There are three types of microphones out there: condenser, dynamic, and ribbon. Let’s look at the three types and explore their differences and what each type is known for and its best uses.
For the most part, condenser microphones capture the largest range of sound of the three. However, this ability is dependent on certain factors:
- Construction (i.e. head-basket design or tube)
- Polar Pattern
- Diaphragm Size
Condenser microphones can come in either small or large diaphragm capsules, which effects their sensitivity to sound levels and their frequency response. Smaller diaphragms tend to capture more detail whereas their larger diaphragms captures more low end.
Condenser microphones unfortunately for some, require external power. Power is needed so that the microphone’s small on-board amplifier can function. That said, the resulting audio signal is much stronger than that produced from a dynamic microphone.
In general,condenser microphone’s are best used for capturing subtle nuances in a sound. They’re not ideal for high volume work, as their higher sensitivity lends them susceptible to distort. Their greater frequency response and transient response ( the ability to reproduce the speed of a sound) makes them the most common time of microphones found in studios.
Dynamic microphones are arguably the most popular microphones in general use today. They’re durable, affordable, and very versatile – making them great all purpose use microphones.
Dynamic microphone’s simple design makes them well suited to handle high volume levels, such as from certain instruments or amplifiers. They require no additional power, but may require more gain than a condenser. Additionally, they generally tend to capture less high end than a condenser.
The final type of microphone is also the most delicate and specialized microphone of the three. Ribbon microphones capture sound in a figure 9 pattern and require the most gain from a preamp – unless specified as an active ribbon, where the additional power can be damaging.
Ribbon microphones are most popular for capturing guitar amps, female voices, and horns as they tend to capture a warmer mid range and less pronounced high ends. Ribbon microphones are also excellent at producing a smooth, detailed, natural high end. Due to their construct, they have a greater potential for greater frequency accuracy and transient response than traditional dynamic mics.
Many people associate ribbon mics with the smooth tones of the jazz era but they’ve been used on rock recordings too. Beyerdynamic M160s were used to record Jimi Hendrix guitar tracks and captured Led Zeppelin’s drum sounds for When the Levee Breaks.
For a more in-depth read on Ribbon microphones we recommend checking out Royer Labs and their write up on ribbon mic basics.
We personally find that ribbons make almost everything sound good and that recordings made with them tend to be easy to mix with.