Microphones are the most well-known symbol to represent audio. They are involved in almost all crucial stages of audio production.

Be it song recording, live concerts, film, TV shootings, or something as new as podcasts, the presence and relevance of microphones have been increasing with the advancements in audio technology.

Today it’s hard to imagine an area without the use of microphones and other audio-visual devices.

With such a wide variety of applications available, it is quite obvious that there are different types of microphones for performing different jobs.

So what are these types of microphones? Well, this article is just about that.

There are various types of microphones, and each of them is used for different purposes.

Some are best suited for speech, some for musical instruments, and others might be more suitable for live recording.

The type of microphone you need will depend on its application.

Types of Microphones

We can determine the types of microphones in many ways. Some of them are as follows:

Based on the environmentBased on the type of diaphragmBased on the type of signal received
Studio microphonesDynamic MicrophonesMono microphones
On shoot microphonesCondenser MicrophonesStereo microphones
Concert microphoneRibbon MicrophonesSurround microphones
Types of Microphones

There are technical ways of classifying microphones as well. For now, we will focus on the above-mentioned types.

Based on Utility Environment

Studio Microphones

A man singing and recording using a studio microphone
Studio microphone in action (Photo by Brett Sayles)

As the name suggests, studio microphones are the microphones that are used in a studio setup. They have much higher sensitivity than other microphones.

You can use them to record vocals and instruments in music production or even in the film sound dubbing process.

Studio microphones are generally fixed onto a shock-mounted stand and have a specific set of accessories like a pop filter to avoid recording any blowing sounds.

On-location Microphones

On location Microphone
On-location Microphone in action (Sorce: Wikipedia)

On-location microphones are supposed to be used outdoors i.e. in concerts or on film shooting locations. They can be wired or wireless microphones.

One of the most crucial characteristics of these microphones is that they have a higher noise rejection property compared to studio microphones.

Microphones used in film shootings are generally in the shape of a shotgun barrel and are hence known as shotgun microphones.

Based On The Type of Diaphragm

Dynamic Microphones

A dynamic mic in action
A dynamic mic in action (Photo by Aleksandr Neplokhov)

Dynamic microphones are the kind of microphones that do not use phantom power to activate the microphone. Hence they are relatively less sensitive. But at the same time, dynamic mics are better at rejecting noise.

Phantom power is a virtual power provided as a boost to create electrical tension around the diaphragm, thereby giving a larger output signal for every input sound signal.

Some popular dynamic microphones include the Shure SM58, Sennheiser MD series, Rode PodMic, etc.

Condenser Microphones

A condenser microphone
A condenser microphone (Photo by Amin Asbaghipour)

Condenser microphones have diaphragms that need phantom power to activate them.

Due to the presence of a strong electric field around the diaphragm, condenser microphones end up becoming very sensitive.

They are generally used while recording softer sounds. With louder sounds, these microphones have a possibility of distorting soon.

Some of the popular condenser mics include AKG C 414, Neumann U 87 Rhodium, Blue Kiwi, Neumann TLM 49, Sony C-100, etc.

Electret Condenser Microphone

Electret Condenser Microphone
An electret condenser microphone attached to a camera (Photo by Bruno Massao)

Electret condenser microphones are sort of a hybrid between dynamic mics and condenser microphones.

They have an interim sensitivity but come at a far cheaper price compared to regular condenser microphones.

Electret condenser mics are generally found as on-camera gun microphones and have widespread use in shooting interviews, vlogs, etc.

Ribbon Microphones

A ribbon microphone
A ribbon microphone (Source: Reverb)

Ribbon microphones are one of the oldest types of professional microphones. They use a very fine metal ribbon as a sensor instead of a diaphragm plate.

This gives them the highest sensitivity and far superior sound quality. They are known to capture the original sound texture of the source.

Ribbon mics are highly sensitive, not just acoustically but physically as well, and need to be
handled with utmost care.

Based on the type of output

Mono Microphones

As the name suggests, mono mics are the ones that give a single unidirectional file as an output format. Most of the microphones used professionally are mono mics.

They are generally used to record specific sounds like dialogues or sounds whose source is mostly identifiable.

Stereo Microphones

A stereo microphone set
A stereo microphone set (Source: Alesis)

Stereo microphones give two files (left and right) as output. It is possible to give a specific direction and travel to a particular sound using stereo mics.

They are generally used to record ambient sounds or music tracks. Most portable recorders like Zoom have an in-built stereo microphone in them.

Surround Mics

A surround mic setup
A surround mic setup (Source: Broadcast Store Europe)

Surround mics are a very recent discovery. They can give multiple (more than 2) output files as they are a combination of many mics placed strategically to record sounds in directions just as the human ear identifies.

Sound recorded with these microphones can give us the illusion that the things you hear are happening around you.

Fun fact: Slumdog Millionaire was one of the first films to use a surround mic to record their ambiances and other special sound effects.

Final Thoughts – Which microphone is the best?

One of the most natural questions is to try and find out the best mic from these types that we discussed.

Unfortunately, no specific mic can be universally called the best mic. It all depends on where they are being used.

Rating a mic includes a lot of factors like the texture of the sound to be recorded, the noise level of the surroundings, the exact purpose of the activity (music/podcast/shoot), and finally, the budget available for the project.

Depending on these factors, whichever microphone does a good job fulfilling your needs can be easily classified as the best mic for that particular job.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the types of microphones used during live production?

Different microphones are used in live production based on production needs and location. Shotgun mics, common for dialogue recording, capture sound mainly from the front due to their long barrels. Lav mics, ideal for interviews and voice-overs, can be discreetly clipped to clothing, minimizing background noise. Wireless or handheld mics are preferred for their mobility during interviews.

What is the most common type of microphone?

One of the most common types of microphones is an electret condenser microphone. They are quite affordable than other mics and can be used for many different purposes.

What type of microphone is best for speaking?

Dynamic microphones are one of the best types of microphones suited for speaking. You can use them to capture vocals in a live or studio setup. But if you want to record vocals for a song, cardioid microphones are the better option.

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