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Microphones 101


Room Dynamics 101




Recording Basics


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In order to record most things, you have to have microphones. This is not an area to skimp on. You don’t have to spend a bundle but you will regret it if you don’t spend enough. There are basically two types of microphones used for recording (condenser and dynamic) and they all are either omni-directional, meaning that they will pickup sounds in all directions or have one of 6 different polar patterns (subcardioid, cardioids, super cardioids, hyper cardioids, figure 8 and shotgun). The polar pattern refers the area around the microphone that it will effectively pickup up from. Subcardioid and cardioid mics will pickup sounds in front of the mic with the cardioids picking up almost nothing behind it and sub-cardioids a little more so which make them both exceptional for stage vocals. Super and hyper cardioids pickup strongly right in front and in a small bubble directly behind the mic. Figure 8 and shotgun mics pick up, for the most part. only in front and behind the mic with the shotgun having the narrowest pattern side to side.

     The first group are the moving coil or dynamic mics . Probably the most used dynamic microphone in the world is the venerable Shure SM-57 . Since it is a dynamic microphone, it doesn’t require any additional power. It has been used on vocal tracks, as a guitar amp mic, snare mic, brass mic, etc. The next most popular dynamic mic is the Shure SM-58 .  You can’t beat it as a starter vocal mic for a home studio since its intended use is for live vocals. The major difference between it and the SM-57 (some say the only difference) is that the SM-58 has an integral windscreen. Another ubiquitous dynamic mic is the AKG D-112 used for kick drums and bass guitar cabinets. Also included in the dynamic category are specialty mics like harmonica mics (Shure’s Green Bullet being the most recognizable) and percussion mics that clip onto drums.

     The second type of microphone used in recording are known as condenser mics. These microphones require additional power in order to operate. Phantom power usually comes from the mixing console or pre-amp although in some cases there are mics that have separate power supplies or internal batteries. It’s called phantom because dynamic mics don’t recognize it if they happen to be plugged into a phantom power mic jack. There are literally hundreds of different condenser mics for sale but only three basic styles.

     The first type of condenser microphone is the small diaphragm. There are two types of small diaphragm condensers, the “shotgun” and “pencil”, but the pencil type is the one generally used in music recording studios It can be used almost exclusively for drum overheads or ensemble stereo recording although occasionally it will be used for acoustic instruments. They tend to be a bit on the bright side so be careful with additional equalization. Many times they will come in matched pairs for stereo recording and Rode actually has a mic that has 2 small diaphragm capsules mounted in an X-Y configuration for a very reasonable price

      The second type is the large diaphragm condenser mic. This is the one you usually see vocals recorded on in professional studios. Pricing on these can range from $100 to well over $5000. You can definitely spend way too much here if you don’t have the experience of listening to how they sound. There are some great $300 mics as well as some average $800 ones. A great group of $800 –$1000 mics is the AKG  C 414 family. These mics are probably the best addition you can make to your microphone cabinet when you can afford it.

     The last type of condenser mics are ribbon mics. They were developed in the 1930’s but not used very much any more as the ribbon elements are fragile, especially in high SPL situations.

       In every case, consider the instrument you are recording and try to match the frequency response of the instrument to the frequency response of the microphone. For instance, with vocals, a mic with a rise in frequency response around 2500hz will accentuate a vocal nicely especially if it has a low cut filter around 80hz or so. Guitars sit nicely in a mix when the mic has a peak at around 4000hz. Unless you’re recording a kick drum or bass cabinet, a mic with a low cut around 100 hz is the ticket.

       Don’t forget - you need cables to connect your microphones to your recording equipment. Most microphones require a 3-pin XLR connector (also known as a mic cable). Don’t skimp on these either, there are some excellent products with lifetime warranties just a bit more expensive than the cheapest brand.


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Shure SM58 Mic Shure SM58
Shure SM57 Instrument/Vocal Mic Shure SM57 Instrument/Vocal Mic
AKG C 414 B-XLS Condenser Microphone AKG C 414 B-XLS Condenser Microphone
Rode Microphones NT4 Dual-Element Stereo Microphone Rode Microphones NT4 Dual-Element Stereo Microphone