Weapons check

mic types

Before you start shoving it inside kick drums, maybe you should get to know your microphone…
Mic type
The first thing to consider is that there are different types of microphones, and matching microphone type to application is critical in getting a good recording.

Dynamic
Dynamic microphones are unpowered and therefore rely on the strength of the incoming sound waves to move their diaphragm, which is physically attached to the components that create the current/signal. Dynamic mics are more suited to louder sources such as drums, guitar cabinets, and strong vocals.

Condenser/capacitor
Condenser microphones need to be powered. The diaphragm is separated from a back plate by an electrical charge. When the space between the diaphragm and the back plate changes, the capacitance changes, which causes changes in voltage/signal. This jargon basically translates as a mic that can pick up much softer signals clearly with great detail, and a broader range of frequencies. Condenser microphones can be used for just about everything from very quiet sources to snare drum explosions.

>Large diaphragm
Microphones with a large diaphragm are best used for applications requiring warmth, colour, and character. Although large diaphragm mics are seen used on pretty much everything, they are more commonly used on vocals, acoustic guitars, and for room mics.

>Small diaphragm
Microphones with a small diaphragm are best used for applications where colour and warmth are not required, but rather a cleaner, more focused sound. These mics are often used for stringed instruments and as drum overheads.

Ribbon
A ribbon microphone is actually a type of dynamic microphone, except that instead of a diaphragm, they have a thin corrugated metal ribbon sat between the poles of a magnet. Some modern active ribbon microphones are used for vocal recordings, but standard ribbon microphones are generally used on guitar cabinets, and anything that has a harsh frequency, or a snarl, or a bleat. A ribbon microphone will provide a smooth sound, especially in higher frequencies where other microphones can sound harsh. It’s worth noting that although phantom power can’t damage dynamic mics that don’t require it, a phantom power charge can kill a ribbon mic – so be careful!

Polar patterns
The next thing to consider is the polar or ‘pick up’ pattern. A polar pattern is basically the direction and area the microphone can pick up sound from. The cardioid pattern is the most common.

Cardioid

The cardioid pattern gets its name from the heart shaped area in which it picks up sound. A cardioid mic is fairly directional, and only picks up sound from directly in front of the capsule, It’s also very good at rejecting sound from other directions.
 
Supercardioid


This pattern is very similar to the cardioid pattern, except that it also picks up sound from a small area behind the microphone.


Figure-of-eight

The figure-of-eight pattern picks up sound from both the front and back of the capsule equally. This pattern is used for drum overheads, string sections, vocal groups, and in mid-side miking.

Omnidirectional

As you may have guessed, an omnidirectional pickup pattern picks up signal from all directions. Omnidirectional mics are useful as room mics, when recording pianos, and when the proximity effect causes issues.
 
Buttons and switches
 
You may have noticed that your microphone has a couple of switches on it, like so:
 
The switch on the left is a low-cut (or high-pass) filter. When activated this cuts lower frequencies (this differs from around 75-300Hz depending on the mic), or you can set it flat, which doesn’t cut anything. This switch is usually engaged on vocal recordings to cut lower grumbling, rumbling frequencies that you don’t want to make their way onto the recording.
The switch on the right is a simple pad switch. This switch allows you to cut the gain of the mic by 10dB or 20dB (by 20dB on the mic pictured), although this differs from model to model. Why? Well vocals are fine with the mic set at 0, but if you stick the same mic on a guitar cabinet or a snare drum, you may find that the signal is way too hot. So by engaging the pad switch, you can lower the levels to a safer…level.
 
Now you know what you’re dealing with, go forth, and stick mics in things!

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