Microphone Overview: Construction Types - dummies

By Jeff Strong

Whether a home recording microphone is a $10 cheapie that has a cord permanently attached to it or a $15,000 pro model with gold-plated fittings, all microphones convert sound waves to electrical impulses that the preamp or mixer can read and the recorder can store. Each of the three construction types captures this auditory signal in a different way, and as such, each adds certain characteristics to the sound. Here’s how the different mics affect sound:

  • Condenser: This type tends to have a well-rounded shape to its frequency response and a fast response, allowing it to often pick up high transient material, such as the initial attack of drum, very well. These mics can sound more natural, but they can also be somewhat harsh if placed too close to a high transient source.

  • Boundary: Boundary mics are like condenser mics in that they can capture a broad range of frequencies accurately. Because these types of mics rely on the reflection of the sound source to a flat surface they are attached to, you need to make sure that this surface is large enough to reproduce the lowest frequency you want to capture. (Remember, sound waves get longer as the frequency gets lower.) Otherwise, you lose the low frequencies.

  • Dynamic: Dynamic mics tend to accentuate the middle of the frequency spectrum because the thick diaphragms (relatively speaking when compared to a condenser mic) take longer to respond.

  • Ribbon: Because the ribbon mic is relatively slow to respond to an auditory signal, it tends to soften the transients (the initial attack of an instrument) on instruments such as percussion and piano. The high end isn’t as pronounced as with other construction types, so these mics tend to have a rounder, richer tone.