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Best Microphone Features - 25 Experts Share Their Tips

best microphones
best microphone features

Whether you're into podcasts, or music, choosing the right mic can make a big difference.

This post's purpose is to offer you useful insights, especially if you're navigating the microphone market for the first time. However, this article is not only for beginners; it's also valuable for seasoned pros seeking to make an informed choice while purchasing a new microphone. 

We'll be diving into what makes a great microphone - and why!

 

 

I didn't want to limit this post only to my experience with different mics so I hired Minuca Elena to create this expert roundup. She reached out to 25 musicians and podcasters and asked them the following question:

 

What are the top three most important features you look for when buying a microphone?

 

From condenser to dynamic, USB to XLR, each expert will share their experiences and tips, helping you figure out what microphone fits best to your needs.

You will discover the importance of factors like sensitivity, frequency response, and polar patterns as they break down the features that matter.

 

Bulat Nasibullin - Bulat Music

 

1. Versatility

As an independent music maker, I play a variety of instruments that need to be recorded using a microphone such as acoustic guitar, vocals, percussion, piano, etc.

So having one microphone that is good at recording all of these things, as its range of frequencies is quite wide, is very important. I don't want to carry around five different microphones.

 

2. Price 

You can get a decent microphone for USD 200, alternatively, you can get a microphone for USD 10,000 and they do the same thing.

Unfortunately, most indie musicians will struggle to find even $200 for a microphone plus stand, mic clip, cables, etc.

Many musicians also purchase used microphones that can be available for a lot cheaper but can also be tricky.

Price is an extremely important factor because not everyone is Taylor Swift!

 

3. Product features and packaging.

I like a microphone that comes with its box, pop shield, mic clip, etc in a neat little box that I can put away after a recording session instead of just a pouch or something that might come with a cheaper microphone.

This way they last much longer and you don't lose the little 'bits' that came with the microphone.

Also if you are going on tour or travelling to someone's recording studio and you want to bring it, it's just much easier. So good packaging is very nice to have!

 

 Caley Rose

 

The right microphone choice is crucial for working singers and voice actors. The right choice can mean the difference between booking a job and being a Starving creative, so the right microphone choice is key.

 

1. Trust your ears.

The number one microphone factor is how you, yourself, the one and only you sound on that particular microphone. Every person's voice is unique.

Test out different microphones. Listen back to sample recordings and see if the microphone highlights the highs in your voice or the lows. Does it make your voice sound nasally?

If the money maker of your vocal footprint is the youthful, bright quality of your voice, and the microphone you buy doesn't highlight that in a way that sounds pleasant to the ear, that microphone isn't for you.

 

2. Make sure you invest in a good microphone.

Don't buy a USB mic, if you want to be a working voice actor or musician.

You need a professional-sounding recording setup. A USB microphone isn't going to cut it when you are keeping with other professionals on their professional equipment, because a USB microphone may be quick, cheaper, and convenient, but it sacrifices sound quality.

The frequency response of a USB mic is not as high quality as a mic that requires an interface. Interfaces up the price of your overall setup, but dramatically improves the audio quality, allowing you to be competitive in an extremely competitive market.

 

3. What purpose are you using the microphone for?

A suitable microphone for voice-over differs from what would be best for live performance, a condenser mic versus a dynamic mic.

If you're doing voice-over, you need a condenser. If you're performing live or busking with your music, a dynamic mic will be better suited for your needs.

 

Emmanuella Grace - Find Your Voice

 

Microphones used to be exclusively used by people with professional voice training.

Increasingly microphones are used by people who have not had training in curating sound quality, however, sound quality can have a big impact on an audience's attention to your content or performance.

This is where microphone choice can be important.

The three things I look for as a professional singer and voice and communication coach and consultant are:

 

1. The right microphone for the right purpose.

Different microphones need to be used in different settings. The most basic choice would be between dynamic or condenser microphones.

Dynamic microphones are robust, durable, and can be used in lots of settings. The most commonly used gig microphone, perfect in live/noisy venues for amplifying over a sound system or PA, is the Shure SM 58.

Condenser microphones capture a more refined and sensitive sound but will also pick up every bump and shuffle in the room. These are the microphones you will find in recording studios that have been sound-treated. Consider the setting and quality of the sound you want to pick up.

 

2. How it feels to speak or sing into it.

To capture a great sound, you want to feel comfortable and relaxed. If the microphone feels awkward it will bug you and become a distraction.

 

3. Cost for use.

The range of what can be spent on a microphone is infinite so I asses cost per use. A lot can be done with recording/editing software. If you are starting, testing out a mid-range microphone could get you the result you want without having to spend a fortune.

 

David Andrew Wiebe - MusicEntrepreneurHQ

 

These are the main criteria I like to think about based on my needs:

 

1. Sound.

I like mics with a great sound. That said, I am far more likely to balance sound with the other factors mentioned below (cost and durability), so I'm not generally buying Neumann or Telefunken mics, even if they do sound stellar. Broadcast and dynamic mics work better in the nosier environments I traverse.

 

2. Cost.

I usually get mics in the mid-tier range, and through the years, I have come to love RØDE products because they are excellent value for the money.

 

3. Durability.

I travel a lot, so it doesn't make much sense to carry mics sensitive to weather or knocks and bumps (ribbon mics, tube mics, etc.). A sturdy mic is ideal. That typically means dynamic mics, though some condensers are fair game too.

 

Keldamuzik

 

It's not about fancy displays and technicals when it comes to choosing the ideal microphone, darlings. It's about compatibility with you and your musical harmony! It is the extension of your voice.

But, of course, there’s gonna be a big difference in what I’m looking for in a microphone either when it's for studio recording or live performances.

So, when I'm looking for a microphone, I test out three things:

 

1. Clarity

 

I need a mic that captures every single thing. Not just the loud bits, but even the breaths and whispers. That’s what makes it raw. Just your voice that’s clear and can capture the emotion.

What I mean by something that can capture an emotion is that, of course, in a podcast or musicians there’s gonna be banter every now and then. You want to capture the raw laughs, sighs, etc.

That's the clarity I'm talking about, something that lets your emotions through with every single sound.

 

2. Versatility

You want a mic that's a jack-of-all-trades! Dynamics. As a musician, I have different genres of songs, from ballads to EDM, it's gotta handle it all.

I need a microphone that is flexible enough for me to sing out any songs that I want.

Not just as a musician or a podcaster, cause I do hosting live events too. There are gonna be loud-uplifting words that I’ll be voicing out to the audience, and a soft introduction for different scenarios.

 

3. Stage presence, the mic that steals the spotlight!

This ain't just a tool, it's an accessory that screams, "Look at me, hear me, feel me!"

A microphone that can be a part of your look as a musician or podcaster. It is an accessory that can match your presence, basically, an extension of your attire.

Because when you look good, you feel good, and that confidence pours over into your music, setting your appearance with every note.

So, darlings, remember, the perfect mic is more than just specs. It's about finding that magical blend of clarity, versatility, and stage presence.

It's the instrument that helps you paint your musical masterpiece, the partner that amplifies your self, the accessory that makes you feel confident.

Go forth, find your mic soulmate, and let your music take flight!

 

Chris Fossek

 

When it comes to mics for live performances, practicality takes precedence.

I play a nylon string flamenco guitar so I’m looking for a clean sound from a mic that either attaches to my guitar or one that works well placed very close, pointed at the 12th fret more or less.

There are two types of live performances; gigs where you have a stage and a sound person managing the mic for you, and gigs where you are on your own, like a mid-sized cocktail party.

If I don’t have a stage or a sound guy, I like a mic that I can attach to my guitar.

At present I use a simple Audio-Technica PRO 70 Lavalier/Instrument Mic that sounds great, is durable, and very affordable.

I would also be very curious to try “the2Mic” which seems ideal for live performances. 

When it comes to stage performances with a sound technician, I usually leave it up the them to choose which mic to use. And when I hear something really good, I ask them all about it.

I have had some great experiences with ribbon mics, so I am going to keep exploring those for both live and studio recordings.

 

J.J. Vicars

 

My mic choices are pretty much set in stone.

1. You can't go wrong with Shure; SM58 for live vocals, SM57 live and recording for amp cabinets and snare drums. An SM55, a.k.a. "the Elvis mic", can work on kick drums in a pinch and/or for demos.

2. Past that, it's condensor mics for recording which I choose because I like it when I hear it. Every self-produced musician should have a pair of pencil mics for both drum overheads and acoustic instruments.

3. AKG makes a very nice low-pair with an aluminum case and shock mounts, they usually pop up on eBay for about a bill and a half. I guess you could say my criteria are "tried and true" and "if it ain't broke don't fix it".

 

Tyler Connaghan - Guitarist Next Door

 

As a musician and producer, there are a few key things that I like to look for in a microphone, including:

1. Frequency response

Though I wouldn’t necessarily label it a “feature,” the frequency response of any given microphone can have a significant impact on the overall sound.

For example, I love the sm57 dynamic mic on a guitar amp, as it already has a slight roll-off on the high and low end, capturing the true meat of the electric guitar without the excess.

In contrast, I like the sound of a high-end condenser mic on pop vocals, as it captures the top-end sheen that you need for “expensive-sounding” vocals.

2. High-pass filter

While there are plenty of great mics without high-pass or low-cut filters on them, it’s nice to be able to get rid of rumbling lows on recorded elements that don’t need it, such as vocals in a dense mix or small percussion elements like shaker and tambourine.

3. Polar patterns

I’m a big fan of versatility, so the more ways I can capture a sound with one mic, the better. I love microphones that have numerous polar pattern options, as they allow me to hone in with laser focus on the element I’m recording or capture the element along with the environment it’s in.

 

Luca Diadul

 

1. The first thing I always consider is what my new microphone will be recording.

Condenser microphones, which use phantom power(electrical power), are generally more sensitive and offer a higher audio quality than dynamic microphones, which are a bit more durable and don't require electricity.

If I'm looking for a new vocal mic, I'll look towards a condenser mic capable of picking up the subtle nuances of the voice and a higher audio quality.

But if I'm more interested in recording instruments, especially louder and lower instruments like a drum set or bass, I'd want a dynamic microphone.

It's additionally very important to remember that to use a condenser microphone whatever you're plugging it into must be capable of supplying phantom power or it won't work.

2. Next, I always look at price - particularly in the context of what I'm recording.

There are a load of microphone options, and many get quite expensive quite quickly.

But if all I'm planning to use my new mic for is to record basic demos for my ears only, I don't need to splurge on a high-end, 4 figure mic.

There are a lot of budget-friendly options that will work great for more casual recordings and in a home studio set-up.

3. Lastly, I always look at reviews.

Each microphone is different, in how you set it up, how it records, where it excels, and where it falls short, and the only way to know the nuances without testing it yourself is through research.

The internet has lots of great info on the best microphones to buy and how each one of them could work for you, but don't be afraid to reach out to other people as well.

Audio engineers and producers work with microphones every day, recording a vast array of voices and instruments across a multitude of genres.

They'll be able to point you in the right direction so you find the perfect microphone to fit your needs.

 

Sam Tarantino - Harmonic Reach

 

1. Sound quality is paramount.

Distinct, clear, and noise-free audio can significantly impact the audience's listening experience, whether for music or podcasts.

This means the microphone should have a solid frequency response and be able to handle high sound pressure levels, especially for loud instruments or vocal performances.

 

2. I'd highlight durability and build quality.

Musicians and podcasters often use their microphones in various settings - studios, live performances, and outdoor shoots. A sturdy, well-built microphone can withstand regular use and transport, providing long-term reliability.

 

3. Versatility is key.

Different recording situations require different microphone characteristics. For example, in a podcasting setup, a microphone with good voice isolation might be valuable.

In contrast, musicians might need a microphone with wider pickup patterns to capture different instruments. A microphone that can cater to various scenarios or come with adjustable settings can offer more value.

The 'perfect' microphone doesn't exist - it all comes down to your specific needs and preferences as an artist or content creator.

 

Andrew Culture - Beat Motel Zine Music Podcast

 

Here are the three most important features to look for when buying a microphone:

 

1. Strength

It might surprise you that strength is the most important feature to look for when buying a microphone, but it is important. If you're buying a microphone for the stage, you need something bombproof.

All equipment used on a stage will get damaged, dropped, stood on, thrown into the crowd, and treated badly. However, this doesn't mean you can't use more delicate types of microphones, like condenser microphones, on stage. Just make sure you're buying a tough one.

If you're buying a microphone for podcasting or recording vocals in the studio, then a dainty microphone will be a fine choice.

 

2. Phantom power

Will the microphone you want to buy need phantom power? Phantom power is the voltage sent down the microphone cable to a microphone. But don't worry, it's all perfectly safe.

The advantage of using a microphone that requires phantom power is that it can be much more sensitive and useful for quiet noise sources. That's not to say a microphone that does not require phantom power can't be just as effective.

But if you're planning to buy a mic that needs phantom power you need to ensure that your mixing desk, digital audio interface, or whatever you connect the microphone to, can send phantom power.

 

3. Pickup pattern

The microphone's pickup pattern, or polar pattern, denotes what area around the microphone will be picked up. The two main types are omnidirectional and unidirectional.

An omnidirectional microphone will pick up a whole room of noise, whether you want it or not.

A unidirectional microphone will pick up only sounds generated in a narrow beam-shaped field in front of it. Unidirectional microphones tend to be useful in noisy environments and on stage.

 

Alyssa Villagrana - C&S Music

 

Three important features I look for when purchasing a microphone:

 

1. Optional polar patterns

Especially when recording music, variable use can be very important.

Microphones are engineered to be more or less sensitive to sound coming from different directions. If I can choose between patterns, the mic is more versatile.

 

2. Matched pairs

When producing music, stereo output is important. To achieve stereo output, you need stereo input - more than one microphone - and those microphones need to be a matched pair, or your final output will be warped.

 

3. Built-in preamp

As you increase in quality of microphones, the power needs to increase as well.

Usually, that means that you will need an extra piece - a preamp or a soundboard - just to run a nicer microphone (which is an extra step and extra cost).

With a built-in preamp, that simplifies and streamlines setup and reduces cost without sacrificing sound quality. 

 

Nick Bolchoz - Ensemble Music Schools

 

Buying a microphone (or multiple!) is a worthwhile investment for any modern musician. Before diving into all the options, it's important to understand what you're looking for and what applications you're going to use this microphone in.

Here are three important features to consider when making your purchase:

 

1. Budget

Microphones range in price anywhere from $50 to more than $10,000.

Of course, there are high-end microphones that are often used in professional settings and help to make recordings for high-level artists all over the world.

These days, there are excellent budget options for any level of artist that will help you produce great sounds without breaking the bank.

Knowing what you're willing to spend is a great first step when looking over your many options.

Don't forget to factor in purchasing a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) if you are thinking of recording at home!

 

2. Use

Are you a vocalist or an instrumentalist? Do you need one microphone or several? Will this microphone go on the road with you, or will it live its entire life in a climate-controlled recording studio?

Some microphones, like ribbon mics, are more sensitive and should be treated with the utmost care. On the other hand, microphones like the Shure SM57 are budget-friendly, sound great, and can take a beating if needed for live performances.

 

3. Sound

What sound are you going for? Again, are you looking to use this on stage or in the studio? Ribbon microphones are great for picking up the most authentic, natural sounds.

Large-diaphragm condenser microphones are excellent for vocal recordings, while small-diaphragm condenser microphones are good options for recording instruments and vocals alike. 

There is a great deal of nuance here, so knowing exactly the sound you want to make is key.

There are so many different build and sound options, polar patterns, price points, and more when considering the purchase of a new microphone.

Once you've established your needs, the best thing you can do is talk to a professional, like one of the many at Middle C Music. Happy music-making!

 

Kristi Dawn - Musicfinch

 

Amidst various microphone specifications, I focus on three unique features that significantly impact performance: room compatibility, post-processing friendliness, and future flexibility.

 

1. Room compatibility is essential. It's not just about the mic's technical specs but how it performs in a specific recording environment.

A good mic should minimize room echo and background noise, especially in untreated spaces. A tight pickup pattern, like cardioid, is ideal for focusing on the voice and reducing ambient sounds, making any room more suitable for recording.

 

2. Post-processing friendliness is crucial for those without studio-grade equipment.

A microphone that easily integrates with EQs and compressors, allowing for effective sound tweaking in post-production, is highly beneficial.

 

3. Lastly, future flexibility is choosing a mic as a starting point for future upgrades. It should be compatible with various recording setups and audio interfaces and adaptable as your equipment evolves.

While sound quality and build are important, how a mic interacts with your environment, post-production tools, and future upgrades can significantly enhance your audio experience.

 

Rusty Wright

 

My criteria for Mic selection are as follows

 

1. Purpose

Is this mic going to be used for recording or live sound reinforcement?

A mic for recording will need different specs than a mic for live sound. In a recording situation, you have a controlled environment whereas a live sound environment will be more chaotic.

High-end recording mics tend to use elements that allow more air movement around the capsule but this will also make the mic more delicate to high air pressure levels.

A live sound mic will be designed to deal with these pressures and the more physically demanding environment of live performance.

 

2. Then there is the specific purpose of the mic. Will it be for Vocals? Guitars? Drums? Acoustic instruments or electrified?

Different mics have different frequency responses because they are made with elements designed to capture various spectrums of sound.

You don't use a high-end condenser mic that captures high frequencies very well and then stick it in a bass drum! I mean you can but you will not get the reproduction of the low-end information that a Kik drum has.

 

3. Price versus quality.

Budgets are always a consideration so the specs of the mic are a starting point but I always look at real-world reviews.

I want to know what other people's experiences with the mic are so I always look at the reviews and the more reviews the better.

 

George Tucker - AVNation.tv

 

I tend to search for a podcasting microphone based on three simple standards: depth, application, and price.

 

1. Depth.

The first thing you want when recording a show is for every voice to have clarity and presence. Nothing is worse than muddy, thin, or distant voices; no one wants to work to make out what you are saying.

A large diaphragm mic with a cardioid pattern will generally give the best results if you are starting out. I favor dynamic models with an additional pre-amp, but many all-in-one powered units are excellent.

My one firm rule is never to use headsets; they are terrible sounding and detrimentally sensitive to percussive sounds and sibilance.

 

2. Application.

Do you have a dedicated space for installing a boom arm and suspension rig, or do you record different locations?

A permanent setup allows you to choose products with finer controls and performance, while an all-in-one gives you the power to be flexible and ready in moments.

Whether you produce audio only or video content is also a factor. If you appear on camera, does your aesthetic eschew seeing the mic?

If so, you may want to invest in a hypercardioid or lapel mic; this delivers the best ratio of sound to visual cleanliness.

 

3. Price.

There are a ton of microphones in every price range that, when used properly, give you good sound. The trick is to test them in the shop and where you record them. Do not be afraid to return units that do not meet your needs.

 

Miss Freddye

 

1. Well, I definitely appreciate the name-brand. I use the Shure Beta 58A.

First, I love how it picks up my voice from a distance or when I need to sing close range, as I do not hear a “crackle”.

For me, it has the “surround sound” effects. I know that can be based upon a great sound person, but I can never go wrong with a 58. I have to admit I have tried other name brands, but they did not compare to a Shure 58!

My first microphone, the 58 I have had for almost 15 years! Still going strong!

 

2. The price.

I have been lucky enough to find great bargains for the 58. That is important to me, especially on a budget. I own three Shure 58s.

 

3. I check out other musicians and the microphones they use. The Shure Beta is a popular microphone. I like to browse around and check out the latest with the Shures.

 

Pete McPherson - Do You Even Blog

For podcasters, here's a quick microphone-buying guide:

 

1. Dynamic vs condenser

Dynamic mics (think: stage mic) are less-sensitive, and therefore pick up less room/background noise.

You'll need to keep it closer to your mouth, but reducing background noise makes editing so much easier. Plus, dynamic mics are generally durable and travel-friendly.

Condenser mics (think: studio recordings) are more sensitive and fragile, and require a very quiet environment to sound great. Unless you have a sound-proofed studio, stick with a condenser mic!

 

2. USB vs XLR

What will you be plugging your microphone into? Straight into your computer via a USB cord is by far the simplest solution and doesn't require any separate equipment (like a pre-amp or audio interface.

These likely require an XLR cable input). Some mics (like the sturdy dynamic mic, and the ATR-2100x) have both USB and XLR outputs!

 

3. Price

Sure, you could spend $300-400 on the Shure SM7B, but is there really that big of a difference from the $99 ATR-2100x?

I've tried 30+ microphones for podcasting, and my short answer is NO, there's not much difference.

If budget truly isn't an issue and you want the best possible, purchase whatever you need! But a dynamic USB microphone will get you 99% of the way there for any podcast.

I recommend searching YouTube for the microphone you're considering purchasing and listening to a few sound tests!

 

J.Nicole Jones - Devinwade Productions

 

In terms of ease of use, new wireless microphones' learning curve can be complex, requiring optimal settings for different recording environments.

We've made the mistake of investing in expensive wireless microphones without considering the learning process, leading us to hire an on-location sound engineer for certain shows due to time constraints.

An often overlooked aspect is stand quality; past incidents of microphones falling mid-recording highlighted the need for a sturdy stand to prevent interruptions. Especially, the small knobs on the sides that tighten or loosen the mic.

Considering the microphone's height is essential to avoid interference with the visual aspect, such as blocking the podcast host's face.

When it comes to price, "you get what you pay for" holds true for microphones. Opting for mid-to-upper range options is crucial, as the audience can tolerate subpar video but is deterred by poor audio.

Recognizing home recording challenges, investing in high-performing microphones is a priority, even with a significant cost. At our studio, we prioritize sound quality without cutting corners in our budget.

 

Chandra Gore - Conversations with Chan

 

1. As a podcaster, the first thing I look for in a microphone is if it can connect to my laptop/desktop in a plug-and-play method.

I have tried choosing brands I know by name recognition and found that microphones can not be used interchangeably without an adaptor or external connector.

Having to purchase an adaptor or other peripheral devices factors into the cost and that is not appealing to me.

 

2. The second feature is the ability of the microphone to not pick up background noise without the aid of a pop filter or having to soundproof my space.

Sometimes a quiet space is not an option so having a microphone that can capture just my voice is great. This will also cut down on the editing time of an episode.

 

3. The third feature is the ease of setup, use, and storage.

Bulky microphones that cannot be taken down and set up quickly are a great fit for my space.

Microphones that have an awkward angle that cannot be comfortably or aesthetically hidden or minimized and block my face especially when I am recording video are never an option.

These reasons can greatly impact the quality of the video as well as the audio for me.

 

Kane Power - Precision Podcasting

 

When I’m buying a new microphone, there are three main features I look for; microphone type, connection type, and polar pattern.

 

1. Microphone type

Microphones come in two main types - dynamic and condenser.

Dynamic mics are more suited for close proximity recording of loud sources, whereas condenser mics are more sensitive and better suited to a studio environment.

For podcasting, I’d always recommend using dynamic mics.

 

2. Connection type

Microphones come with two main connections; XLR and USB. While XLR is the industry standard, USB mics have come a long way and can sound fantastic. Xlr mics require an ‘audio interface’ to connect to a computer, whereas USB mics are plug-and-play.

However, you can only use two USB mics at the same time on the same computer, whereas with Xlr the sky's the limit.

 

3. Polar pattern

The polar pattern is the directional pickup pattern of a microphone.

Choosing the right polar pattern depends on what you’re using the mic for - for example, an ‘omni-directional’ pattern records sound from all directions around the mic, whereas a ‘cardioid’ pattern (recommended for podcasting) records from one direction only.

Consider these three features carefully before you buy your next microphone.

 

Tracey Cook

 

In 2020 I started into the world of podcasting. I didn't know anything too much about sound or mic quality. I was the poster child for failing forward and figuring it out as I went along. It's now been over 300 episodes as a host and over 200 as a podcast guest, I've learned a few things along the way.

One of the most common questions I get asked by my Podcast clients is "What is the best mic to get?" I wish I had someone to tell me this when I started podcasting.

So as I do everything, I researched it and was a weekly stalker of the audio isles in my local sound stores, so I could give my clients some answers to this common question.

In this journey, I found that budget plays a big part, where podcasters are in their journey, the level of commitment to their new craft, and the passionate consistency to do better on each episode.

These are the top three most important features I look for when buying a microphone.

 

1. USB VS XLR

Acronyms most new podcasters don't know about yet. The USB is my go-to because it is a simple plug-and-play, and plugs straight into your computer, and is great if you are just starting out and not techy and budget-conscious. The XLR is the go-to if you are a bit more techy and are perhaps doing a round table podcast with multiple hosts and using an audio interface, I found it gave less static than a USB mic

 

2. Dynamic Vs Condenser Mics 

For newbie podcasters who maybe aren't using a studio or soundproofed their podcast space, a dynamic can reject those background noises very well.

For a more seasoned podcaster wanting to next level their game, the go-to would be the condenser mic, great for capturing studio quality sound and great in really quiet spaces like studios.

 

3. A popular choice for my podcast clients is the Shure KSM or Blue Yeti - I think it's because of the multiple pickup settings.

So depending on what pattern they choose, it can change the areas surrounding the microphone that it picks it up from. So it's like they have their own sound and audio team when used correctly.

 

Emilio Guarino - Glitch Magic

 

Shopping for a microphone involves looking at its intended purpose. Are you trying to record a specific instrument like drums? Or in a specific environment?

I would use a different mic for recording street interviews in NYC than I would in a controlled studio environment. The three features that help me make this choice are:

 

1. Type of mic

There are a few major types of microphones with the overwhelming majority being dynamic or condensor mics. There are other types like ribbon mics, but those are a more specialized type of mic and not as common.

Dynamic mics like the SM57 are much tougher, but less sensitive than a typical condenser mic. Just because a mic is more sensitive does not necessarily mean better.

For example in a live performance situation, dynamic mics tend to be used often because they reject unwanted sounds better.

In other words, if you put a mic on a snare drum, you want to capture that sound but limit how much bleed you get from the other musicians on stage to be able to do a pleasing mix.

 

2. Polar pattern

The polar pattern is what the general pickup pattern of the mic is. An omni condensor mic, for example, picks up a lot of detail in almost all directions. If you are recording room ambiance or need an audience mic for a live event, this is a great choice.

A cardioid mic picks up sound in front of it and rejects what is behind it.

Hypercardioid mics are similar but have an even tighter focus on what they pick up. So a good question to ask when selecting a mic is how much and in which direction do you want the mic to detect audio.

 

3. Electronic features

Many modern mics have extra quality-of-life features that make them easier to use. For example, some mics can change polar patterns or roll off low with a simple switch. This is often easier than having to swap mics or add processing after the fact.

Additionally, many mics even feature built-in interfaces now. Instead of connecting the mic to an interface over XLR to convert the audio to a digital signal for recording on a computer, you can connect the mic over USB. The digital conversion happens in the mic, not an external piece of equipment.

The three things I look for in a mic are type, polar pattern, and any extra electronic features. These are the three biggest pieces of information that tell me what it will be useful or not useful for. 

 

Sam Wale - ALIBI Music

 

These features will vary greatly depending on the intended use of the microphone. For example, dynamic microphones are great for live performance and recording loud sound sources, as they are less sensitive and more durable.

Condenser microphones, on the other hand, are generally better suited to studio recordings, particularly on vocals and acoustic instruments, due to their higher sensitivity and wider frequency response.

With that in mind, the main things I look at when buying a microphone for studio recording are:

 

1. Frequency response

This is the range of frequencies (in Hz) that a microphone can capture. Generally speaking, microphones with a wider and more balanced frequency response will more accurately capture the sound of the vocal or instrument being recorded.

 

2. Sensitivity

This is how effectively a microphone converts acoustic sound into an electrical signal and is measured in mV/Pa. In most cases, a higher sensitivity is preferable for capturing the intricate details and nuances of an instrument or vocal performance.

 

3. Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) 

This is the measure of the level of the intended sound source compared to the level of background noise, and is measured in decibels.

In most cases, microphones with a higher SNR will produce recordings with a clearer sound and less background noise and hiss, which is particularly important in a studio environment especially when recording quieter instruments or softer vocals. Some other things I would consider are:

 

4. Connectivity

XLR connection is most common in studio settings and requires an audio interface or mixer, but USB microphones can be useful for recording at home or on the go.

 

5. Polar pattern

The directional sensitivity of a microphone. Cardioid microphones pick up sound mostly from the front, which helps eliminate unwanted background noise.

 

6. Budget

Microphones vary massively in cost, so it’s important to research different brands and find the most suitable options in your price range.

 

NTRIK

 

My three biggest considerations when buying a microphone are cost/quality ratio, flexibility, and matching the qualities of the mic to the intended use. I primarily record vocals either for music or for podcasts and voiceovers.

1. Getting the highest quality sound I can within my budget is key for me. Setting a maximum budget and finding the product that will give me the highest quality sound that I can get. Stumbling across a mic that punches way above its weight for its price is what I’m looking for.

2. I also want a mic that is flexible and will suit multiple needs. Knowing the situations I'll be using the microphone for in advance ensures that I'm getting something that is fit for purpose and will work for me long term, without having to buy another mic unnecessarily.

For me, that came in the form of a mic that had multiple pickup patterns, which meant I could control how much of the background noise the mic picked up depending on what I was going for.

3. Finally, I primarily record vocals, so I want a mic that doesn't colour/exaggerate the sound too much. Selecting a mic that is detailed in the high end but picks up the full frequency spectrum evenly is important and allows me the most control over the final sound in the studio.

I bought a Rode NT-2a condenser mic almost 20 years ago with the above in mind and it's still my go-to vocal and instrument mic when I want to capture detailed performance that is complementary, silky smooth and always sounds great.


Thank you so much to all the musicians and podcasters who have shared their tips with us! 

If you enjoyed reading this article please share it with your friends and followers on social media. And don't hesitate to share your thoughts on what you look for in a microphone!

 

 

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