What is the best Microphone for Recording, or is there such a thing?

So, you want to start recording and you want it to sound good, but you don’t know what is the best microphone for recording. I heard an instructor once say, “the best microphone for recording is the one you have in your hand.” If however, you do not have any microphones then perhaps we should start there.

There are a plethora of microphones to choose from and which one to choose will all depend upon what it is you’re going to be recording, right? To help you with your choice let us take a look at the kinds of microphones there are and what your project requirements might be.

expect-the-unexpected

They all do the same thing, don’t they?

There are many different types of microphones for many kinds of applications, but we will just look at a few of the basic types of microphones that are used by professionals and amateurs alike within the music industry.

The old adage, you get what you pay for, does apply to microphones to some extent. I have found, however, that some of the lesser priced microphones do a very adequate job. When you’re just getting started doing your own recordings, you will want to look to some of the workhorses that have contributed to the success of many of today’s professional and amateur performers.

It is not my intention here to promote any specific brand but it should be noted that the SM57, SM58, E835, and M1, (to name but a few), are very popular among performers across the spectrum. They are worthy workhorses that do a respectable job and are priced reasonably enough for the budding recording artist, sound engineer and/or producer, each coming in at about $100. Whether you have realized it or not, you have heard one or more of them at one time or another, especially where music is being performed.

Let’s take a quick peek

Here is a list of the most commonly used microphones types in the industry.

  • Dynamic 
  • Condenser
  • Ribbon 
  • Stereo
  • USB 

Again, this is not an exhaustive list. Each of these can crossover into each others niche if you will, which allows you to pick one if you have a wallet on a strict diet. Anyone of these could be used as a stand-alone microphone to do a project. Each, however, does have its own particular quality. Depending on what you will routinely be using the microphone for will help you determine which will be the best fit. It is important to know and understand the frequency responses that will be best suited to your specific application.

The Work Horses

Photo by DESIGNECOLOGIST

Dynamic microphones have been an industry standard for quite some time, and we see them virtually everywhere. Regardless of whether you are watching your favorite band(s) on television, actually attending a live concert, participating in your local place of worship, at the fairgrounds, or your local nightclubs (that goes without saying), you will likely be hearing what these microphones can do. The dynamic microphone can be used in a variety of ways and are often seen used in substitution where the remaining types of microphones on our list are more typically suited.

AKG C1000S Photo by Redguitar Productions

Condenser microphones come in two basic formats, large diaphragm, and small diaphragm. Generally speaking, condenser microphones are specialty microphones used in specific applications. The large diaphragm microphone is commonly used in recording studios for vocals for example, but can also be used to record instruments such as pianos and acoustical guitars and the like.

It Gets Better

Ribbon Microphones

RODE NTR – Ribbon Mic

Ribbon microphones are fantastic for room recording, certain vocal applications, acoustical instruments, and drum overheads. These microphones tend to be a little bit more expensive and again are preferred for more specialty applications. A little more expertise is recommended before adding this type of microphone to your toolbox.

Stereo Microphones

Stereo Microphone
Photo by Gritte

A stereo microphone is a little bit more eccentric and it too comes in various formats and configurations. A stereo microphone can come in handy to record a vocalist who is accompanying themselves with guitar for example. The set up would be to aim one part of the stereo microphone toward the vocalist while the other is directed toward the guitar.

USB Microphones

Finally, we have the USB mic, that can be integrated into a computer software system, (Digital Audio Workstation or DAW), and in some cases eliminating the need for an external interface. These microphones vary in price and quality and do require some experimentation for familiarity to get the sound that you’re looking for.

It Is Essential…

Photo by Dan Gold

When it comes to purchasing a microphone, I would encourage you to stay away from any microphone the cost less than the dynamic microphones listed above. While the various formats of a microphone can be used for very specific applications, you’ll want to move forward in acquiring the microphone type best suited for the job at hand. For example, the best microphones for recording guitar may not be a dynamic microphone but rather a configuration of a large or small diaphragm condenser microphone.

Different instruments have different needs with regard to how it emanates sound. When you consider the drum kit mic placement, for example, you will do it based on the number of microphones you have at your disposal. Typically at least three sounds pretty good, and of course six sounds great but I have seen as many as eight, (and more). So if you will be recording a drum kit, then you will want to consider making the necessary purchases to enhance your recording potential down the road. Don’t get me wrong, you can record a drum kit with one microphone, but the kind of microphone you use will certainly determine the quality of the sound you get. Experimentation here will be your friend.

That’s a Take

Photo by Jo Jo

Do you have to have the best? Well doesn’t everybody want the best? But what you want and what you need right now may be two vastly different things. Fortunately, you do not have to be super wealthy to afford to be able to make some recordings and share your work. Between the free software, pawnshops, online shopping and tutorials, and a little research you can acquire a very inexpensive assortment of compatible components to produce something you’ll be proud of. The microphone is one very important element of that end product. Knowing and understanding how to use the one you choose, will make it the best!

Many music stores will let you try out some of their equipment, especially the equipment that they rent out. That’s a good way to get familiar with some of the quality that’s available and again, pay attention to what equipment they are renting out. There is also the off chance that you can purchase some of this equipment at a reduced price, It may not be pretty but it will more than likely get the job done.

16 thoughts on “What is the best Microphone for Recording, or is there such a thing?

  1. Aj Reply

    This was an amazing read! I just purchased a mic a couple of weeks ago for a podcast I am putting together for my company. I wound up picking the Blue Yeti mic, I love it! I will be checking in here more often to get caught up on all the detailed info on mic and equipment from now on! Thanks for all the info.

    • admin Reply

      Awesome, thank you!!! If you do any public podcasts, I would be very interested in listening to hear how you Blue Yeti sounds!
      I don’t know everything so I am always up for getting more information so I can pass it on ~

      Enjoy the Day!
      Red

  2. TJ Reply

    This is awesome information. I didn’t realize how little I knew about microphones and how many different styles there were. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Eric Cantu Reply

    Great post. I do a lot of youtube screencasts that just use the laptop mic but I’ve heard such a difference when people record from something with a little better quality. What would you recommend for Screencasting and youtube vids?

    • admin Reply

      Excellent. I personally use a Nady USB-1C with A Rode Desk stand on my Skype computer. (I use a different set up for my YouTube recordings). Nice and warm. It is very clear and you do not have to be right on top of it, better yet, you don’t sound like your talking from across the room ~ There are a variety of good USB microphones out there that are smaller, this one looks like a Studio Microphone. I also encourage you to get a “pop screen” so whenever you turn directly into the mic, (that’s the nice part of this mic, you can be 33 to 45 degrees off and still sound good), you don’t get that popping breath sound.
      I subscribed to your YouTube site. Great speaker!!! (I can definitely hear your room, which is common with inferior microphones).
      Enjoy the Day ~
      Red

  4. Jamaar Reply

    Me being the artist i am sometimes now truly understand i cannot just use any microphone i assumed they were all the same!! Amazing!

    • admin Reply

      That’s great! You definitely want to check out the different types, but if you are on a limited budget I suggest going for a Large diaphragm mic and recording individual tracks one at a time. With a decent DAW you will be able to capture some amazing quality. A good starter Large diaphragm mic will run you about $150 – $300 and you will not be disappointed. Go make MUSIC!!!

  5. Brandon Reply

    Thanks so much for this write-up. My brother is in need of a new microphone and I wanted to surprise him but had no idea what I was actually purchasing. I’m going to get him the stereo microphone since he uses a guitar and sings along while he plays. Thanks again!

    • admin Reply

      Excellent Brandon!
      If there is anything I can do to assist you in making the decision just let me know!!

      Red ~

  6. Benji Reply

    I’ve seen most of these microphones before but I didn’t realize there was so many differences between them and how complex they were! I’m a musician but I’ve never know how to record properly, I may just give it a go though! Thanks.

    • Red Post authorReply

      Bravo! All musicians should have recordings of their work!!! If you need any assistance or insight, let me know 😉

  7. Devara Garrison Reply

    Wow! I never knew there were so many different types of microphones. I’m very interested in the USB microphone. I record a lot on my laptop PC and think that would be perfect for what I need.
    Thanks for sharing this great information.
    Take care,
    Devara

    • Red Post authorReply

      Greetings Devara,

      Excellent, glad I could be of help.
      There are some very good USB Microphones that would enhance your vocal audio, along with some free plugins for your laptop to improve the overall quality of your recordings, should you desire.
      If you choose a large diaphragm (recommended), USB microphone, I strongly encourage the use of a “Pop Screen”.

      Happy Recording!
      Red

  8. prudentChef Reply

    Well written article on microphones. I liked the way you described the uses for each of the different microphone types. I now know more about microphones.

    A suggestion: I thought the image of AKG C1000S didn’t fit the layout. All of your other images are on the right or left of the text. This one was in the middle, which is fine, but probably needs to be a little larger.

    • admin Reply

      Thank you for for stopping by and reviewing the article and for the critique, that’s awesome. 

      The goal is to provide information and education, and a little help where and whenever possible so I am excited we were able to be of service.

      Red ~

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