Tips: Condenser Recording Mics
This article gives unbiased advice and tips on what to look for when your about to purchase some recording mics for a home or project studio. It will take you through each level of condenser mics, from the budget, to the high end mics and what to expect from each. Its very difficult today choosing the best mics as their are so many to choose from, and half of the mics look similar. This guide will help anyone to choose the right mic from the selection offered by their local music store. This guide was written not to recommend mics made in a certain factory, country or brand but to clearly state the differences between mics so that you can quickly decide yourself armed with the correct knowledge on which condenser microphones are worth purchasing for your recording studio.
The two types of condenser microphones
This article mainly concentrates on condenser mics for recording as dynamic mics are no where near as versatile as a budget condenser mic. I wont cover the types of mics and how they work as that has already been covered in this article. Almost the only dynamic mics used in recordings, are mics that need to handle loud signals like a kick drum mic for example, or in situations where the recording is of a live performance on stage and background noise and feedback are considerations.
Generally speaking almost any carefully chosen budget condenser mics will sound better for recording then a dynamic mic. There are good reasons why this is the case as the diaphragm which captures the sound waves do not have a heavy magnet attached impeding the movement of the diaphragm This allows a condenser to react to smaller sound waves and capture more detail and truer to the original sound your trying to record. More on the types of microphones and how they work HERE.
There are two types of condenser mics, the electret and gold diaphragm types. The manual or spec sheet that the mic comes with will indicate what type of capsule that the microphone uses. Below the two types are discussed.
Gold diaphragm condensers
Large VS Small condensers
The size of the Diaphragm in a recording mic actually has less of a bearing on the sound than most people think. Whilst the last sentence is true most large diaphragm mics are designed to pick up lower bass and/or have a wider frequency range. The advantage of all large diaphragm mics over small diaphragms are that they generally have a louder output and need less gain. This means less spill between mics and less noise from your pre amps as your not driving them as hard. More on diaphragm size here.
What to look for in each price range
When choosing a mic look carefully at what type of capsule it uses, more so when its a pencil condenser (called this because of its long thin shape). Mics which use a single AA battery are normally an electret and whilst they are sometimes convient they sound inferior (in general) to a gold diaphragm microphone. Some brands make battery powered gold diaphragm mics, however these tend to use 9 volt batteries to run on. Chinese made large diaphragm mics are flooding the market, and as so many brands are made in the same factory just re-badged, this has lowered the price of good sounding recording mics to very affordable price ranges.
The first microphone a home studio requires is a versatile mic that can cover as many situations as possible. Its main role in most cases would be for recording vocals and guitar so an excellent sound for these are normally a high priority for small studio owners. When I was working in a music store selling microphones, 80% of people would come in looking for a shure sm57 or 58 planning on using it for recording vocals. Whilst these two mics are good mics in certain situations, if your looking for your first microphone a large diaphragm mic will sound better on more things and may even cost less if its made in China. Give the two mics a listen in the store and you'll hear the difference instantly.
More to consider
These tips are worth remembering when looking to purchase good recording mics.