It’s been a long and expensive learning curve to choosing a microphone which works for me. About 25 years to be exact. To save you the time and about £3000 of mistakes, here is what I’ve learned in the process.
This was my first microphone. You never forget your first. I found it in a local second-hand charity shop (thrift shop) for £1. It turned out to be a talkback and paging microphone. My first encounter with the dynamic vs. condenser dilemma – I’ll come back to that later. More importantly, I discovered that a microphone’s impedance makes the difference.
- The lower the impedance of the microphone, the better (< 600Ω)
- High impedance microphones do not perform well over long distance cables – after about 6 metres they begin producing poor quality audio (in particular a loss of high frequencies).
- High impedance microphones are usually quite cheap.
I rocked many mixtapes and house parties with this baby. However, it sounded a bit boxy – like you would hear in on a tannoy announcement. So I had to upgrade…
Still, in mobile DJ mode, I bought the least expensive microphone I could get my hands on without breaking the bank… the bank is approximately £20. Again, it’s a low impedance microphone (yes, I had a little bit of knowledge so I was using it). I also discovered that there is a thing called cardioid (the icon looks like an upside down fat heart shape). Basically, that means when you speak directly into the microphone, it picks your voice up clearly. If you are off to the side of the microphone you sound far away (or ‘off mic’ as the professionals called it)
- Feedback is real
- The fuller range of this microphone gave it a better sound quality but it meant it would pick up more frequencies which caused feedback
- I believed the plastic body was also contributing to the feedback.
Note: I also learned that feedback is inevitable if you’re playing music very loudly near a device that picks up the sound of the thing that you hearing. See, feedback.
At this point, I had started working in radio and could afford the ubiquitous Shure SM58 – another dynamic microphone. I had seen other DJs using it so I bought one. It was great; less feedback and heavier too. Then, I decide that I want to build my own radio studio and I had seen these beautiful big microphones in pictures of the BBC. I went with my eyes and swapped the Shure SM58. I gave it to a rapper who had bought this online…
Behringer C1 Studio Condenser Microphone
Enter the large-diaphragm condenser microphone. The condenser is simply a different way the microphone converts sound into an audio signal – and after about five years of trying to work out which is better… I discovered it really doesn’t matter. The impedance value is a better indicator of quality. However, what condenser microphones usually need additional power to get it working. Which is why I couldn’t get it working for a week. I had paid over £100 for the SM58. This microphone was about a quarter of the cost.
- A thing call phantom power (the unique way condenser mics work)
- Dynamic microphones are not necessarily better or worse than condenser microphones.
- Just because a microphone looks good doesn’t mean it will sound go. All that glitters…
I liked how the C-1 sounded and wanted to get another couple of them for my 3 microphones set up. So, I looked online and found…
Behringer C-3 Studio Condenser Microphones (2x)
A three microphone set up for just over £100. Great if you’re looking for a cost-effective studio. I also discovered there was more than just one pickup pattern. Remember Cardioid? There is also Omni direction (all the way around the microphone) and Bi-direction (either side of the microphone). There is a switch on the back of the unit to select between them… and then, I found two new switches on the front.
- Switch 1: Low cut roll off (or high pass filter) switch cuts out room ambience, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) and low rumbles like passing trains.
- Switch 2: Pad (or attenuator) cuts loud noises by -10db. So if your voice to too loud or quiet, flick the switch and it might make the difference.
So this brings us to this one. The USB large diaphragm condenser cardioid microphone. I got it for £250 as a bundle with stand, a pop shield and an isolation booth. This is my go-to microphone if I’m travelling to record a voiceover, single voice podcast or a voice actor.
- Very portable and no phantom power needed
- If you’re on a one-man band on a budget, I’ll recommend this.
Which leads me to the microphone I use the most now. Working with all these different types of voices, I needed a microphone which gave me a more natural representation of their performance. Each held breath, each whisper, each stutter and swallow. All of these characteristics are what we pick up on whenever we hear someone speak. It’s the soul in their voice. So it was time to go for the big microphone. It’s exactly the kind of details they pick up. Think of it as the difference between your old Nokia phone camera and your new 4K Apple iPhone’s camera. I went with…
Hammer Audio HA-872
It costs around £1300 and is handmade by Hammer Audio in North London and we used it for the emotional performance on Purity Talks and Nothing To Declare (I wanted to get as natural a conversation as I could).
- Better microphones give you better a dynamic performance
- You can really ‘feel’ the emotion in the vocals
- Good for intimate, performance, emotional… i.e. audiobooks, personal stories.
Hopefully these lessons learned would help you get to your perfect microphone sooner than 25 years. 🙂