Choosing Microphones for Your Home Recording Set-up

Perhaps one of the most important purchase decisions to be made ( outside of your actual recording system) is what type of microphones to buy. First, I feel it is imperative to dispel the myth that you need to buy a large variety of expensive microphones to achieve your desired sound. A rich clear sound can be achieved with as little as one microphone. Also, due to advancements in technology over the last decade, it is possible to find good, affordable microphones online.

 Choosing Microphones for Home Recording

choosing home recording mic

There are many different types of microphones on the market and most are suited for a certain sound or purpose. There are uni-directional and omni-directional microphones that come with either a large or small diaphragm. A dynamic microphone would not be my first choice to use on a recording. This type of microphone is better suited for live performances, but if I had to use one on a recording, I would use a uni-directional small diaphragm ( uni-directional means that the microphone picks up only the noise that is right in front of it ). Dynamic microphones are not known for their clarity on recordings and using this type of microphone on a recording would require a lot of equalization in the final mix.

Next, there are ribbon microphones. This type of microphone is fine for recording purposes, but only if you are seeking an ” old time ” antiquated sound. These microphones are also generally quite expensive and very fragile. Ribbon microphones have to be stored in a vertical position or the ribbon will slide and the microphone will be ruined. Also, the ribbon will break if it is bumped or dropped, ruining the microphone.

My primary choice of microphones for recording purposes would be the studio condensers. I recommend having on hand at least one large diaphragm studio condenser and one small diaphragm studio condenser microphone. If you can only afford one microphone, definitely go with the large diaphragm. Without delving too far into the technical aspects of these microphones, I will simply say that a large diaphragm microphone is better suited for low and mid frequency responses, while a small diaphragm is better suited for high an mid frequency responses. For instance, if I were to record an acoustic guitar track, I would use both a large and small diaphragm microphone, each positioned around the instrument to pick up the appropriate low and high frequencies.

Almost more important than the type of microphone that you use on your recording is it’s placement around the instrument or vocalist. Microphone placement is not an exact science and suffice it to say, will probably take a good amount of trial and error before you’ve found the sound you’re after. First, I recommend having boom stands for your microphones rather than fixed stands. A boom stand is much more versatile for positioning.

Positioning the microphone for a vocalist varies depending on the person. Some people have stronger or weaker voices. It is best, however, as a starting point, to have the vocalist stand about two feet away from the microphone. The formula I use for positioning microphones on an acoustic guitar is this: Place one large diaphragm studio condenser directly in front and slightly above of the sound hole about one and a half feet away. Place the other, small diaphragm microphone parallel, pointing up the neck starting at about the second fret, also a foot and a half away. One important thing to remember about microphone placement is that changing the position even slightly can greatly affect the sound. Equalization is not a big a deal as it is made out to be. Ideally, low frequencies shouldn’t need to be changed at all, but you might find it necessary to add a little mid and high. At any rate, it might take a little patience and experimentation to find the sound you like.

Happy recording!

  • *Tip: On a shoe string budget and only if there are no other microphones available, few people know that connecting a set of headphones into the line input will reverse their polarity enabling them to act as a microphone.
  • *Tip: If you find it necessary to use a dynamic microphone for recording, you can enhance it’s sound by putting a funnel around the mouth piece, with the large open end of the funnel pointing outward toward the instrument or vocalist to help channel the noise into the microphone.
  • *Tip: A pop screen in front of the microphone is a good idea. A pop screen will reduce or completely eliminate the strong PPHH sound created by the enunciation of certain words. You can purchase a pop screen at most any music store, but if you should find that one is outside of your budget, a pair of women’s nylons stretched over a wire clothes hanger works just as nicely.