Know the differences between dynamic and condenser mics? Ever even heard of a ribbon microphone? Not a problem, read through our quick little guide and you’ll no longer be wondering why your brand new GEMINI II Dual Valve sounds worse on-stage than nails on a chalkboard!
Probably the best known and most recognizable type of microphone on the list, dynamic mics are the standard for vocals when it comes to onstage performance. These microphones come durable, moisture resistant and relatively inexpensive, but it’s their resistance to high-gain feedback that makes them the optimal choice for performances.
If you’ve ever tried using a condenser or ribbon mic onstage instead of one of these, you probably remember the loud piercing screech of the mic feedback when anyone just so much as plugged in their gear… either that or the thing didn’t even turn on, but more on that later. Dynamic mics are what you want, designed specifically to let you crank it to eleven while only picking up the sounds closely targeted at it, such as your voice or a harmonica.
While not as well known to the general person as dynamic mics, condensers are actually the most commonly used microphones in the industry. Unlike dynamic mics, these are made with recording in mind and capture a greater sense of “real” sound by being able to record a much wider range of frequency and transient sounds, meaning higher highs and lower lows. Condenser microphones do require 40 volts of “phantom power” in order to operate, but that’s easily obtainable and standard on full-sized mix boards, although a separate phantom power unit can be purchased in case you’re using a smaller mixer.
It is because of the extra power needed, their extreme sensitivity to loud noises and comparatively fragile build that makes them an unattractive choice for traditional live performances, although they are used in certain setups such as an overhead drum mic or as a part of an orchestral choir group for vocal reinforcement.
Anyone familiar with pictures of old radio broadcasters will be familiar with the rectangular build of ribbon mics. When they were invented by RCA in the ‘20s, they were seen as a vast improvement over every other microphone on the market and became the go-to mic for most radio shows and broadcasts at the time, usually adorned with the company’s call letters on top of the windscreen.
Like dynamic mics, ribbon mics do not require phantom power, although some modern designs do take advantage of the added boost in power. It also should be mentioned that up until recently, no ribbon mics used phantom power, and connecting them to any boosted power supply such as phantom power can actually break the unit, so make sure you know what kind of mic you have your hands on before trying one of those setups.
Ribbon microphones in recording are usually used for their unique “warm” and mellow sound, unlike the trebly crystalline output you’d get with a condenser, although their use is not as widespread.
Know the Differences in Microphones to Take Advantage
Although there are several other types of exotic microphones used in the music industry, these three are by far the most common and will pretty much get the job done the best way possible. Just remember to use the right tool for the right moment, and you’ll be set in no time. One more thing; before you go returning your brand new microphone because you can’t seem to get it to work, turn the phantom power on!
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