Dynamic, Condenser, Ribbon: Types of Mics Explained and Their Purposes

In Audio Advice by MusicGearo

There are different types of mics in the market: dynamic, condenser, and ribbon. The thing is that you need to find one that suits your preference and purpose intended.

They are essential in day to day lives, and most events would never reach their peak in the absence of a microphone. They are used in most institutions, and due to diversity, more manufacturers are producing much better types that suit different functions.

What Are The Main Different Types of Studio Microphones?

 

There are three different types: 

  • Dynamic

  • Condenser

  • Ribbon

 


Dynamic Microphone – moving coil

These types are robust, making them ideal for sound reinforcement uses. They are both reliable and cheap to manufacture. They have a high tolerance to high sound pressure levels and require no power supply.  Dynamic microphones are ideal for recording loud, amplified instruments and drums. They tend to accentuate frequencies, thus, exciting and flattering singers.

These have a limited frequency response to 16kHz and have a low output that makes them insensitive to studio work. They offer fixed un-switched polar patterns of Omni-directional and cardioid.

Dynamic mics are ideal for general purpose only and use a simple design with few moving parts. They are versatile, relatively sturdy, and resilient to rough handling. These mics are best suited for handling high volume levels, such as from amplifiers and musical instruments. They do not require batteries or external power and lack an internal amplifier.

The diaphragm is attached to the coil, and when it vibrates in response to incoming sound waves, the coil moves backward and forward surpassing the magnet. The current created is then channeled from the microphone along wires. They have tailored frequency responses for particular applications.

They are cheap, long-lasting, sound effective, and making them be commonly used for recording. These tend to work as a speaker in reverse. They have simple construction, making them economical and rugged. They deliver fantastic sound quality and proper specifications in all areas of the microphone. It is impossible to overload a dynamic microphone due to its features. They are also rarely affected by extreme temperatures or humidity.


Ribbon microphone 

It works on the electric principle as the dynamic one. They have a flat mid-range frequency response that rolls off above 15kHz and are more delicate.  These mics are most preferred by classical and acoustic recordists who use sources with hi-frequency such as brass, electric guitar amps instruments, drums, and orchestra overheads. They are unsuitable for sound reinforcement use (Also read this post which mic should you use to record acoustic instruments).

They date back to the earliest days of microphones. These microphones use an incredibly thin ribbon of electromagnetic material, usually suspended between magnetic poles to create a signal. They are loved for the warm, old-school tone they produce. Quite useful for taming excessive sources like brass, drum overheads, or guitar amps. They naturally produce a perfect bi-directional figure-eight polar pattern with great response.


Condenser Microphone

Their physical mechanism makes them reproduce a wider range of frequencies as compared to the other two types. They produce higher and lower frequencies as compared to average human hearing. These microphones are efficient and deliver the best noise performance and the highest sensitivity of all studio microphones. They can be made with switchable polar patterns, are delicate and require phantom powering preferably from a mixer, audio interface or microphone pre-amp.

They are based on an electrically charged diaphragm assembly that forms a sound-sensitive capacitor. The sound waves vibrate a thin metal or metal-coated plastic diaphragm that is mounted in front of a rigid metal. They are normally powered by batteries or phantom power through a cable. They are more complex than dynamic microphones and are usually affected by extreme temperature and humidity, which cause them to become noisy or fail temporarily. 

 

Various microphone controls

  • Low-Frequency Roll-off allows the user to cut low frequencies by 10dB in situations where there is a proximity effect. 
  • The pad switch tends to cut the output of the microphone (10-20dB)

HOW TO DETERMINE THE RIGHT MIC FOR YOUR STUDIO

There are a few different factors that determine which microphone is right for your studio or needs. Here are the primary considerations:

  • know the frequency response
  • diaphragm size and weight
  • internal circuitry
  • diaphragm durability
  • general durability
  • resistance to moisture
  • gain before feedback
  • the price

MICROPHONE POLAR PATTERNS

Here is sound sensitivity that is relative to the direction from which the sound is heard. In simpler terms, it is how well the microphone hears sound from various directions, “directional sensitivity.”  The polar patterns of a microphone determine how much one can move while using it and the specific positioning. Also, it is the 3-dimensional space that surrounds the capsule, where it is sound sensitive.

1. Cardioid Polar Pattern

This microphone polar pattern has typically the least sensitivity in the back and the most at the front. Also, it’s beneficial as it isolates it from unwanted sound and resistance to feedback, making it appropriate for large stages.  It also has excellent rejection of the sound from directly behind the microphone and sideways. Moreover, it also features a proximity effect and is less responsive to room sounds.

It is the most common of the directional patterns and is widely used when there is a need to focus on one sound source reducing pickup from the sides and rear.

2. Supercardioid polar pattern

These types of microphones offer a narrower pickup than a cardioid, resist feedback and reject ambient sound. However, they have some pickup at the rear, and this makes it essential to place monitor speakers in the right position.

They are most suitable when single sound sources need to be captured in loud environments. This pattern has a more directional response at the front while the rejection at the back is weak. They are useful in resisting unwanted sound from behind and the sides of the microphone.

3. Omnidirectional polar patterns

This microphone pattern type has equal sensitivity at all angles and picks out sound evenly from all directions. Thus, it is not necessary to aim it in a specific direction. However, they cannot be pointed away from undesirable sources like speakers, which lead to less headroom for feedback. They usually capture natural, uncolored sound with no proximity effect. It is also useful if one wants to achieve a room’s natural reverb while recording. Besides, it can also handle higher sound pressure levels.

The omnidirectional pattern mainly occurs when the diaphragm is open to the air on one side and closed on the other. When the air pressure starts to change in response to sound waves, the diaphragm tends to move inwards and outwards. Also, it leads to the circular/ omnidirectional pattern. The physical body then produces a masking effect that tends to affect the sensitivity to off-axis high-frequency sound.

4. Bidirectional polar pattern (Figure of 8)

This microphone polar pattern picks up sound from in front of the microphone and the rear but not sideways. They mainly consist of the ribbon, condenser and large-diaphragm microphones. Also features the proximity effect and figure of 8 bipolar patterns. 

5. Hyper cardioid polar pattern

This type offers a narrower pickup than super cardioids, greater rejection of ambient sound and resists most feedback.  They tend to have some pickup directly at the rear, making it important to place monitor speakers correctly. They are most suitable in loud environments where single sound sources need to be picked up.

6. Lobar Polar Pattern

This type is the most highly directional, has a narrow lobe in the forward direction and rejects all the sounds from other directions. They have small lobes of sensitivity to the left, right, and rear. Due to the narrowness of the sensitivity, they are commonly used on television, film sets, stadiums, and field recordings. The sound that is usually not covered by the pickup pattern tends to be heavily colored.

 

Diaphragm Types

The diaphragm is the sector of the microphone that receives sound waves and moves when hit by them. The size of the diaphragm makes a difference when it comes to frequency range, dynamic range, frequency sensitivity, volume sound pressure levels handling capacity, and natural noise of the microphone. It is a thin membrane that moves in reaction to external sound pressure variation. It converts acoustic energy into electrical energy

The diaphragm performance is determined by the mass, shape and size, tension, material, and conductivity of the diaphragm. It is essential to purchasing a microphone with the right diaphragm size to effectively suit your preference. They range from small, medium, and large sizes.

Small Diaphragm

Any diaphragm size that is less than 5/8” would be considered as a small type. They are useful in capturing high-frequency content and transient. They tend to have a bit more air to their sound and often have less sound coloration than the medium and large diaphragm microphones. The small mass of the small diaphragm microphones makes it to closely follow any air disturbances that are subjected to.

Medium Diaphragm

The medium size wasn’t there in the past but carved in recently. The most popular ones were large and small size diaphragms. However, due to this, there is no precise upper and lower limit of its size. Therefore, any that measures 5/8” to 3/4” can be classified as a medium diaphragm. This type tends to do a decent job in catching transients and high-frequency content while delivering a slightly fuller, round, and warmer sound.

Large Diaphragm

These are the microphones that have a diaphragm larger than 3/4”. They tend to have a big sound, especially when more character is needed, like in the case of vocals. They are more sensitive than small and medium diaphragms because of the increased surface area. The coloration of a large diaphragm tends to enhance specific desirable characteristics in sounds which lead to more apparent bass or low end. 

Microphone Uses

Vocals

For vocals, you can use all the three microphone types. However, this depends on the vocalist, the song, and the environment (enclosed or outdoor). Different microphones support certain genres and vocal tones. The dynamic microphones are most suitable for aggressive singers or genres like metal and rock while condenser microphones are suitable for controlled genres like pop. The ribbon microphones are best suited for “vibey” genres like fold, jazz or blues.

Acoustic Guitar

This guitar tends to be brighter and more percussive, and they need small diaphragm microphones to make the performance superb.  However, if you want to make an old folk sound, you should use a ribbon or dynamic microphone. 

Electric guitar

If you want to produce the best sound while using a guitar, the dynamic microphones will suit you. The reason is that electric guitars are loud and have very little high frequency for a condenser to pick up.

Drums

In drums, different sounds that need to be captured. That’s why it is recommended that recording of a drum kit should be done in a professional studio to achieve the right sounds. Dynamic microphones are the best for capturing drum sound

The large-diaphragm microphones and ribbon microphones are also suitable for recording drum kits.

Conclusion

If you are looking forward to purchasing a microphone, I hope this will help you make the right choice. Make sure you choose the most effective one that fits your budget and preference. The portability of the microphone is also essential to ensure you can use it in various environments and for many years. Choose the best quality and don’t settle for less.

Related Posts:

Which Mic Should I Use to Record Acoustic Instruments?

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