Your Guide to Buying a Wired Microphone

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Your Guide to Buying a Wired Microphone
Wired microphones are used for a number of purposes, from recording audio in studios to broadcasting sound over loudspeakers. Using a microphone can dramatically improve the quality, loudness, and clarity of a recording. Microphones also give the user considerable control over the equalization and dynamic range of the recording/broadcast. By varying the distance of the speaker from the microphone, close control over the vocal output can be achieved.

About Wired Microphones

A wired microphone is a simple device that converts acoustic sounds into electrical impulses, which can then be routed to an amplifier or loudspeaker. The first microphones were invented around the end of the 19th century. Thomas Edison was first awarded a patent for a microphone way back in 1877.

Microphones are used for both recording and broadcasting purposes. The technology developed in tandem with other seminal acoustic devices, namely the gramophone and radio. The earliest microphones were rudimentary devices that could barely convert sound into electrical signals. Over the last century, there have been many incremental improvements in sound quality, range, and loudness. This includes the development of different types of microphones for different purposes, from recording studio quality audio to broadcasting sound over loudspeakers in a stadium. Prices for microphones can range from a few pounds for a basic VOIP headset to several thousand pounds for high-end studio microphones.

Buying Wired Microphones

Buying wired microphones is an exercise in selecting the right device for the right purpose. Microphones differ vastly in quality and price depending on the brand and construction type. A microphone for studio-grade recording will be much more expensive than one meant for home VOIP purposes. Proper education about different types of microphones and the advantages and disadvantages of each is a must before purchasing any equipment.

Types of Wired Microphones

Depending on the technology employed, microphones may be grouped into four different categories:

Type

Description

Dynamic Microphone

Dynamic microphones are the most popular type of microphone in use today. In such microphones, a thin diaphragm, usually made of plastic film, is attached to a small coil of wire suspended in a magnetic field. Sound waves striking the diaphragm cause it to vibrate slightly, which effectively turns the coil of wire into a small electricity generator. The tiny electric current thus produced acts as the audio signal, which, with proper amplification, can be used to broadcast and record sound.

Condenser Microphone

A condenser microphone consists of a capacitor powered by an external battery. Sound waves striking the diaphragm of the capacitor cause it to change capacitance, creating a measurable audio signal. This audio signal can then be routed to a loudspeaker or recording device.

Ribbon Microphone

Ribbon microphones utilise a thin ribbon of metal, usually aluminium or nanofilm, suspended in the magnetic field of a permanent magnet. When sound waves strike the ribbon, it causes a change in the current flowing through it, producing an audio signal. This resultant audio signal can then be channelled through a loudspeaker or recording device.

Electret Microphone

Electret microphones are widely used in cell phones and computers. These work on the same principle as condenser microphones, but instead of utilising an external power source, they use a diaphragm with an insulating material that has a permanent electrical charge. When sound waves strike the diaphragm, the charge of the insulating material changes, creating an audio signal.

USB Microphone

USB microphones are a recent invention. Although similar in principle to condenser microphones, USB microphones incorporate two additional features: a built-in analogue-to-digital converter and a preamp. This allows the microphone to be connected directly to a computer without the use of an external preamp or mixer, making it very convenient for everyday recording.

Different Types of Microphone Pickup Patterns

Depending on the technology employed, microphones may pick up sound from one direction or multiple directions. Pickup pattern is an important consideration when buying microphones as it can dramatically alter performance.

Type

Description

Cardioid

Cardioid microphones are unidirectional, i.e. they pick up sound waves right in front of the device, ignoring all other sounds from the rear and the side. Cardioid microphones are very popular in situations that require separation of different instruments, such as live music performances and studio recordings. By placing cardioid microphones right in front of an instrument, it is possible to reduce audio leakage and ambient feedback.

Hypercardioid

Hypercardioid microphones are even more directional than cardioid microphones. They are highly desirable in situations that require fine control over acoustics. Hypercardioid microphones are usually used in studio settings where it is important to capture each individual instrument with minimum ambient feedback.

Omnidirectional

Omnidirectional microphones record sound equally from all directions. They are great for recording ambient noise or room sound and are usually used in computers, mobile phones, and similar.

Figure of 8 or Bidirectional

A figure of 8 microphone records voice coming from the front and the rear, and rejects all sound waves from the sides. Bidirectional microphones are useful when multiple voices have to be recorded from a single source.

All microphones essentially start out as omnidirectional. Additional engineering is required to turn omnidirectional microphones into cardioid or bidirectional microphones. Some high-end condenser microphones include customisable pickup patterns, ranging from cardioid to figure of 8 that can be switched with the flick of a button. These multiple pattern microphones tend to be expensive, but can fulfil different roles, making them especially convenient for home studio use.

Advantages, Disadvantages, and Uses of Different Microphone Types

Different microphones are suitable for different purposes. Since the frequency chart of each microphone varies, some microphones perform better when used for recording voice, while others work better with acoustic instruments. It is crucial to match the right microphone with the right instrument to achieve highest possible fidelity and clarity. Each microphone has its own pros and cons, some of which can be seen below:

Dynamic Microphone

Dynamic microphones are inexpensive and easy to use. Since they require no external power supply, they can be plugged directly into the recording device. Dynamic microphones also cover a large frequency range and can record a variety of instruments faithfully.
On the downside, dynamic microphones require a preamp to increase the strength of the audio signal before recording/broadcasting. Dynamic microphones also tend to be inaccurate, which makes it difficult to use them for studio recording.

Pros: Cheap, easy to use, sturdy, passive (require no external power supply).
Cons: Inaccurate, may require a lot of amplification.
Uses: Dynamic microphones are used in speakerphones, home recording studios, VOIP headsets, and other situations that do not require high fidelity. They are also used to record heavy bass instruments, especially drums.

Condenser Microphone

Condenser microphones offer excellent frequency response and accuracy. Since they use capacitors, they can be made unidirectional (cardioid), bidirectional, or omnidirectional. Condenser microphones find use in studio settings, especially to record sensitive instruments like the violin, cello, and of course, the human voice.
On the downside, condenser microphones tend to be expensive and require an external power source to work. Since condenser microphones are usually cardioid, multiple microphones may be required to record various instruments, further adding to the cost.
Pros: High-fidelity, excellent frequency response, highly accurate, clear recording.
Cons: Expensive, require external power supply.
Uses: Condenser microphones are used in studio settings to record high-fidelity instruments like cello, violin, or voice. They are also used as drum overheads and in live concerts as sound reinforcement.

Ribbon Microphone

Unlike condenser microphones, ribbon microphones do not require any external power source. However, they also suffer from lower sensitivity and rely on the preamp to create a strong enough audio signal. This ultimately affects audio quality, especially in studio settings.
Pros: Accurate, do not require external power supply, large dynamic range, cost-effective.
Cons: Lower sensitivity.
Uses: The wide dynamic range of ribbon microphones makes them ideal for capturing sudden changes in sound, such as the crash of drum cymbals, etc. They are usually used in studio settings to capture brass and percussion instruments.

Electret Microphone

The low cost and relatively high quality of electret microphones makes them ideal for use in cell phones, computers, etc. where the aim is to capture a wide dynamic range over fidelity. Electret microphones do not require external power supply and can be made for cheap. However, this affects the sound quality, and electret microphones are rarely used in studio settings.
Pros: Cheap, do not require external power, wide dynamic range.
Cons: Omnidirectional, poor sound quality.
Uses: Electret microphones are widely used in cell phones, laptops, and other such electronic devices, making them some of the most widely used microphones today.

USB Microphone

USB microphones include both a preamp and an analogue-to-digital converter on-board the device itself. While they offer neither the
dynamic range nor frequency response of condenser microphones, they are extremely easy to use and quite affordable, making them perfect for home use. USB microphones can be plugged directly into a computer without requiring a mixer or preamp.
Pros: Easy to use, affordable, good value for money.
Cons: Lack of sensitivity, poor dynamic range and frequency response as compared to condenser microphones, require external power and USB port.
Uses: Because of their ease of use and relatively low cost, USB microphones are used in home studios, especially to record voice in podcasts, videos, and similar applications.

How to Buy Wired Microphones on eBay

eBay is a good place to purchase both new and used wired microphones. To buy microphones on eBay, look in the pro audio equipment category. Searches can be filtered by make, type, condition, or price. The buyer can look for condenser microphones, dynamic microphones, ribbon microphones, etc., or purchase by brands such as Shure, Samson, Sony. It is also possible to filter by pickup pattern (cardioid, omnidirectional, etc.) and form factor (headset, lavalier, etc.).

Conclusion

Buying wired microphones requires a thorough knowledge of different microphone types and how they function. Microphones utilise a number of different physical mechanisms for converting sound waves into audio signals, have various different pickup patterns, frequency response, sensitivity, and of course, prices. Purchasing the best wired microphone is often a matter of selecting the right microphone for the job rather than the most expensive one on the market. A wide selection of wired microphones is available online on eBay at affordable prices.

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