Who Makes The Best Microphones?
What are the most trusted brands for studio or live performance microphones? The most popular options include Neumann, Shure, Audio-Technica, Sennheiser, Rode, and Blue Microphones. These brands produce pro-grade microphones that are available in a wide range of styles. However, to select the right microphone, there are a lot of details to consider, including the main features and the type of microphone.
Main Features of the Top Microphone Brands
Microphones are not simple devices. They have a lot of different features that impact their performance and the quality of the sound that they deliver to a mixing console. Some of the main features that you will find in microphones from the top brands include a wide frequency response, low sensitivity, and high SPL.
The frequency response is the range of frequencies that the microphone can pick up. With certain instruments, you need a lower frequency. For example, for a bass drum, you may want a 30 Hz mic. Neumann produces several affordable options that start at the 20 Hz range.
The sensitivity and SPL rating of the microphone are also important. A low sensitivity means that the microphone can pick up quieter sounds. The sound pressure level (SPL) rating refers to the maximum decibels that the microphone can pick up. With a low sensitivity and a high SPL, a microphone can pick up a greater range of sounds.
Along with these features, there are details that you will not find by looking at the technical specs of a microphone. A quality microphone should not pick up a lot of static, hissing, or popping from movement or external noises. The quality of the manufacturing, precision, and the types of metals that are used all impact the overall performance.
To find the best options, you need to trust customer reviews or purchase microphones from trusted brands, such as Neumann or Shure. These brands spend a lot of time fine-tuning their manufacturing process to deliver the very best microphones available.
Dynamic and Condenser Microphones
Most microphones are either dynamic or condenser mics. Dynamic microphones feature a coil that is connected to the diaphragm inside the field of a magnet. When the diaphragm moves, the coil moves. These mics tend to have a higher sound pressure level, making them suitable for live performances.
Condenser microphones tend to be preferred for studio recording. They feature a thin diaphragm and a metal backplate. They also typically require an external power supply. These mics tend to produce less vibration than the dynamic mics, making them more suited for studio recording. However, some of the best condenser mics are also suitable for live recording.
Some of the top brands also manufacturer dynamic microphones. For example, Shure produces several economy-grade dynamic microphones that can be used in the studio or live shows. However, these mics are not typically as sensitive as the top condenser mics.
Understanding How Polar Patterns Work
Besides choosing between dynamic and condenser microphones, you may need to choose the polar pattern of the microphone. The polar pattern refers to the directionality of the microphone. This is the three-dimensional space around the microphone.
With an omnidirectional microphone, the mic picks up sound from all directions. For example, Audio-Technica produces an omnidirectional microphone that is well-suited for recording acoustic sets and orchestras. However, for vocal recording, you typically want to pick up sound from directly in front of the microphone.
The most common type of polar pattern is the cardioid pattern. This is a heart-shaped pattern that picks up sound in front of the mic, but it rejects sounds coming from behind the mic. Other options include hyper-cardioid, super cardioid, figure-eight, and ultra-directional. Each of these options picks up a little more sound beyond the 180-degree arc.
There are also multi-directional microphones. For example, Rode produces several multi-pattern condenser microphones that allow you to change the polar pattern based on the setting. You can switch from a cardioid pattern to a figure-eight.
The best microphones are not inexpensive. A high-end Neumann microphone can cost thousands of dollars. However, companies like Audio-Technic, Shure, and Sennheiser have a range of professional mics that range in price from several hundred dollars to a thousand.
When selecting a microphone, it is important to consider the type of microphone and its polar pattern. Rode offers mid-grade multi-pattern mics. For the best sound with minimal noise, you may need a cardioid condenser microphone, which is available from all the top brands, including Audio-Technica and Shure.