user’s head, typically around the ear or attached to a headband. These microphones are ideal for situations where the user needs to have their hands free while speaking or performing, as they allow for mobility and ease of movement.

Headset microphones are commonly used in various applications, including:

  1. Live Performances: Musicians, singers, and performers use headset microphones to maintain consistent audio quality while moving around the stage.
  2. Broadcasting: News anchors, reporters, and television presenters use headset microphones for delivering news and reports on-camera.
  3. Fitness Instruction: Instructors in fitness classes or aerobics use these microphones to provide instructions to participants without needing to hold a microphone.
  4. Theatre and Drama: Actors in theatre productions use headset microphones to ensure their voices are clearly heard by the audience, even while moving around the stage.
  5. Corporate Presentations: Presenters at conferences, seminars, and meetings use headset microphones for hands-free speaking and clear audio delivery.
  6. Worship Services: Clergy members and religious leaders use headset microphones during services to project their voices to the congregation.
  7. Tour Guides: Guides in museums, historical sites, and tourist attractions wear headset microphones to convey information to groups of visitors.

Headset microphones come with a small microphone capsule that is positioned near the user’s mouth, ensuring that the microphone captures the speaker’s voice accurately while minimising background noise and feedback. The microphones are often adjustable to accommodate different head sizes and preferences.

The term “Madonna mic” comes from the pop artist Madonna, who was one of the early adopters of visible headset microphones during her performances, which helped popularise the use of this type of microphone in the entertainment industry.

These microphones offer convenience, hands-free operation, and consistent audio quality, making them a popular choice in various professional settings.

Shotgun Microphones

Shotgun mics, also known as directional microphones, are a type of microphone that have a very focused and narrow pick-up pattern. This means they are designed to capture sound from a specific direction while minimising noise and audio from surrounding areas. Here’s more information about shotgun microphones:

Characteristics:

  1. Highly Directional: Shotgun mics have an extremely narrow polar pattern, often resembling a “shotgun” shape. They are most sensitive to sound coming from the front of the microphone and less responsive to sounds coming from the sides or rear.
  2. Long Interference Tube: Shotgun mics typically have a long interference tube attached to the microphone capsule. This tube helps create the directional pattern by delaying sound waves from the sides and rear, effectively canceling out noise from those directions.

Uses:

  1. Field Recording: Shotgun mics are commonly used for recording audio in outdoor environments where there might be a lot of ambient noise. Their focused directionality helps capture the desired sound source while minimising unwanted background sounds.
  2. Film and TV Production: Shotgun mics are essential tools in film and television production. They are often mounted on boom poles and aimed at actors or subjects to capture clear and clean dialogue or sound effects while reducing noise from the filming environment.
  3. Outdoor Broadcasting: In live broadcasting scenarios, such as reporting from the field or covering events, shotgun mics are used to isolate the speaker’s voice from the surrounding noise, ensuring clear and intelligible communication.
  4. Theatre Production: Shotgun mics can be used in theatre settings to capture actors’ voices on stage while minimising the sounds of the audience and the stage itself.
  5. Wildlife Recording: In nature recording and wildlife documentaries, shotgun mics are useful for capturing specific animal sounds while minimising environmental noises.

It’s important to note that while shotgun microphones are excellent for isolating sound sources and rejecting unwanted noise, their effectiveness can be influenced by factors like the microphone’s quality, the length of the interference tube, and the positioning of the microphone relative to the sound source.

Boundary Microphones

Boundary microphones, also known as Pressure Zone Microphones (PZM), are a specific type of microphone designed to be placed on surfaces in order to capture sound reflections. They utilise a unique acoustic principle to pick up sound, making them particularly useful in certain recording and audio reinforcement situations.

The concept behind boundary microphones is based on the “boundary effect,” which occurs when a microphone is placed in close proximity to a reflective surface, such as a wall, floor, table, or other flat surface. In this position, sound waves reflect off the surface and combine with the direct sound waves, resulting in increased sensitivity to sound coming from multiple directions.

Key characteristics of boundary microphones include:

  1. Placement: Boundary microphones are typically positioned on a flat surface, such as a stage floor, a wall, or a table. This placement takes advantage of the sound reflections that occur at the boundary between the microphone and the surface.
  2. Directionality: Boundary microphones have a hemispherical or bidirectional polar pattern. This means they are most sensitive to sound arriving from a specific angle, which is determined by the surface they are placed on. They reject sound coming from other angles, which can help isolate the desired sound source.
  3. Sound Capture: Boundary microphones capture sound waves both from the direct source (e.g., a person speaking) and the reflections off the nearby surface. This can result in a more natural and spacious sound, particularly in environments where reverb and ambient sound are desired.
  4. Applications: Boundary microphones are commonly used in situations where capturing ambient sound and room acoustics is important. They are frequently used in conference rooms, lecture halls, theatres, and other spaces where spoken word needs to be clearly captured without losing the sense of the room’s acoustics.
  5. Usage Examples: In conferences, boundary microphones placed on a table can effectively pick up the voices of multiple speakers without the need for individual microphones. In theatre productions, they can be used to capture dialogue and ambient sound on stage. In recording situations, they can provide a unique sonic character when capturing room acoustics.

It’s important to note that while boundary microphones can be highly effective in certain scenarios, their sound capture characteristics are closely tied to the reflective surface they are placed on. Therefore, experimenting with placement and surfaces can yield different sonic results.

Contact Microphones

Contact microphones, also known as contact transducers or vibration microphones, are a specialised type of microphone that capture sound by making direct physical contact with an object or surface. Instead of relying on air vibrations like traditional microphones, contact microphones detect the mechanical vibrations or acoustic signals generated within the object itself.

Here’s some additional information about contact microphones:

  1. How They Work: Contact microphones typically consist of a piezoelectric sensor or a small microphone capsule attached to a sensitive diaphragm. When the contact microphone is attached or placed on an object, it can pick up the subtle vibrations, resonances, and sounds produced by that object. These vibrations are then converted into an electrical signal that can be amplified and recorded.
  2. Applications:
    1. Experimental Sound Design: Contact microphones are commonly used by sound artists, experimental musicians, and sound designers to explore unconventional sonic textures and create unique musical compositions. They allow artists to “listen” to the hidden sounds within everyday objects, turning them into musical instruments.
    2. Field Recording: Contact microphones are useful for capturing sounds from nature, such as tree branches swaying in the wind, water dripping, or rocks clattering. They provide a different perspective on environmental sounds.
    3. Sound Effects Production: In film, television, and video game sound production, contact microphones are employed to capture specific sounds that can’t be easily recorded using traditional microphones, such as footsteps on different surfaces, machinery vibrations, or even the sound of a heartbeat.
  3. Mounting and Placement: Contact microphones are attached to the object’s surface using various methods like adhesive putty, clips, magnets, or straps. The choice of attachment method can influence the type of sound captured. Different placements on the object can also yield different sonic results.
  4. Limitations: Contact microphones are highly sensitive to vibrations, making them prone to picking up handling noise or even the sound of the person attaching them. Additionally, they might not capture the full frequency range of the sound due to their design.
  5. Artistic Possibilities: Contact microphones open up a realm of artistic exploration, allowing creators to turn objects into musical instruments, generate new soundscapes, and engage the audience in novel auditory experiences.

Overall, contact microphones offer a creative and experimental approach to sound recording and design, giving artists and creators the opportunity to uncover and amplify the hidden auditory world of objects and surfaces.

USB Microphones

USB microphones are a type of microphone that simplifies the process of recording audio by incorporating analog-to-digital converters and connecting directly to computers through a USB (Universal Serial Bus) interface. This eliminates the need for additional audio interfaces or preamps, making them a convenient and accessible option for various recording applications. Here are some key features and benefits of USB microphones:

  1. Analog-to-Digital Conversion: USB microphones have built-in analog-to-digital converters (ADCs) that convert the analog audio signals picked up by the microphone’s capsule into digital data that a computer can process.
  2. Direct Computer Connection: USB microphones can be connected directly to a computer’s USB port without requiring additional equipment such as audio interfaces or mixers. This simplifies the setup process and reduces the number of cables and devices needed.
  3. Plug-and-Play: USB microphones are often plug-and-play devices, meaning they are recognised by the computer’s operating system as soon as they are connected. This eliminates the need for complex driver installations.
  4. Compatibility: USB microphones are computer microphones compatible with a wide range of computers, including laptops and desktops, regardless of the specific audio hardware installed.
  5. Portability: USB microphones are generally compact and lightweight, making them suitable for on-the-go recording setups or travel.
  6. Cost-Effective: USB microphones are a cost-effective solution for individuals and beginners who want to start recording audio without investing in a full studio setup.
  7. Recording Applications: USB microphones are particularly well-suited for podcasting, voiceovers, video conferencing, streaming, online content creation, and basic home recording. They may not offer the same level of audio quality and versatility as more advanced setups, but they are often sufficient for entry-level and casual recording purposes.
  8. Variety of Models: USB microphones come in various models and designs, ranging from basic options to more advanced models with additional features like headphone monitoring, gain control, and polar pattern selection.
  9. Ease of Use: USB microphones are designed to be user-friendly, with simple controls and often intuitive software interfaces that allow users to adjust settings easily.

While USB microphones are convenient and user-friendly, it’s important to note that they may have limitations in terms of audio quality and versatility compared to traditional studio microphones used with dedicated audio interfaces. However, they provide a straightforward way for beginners and casual users to start recording without the need for extensive technical knowledge or equipment.

Measurement Microphones

Measurement microphones are specialised types of microphones that are designed for accurate and precise audio measurement and analysis. They are engineered to provide a flat frequency response and minimal distortion, ensuring that they capture sound as accurately as possible without introducing coloration or altering the characteristics of the sound being measured. These microphones are used in various scientific, industrial, and professional audio applications where accurate measurements are crucial.

Key characteristics and uses of measurement microphones include:

  1. Flat Frequency Response: Measurement microphones are calibrated to have a very flat frequency response across the audible spectrum. This means that they capture sound with minimal variations in frequency output, providing accurate representations of the source sound.
  2. High Sensitivity: These microphones are often highly sensitive, capable of picking up even low-level sounds accurately. This sensitivity allows them to capture a wide range of sound levels for analysis.
  3. Low Distortion: Measurement microphones are designed to minimise distortion and nonlinearities, ensuring that the captured sound remains faithful to the original.
  4. Precision Calibration: These microphones are usually calibrated using sophisticated equipment to ensure their accuracy. Calibration data is often provided with the microphone, allowing users to compensate for any deviations in post-processing.
  5. Omnidirectional Pattern: Many measurement microphones have an omnidirectional polar pattern, meaning they capture sound equally from all directions. This is important for accurate measurements in various environments.
  6. Acoustic Testing: Measurement microphones are commonly used in acoustic testing environments to measure sound levels, frequency response, and other acoustic properties of spaces and objects. They are used in tasks such as evaluating the acoustic performance of concert halls, auditoriums, and studios.
  7. Room Analysis: In room acoustics analysis, measurement microphones are employed to assess how sound behaves within a space. They help identify problems like standing waves, reflections, and resonances that can affect the quality of sound in a room.
  8. Sound System Calibration: These microphones are crucial for calibrating sound reinforcement systems, ensuring that speakers are correctly positioned and tuned for optimal sound distribution and quality in various locations within an environment.
  9. Noise Measurement: Measurement microphones are used to quantify ambient noise levels in environmental noise studies and noise control applications.
  10. Audio Product Development: Manufacturers use measurement microphones to evaluate the performance of audio equipment such as speakers, headphones, and microphones during the product development and quality control processes.

Due to their precision and accuracy, measurement microphones play a critical role in various fields where accurate sound analysis is required, helping professionals make informed decisions about sound quality, acoustic design, and performance optimisation.

Stereo Microphones

A stereo microphone is a specialised microphone equipped with two or more capsules designed to capture sound from different angles or directions. These microphones are utilised to record spatial audio information, replicating the way humans perceive sound in a three-dimensional space. They are commonly used to create realistic stereo or immersive sound recordings. Here’s some additional information about stereo microphones:

  1. Capsules and Patterns: Stereo microphones typically consist of two or more individual microphone capsules, each with its own directional pattern (e.g., cardioid, omnidirectional, bidirectional). These capsules are positioned strategically to capture sound from various angles, which helps recreate a sense of depth and space in the recorded audio.
  2. Recording Techniques: Stereo microphones employ various recording techniques to capture the stereo field accurately. Some common techniques include X-Y (crossed cardioids), ORTF (spaced cardioids), MS (Mid-Side), Blumlein, and binaural recording. Each technique offers a different perspective on the stereo image and spatial characteristics.
  3. Realistic Sound: Stereo microphones are used to achieve more natural and lifelike recordings, as they capture the interplay between the left and right channels that our ears perceive. This results in a more immersive listening experience that can accurately replicate the original sound source’s position and movement in space.
  4. Applications: Stereo microphones find applications in various fields, including music recording, field recording, film and video production, foley work, ASMR content creation, and virtual reality (VR) experiences. They are ideal for capturing environmental sounds, live performances, acoustic instruments, and other audio sources that benefit from a sense of depth and spatial placement.
  5. Ambience and Imaging: Stereo microphones play a crucial role in capturing the ambience of a recording environment, such as the reverberation and spatial cues that provide context to the sound. They also allow for precise sound source placement within the stereo field, contributing to a well-defined stereo image.
  6. Microphone Types: Stereo microphones can come in various forms, including X-Y microphone pairs, single-point stereo microphones with adjustable capsules, and specialised binaural microphones designed to emulate human ear positioning for lifelike binaural recordings.
  7. Technological Advancements: With advancements in microphone technology, some stereo microphones even incorporate advanced features such as variable patterns, adjustable stereo width, and electronic processing to enhance the stereo image.

In summary, stereo microphones are an essential tool for capturing audio with a heightened sense of spatial realism. They are widely used across industries where accurate spatial audio representation is crucial for creating engaging and immersive sound experiences.

Multi-Pattern Microphones

Multi-pattern microphones, also known as variable-pattern microphones, are a type of microphone that allows users to switch between different polar patterns. Polar patterns describe how a microphone captures sound from different directions relative to its diaphragm. The most common polar patterns include cardioid, omnidirectional, and bidirectional, but some multi-pattern microphones might offer even more options.

Here’s a breakdown of the different polar patterns and how multi-pattern microphones offer versatility:

  1. Cardioid: This pattern captures sound primarily from the front of the microphone while attenuating sound from the sides and rear. It’s commonly used for isolating a sound source and reducing background noise. Cardioid is great for recording single sound sources or for situations where you want to minimise ambient noise.
  2. Omnidirectional: An omnidirectional pattern captures sound equally from all directions around the microphone. This pattern is suitable for capturing ambient soundscapes, room ambiance, or when you want to capture sound from all angles without emphasising any specific direction.
  3. Bidirectional (Figure-8): Bidirectional microphones capture sound from the front and rear of the microphone while rejecting sound from the sides. This pattern is often used for recording two sound sources facing each other, such as interviews or duets.

Cardioid Microphones

Cardioid microphones are a type of directional microphone that is designed to capture sound primarily from the front while minimising sound coming from the sides and rear. The term “cardioid” comes from the Greek word “kardia,” which means heart. This name is derived from the microphone’s characteristic polar pattern, which resembles the shape of a heart.

Key characteristics of cardioid microphones include:

  1. Directionality: Cardioid mics are most sensitive to sound coming from the front (0 degrees) and gradually become less sensitive as the sound source moves off-axis (to the sides and rear). This directional pattern allows them to focus on the sound source in front of them while rejecting or attenuating sounds from other directions.
  2. Isolation: Due to their directional nature, cardioid microphones are excellent at isolating the main sound source from background noise and ambient sounds. This makes them popular choices for studio recording, live performances, and broadcasting where the goal is to capture clear audio while minimising unwanted environmental noise.
  3. Proximity Effect: These mics often exhibit a phenomenon known as the proximity effect. When the sound source is very close to the microphone (within a few inches), there is a boost in the low-frequency response, resulting in a warmer and fuller sound. This effect can be advantageous when recording certain types of vocals or instruments.
  4. Applications: Cardioid mics are commonly used in various scenarios such as recording vocals, solo instruments, podcasts, voiceovers, and studio work. They are particularly useful when you want to focus on a single sound source and reduce the pickup of background noise or other instruments.
  5. Variations: There are also variations of the cardioid pattern, such as supercardioid and hypercardioid, which have narrower areas of sensitivity at the sides and rear. These patterns provide even more isolation from surrounding noise but may have increased sensitivity to slight off-axis sounds.

Overall, cardioid microphones are versatile tools for capturing clear, focused audio in environments where controlling background noise and isolating the primary sound source are important factors.

Omnidirectional Microphones

Omnidirectional microphones are a type of microphone that captures sound equally from all directions around the microphone’s capsule. This means that they are sensitive to sound coming from the front, back, sides, and all angles, creating a spherical pattern of sensitivity.

Here are some key characteristics and uses of omnidirectional microphones:

  1. 360-Degree Sensitivity: Omnidirectional microphones pick up sound from all directions with equal sensitivity, forming a circular or spherical pattern.
  2. Natural Sound Capture: Due to their equal sensitivity to all directions, omnidirectional microphones provide a more accurate and natural representation of the surrounding sound environment.
  3. Minimal Proximity Effect: They exhibit less proximity effect (increase in bass response) compared to directional microphones like cardioid or shotgun microphones.

Uses:

  1. Ambient Recording: Omnidirectional microphones are excellent for capturing ambient soundscapes, environmental sounds, and general room ambiance. They can reproduce a sense of space and immersion.
  2. Natural Soundscapes: These microphones are often used in field recording to capture the natural sounds of outdoor environments, wildlife, and nature.
  3. Room Ambiance: In music production, omnidirectional microphones are used to capture the sound of a room, providing a sense of space and reverberation to recordings.
  4. Interviews and Group Discussions: They are suitable for recording interviews or group discussions where participants may be seated around a table, as the microphone captures all speakers evenly.
  5. Measurement and Testing: Omnidirectional microphones are used in acoustic measurement and testing scenarios, such as measuring room acoustics or analysing sound system performance.

While omnidirectional microphones offer many advantages for certain applications, it’s important to note that they may also capture unwanted ambient noise in noisy environments. The choice of microphone type should be based on the specific recording environment and the intended use of the audio.

Bidirectional Microphones

Bidirectional microphones, also known as figure-8 microphones, are a type of directional microphone that are designed to capture sound from the front and rear of the microphone while rejecting sound from the sides. The name “figure-8” comes from the shape of their polar pattern, which resembles the number “8.”

Here are some key characteristics and uses of bidirectional microphones:

  1. Polar Pattern: The polar pattern of a bidirectional microphone is shaped like a figure-8, with two lobes—one facing the front and the other facing the rear of the microphone. Sound coming from the sides is largely rejected, while sound coming from the front and back is captured.
  2. Front and Rear Capture: Bidirectional microphones capture sound equally from both the front and the rear. This can be useful for capturing audio from two different sources located in front of and behind the microphone.
  3. Side Rejection: Sound coming from the sides of the microphone is minimised. This feature can be advantageous for isolating specific sound sources and reducing unwanted ambient noise.

Uses: Bidirectional microphones are commonly used in scenarios where you want to capture two sound sources, often facing each other.

Some common applications include:

    • Interviews: When recording an interview, the microphone can be positioned between the interviewer and interviewee, capturing both voices while minimising background noise.
    • Duets: In musical performances, bidirectional microphones can capture two performers facing each other, such as vocalists or instrumentalists.
    • Stereo Recording: Bidirectional microphones are also used for stereo recording techniques like the “Blumlein Pair,” where two bidirectional microphones are placed at a 90-degree angle to each other to create a natural stereo image.
    • Blumlein Pair: This is a stereo recording technique that uses two bidirectional microphones placed in a coincident arrangement (crossed at a 90-degree angle) to capture a wide and accurate stereo image. It was developed by Alan Blumlein and is known for its ability to reproduce a lifelike soundstage.

Overall, bidirectional microphones offer a unique polar pattern that can be creatively used in various recording scenarios to capture sound from multiple directions while maintaining isolation between the sources.

In essence, multi-pattern microphones offer greater versatility by allowing you to adapt to different recording situations without needing to switch out microphones or make complex adjustments. This makes them popular choices for recording engineers, sound designers, and content creators who work in diverse environments and need to capture various types of audio sources.

Wireless Microphones (Cordless Microphones)

Say goodbye to the hassle of cords and cables with wireless microphones, also known as cordless microphones.

Wireless microphones use radio frequencies to transmit audio signals from the microphone to a receiver, allowing performers and speakers the freedom to move around without being tethered. While they offer convenience and flexibility, it’s important to note that wireless microphones may be susceptible to interference, so selecting the right frequency range is key to ensuring clear and uninterrupted communication.

When choosing a wireless microphone system, consider factors like the type of microphone (handheld, lavalier, headset), frequency range compatibility, range, and any specific features you may need. Always ensure that the wireless system you choose operates within legal frequency regulations to avoid interference and ensure reliable performance.

Wrap Up

Microphones are more than just tools—they’re the bridge between your voice and the world. Now you answer the question “What is a microphone” and by understanding their history, types, and functionalities empowers you to choose the perfect microphone for each scenario. So whether you’re captivating an audience with your vocals or recording the next hit podcast episode, the right microphone is your steadfast partner in making your voice heard loud and clear.