When it comes to microphones, one size definitely does not fit all. With the vast varieties and costs of microphones on the market, it can be overwhelming.

At the foundation of the subject, there are three types of microphones: dynamic, condenser and ribbon. Each type has it’s purpose and may or may not work for what you’re trying to accomplish.

We won’t get into directional patterns today (click here to read about that), but rather the basics of each type of microphone.

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Dynamic

Dynamic mics are the go-to for live shows and recording loud instruments, as they are pretty durable and relatively affordable (the industry-standard Shure SM57 costs under $100). It uses just a wire coil and a magnet to capture the audio signal, which allows it to withstand high-volume audio sources such as guitar amps, drums, and powerhouse vocals.

Use for: Drums, Amps, Live performance vocals, Tracking loud instruments

Do not use for: Recording Vocals

Condenser

Condenser mics are the kings of recording vocals and other audio sources that don’t output loud volumes. Using a very sensitive, electronically-charged capacitor that converts acoustic energy into electric, this microphone is much more precise than the dynamic in picking up the subtle nuances that make each vocal and instrument unique. With their precision, they are also very sensitive and can easily overload if the sound source is too loud.

They come in various sizes that suit different sources: pencil condensers are best on acoustic instruments, while large diaphragm condensers are best for vocals, bass and room ambiance.

Use for: Recording (Vocals, Strings, Woodwinds, etc.)

Do not use for: Live performance vocals, loud audio sources

Ribbon

The least-common of the bunch yet one of the oldest, ribbon mics are perfect for capturing the most neutral sound. Mainly used on vocals, this microphone uses a thin piece of duraluminum (the “ribbon”) placed between the poles of a magnet to produce voltages.

Known as the best mic for home recording, they are typically more expensive than dynamics or condensers. At the same time, they are much more fragile: if you damage the ribbon with a loud sound source, you may be required to replace it.

Use for: Recording vocals and other sources that require extreme precision

Do not use for: loud sources

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Orondé

Orondé

Orondé Jenkins is a multidisciplinary artist and media consultant based in Nashville. No Average Journey was born out of his desire to help artists grow in their lives and careers.