The Mic Picker: How to Find the Right Microphone
From stereo to lavalier, let’s explore the different types of microphones to discover which one works best for your creative needs.
When it comes to recording audio, not all microphones are created equal. That’s not to say one type is the best, but each is designed to record better sound in specific situations—a podcast microphone compared to a microphone used on a short film. Some are built for one purpose, while others are more easily adaptable and work for many different scenarios. Let’s dive into the different types of microphones and see which ones work best for the content you’re creating.
The first and most obvious option you have is a built-in microphone. These are microphones built directly into the devices you’re creating with. A good example would be built-in mics on mirrorless cameras, cell phones, or action cameras like GoPros.
Relying on these mics isn’t ideal, but they can absolutely work if it is all you have. The biggest perk for using them is that they’re already built-in. It’d be nice to not have to try and manage a separate setup for audio when recording.
The quality on built-in mics will vary. A good tip is to keep the mic close to you, within arm’s length or less. Also, monitor for wind noise, as these microphones tend to not have much wind protection.
Directional mini-microphones are probably the best bet for any content creators starting out. They record superior sound to built-in microphones and are usually very affordable. They are basically a miniature shotgun microphone, which mount on top of handheld cameras or cell phones. The RØDE VideoMicro and the VideoMic Me-L are two perfect examples.
These microphones are perfect for vlog creators since they mount easily to most cameras, and a lot of them don’t even require an extra power source. Essentially, you can just connect them to the camera and you’re ready to go! RØDE and Deity Microphones also make some higher-end models such as the VideoMic Pro and the Vid Mic D-3.
Shotgun microphones are probably the most versatile option. They’re designed to record with a narrow polar pattern, which helps you capture better audio from a specific area. This makes them ideal for everything from recording on a movie set to a sit-down interview. They usually have a full metal construction, which makes them quite rugged. They also have low handling noise, making them ideal for boom operators.
Prices for shotgun microphones can vary wildly, depending on the professional audio quality you require. However, the versatility of these mics makes up for the higher price point most of them have. The RØDE NG2 and the Deity Microphones S-Mic 2 are two nice entry-level shotgun mics.
Stereo microphones do what the name implies—they record in stereo. This means you’ll have two different channels of audio recorded at the same time, usually facing at slightly different angles. The sound recorded creates a similar experience to how we hear sound in person. They’re perfect for recording location ambience, field recording, or for recording atmospheres like live music shows. The Zoom H4n Pro is one of the most popular stereo recorders on the market.
Lavalier microphones, often called “lav” mics, are wearable microphones designed to clip onto clothing. They are small and discreet, and usually connected to a wireless audio receiver. This allows the microphone to stay close to the speaker at all times as they move through an environment. Lav mics are also ideal for things like presentations. Since they’re wearable, the speaker isn’t forced to stay in one location.
Condenser microphones are often associated with radio interviews or podcasts. They have a professional “radio voice” sound and usually have the ability to switch between many different polar patterns. Check out our article on 6 Microphone Pickup Patterns Every Filmmaker Should Know to learn more about different mic recording patterns.
Condenser microphones are great if you plan to frequently use a microphone from your desk. The Blue Yeti is one of the most popular condenser microphones available.
Ribbon microphones are one of the most recognizable because they usually feature a round ball at the top of the microphone. Ribbon microphones are extremely sensitive, resulting in more of a natural sound. They’re also fragile, due to their design. All ribbon mics are bidirectional in how they record, so you’ll want to make sure the room you record in has some sound-proofing. Cascade Microphones FAT HEAD II is a perfect example of a ribbon mic.
Finally, we have dynamic microphones, which are handheld microphones often used at concerts, events, or by broadcast reporters. These microphones have a very low handling noise, which makes sense considering their primary uses. Dynamic microphones use a cardioid pickup pattern, which works well at preventing unwanted sound further away from being picked up. They usually need to be powered by an XLR cable or wireless battery system. Recently they’ve risen in popularity among content creators online. Logan Baker uses one in his tutorial on How to Shoot and Edit Videos Using Instagram Reels.
On a Budget? Use What You Have!
Ultimately, the best microphone is the one you have available. Quality content can be created with any of these microphone options. In some cases, you might need to get creative, such as turning old cell phones into wireless microphones.
If you’re looking to buy a new mic, hopefully this article will help you decide which microphone is right for you. If you want to hear some examples from different microphones mentioned here, check out Zach Ramelan’s video tutorial on Which Microphone You Should Use.
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