No home studio is complete without having one to record with. Live gigs or shows in larger buildings won't work without them, and how would any Karaoke drown the conversation in the pub out without one?
I'm talking, of course, about microphones. Prices can range from under £20 for basic equipment, but professional quality microphones can range into hundreds of pounds so it's important to get the right one for your needs.
Firstly, let's examine the two basic types of microphone you'll encounter - the Dynamic and the Condenser.
Dynamic microphones are what a child would draw if you asked them to draw a microphone. The classic shape of the balled end and the tapered handle has been a feature of their design for decades. They are robust, relatively inexpensive and resistant to moisture. This, coupled with their potentially high gain before experiencing feedback makes them ideal for on-stage use. These are most commonly used by singers for performing or recording Vocal work and rely on the sound source being very close to the microphone.
NB - This is always an easy way to spot if an artist is miming - if the volume doesn't change wherever they are in relation to the microphone, it's not live! - Seen most famously here in Status Quo's 1984 appearance on Top of the Pops. The other clue that it's mimed occurs at the end!
Because of the proximity needed for these microphones to work, they're difficult to use for recording many instruments, however they can be used as amplifier microphones or drum microphones if needed - the Shure SM57 is designed just for that - but they do their best work for vocalists as they 'noise cancel' the surrounding noise, allowing the voice or other sound source to carry over without having to shout.
Budget - Rocket MD-1500
Professional - Shure SM58
Condenser microphones are used to pick up large pockets of sound or a great array of sound without using lots of dynamic microphones. These can often be observed hanging above stages (Perhaps best observed in this picture of the stage at the Royal Albert Hall - the vast array of wires in the centre of the picture control not only the lights but also several condenser microphones placed above the stage) or the audience to help capture ambient noise for live recordings, but are also a feature in recording instruments or large ensembles.
Condenser Microphones pick up noise over a much greater distance and field of vision, so they can't be used effectively by vocalists if they stand up close. This picture of Cellist Yo-Yo Ma shows the condenser microphone a few feet away from him (over his left knee) where it will pick up the deep, resonant bass of the Cello without having to be sat next to the sound holes.
The downside to condenser microphones is that they will pick up any noise that happens to occur while recording. Particularly in a home setting, if a car outside sounds its horn or a door slams in the house, that's likely to have been picked up and will feature on the finished product, necessitating some handy skills at removing the blemish or a complete re-take in severe situations. They can, however, record almost anything as long as they're placed a correct distance away from the sound source. Because of their added versatility and higher quality nature of the recordings, they do tend to be a little pricier than their dynamic counterparts. They also come in a few different styles - ranging from the 'pencil' style to the more flat, rectangular shape of ones like the Samson C01.
Budget - Rocket CM-7050
Professional - Audio Technica AT2035
Powering your Microphone
Some microphones will need an initial power source to work. Dynamic microphones are exempt from this and will work when plugged into any amplifier or recording interface. Condenser microphones, however, do need some external help. This is usually acheived with Phantom Power, a basic way of transmitting power through the microphone cable. Not all microphones accept phantom power and not all mixing desks provide it, so this is important to check. If phantom power cannot be provided, they can run on Batteries or an external Mains power supply.
Connecting your Microphone
Your microphone will have one of a few connection types -
XLR - The most common. Allows for higher fidelity recording and sound production and also the transmission of Phantom Power. Recognised by the Round, 3 pin connectors on the end of a lead. Seen here in the Rocket SMC10.
1/4" Jack - Sometimes now known by it's metric of 6.3mm, these are the same size as guitar jacks and can therefore plug into any amplifier. They're a little more versatile because of this, but don't offer the same fidelity as XLR microphones.
3.5mm (Headphone) Jack - These are the smallest jacks, the same jack size as standard headphones, and are only usually found on low-end microphones or computer microphones. These offer a very low fidelity and aren't really designed for music production or recording.
We realise that the information above can be a bit overwhelming to take in all at once, so if you're at all unsure about the products you're considering or would like some more advice on choosing what's right for you, do get in touch with our Sales Team who will be more than happy to help.