How to Buy the Right Microphone for Your Needs

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How to Buy the Right Microphone for Your Needs

A microphone is a must for anyone who wants to amplify or record their voice or a musical instrument. Those who need a microphone for amplification or who want to move beyond their computer’s built in sound system will need to start with a dedicated microphone. With the variety of microphones available, it helps to have an overview of the options.
In order to understand microphones, it's important to remember the basic nature of sound. Sound is a straightforward, mechanical vibration. It moves through the air, and it can also move through solids. A microphone takes that vibration and changes it into an electrical signal. That signal can be amplified or recorded. It may also be digitised and processed by a computer as part of the recording or amplification process.

How Will the Microphone Be Used?

Every microphone is part of a amplification or recording system. They are used with mixers, amplifiers, computers, and communications devices. If the microphone is to be used with a computer, then it is important to be aware of the computer’s built-in sound input capacity. For professional results with an ordinary computer, bring the sound in as data through the USB port rather than through the built in sound port.
It’s also important to know if the microphone will be used mostly for speaking, for singing or for musical instruments. Vocal microphones need to be able to pick up fine gradations in sound, but they do not need a huge dynamic range. Human voices are usually medium-volume. However, if the microphone is to used for singing or especially for recording or amplifying musical instruments, then it will need to be able to reproduce a full range of tones and volumes.
In general, microphones for amplifying and recording musical instruments, especially acoustic instruments, must be both sensitive and able to handle high intensity input. Different types of music make different demands on microphones. For example, classical music requires that a microphone be able to pick up very soft and very loud notes cleanly and accurately, while other types of music may not require as much dynamic contrast. Reed and brass instruments are capable of an especially dramatic range of volumes. They can be whisper soft or loud enough to carry through a concert hall with no amplification.
Research individual microphones for information on how they respond to high and low wavelengths and volumes. With all of the advanced features and technologies available today, taking a close look at the quality and functionality of each product is important.

Microphone Technologies

To understand microphone technologies, it is best to divide them into categories for the type of technology used. Here’s a quick overview of how those technologies work and what they’re best for.

Condenser Microphone

Also called capacitor microphones or electrostatic microphones, these are based on two parallel, vibrating plates. They are good general purpose microphones, and their level of quality runs the gamut from very high to very low.

Dynamic Microphone

Based on induction coils, these are often used outdoors and on stage, as they are moisture resistant. All but the most expensive ones have a limited signal range.

Piezo/Crystal Microphone

These use materials that produce voltages when exposed to pressure. They tend to pick up white noise, and they are mostly used for specialised applications where the other technologies wouldn’t work.

Ribbon Microphone

These are based on vibrating metal ribbons, and they can be fragile. However, they can produce a high-quality signal.

Form Factors

Form factors are one of the sets of options to take into account when searching for the most appropriate microphone. Form factors are simply the microphone’s physical appearance and set-up method. Here are some basic definitions.

Handheld/Stand-Held

These are traditional, cone and ball style microphones, often used on stage or for recording.

Headset

These can be worn on the head and are especially good for using communications devices hands-free.

Lavalier/Lapel

These clip to clothing and are often used when a natural, casual look is desired, for example, in video interviews.

Gooseneck

These consist of a capsule on a long, usually flexible neck. They are often attached to desks or lecterns, and they’re sometimes used for recording acoustical instruments.

Parabolic

These collect sound from a wide area and are used for recording events, recording nature, and even espionage.

Pickup Patterns

A pickup pattern is how a microphone collects sound. Depending on the application, the ideal sound pickup might be focused or dispersed, directional or general.

Bidirectional

These pick up sound chiefly from two directions, in front and behind, while ignoring signals from the sides. They are used in music recording and for recording and amplifying interviews.

Boundary/PZM

Boundary microphones are often used in recording acoustical groups. They collect highly directional sounds and ignore background noise.

Cardioid

These pick up sound from one direction and one source. They are commonly used by individual musicians in both performance and recording.

Contact/Vibrations

These are small microphones that are placed on acoustic instruments to amplify the sound.

Hypercardioid

These pick up sound from a heart-shaped area. They are used for amplifying or recording a single musician.

Omnidirectional

These are simply microphones that pick up sound from all directions. Built-in computer microphones are usually of this type.

Shotgun

A shotgun microphone picks up sound from all directions.

Supercardioid

This is a type of unidirectional condenser microphone with a heart-shaped pickup area.

Unidirectional

These are simply microphones that pick up sound from a single direction. They are good for excluding background noise.

Microphone Features

For a professional sound, it is important to buy a microphone with the right features.

Adjustable Gain

The audio output level is called the gain. If the gain is determined by a built-in signal amplifier, then this feature allows the user to adjust the signal to make it stronger or weaker. A stronger signal can be played more loudly. A weaker signal is less likely to have distortion.

Adjustable Squelch

This allows the user to narrow the bandwidth and eliminate noise. In a wireless vocal microphone, this feature may simply silence poor-quality signals.

Integrated Pop Filter

This helps to protect microphones from physical interference and protect audiences from loud, unwanted sounds.

Integrated Preamplifier

This will boost the signal before it is passed on to the amplifier or recording device.

Internal Shock Mount

This will help to keep the signal clean, especially if the microphone is being moved around.

Noise-Cancelling

This feature will remove background noise from the mix, making speech easier to understand. It is often found in headsets.

Stereo

This type of microphone creates a dual signal for stereo reproduction. A stereo system uses a speaker on each side of the listeners for realistic sound reproduction.

Buying the Right Microphone on eBay

To find the microphone section on eBay, go to the Musical Instruments section under Sports and Leisure. Then, go to Pro Audio Equipment. Finally, select the Microphones category. Under the Microphones category, the type of technology, such as Condenser Microphones or Dynamic Microphones, can be selected. The search can also be limited to Used Microphones or New Microphones. Many buyers also have a strong preference for a Wireless Microphone or a Wired Microphone.

In Conclusion

In order to buy the right microphone, it is important to have the end use of the electronic signal in mind. Assess whether the focus will be on cleanly amplifying the sound, or on creating a recording. Try to decide where the sound will be coming from and if multiple microphones will be needed to record a group of musicians and to allow for flexibility in mixing. These types of issues will have a huge impact on the characteristics and features of right microphone.
The variety of microphone technologies, form factors, pickup patterns, and features available can be confusing to anyone who is not an expert on audio electronics. However, a little research works wonders for a buyer’s knowledge and confidence. These basic definitions can act as a starting point for finding out which microphones that are fit for purpose.

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