Stuck trying to decide which Microphone to use for a live setup? Let us help!

Choosing a microphone should be easy after this quick guide

The setup: You’re doing your first live show and the audio engineer you’re helping out asks you to go ahead and start setting out the mics for the starting band. You panic because, while it’s something you’ve done before and had no problem, now you have a greater expectation to get the job done (and done well). No one likes to disappoint. Let this guide be you quick and easy guide to remember.

Microphones are separated by many factors but the easiest identifier for a microphone is the transducer, or the device inside the microphone that transfers the acoustical energy (such as speaking) into electrical energy that can be picked up by a mixer. There are two types of microphones that we will focus on.

Dynamic Microphones

Common Dynamic Mic’s: Shure SM57 (Left) & SM58 (Right) courtsey of amazon.com

It’s easy to say that dynamic microphone is your best friend in an unpredictable live setup. Let do a quick breakdown and see why.

mic-dynamic

Image courtesy of http://www.mediacollege.com/

First with a dynamic microphone we have the diaphragm which is a thin layer attached to a coil. When this layer is vibrated (by speaking into the mic) the coil moves backwards and forwards in relation to the magnet creating a current. This current, or “signal,” is then sent along the wire to be accepted by whichever preamp you have it plugged into. Because of their setup, dynamic microphones are extremely rugged and able to handle loud sound pressure levels (SPL’s) without overloading.

Now that you understand the basic concept of a microphone lets move onto something a little more technical

Condenser Microphones

Condesor Microphone

Audio Technica AT4033 courtsey of AV247.com

A condenser microphone is also very common tool to use in a live sound setup. Because of this it’s important to breakdown how the condenser microphone works and use that information to help us decide which type of microphone is better for certain situations and why.

mic-condenser

Image courtesy of http://www.mediacollege.com/

A condenser microphone is similar to a dynamic microphone is some ways but there are some important things to note. First instead of a coil and magnet the condenser actually uses a capacitor which stores the electrical energy between two plates. One of these plates is a thin layered diaphragm which allows for the capacitance to change depending on if the plates are closer (increase) or farther (decrease) together. In order to get this electrical energy a condenser microphone needs an external power source which can be supplied either by a mixer through phantom power or a battery inside the microphone. Because of this additional power condenser microphones are more sensitive and more responsive than their dynamic counterparts.  

So now that you have a basic understanding you may be asking yourself how do I choose between the two. Lets do some pro’s and con’s.

Dynamic Microphones

Pro’s Con’s
Can Handle High SPL’s Not as sensitive
Does not require an external power source Usually not a flat frequency response
Rugged

Condenser Microphones

Pro’s Con’s
More sensitive and responsive Cannot handle high SPL’s
Have a flatter frequency response Requires an external power source
Not as rugged

Looking at the pro’s and con’s it makes it a little easier to understand why you would choose one type of microphone over the other. However here are some quick examples that put these concepts into work.

An acoustic set: You’ll probably be looking more toward the sensitivity of the condenser microphone to help bring the instruments to life.

An amplified set: You’ll probably be leaning more toward the ruggedness and reliability of dynamic microphone. Also since the musicians are using amplifiers you’ll need a microphone that can handle high SPL’s without distorting.

So there you go! A simple guide on two common types of microphones you’ll use in a typical live setup. Now remember that these aren’t the only types of microphones out there. These are just the most commonly used types that you’ll run into.

Now a quick question: has there ever been a show or situation where you’ve found yourself using a microphone in a different situation and it worked well? Or have you used a microphone in a typical situation and found it just didn’t work as well as you expected? Please comment and let me know!  

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