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Microphones / Miking

Microphones & Miking Techniques: An Introduction

When you enter the world of audio recording, one of the first tools you'll encounter is the Microphone. But with the variety available and the myriad ways to use them, it can be a daunting journey. This explainer aims to simplify that process for you.

1. What is a Microphone?

A microphone is a device that converts sound waves into electrical signals. At its core, it captures vibrations (from voices, instruments, or any other sounds) and translates them so they can be amplified, recorded, or transmitted. Different microphones are designed to capture sound in various ways and have distinct characteristics that make them ideal for specific tasks.

2. Types of Microphones

  • Dynamic Microphones - These mics are rugged, moisture-resistant, and can handle high sound pressure levels (SPL), making them perfect for live sound environments and studio applications. They use a diaphragm attached to a coil of wire, placed within the magnetic field of a magnet, which means they don't need a power source.
  • Condenser Microphones - These are more sensitive and offer a higher frequency response and louder output than dynamic mics. They're commonly used in studio recording settings. They require power (from batteries or phantom power) to charge their internal electronics.
  • Ribbon Microphones - Known for their high quality and smooth character, ribbon mics capture sound with a thin strip of metal suspended in a magnetic field. They're fragile and typically used in studio environments.
  • Lavalier Microphones - These are small clip-on mics often seen in broadcasting for interviews and presentations.
  • Shotgun Microphones - With a very narrow area of sensitivity, or "polar pattern," these mics are used to pick up sound from a specific direction. They're commonly used in film and TV production.

3. Miking Techniques

  • Close Miking - Placing the microphone close to the sound source. This technique captures the direct sound and reduces the amount of ambient noise. It's commonly used in both live sound and studio recording.
  • Ambient Miking - Mics are placed at a distance from the sound source. This captures more of the room's acoustics and ambient noise, providing a more "natural" or "live" sound.
  • Stereo Miking - Uses two microphones to capture a stereo image. Common techniques include X/Y (where two cardioid mics are placed close together at a 90-degree angle) and spaced pair (where two mics are several feet apart).
  • Miking Drums - Each drum or cymbal can be miked individually (close miking) or a few overhead mics can be used to capture the entire kit (ambient miking).
  • Miking Guitars - For acoustic guitars, placing a mic near the 12th fret captures a balanced sound. Electric guitars are often miked by placing a microphone close to the amplifier's speaker.

4. Polar Patterns

This term refers to the sensitivity of a microphone to sounds arriving from different directions:

  • Cardioid Picks up sound best from the front.
  • Omnidirectional Picks up sound equally from all directions.
  • Bidirectional (or figure-of-eight) Picks up sound best from the front and back.
  • Supercardioid and Hypercardioid Have a narrower front pickup area but a small rear pickup area.

Explore Further

Choosing the right microphone and employing the best miking technique can dramatically impact the quality of your recordings. Whether you're capturing vocals, instruments, podcasts, or on-field sounds, understanding the basics outlined above can set you on the path to producing professional-level audio. Remember, experimentation is key: try different mics and techniques to find what works best for your unique situation! And check out all of the Sound On Sound articles listed below for plenty of buying advice and 'how to' techniques.

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    Recording A String Section

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    You can mike up a string section in many different ways, but which one sounds best? We explain the theory behind the most popular mic techniques and then record several of them on a real string session so that you can let your ears decide.

    Techniques May 2006
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    Getting Started With Capacitor Mics

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    With affordable capacitor mics now flooding the market, more musicians than ever before have access to the means to make high-quality recordings. But if you are new to this type of mic, there are some important things you need to know to get good results without damaging your investment.

    Techniques Mar 2005
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    Using Mics & DI Boxes On Stage

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    Find out how to mike up a typical live band — and also discover when it's best to Direct Inject instead.

    Techniques May 2004
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    Recording Vocals In The Computer Studio

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    However much you rely on a computer to provide sounds and help create arrangements, if you want to include vocals, you still need to know how to mike and record them properly in what may be a less than ideal room. We offer some tried and tested solutions...

    Techniques Mar 2004
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    Digital Microphones: A New Approach?

    Cutting Edge

    When is a digital mic really a digital mic? Cutting Edge looks at the hybrid digital/analogue technology we already have and suggests a radical new approach.

    Techniques Mar 2004
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    Studio SOS

    Ian Anderson

    We help SOS reader Ian Anderson achieve his favourite drum sound.

    Techniques Aug 2003
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    Comparing Stereo Miking Techniques

    Coincident-pair vs Spaced-pair

    We take a practical look at the pros and cons of coincident and spaced stereo miking techniques.

    Techniques Mar 2003
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    Recording Acoustic Guitar Masterclass

    Mic Choices & Miking Tips

    While physical modelling preamps may take the hassle out of recording electric guitars, you're still going to need to reach for a mic when recording acoustic guitar. Paul White shows you how to get the best recorded sound, and offers a few of his favourite tricks of the trade.

    Techniques Aug 2001
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    Understanding & Using Directional Microphones

    Sound Workshop

    Many of us do the vast majority of our recordings using mics with a cardioid polar pattern, but alternative patterns can give radically different — and sometimes much better — results. Hugh Robjohns explains the differences between these designs and the applications to which they're suited.

    Techniques Sep 2000
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    Recording Real Pianos

    Tips & Tricks

    The piano comes in a variety of forms and is used in many different roles as part of ensembles and as a solo instrument. Many engineers regard the piano as the hardest instrument to record. Hugh Robjohns offers some practical hints and tips for getting the right sound.

    Techniques May 1999
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    Recording Strings

    Practical Tips & Tricks

    Tired of those sampled string sounds? Hugh Robjohns outlines a number of techniques and tips for recording real live string soloists and string sections.

    Techniques Apr 1999
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    Practical Drum Kit Miking: Part 1

    Tips & Techniques

    Drum kit miking is a black art as far as many project studio owners are concerned. Yet, as Benedict Grant explains in the first of this two‑part series, there's no need to let the kit beat you...

    Techniques Dec 1997
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    The Art Of Miking Acoustic Instruments

    Tips & Techniques

    With MIDI playing an ever greater part in music production, there's a danger that the art of using microphones will be lost. Paul White describes the valuable techniques of miking acoustic instruments — something he recommends every studio user should learn.

    Techniques Sep 1995
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    Drum Miking

    Techniques & Tips

    Paul White explains that although we may do most of our work using samplers and sequencers, the art of drum miking is just as important as it ever was.

    Techniques Apr 1994
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    Separation Without A Vocal Booth

    Quick Tips

    Bob Thomas offers a quick tip to achieve vocal separation.

    Techniques Feb 1994

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