Guide: how to choose the best microphone

Choosing the best microphone is way easier than it’s been made look like, and this guide will help you do it right

The best microphone for studio recording

The recording studio is, of course, the easiest recording and microphone choosing situation.

You have to go for the most linear microphone.
Which will be a condenser, small diaphragm microphone.

That will be your only requirement: you don’t have to worry about bad weather, physical interferences, electronic interferences and all the stuff that happens during a live exhibition.

Some advice?

If you want to spend some money, KM 183 Neumann are very linear and reliable microphones.
If you want to spare some money, but still with great outcomes, go for a measurement microphone. Even something as simple as Beyerdinamic and Behringer models would do the job. You’ll only have to be cautious to manouver them properly: no water, no drops etc… Their functionality is optimal, but they’re not very rugged.

AVOID ANY OTHER KIND OF MICROPHONE

This includes:

  • Hypercardioids – No need for that super weird pattern, and they’re not linear
  • Large diaphragm microphones – They’re all but linear
  • Dynamic microphones – Seriously?!
  • Plate microphones – Not linear, and no need for them in a stabilized environment

The best microphone for live performances

Live performances are always a mess. No matter how good you’ll plan them. You will always have to make compromises.
Here’s a list of the major disruption factors:

  • Weather
    Humidity, wind, rain. These are all extremely dangerous factors for recording and audio gear, but also something you have to deal with in live environments.
  • Physical interference
    People walk on the stage: they will bump on the microphone, drop it, trample on the cable.
    Even just walking near a microphone will cause interference: the typical low booming noise when you walk on a stage with excessively sensible microphones is the footsteps reverberation that reaches the microphone capsules through the floor – and that’s why decoupling devices were invented (aka spiders)! They try to dampen external vibrations, and do a “quite” decent job (let’s say they’re 70% effective, at most).
  • Electric interference
    Live audio has nearly always some weird power situations, like having a power generator nearby, bad grounding, a technician that swithces on/off wrongly the +48v etc…
    Too sensitive microphones can be interfered or even damaged by these factors.
  • Acoustic interference
    The first requirement for capturing an instrument is silence – and, on the stage, there is HELLA noise: crowd, other instruments, external reverberation (it makes way more noise than you might think). And, every stage technicians’ nightmare: STAGE MONITORS aka “the feedback factory”.
  • Low FOH quality
    No matter how big is your production, the crowd will never hear like being at home with their home theater or home studio: all the aforementioned factors are majorly disruptive even for the live PA. And with some other interesting perks too, like having to be -always- mono in order to let everyone from left to right being able to hear everything.
    They will hear a lot of basses, maybe even a lot of highs, but the resulting sonic experience will be never as linear as a studio experience. Even just the wind will slaughter the frequency response: the wind is a huge movement of air particles, which are how the sound travels – so, every air movement will disrupt the original sound (more precisely, by generating anti-phases).

So, here you are the features of your ideal microphone:

  • Rugged
    Your microphone needs to be ready for wrestle a little bit, with both electricity and physical knockdowns.
  • Windshielding
    Integral windshielding – ALWAYS: you can’t go on the stage during a performance to fix the windshields.
  • Non linear frequency response, narrow response pattern
    It’s the diametral opposite of what’s needed for a recording studio – and that’s because a live stage IS the diametral opposite of a recording studio.
    Unless you record in a highway or an airport strip.
    You don’t want to pick every single acoustic detail of your stage’s sound when there’s an average of at least 110 dB (well enough to cripple your ears) coming from at least 4 different instruments – and you just want to pick one.
    Narrow response pattern means NO omni, 8 or sort of stuff: go for cardioid, or hypercadioid (whatchout for its weird “back stab” structure: it can create a mess with stage monitors).
  • When possible, go for dynamic microphones
    Try avoid condenser microphones, especially ribbons. They pick too stuff for a place as noisy as a stage, they need +48v, they’re absolutely not rugged as a dynamic microphone.

Some good models for a live stage:

SM57, SM58 style mics (dynamic, fully windshielded, extremely rugged) are your workhorses. You can use them for nearly every instrument possible.

Otherwise, don’t be afraid to go for other dynamic, cardioid models.

You can still use condenser microphones, but it will be like wearing a tuxedo for a sword sparring.

The best microphone for live recording

Live recording means the intention to record a live music performance, and try to impress how it was like to listen to it alive.
This means a FOH recording location (trad: you put your recording stuff in front of the stage).

They’re almost the exact type fit for a studio recording (click here to read about it).
The main difference is that you need to be way more careful about the constructive quality of your microphone: a non functioning microphone in a studio situation would mean a couple of minutes of delay, or a repeated take. During a live recording, would mean hell on Earth.
And, also:

  • Weather
    Humidity, wind, rain. These are all extremely dangerous factors for recording and audio gear, but also something you have to deal with in live environments.
  • Electric interference
    Live audio has nearly always some weird power situations, like having a power generator nearby, bad grounding, a technician that swithces on/off wrongly the +48v etc…
    Too sensitive microphones can be interfered or even damaged by these factors.

The outcoming devices will be same kind of studio recording. They only have to be well rugged (the KM183 is fine) and remember to bring the windshields for outdoor performances.

The End.

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