The need for a good microphone is probably the one thing that sticks to many former MMS 172 students. It’s what certainly some of them tell incoming students. And it’s hard to argue with that. Following environment acoustics, the microphone is the key to clean and clear recordings.
There are a LOT of microphones out there. But first, you have to determine your personal needs and the situations you will be dealing with.
My personal choice is a large diaphragm condenser microphone for its ability to capture a wide frequency range. Your recording becomes a more accurate representation of what you actually hear. The drawback is that it requires phantom power which will have to come from a separate device. Condenser mics by themselves can also typically be more expensive. Its physical sensitivity also demands a bit of care and is not ideal for use in noisy conditions as it will be unavoidably capture a lot of unwanted noise and be prone to feedback.
Popular condenser microphones include the Neumann U87, AKG C414 or even the Rode NT1. But cheaper solutions like the Behringer C-1, Audio Technica AT1010 and Samson C01 or MTR101 have proven to be solid microphones in their own right.
Dynamic microphones are rugged and relatively inexpensive devices. They don’t require phantom power. They work well under load and noisy conditions. That is why they are normally seen on stage or in the studio for recording snare drums and guitar speaker cabinets. Unfortunately, this advantage also lends to its disadvantage. Dynamic microphones rely on relatively high sound pressure levels for the transducer to pick up sound. They do not have the sensitivity of condenser microphones in order to be capable of picking up low volumes and they have difficulty capturing high frequencies. That is why singers sing relatively close to dynamic microphones.
Whether or not they are the best in the industry will always be up for debate. But there are no dynamic microphones more iconic or universally used than the Shure SM57 and SM58. They are workhorses and any self-respecting production studio will have them in their arsenal of microphones. But they are not necessary for your own work. In the right hands, even the lowly generic karaoke microphone will be usable.
The issue with phantom power can be solved by condenser microphones with built-in USB interfaces. Aside from providing power, it also serves as an audio interface. All you need to do is plug it in your computer. Once your operating system detects it and successfully installs the necessary driver, all your audio software will be able to use it as an input device.
All USB microphones are an upgrade from whatever built-in microphone your computer or mobile device has. In fact, that is how small mics like popular and inexpensive Samson Go are marketed. They are ideal for quick recordings and podcasting projects. Many of the entry level condenser mic models also come in variants with built-in USB ports, making them a convenient option for small home recording setups.
The problem that I see with these USB microphones is that up to now, their interface are only able to record with limited bit depths and sampling rates. Most max out at 16 bits and 44.1KHz. Some can’t even go that high. It’s not awful, but it is not studio grade, either.
Field recorders like the Zoom H series are self-contained devices able to record at high quality levels, store files and play them back. Some models can also switch between different polar patterns for unparalleled versatility. And as the name implies, their size and portability make them ideal for recording on-location. The only problem I have personally encountered when using field recorders is that they are difficult to integrate into a larger recording setup.
They will never by my first choice when recording audio. But mobile phones and tablets have become better and better at it. And like discrete field recorders, these are all-on-one devices. I am often surprised at the level of quality some people are able to coax out of them. They have limitations which are difficult to for me to negotiate with. They are prone to capturing a lot of noise. They have limited options as far as bit depth and sampling rate are concerned. I also question how accurately it can capture sound. But they are acceptable for use in this course. You just need to know how to compensate for their weaknesses.