Cardioid, omnidirectional, USB, XLR, Lavalier, Dynamic. These are all words that will come up when asking 'What microphone should I use?' Picking the right microphone for your project is actually a complicated question. Each microphone comes with different use cases, different listening types and different features. Today, we're going to attempt to make your life a bit easier by explaining the different microphone types. In turn, it should help answer all your questions about what microphone you should use!
Basic microphone types
There are three different types of microphones that you will come across. They include Dynamic Microphones, Condenser Microphones, and Ribbon Microphones.
- Dynamic Microphones - This is the most common type of microphone on the market. They deliver quality sound with plenty of use cases. They're also more durable, enabling you to take them anywhere. Whether you need them for someone speaking, recording music, or other audio capture - they perform well in all situations. They way they capture audio is through a moving magnetic coil.
- Condenser Microphones - Condenser mics are best suited for stationary setups, as they are sensitive to sound. The sound quality created from a condenser is much higher, especially for vocal capture. They're so sensitive, that most people have to use a pop filter when using them. They capture sound through a conducive diaphragm.
- Ribbon Microphones - These mics have gone out of fashion for most people, as they are both expensive and their usage is specific. Ribbon mics are great at capturing 'the whole room', making them best suited for piano/some orchestral recordings.
Microphone "listening" types
There are several different ways that microphones capture audio. Knowing which capture method is right for your usage is crucial to picking the right microphone. The four listening types are Cardioid (unidirectional), bidirectional, omnidirectional and shotgun.
- Cardioid - A cardioid microphone captures the sound in front of it, which is why it's also called unidirectional. That allows the mic to capture the sound in front of it, with very little sound from other directions. Cardioid mics are the most popular microphone listening type.
- Bidirectional - As the name would suggest, a bidirectional mic records audio in opposite ways. Front and back. This type of microphone is often used for interview type situations where two people are facing opposite of each other.
- Omnidirectional - This microphone captures audio from every direction. It can be particularly useful in situations where room filling audio wants to be captured naturally - such as concerts or choirs.
- Shotgun - Shotgun mics are designed similarly to Cardioid mics, in that they are unidirectional. But, shotgun's take that focus to the extreme. Instead of covering an V shaped area, shotgun mics are focused on the exact point they are being pointed at. This makes them common among TV and movie shoots.
Microphone connection types
There are five different types of microphone connection that you should be aware of. Depending on your project, one may be better suited than the other.
- USB - This type of connection enables the microphone to be directly connected to a computer, laptop or in some cases, a tablet.
- XLR - XLR is a professional audio electrical connector. Depending on your microphone, your XLR may need to be connected to a 'powered' XLR input for the microphone to work.
- 1/4 Inch - While traditionally used as a connector for studio quality headphones, some microphones connect to a mixer via 1/4 inch jack. They look like much larger versions of a 3.5mm headphone jack.
- 3.5mm - Mics that connect directly to most DSLR cameras are 3.5mm based. In some cases, they need a special 'powered' version, depending on the camera. You may also find lapel style mics designed for smartphones.
- Wireless - A wireless microphone is wireless in the sense that the microphone has no wires. Instead, a digital receiver box connects to your PC or mixer, to enable sound to travel from the mic wirelessly.
What microphone should you use?
Now that we know all the variations of a microphone, let's consider the most common use case for several different scenarios. It's important to know that connection type should be decided first based on your existing equipment and filming setup.
- Vlogging - If you plan on creating vlogs, there are two types of mics you should consider. The built-in mic on the camera may be all you need - especially with high-end Point-and-Shoot cameras. If you are shooting on a DSLR, look into a camera mounted shotgun mic. Rode has an entire line of affordable camera mounted shotgun mics that are perfect for the task.
- YouTube - Depending on the kind of YouTube content you are creating, various mics will apply. If you are shooting on a DSLR, you should consider a camera mounted shotgun mic. If you are doing something more stationary, lapel based mics might make more sense. In either case, you want the mics to generally be unidirectional at the person talking.
- Interviews - If you are sitting down for an interview, there are three mic types that would make sense. The natural choice is a bidirectional microphone aimed at both people. Second, would be a lapel style microphone. Third, would be a wide angled cardioid style recorder such as a Zoom, which captures audio in 90-120 degree spreads.
- Streaming - If you plan to stream on YouTube or Twitch, the only natural choice is a high-quality cardioid condenser mic. You should put that mic on a boom arm with a pop filter in front of it for the best sound possible.
- Live Music - Recording your bands live music? Invest in a cardioid microphone that can capture all the sound coming from the stage. If you are simply practicing, an omnidirectional mic in the middle of the room will work.
- ASMR - ASMR is a rapidly growing category of video, which benefits from bidirectional audio. Being able to move sounds around from ear to ear, helps create those head tingly moments. They also sometimes come with the name “binaural”.
- Singing - In a performance setting, a dynamic cardioid microphone is all you need. The mix of durability and performance make it perfect to be on stage with. If you're recording vocals for an album, a condenser mic in a soundproof room is what you want.
- Presentations - If you plan on doing live presentations, a wireless microphone will be your best friend. While a handheld wireless cardioid dynamic mic will be fine, a wireless lapel system would be even better.