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Microphone Guide

Discussion in 'Video Production' started by Tarmack, Mar 6, 2013.

  1. Tarmack
    Rhetorical Porcupine
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    So many “what microphone is good?” threads…

    Microphones come in all shapes, sizes and price points. There are mics for every purpose you can imagine. This guide will attempt to help people make their purchases confident in their decision.

    Connection:

    First of all, there are two very specific connection types for microphones. USB which is just like any other USB device, you simply plug it in and go. And XLR which is a 3 pin plug that is about an inch in diameter. XLR connections require a separate device referred to as an “audio interface” because you computer doesn’t have a port that will accept that plug.

    USB is nice because it is self contained and requires no extra gear. Everyone is familiar with it and it’s plug and play. XLR on the other hand has a much larger variety in microphone choice, cable length and some claim to a higher level of quality. This higher level of quality is due to being able to amplify the analog signal in the audio interface before introducing it to the machine noise of the computer, whereas USB is amplified after. Most people however are not able to discern the difference.


    Types Of Microphones:

    There are two basic types of microphones that you need to concern yourself with. The main differences that you need to be aware of between Dynamic and Condenser mics are as follows. Keep in mind that these are general rules of thumb, not set in stone every time. For example I use a dynamic mic commonly used for broadcasting.

    Condenser Microphones:

    - Require power. Either via USB or in the case of XLR what is called “Phantom power” that your audio interface must be capable of providing.
    - Generally not incredibly durable. Don’t drop it.
    - Benefit from what is known as the “proximity effect” which is that classic radio presence the closer you get to the microphone.


    Dynamic Microphones:

    - Do not require power.
    - Extremely durable
    - Ideal for use in high volume areas (recording in a convention for example, or outdoors near traffic, etc.) This is why dynamic mics are used in concerts.
    - Often better at recording ONLY what is right in front of the microphone. This helps to cut out room noise.



    How to use a microphone:

    How to use your microphone is as important as picking the right microphone for the purpose you need. Most people have no idea what they’re doing. Now, with your basic concert style dynamic microphone when you’re out somewhere that is loud, hold it in front of your mouth and talk. There isn’t much more than that. But while sitting at your computer a great deal of positioning comes into play. For example, the further away from the microphone you get (in a room not treated for sound) the more room echo you will get.

    Further to that you will get a different sound depending on where the mic is positioned relative to your mouth. For condenser microphones in “broadcaster” style, a good rule of thumb is one hand width away from your face and about 45 degrees to either side. This makes good use of the proximity effect while reducing pops.


    Polar Patterns (What direction the microphone records):

    OmniDirectional:
    This means all around. The point of this pattern is to record from all directions. It would be used in board rooms, for round table discussions, where multiple voices or sources are needed with only one mic. Terrible in an untreated room.


    Unidirectional:
    Records one direction. Simple enough.


    Cardioid:
    This pattern records primarily from the front of the mic while picking up some audio from the sides and very little from directly behind. These are the most useful when the source is going to move off axis slightly. This gives more leeway when recording as you don’t have to be dead on center which helps with removal of pops by being slightly off axis.


    BiDirectional:
    Front and Back. Good for interviews. Be warned though that unless you're in a sound treated room or outside with nothing to echo your voice back to you, that this mode will give you significant room noise and echo unless both people are only a few inches from the microphone. Makes for a very awkward interview.


    Shotgun:
    Very unidirectional. These mics are designed to pick up sound from only a very narrow area directly in front of the mic. You won’t find a really good one for under $500, and if you’re in that market, this guide is below your information needs.



    Pops:

    Pop filters are not magic. What they do is help to reduce the force of air from the letter P, B and T so that you don’t hear “pops” while speaking. If you spend some time learning how to adjust your speaking pattern and talking past the mic rather than into it, you can eliminate most pops without a filter. However they are inexpensive (15 bucks maybe, or a coat hanger and womens pantyhose. It’s just a wind screen) so they are good kit to have.


    Sibilance (The Dreaded S)

    Some people have this worse than others. When recording the letter S is far more pronounced for some people than for others. It is also made worse by close proximity to the microphone which in a podcasting environment that is quiet can make the problem pretty bad. Increasing distance from the microphone will help, as in some cases just having a glass of water close by. Keeping your mouth from being too dry will help. Beyond that, you can also try a little recording trick. Level the microphone at your throat and then tilt it down slightly.



    TL;DR
    Good Microphones To Buy (US Prices):
    *Note: I cannot and will not recommend ANY headset microphones. Unless you get into the high end mobile recording market, no mics will come close to the quality of even the low end dedicated microphones. If you want a headset, you’re on your own.


    Low Budget (Under $100):
    Samson C01U – (Condenser)(USB)
    Blue Snowball – (Condenser)(USB) (I cannot recommend the ICE to anyone. It is never your best choice)
    Audio Technica ATR2100 – (Dynamic)(Both USB & XLR in the same mic)


    Medium Budget ($100-$200):
    Blue Yeti. (Condenser)(USB) <------ Boogie2988 uses the Yeti
    Audio Technica AT2020 – (Condenser)(USB & XLR Versions)
    Electrovoice 635A - (Dynamic)(XLR)
    Shure SM57 - (Dynamic)(XLR)
    Shure SM58 – (Dynamic)(XLR)
    Marshall MXL990 – (Condenser)(XLR)


    Highish budget (Over $200):
    Rode Podcaster – (Condenser)(USB)
    Shure SM7B – (Dynamic)(XLR) <------- This is the microphone that I use.
    Electrovoice RE20 - (Dynamic)(XLR) <------ TotalBiscuit uses this one.
    Audio Technica AT4040 – (Dynamic)(XLR)
    Beyer Dynamic M99 - (Dynamic)(XLR)


    Don’t worry about professional level microphones in the $500+ range unless you can afford to treat your room for sound. It’s like putting racing tires on a Volvo.
     
    #1 Tarmack, Mar 6, 2013
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2014
  2. Styxie
    I Love YTtalk
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    Damn, this is a pretty good guide! Bookmarking it, thanks for taking the time to write it :)
     
  3. TheWillBox
    I make moving pictures!
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    Awesome guide, very informative and clearly written. Thank you for this.
     
  4. Tarmack
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    Glad it was useful. :)
     
  5. DiabolicMenace
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    As someone who recently purchased a microphone (Blue Yeti), I wish this guide had been around when I bought mine. Instead, I had to do way too much legwork. I do hope this gets seen by many others starting out. Thank you!
     
  6. IftiBashir
    Undiscovered....
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    That a pretty well written, comprehensive, guide there! Should answer most people's questions!
     
  7. B4Astudios
    Queen Aiko Miyoko's Pet
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    man! this will def help as I've been having audio trouble since i started and haven't found a decent solution yet. thank you sooo much!
     
  8. Tarmack
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    I'm willing to answer any other questions people may have along the way. I just find there is so much misinformation about microphones. Like Blue being the be all end all which simply isn't true.
     
  9. TheWillBox
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    Do you recommend a mic stand? I'm using the blue yeti (which I don't think is compatible with a lot of stands...?) and I have it rested on a table. Because I set down cups on the table or bang my arms down on it, the mic picks up that noise...
     
  10. Tarmack
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    There's a shockmount designed for the Yeti that makes it compatible with the basic threaded mic stand. I suggest a stand for sure, yes. Couple of reasons. First of all it gets the mic off your desk and drops the click/vibration noise. Second it keeps the mic easily moved out of the way when not recording. Third it allows you to get a good mic to mouth positioning which can't be done if it's on your desk.
    Even better than a mic stand would be one of those spring loaded arms that clamps to the desk. The Yeti is a unique case but it does have shock mount options and once you have that, then it's as standard as anything else.
     
    TheWillBox likes this.

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