The Different Types Of Microphones Explained

The most common microphones and their uses

microphone types
When it comes to recording guitars, drums vocals and other acoustic instruments at home or in the studio, you’ll want the best sound possible and at all times. But to get it you’ll need a selection of good quality microphones. Before you run out and buy a bunch of microphones, you really need to have a bit of an idea of how you’re going to use them should you want to get the best out of your mic. The tricky part is figuring out which ones you’ll need, as not all microphones are used for the same thing. If you’ve found yourself asking what are the different types of microphones and struggling to figure out what microphone types you need to record drums, guitars and vocals with, fear not, we’re here to help.

What are the different types of microphones?

There are 2 main microphone types that you will be using in a studio or recording environment, namely the Dynamic Microphone and the Condenser Microphone. There is a third type called a Ribbon Microphone too, but these are less common and usually used by professionals only.

Dynamic Microphones

Shure SM-58

  • The Dynamic Microphone is a good all rounder microphone which can be used for vocals, recording drums as well as guitar amps
  • It does not need a power supply
  • They are fairly low cost
  • Most common types are the Shure SM57 and the Shure SM58

Overall a dynamic microphone is a sturdier and more reliable microphone option for those who play live, record their vocals or guitars at high levels and swing their microphones around due to the fact if you drop them they’ll be ok. They take an awful lot of noise before they start to distort, so for heavier guitars and more aggressive vocals in a live setting, this microphone is for you. The technical bit is that these microphones use a moving coil magnetic diaphragm to produce the audio signal and can handle high Sound Pressure Levels (SPL). You can learn more about these microphones in our very in depth blog.

Condenser Microphones

condenser microphones

  • Ideal for recording vocals or acoustic guitars
  • Perfect for precision recording and capturing subtle nuances on pianos or acoustic guitars
  • They do need a power supply
  • Very sensitive to breathing and “popping”
  • Not suitable for high volume recording i.e. a guitar amp

Condenser microphones are extremely sensitive and due to the fact they use a conductive diaphragm which vibrates with sound pressure and uses capacitance to create the audio signal, they are very susceptible to distorting at higher levels, so not ideal for recording guitar amps up close. You will often see a condenser microphone with a popper stopper or “pop shield” filter placed in front of it when someone is recording vocals with them. This is to stop excess air pressure vibrating the microphone. Due to the fact they are so sensitive, you get a far more natural and transparent recording with a condenser microphone.

Ribbon Microphones

  • Extremely sensitive microphone
  • Great for vocals, choirs, piano, strings, and woodwind
  • Perfect for recording multi-instruments in a room
  • Often described as a more vintage vibe
  • Can be quite expensive

Ribbon mics are for the recording connoisseur (and those with a little extra funds to spare), and often those who want a vintage sounding vibe to their recording. Ribbon mics have an uncanny ability to record an entire room beautifully, record higher notes associated with woodwind or strings accurately and relay more ambient sounds. These features make these microphones very popular with those who want to record a wide range of acoustic instruments professionally.

With a myriad of different microphones out there we highlight some of the best microphones by type and what you would use them to record.

Dynamic microphones for vocals and amplifiers and all purpose recording

The Shure SM57 microphone is an industry standard mic that is a must-have in your studio. They are extremely durable and are perfect for recording high volume and percussive instruments such as snare drums, guitar amplifiers and even vocals. It’s a safe bet that any album you own uses one of these very affordable microphones.

Shure sm57

Another industry standard comes in the form of the Shure SM58 microphone. Ideal for touring musicians and those who record frequently, the mesh grille, windshield and sturdy construction ensure this mic will not only stand the test of time, but happily take any abuse you throw at it. Ideal for vocals, floor toms and even bass amplifiers.

Shure SM58

Condenser microphones specifically for acoustic guitars and vocals

The SE X1 Condenser microphone is a professional grade condenser mic with an affordable price tag. It’s a no-nonsense microphone perfect for recording studio quality vocals and acoustic instruments, and it’s built to last too! The toughened steel grille protects the hand built large-diaphragm, gold-sputtered capsule and electronics inside. As far as condenser mics go, you’re best starting here.

SE-X1

If you want to start taking your vocal recording serious, you need a serious piece of equipment. The SE Electronics SE2200A IIC Multi Pattern Microphone was featured throughout Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’ album, and if that is not a testament to how good this mic sounds, I don’t know what is! It’s ability to eliminate colouration from the signal is one of the main reasons musicians and producers love it – you get a pure signal. Whether you’re producer, home recording artist or engineer this microphone should definitely be considered when you’re putting your rig together.

SE Electronics SE2200A IIC Multi Pattern Microphone

Ribbon microphones for vocals and room recordings

A ribbon mic is definitely a microphone for the more professional recording artists or producers among us, so when it comes to buying one you need a professional grade option. The Rode NTR Active Ribbon Microphone is meticulously manufactured in Rode’s very own Australian factory and utilises a highly sensitive 1.8 micron ribbon element, so sensitive in fact that it requires an internal shock mount system to protect it. When it comes to recording an entire room of strings, a choir, vocals, piano and woodwind you won’t get much better.

Rode NTR Active Ribbon Microphone

Final thought

Of course, just like anything to do with music, there is no hard and fast rule to recording techniques. Some microphones are definitely designed with particular sounds and functionality in mind, but experiment as much as possible when it comes to recording your music.

View a huge range of high quality microphones at the Dawsons website.

Lee Glynn is a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who lives in Liverpool, England. After moving to the UK from Perth, Australia, Lee enjoyed a successful career as guitarist in Liverpool based rock band Sound of Guns. After releasing two albums, a myriad of EPs / singles and touring extensively around the world for 6 years including stops at Glastonbury, Latitude Festival, as well as the coveted Reading & Leeds Festivals, Lee decided it was a time for a change of scenery. Utilising his experience in music journalism, Lee now works within the web team at Dawsons Music, where he can still relay his passion for music by producing great content for the Dawsons blog and social media. Lee is still an avid guitar player and writer.

Lee Glynn is a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who lives in Liverpool, England. After moving to the UK from Perth, Australia, Lee enjoyed a successful career as guitarist in Liverpool based rock band Sound of Guns. After releasing two albums, a myriad of EPs / singles and touring extensively around the world for 6 years including stops at Glastonbury, Latitude Festival, as well as the coveted Reading & Leeds Festivals, Lee decided it was a time for a change of scenery. Utilising his experience in music journalism, Lee now works within the web team at Dawsons Music, where he can still relay his passion for music by producing great content for the Dawsons blog and social media. Lee is still an avid guitar player and writer.