B&H Expert Video: Quick Tips

Not sure what type of microphone you should use? Watch this video!


Microphones are critical to making live sound and recording projects successful. They can be used for presentations, musical performances, interviews, vlogging, and many other applications. Determining which microphone is right for you depends on sensitivity, frequency response, directionality, and the ability to exclude unwanted sound and noise.


Different Types of Microphones

A dynamic microphone is a great all-around solution for many recording and live sound applications. It's robust with a diaphragm connected to a coil inside a magnet. This vibrates to create an electrical current that captures loud sounds without distortion.

Very popular for studio recording, a condenser mic has a vibrating capacitor, causing variation to an electrical current from a battery or power source. This type has a good frequency response and is sensitive to fine details.

Ribbon mics are versatile solutions for recording as well as live sound performances. One of these uses a small metal ribbon held in a magnetic field. As the ribbon vibrates, it generates a voltage. This model is very sensitive and produces good, clean sound.

USB microphones are convenient plug-and-play solutions for recording a variety of things, including musical vocals, podcasts, radio, and Skype. Although a USB microphone has a conventional design, it's different in that it converts an analog signal into a digital sound signal that computers recognize.

In short, wireless microphones are convenient, easily transportable, and don't require cumbersome cables. This makes them easy to pass around, and allows performers to move freely about the stage.

Understanding Polar Patterns

Each mic has a unique polar pattern reflecting its sensitivity to sound from different directions. The most common polar patterns are:

  • Omnidirectional: Intended for studio work, this type detects sound equally from all directions
  • Cardioid: Heart-shaped sensitivity pattern that's ideal for performing artists, with maximum sensitivity in the direction of the microphone, and less behind
  • Bidirectional: Often used in interviews, they're equally sensitive in front and behind
  • Unidirectional: Good for recording distant sound and very sensitive along its axis. Also called shotgun pattern

Choosing Live Microphones

A recording microphone for studio work needs to be sensitive and have excellent frequency response. To isolate individual performers, it's common to use directional studio recording microphones. While a dynamic model is good for strong, loud sounds, a condenser mic has better high-frequency performance. The size of the condenser diaphragm affects its response to high frequencies, and smaller is better. Ribbon mics are generally more durable than dynamic ones, and also have better high-frequency response than condensers.

Using Microphones for Video Recording

The quality of sound has a major impact on any production, so it's important to capture clear sound while minimizing other unwanted noise. Several types of location sound wireless microphones are available, ranging from the directional shotgun model to a stereo microphone that adds depth by identifying sound direction. A DSLR version is usually omnidirectional, and you can obtain clearer sound and reduce interference by using directional DSLR microphones.