Microphone Buying Guide

Microphones allow many types of audio recording devices to be used for purposes such as communications of various kinds, music, speech, and sound recording.

Whether you are shooting a short film or launching a new podcast, audio quality is very important to production value. While many creatives create a lot of great content using only a smartphone, you may want to take your project to the next level. The only problem is that figuring out which microphone is best for you can be daunting. Microphones are used in many places and for many tasks.

Digital cameras and smartphones have good built-in microphones. If you’re shooting quick home videos to be seen only by you and your family, that microphone will suffice, but if you want your work to be seen by a larger audience, you’ll need an external microphone. If you have been annoyed by inadequate audio levels or your desired audio source is overshadowed by too much background noise, that’s a good sign that you too should consider buying a dedicated microphone to enhance your production.

Analyze what is Needed

The first step in buying a microphone is to analyze exactly what is needed. Different applications have very different requirements, and different microphone types have very different characteristics. By matching the requirements with the characteristics of the microphone type, you can select the basic type. Then it’s a matter of looking at the individual specifications and buying the microphone that is best suited for the application.

Types of Microphones

There are different types of microphones, each used for different purposes (voice recording, musical instrument recording, stage microphones, etc.). When choosing your studio microphone, you should consider the microphone’s sensitivity (its voltage, which depends on the ambient sound pressure), breathing (the movement of electrons in the sound processing chain), frequency response (how bass and treble are predicted), and directivity (the microphone’s response to the sound source). Each of these characteristics determines a microphone type.

Condenser Microphones

Condenser microphones are the most common type of microphone in the studio and have a fairly wide frequency range. They are one of the oldest microphone designs on the market and have the ability to accurately reproduce the speed of an instrument or voice, which is called transient response. For this reason, they are excellent when accuracy and clarity in recording are important.

Because of their fragility and sensitivity to loud noises, condenser microphones are generally only used in the studio, although they can also be found in live recordings as drum overheads. Condenser microphones require an external power supply, around 48 volts, either through a mixing console or a preamplifier. Condenser mics tend to be more expensive than other mics. So when buying, don’t fall into the trap of buying a microphone that is on the lower end of the price spectrum, as it is unlikely to deliver high quality sound.

Dynamic Microphones

Dynamic microphones are more durable than condenser microphones. They are able to handle higher sound pressure and the effects of the elements, which makes them perfect for live performances and outdoor concerts. They can also be used in the studio, but are better suited for heavy metal and rock vocals than acoustic music, which requires more subtlety and clarity. Dynamic microphones do not require an external power source.

USB Microphones

Most microphone cables have either a quarter-inch jack or XLR connector, which means you can’t plug them directly into a laptop. USB microphones, however, are ideal for simple home recording. All you need is the microphone and your computer. They’re perfect for a one-person podcast. They’re also great for enhancing the sound of your voice in a Zoom meeting or Skype call.

The microphone is powered by your computer’s USB port. And the port lets you record directly into your computer’s audio editing software. Many USB microphones, like the Mackie Chromium, have built-in headphone jacks for easy listening. It gives you a taste of the clear, smooth sound you can get with condenser mics, which I’ll discuss below. Unlike conventional condenser mics, however, the Chromium doesn’t require external phantom power, as it gets it from the USB connection to your computer.

Ribbon Microphones

Ribbon microphones use a thin, metallic ribbon to produce sound. The ribbon is caused to reverberate by the sound pressure and picks up the sound. Ribbon microphones are considered by many to be among the most natural sounding microphones and are bidirectional, meaning they pick up sound equally well from both sides.

However, they are very fragile even a slight shock can cause damage. The output power is also lower than that of a dynamic microphone, so hum reduction and shielding are important. These microphones, once common in professional studios, have made a comeback in the last 30 years with the advent of home recording.

Carbon Microphones

A carbon microphone consists of two metal plates separated by a carbon granulate. One of these plates faces outward and acts like a diaphragm. When sound hits the plate, it compresses the carbon particles to produce audio signals. Although they are extremely cheap and durable, they do not have the best frequency response, meaning they cannot handle the highest highs and lowest lows as well as other microphones on the market. This sometimes results in background noise. If you want to record music, you should consider a different type of microphone.

Wireless Microphones

Wireless microphones come in a variety of sizes and configurations, but all offer the same basic benefit: freedom of movement. This can be helpful for a lead singer who has more freedom of movement on stage. A wireless microphone uses batteries to transmit a signal to a receiver, which connects to the mixer just like a wired microphone.

The batteries and transmitter are built right into most handheld microphones. Wireless lavalier microphones are often used for video production. These very small lapel microphones require a separate power supply/transmitter that attaches to the belt. Fitness instructors often use headset microphones like the Shure SM31FH. It is moisture resistant, so a little sweat won’t hurt it.

Crystal Microphones

Crystal microphones use crystal materials to convert sound energy into electrical energy. These microphones are generally considered inferior, but offer much better sound than carbon microphones. These microphones are the first choice when low cost is your greatest concern.

Directionality of Microphone

The directivity of a microphone describes how it picks up sound from its surroundings. Some microphones can pick up sound from all directions at once, while most other microphones are limited to a specific direction, which can be used depending on the situation.


A cardioid or “heart-shaped” polar pattern is commonly used for recording vocals or speech. Microphones with this polar pattern “hear” sounds mainly from the front, where the microphone is pointing, and a little from the sides. Cardioid microphones are most commonly used for recording music.


Supercardioid microphones have a narrower pickup circle than their cardioid brethren, allowing for better suppression of ambient noise. Unlike cardioid microphones, supercardioid microphones also have part of the pickup directly on the back, as shown in the diagram above. Supercardioid microphones are best for picking up individual sound sources in noisy environments and are resistant to feedback.


Bidirectional microphones pick up sound from the front and back in a figure-of-eight pattern. These microphones are popular with podcasters and cost $500 or more.


An omnidirectional microphone can pick up sounds evenly from all directions, which makes it particularly suitable for recording groups or crowds. They are often used for live performances in the studio, where the sound of the room is to be recreated, but are not suitable for live use because they are very susceptible to feedback.

Understanding Microphone Diaphragm Sizes

Condenser and dynamic microphones are classified by the size of their capsule. Traditionally, this has resulted in two classes: Large-diaphragm and small-diaphragm microphones, both of which have their place in a well-equipped studio. The mid-diaphragm microphone – a relatively recent development – can be considered a hybrid, combining the characteristics of both large and small diaphragm microphones.

Large Diaphragm

Large-diaphragm condenser microphones like the venerable Neumann U87 are a staple in the studio. From vocals to strings to brass to drums, you can record just about anything with large-diaphragm condenser microphones. The numerous pickup patterns and pads that many large-diaphragm condenser mics feature make them the most versatile mics in your studio.

There are also large-diaphragm dynamic microphones that work well for recording loud sources with powerful bass (such as kick drums or toms). The esteemed Sennheiser MD421 microphone falls into this category.

Medium Diaphragm

The definition of medium diaphragm size is a potentially controversial topic. In the past there were large diaphragm and small diaphragm microphones, but more recently the medium size has begun to form its own category, although not everyone agrees on the exact upper and lower limits.

Most experts and manufacturers agree that any microphone with a diaphragm of about 5/8″ to 3/4″ diameter can be considered a mid-diaphragm. In general, mid-diaphragm microphones tend to capture transients and high frequencies well (as would be the case with a small diaphragm), while providing a slightly fuller, rounder, and possibly warmer sound (as would be the case with a large diaphragm).

Small Diaphragm

Small-diaphragm condenser microphones, often perceived by novice recordists as standing in the shadow of their large-diaphragm counterparts, actually shine in applications where their larger cousins cannot. Their characteristic ultra-responsive behavior is due precisely to their smaller, lighter diaphragms.

As a studio mic for acoustic guitar, hi-hat, harp – or any other instrument with sharp transients and extended harmonics – small-diaphragm drum overheads are the choice of many engineers. Another advantage of these bantamweights (often referred to as pencil mics due to their typically thin cylindrical shape) is that they are easy to position.

Important Microphone Specs to Consider

Now that you know what type of microphone you want and what connectivity options are best for you, there are a number of features to consider:

Frequency Response

This refers to the way a microphone responds to frequencies in its operating range, exaggerating some and reducing others. Each microphone has its own frequency response capabilities, but the two most common types of frequency response are flat and matched. Flat frequency response covers all audible frequencies from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz, an incredibly wide range.

This frequency response is best suited for recording situations where the sound needs to be reproduced without alteration. Tailored frequency responses are used when a specific selection of a frequency range needs to be enhanced, whether for live vocals or instruments.

Dynamic Range

The dynamic range of your microphone refers to the difference between the lowest and highest signal it can produce, measured in decibels. A voice coil microphone has a range of up to 140 dB. Condenser microphones offer a lower range. It is much easier to overdrive them.

Signal-to -Noise Ratio

The signal-to-noise ratio of a microphone is the difference between the level of the audio signal you want to record (speech, music, etc.) and the level of noise it picks up in the background (e.g., the hum of the air conditioner or a plane flying overhead). So you need a microphone that picks up a high signal but low noise. Average microphones have a signal-to-noise ratio of 60 dB or more, while the best microphones have 100 dB or more.

Maximum Input Sound Pressure level (SPL)

This value indicates the highest sound pressure level that your microphone can handle before the audio signals are distorted. An average microphone has a distortion of 0.5% at 1,000 Hz. However, you can increase the volume your microphone can pick up before it distorts by using an attenuation switch. The use of the microphone determines what the maximum sound pressure level should be. Heavier rock music requires a microphone that can handle a higher volume.

Output Connector

There are many different connectors to connect your microphone to your sound system. The four most common are:

  • TRS connectors

These are the most commonly used plugs for the average consumer. They are also known as jack plugs and are typically available in three sizes: 1/4″, 3.5mm, and 2.5mm. They are also available for mono and stereo configurations, which is not the case with many other plugs.

  • XLR connector

The 3-pin XLR connector is a standard in the professional field, while a 4-pin XLR connector is most often used with amateur radio microphones. Broadcast professionals sometimes also opt for these connectors because they can use the fourth pin for a push-to-talk circuit controlled by a button on the microphone. This allows them to momentarily mute their sound in case they need to cough or clear their throat.

  • Multi-pin circular connectors

Multi-pin circular connectors are screw type circular connectors for Citizens Band and Amateur Radio equipment. These connectors are available with two to eight pins. The problem, however, is that there has never been an industry standard for pinout, so they vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, often making them incompatible with other brands.

  • Modular Connector

For more modern radios, you should use a modular connector, although these were originally developed for telephones and later for computer networks. There are no industry standards for these connectors either, so they are often incompatible from brand to brand and sometimes even within models of one brand.


The sensitivity level of your microphone indicates how much power it can produce for a given sound it picks up. The higher the sensitivity, the higher the output voltage. It will not need as much gain as a device with lower sensitivity. Standard microphones can produce a 1,000 Hz tone with a sound pressure level of 94 dB.


Impedance, measured in ohms, refers to the resistance of a circuit to an alternating current, which in the case of your microphone and sound system is the audio signal being transmitted. Microphone impedance is generally classified as low (less than 600 ohms), medium (600 to 10,000 ohms), or high (over 10,000 ohms), with some microphones offering the ability to choose between the different values. While impedance is not the most important characteristic, it can still affect the clarity and quality of the sound. Low impedance microphones are generally preferable to high impedance microphones, as high impedance devices generally do not perform well over longer cable runs.

Response flatness

Although a flat frequency response may seem ideal, boosting the highs can sometimes be beneficial, especially for vocals. However, in PA applications, be aware that this can make the system more susceptible to howling noise, where the signal from the speakers enters the microphone and creates a howling sound. Dynamic microphones often have some treble boost, which works well for many vocals.


Cost is an important factor when buying a microphone. Generally, the higher the price, the better the microphone, but this is not always the case. In general, however, higher-end microphone manufacturers such as Sennheisser, AKG, R0DE and the like have many excellent microphones in their lineup. For lower-priced purchases, there are also other manufacturers that can offer excellent value for money.


The type of microphone depends a lot on the situation and the style you want to create. Choose the equipment that gives you the best chance of producing the sound you want. A microphone is a device that translates sound vibrations in the air into electronic signals and transmits them to a recording medium or speaker. Microphones allow many types of audio recording devices to be used for purposes such as communications of various kinds, music, speech, and sound recording.

Editorial Staff
Editorial Staffhttps://www.bollyinside.com
The Bollyinside editorial staff is made up of tech experts with more than 10 years of experience Led by Sumit Chauhan. We started in 2014 and now Bollyinside is a leading tech resource, offering everything from product reviews and tech guides to marketing tips. Think of us as your go-to tech encyclopedia!


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