Your audio journey – Part 3 – Microphones

Welcome back to the audio journey and in this blog series, I hope to be able to help you either start your adventure as a voice-over artist or podcaster.

In the last post I discussed selecting your recording space and the importance of it. As I wrote in that post it may be that you want to go back and re-read that after following through the rest of the journey.

Today we’re going to talk about microphones. In terms of the equipment you buy this will be one of the most important investments you’ll make in either your voice over business or podcasting adventure.

There are basically two types of microphone to choose from and each has its advantages and disadvantages. There are condenser microphones and dynamic microphones.

Condenser microphones use a fragile diaphragm in front of a solid backplate. The diaphragm is electrically charged and the audio signal is generated by the movement of the diaphragm relative to the solid backplate. Because of the diaphragm needing to be electrically charged to generate signal condenser microphones generally need 48v phantom power.

Dynamic microphones work differently. Here sound waves hit a metallic diaphragm attached to a coil of wire and the wire coil is vibrated by the diaphragm in response to the sound waves. There is a magnet within the coil that produces a magnetic field and the motion of the coil in the magnetic field is how the sound is generated. Dynamic microphones do not need 48v phantom power.

Each microphone type has its benefits.

A dynamic microphone is of more rugged construction and therefore is easier to move around if you record your podcast in various locations for example. Due to its rugged nature it’s often found in live environments. However the very nature of the microphone’s workings also provide a drawback in that due to the heavy diaphragm and wire coil movement of the assembly is limited meaning a dynamic microphone has a narrower frequency pick up than a condenser microphone.

A condenser microphone is generally more expensive than a dynamic microphone of the same quality level but for a good reason. Because of the technology that generates the sound allowing a more free movement of the diaphragm a condenser microphone is able to pick up a wider range of frequencies allowing for a richer and warmer sound than a dynamic microphone can produce.

Dynamic microphones are often used in podcasting. They are more forgiving to less than perfect recording spaces and do an excellent job at rejecting room reflections. Their frequency pick up range is well suited for recording podcasts as they produce a clear sound containing the majority of the frequencies within the human voice.

A condenser microphone can be used for podcasting or voice-over work but needs to be used in a treated environment. Because of the sensitive nature of the workings they will pick up room reflections if used in an untreated environment. But used in a properly sound treated environment a condenser microphone will produce a rich, warm reproduction of your voice capturing all the frequencies,including those inaudible to the human ear.

If you’re seriously looking to get into voice-over work, voice acting, audiobooks, corporate narration then a condenser microphone, or more specifically a large diaphragm condenser microphone should be your choice.

The other thing to consider is polar or (pick up) pattern of your microphone. The most common is a cardioid pattern.

A cardioid microphone is most sensitive at the front, picking up sound loud and clear from the front, it will pick up sound from the sides but not as loud or clear and will generally reject sound from the rear. This polar pattern is ideal for most voice work.

A hyper cardioid microphone is similar to a cardioid microphone except that the front sensitivity area is much more narrow, sound is again picked up off the front but much quieter and again rejected from the rear. Shotgun mics are generally hyper cardioid.

Omnidirectional microphones are equally sensitive on all sides of the microphone. Such a microphone would be best suited to a group recording, perhaps recording a podcast with an omnidirectional microphone sat on a table and the host and guest sat around the table. Be aware though that the very nature of the omnidirectional microphone means it also picks up more background noise.

Microphones also come in figure 8 pick up patterns which has a sensitive side on both the front and back of the microphone, picks up sound off centre relative to the back and front and rejects sound at the very sides points.

The Rode NT2A, for example, has a selectable polar pattern offering cardioid, omnidirectional or figure 8 pick up patterns all within the same microphone.

Some microphones will also come with other settings on, notably a pad and a high pass filter. Some microphones offer both or a choice of one or the other.

The Rode NT2A comes with a high pass filter (traps all frequencies below this from getting recorded) selectable at either 40hhz or 80hz. This can be particularly good for eliminating unwanted noise at source as the human voice, in general, doesn’t contain frequencies beneath 80hhz so anything captured beneath this would be unwanted audio.

A pad is a sensitivity reduction allowing the microphone to be used to record loud sounds. The NT2A has a 3 position setting of 0db, -5db or -10db meaning a reduction is applied to the audio.

The Behringer B1 has a single switch allowing a choice of a high pass filter, a flat response or a -10db pad.

Some microphones come with no switches on them meaning high pass filters are applied either further down the recording chain or in post-processing.

Each microphone will have a different a frequency response in its pick up pattern. For this reason I’d recommend researching this before making your choice. Some provide added presence in the lower frequencies, some enhance the mid frequencies and some the high. Therefore some mics better suit some voices so do your research. You can easily find the frequencies of microphones you’re considering by looking online.

In the next post I’ll be looking at how to get the signal from your microphone into your computer but, at this stage, I’ll briefly say you’ll either need an interface, a mixer, a portable recorder or a USB microphone.

For a podcast, a USB microphone could be an ideal solution but for voice over I would recommend an XLR microphone. This will allow future expansion in the recording chain at a later time.

USB Microphones

This is a decent starter USB condenser mic which also allows a direct monitor facility allowing you to hear what’s going on latency (delay) free.

Another decent quality starter USB mic but this one is a dynamic microphone suited to podcasting. Given it’s a dynamic microphone it’s better suited for use in non sound-treated rooms as it will reject a lot of room reflections.

The Blue Yeti Pro is a USB condenser mic that’s also got a traditional XLR interface meaning it can also be plugged into a processor or interface to take an XLR output instead of using the USB output.

The Yeti is popular with Youtubers and Podcasters.

Now let’s look at microphones with a traditional XLR connector (which would be my recommendation)

Dynamic Microphones

The Shure SM58 is a good quality dynamic microphone at an affordable price. More commonly associated with DJs and live performance venues it can produce sound quality ideal for a podcast.

The Heil PR40 is a known favourite of Podcasters. It gives a good clear sound and is probably behind a lot of Podcasts you’ve listened to.

The Shure SM7b is at the top end of the dynamic microphone range and is a good quality, sturdy solution. It’s known however for a being a quality mic, needing a decent amount of gain so maybe consider the possibility of adding a “Cloud lifter” or “Fethead” into your chain.

Condenser Microphones

A good quality entry level large diaphragm condenser mic that will produce a decent rich sound. It’s a cardiod pattern and picks up all frequencies well. Comes with the option of a high pass filter or a -10db pad selectable by a front switch.

Rode Microphones produce a good quality range of affordable microphones. The NT1A builds on the success of their NT1 microphone.

A step up from the NT1A is the NT2A which is built on the same technology but also comes with a selection of polar patterns, a pad selection and a high pass filter switch.

A top of the range microphone often found in professional studios in radio stations and voice over booths. Pricey and not needed for a starter but as your voice over business builds and you invest in your equipment seeing the quality of jobs you get offered increase you can look at upgrading to this Rolls Royce of microphones.

The above links are affiliate links to Amazon.

Next time around I’ll take a look at how to get your audio from your microphone into your computer but hopefully this guide to microphones has been of some help to you.

Feel free to use the contact button on the menu bar above if you need any further advice or if you’d like to discuss having me work with you on an upcoming project.