AKG C414

A microphone or “mic” converts sound into electricity.

OK, there’s a little more to it than that, but that’s the basic idea.

When you sing into a mic (or play your guitar or other instrument) the sound waves from your voice cause a little thingie inside the mic to move. That movement interacts with other thingies in the mic and creates a tiny electrical signal. I’ll cover this in more detail later but the idea of changing sound into electricity is where we’ll start.

3 Types of Microphones

There are three basic types of microphones that we’ll be talking about and each one works best for certain types of recording tasks.  If you don’t already have a closet full of mic’s and you don’t have a huge gear budget (like DUH!), don’t worry. You can get started with a fairly inexpensive mic and add to your collection over time.

Cardioid Mic

The first type is the Cardioid mic. The classic examples of this are the Sure SM57 and SM 58. These work great for recording guitar amps, snare drums, live vocals and many general purpose applications. In the early days, I did an entire album using only these mics and the results were pretty damn good.

Condenser Mic

The second type is the Condenser mic. I break this type down into two sub-groups: the small-diaphragm and the large-diaphragm condensers. Small diaphragms are great for acoustic guitars and other stringed instruments; they kick ass on horns like sax or trumpet, overhead drums mics and anywhere you want clarity and sparkle. Large diaphragm condensers are the mic of choice for recording studio vocals and they’re great for kick drum, bass guitar cabinets and room sound.

Ribbon Mic

The third type of mic is the Ribbon mic and, frankly, I think you can pretty much forget about these. They can be rather fragile and ‘re temperamental and they usually have a bi-directional polar pattern. More about that in another article.

There are certain areas where ribbon mics shine but, basically, you can get everything you need using just the first two types.


I’ll be talking about microphones in more detail in another article, and I’ll review some common choices that will get you great sounds.  For now, all you really need to know is that a $90 SM58 will take you a long way.

You’ll find throughout Home Studio Geeks that I place more emphasis on learning to use what you have than on buying a bunch of new gear. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE getting new gear and probably spend too much money on things sometimes, but the point is that knowing how to use your equipment properly is more important than blowing all your money on that shiny new toy.


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Microphones — 2 Comments

  1. I totally agree, Corky, there’s a huge difference in how different mics sound. Once I got a matched pair of small diaphragm condensers my acoustic instrument and drum recordings started sounding even better. But the point remains that, for the most part, “It’s not the gear, it’s the ear.” Cheers!

  2. There IS a difference among mics, but agree 100% that learning to use what you have is much more important. The placement of your mic, watching your levels and avoiding distortion (which can’t really be fixed), and laying down a good track take the cake from the highest priced gear and not using it well.

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