As more and more instruments became electric, it became increasingly necessary for singers to be louder in order for them to be heard by the audience. Vocalists required amplification and, so, the microphone was invented.Microphones on Amazon
We use microphones constantly in our daily lives; for example, when talking on the phone or on the computer. So it’s not just musicians who make use of them. A microphone, however, is not an instrument in itself, more a tool. It’s important to note that it’s not only singers that use them; microphones are also used to record guitar or to send audio to the audience through the speakers at big live performances. I have tested and found the best microphones in each category. You can find them below and you can continue reading if you want to know more about the microphone.
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The modern microphone had its breakthrough in the middle of the year 1877 when the American Thomas Edison patented his new invention. In fact, the Englishman David Edward Hughes had demonstrated a microphone to several witnesses a few years before and, therefore, he is regarded by most historians to be the true inventor of the microphone. The Englishman’s carbon microphone was further developed by Thomas Edison and it became a huge breakthrough in the telephony, radio and recording industry.
Subsequently, in the early 1900s a sea of new microphone designs were invented. Here, one of the most commonly known microphones, the condenser microphone (also called a capacitor microphone), was invented. People were inventing new ways of capturing sound (vibrations in the air) and transmitting them as electrical signals, finally amplifying the sound through an amplifier and a loudspeaker.
In the mid-1900s, the American company Shure became particularly prevalent. It was (and still is) a groundbreaking innovator in the industry. Both Shure’s vocal microphones and instrument microphones are still among the most widely used, best and most affordable. Their SM57 and SM58 models have had huge success for many years. They are used all over the world and are seen everywhere, from rehearsal rooms to the main stages of the world’s biggest festivals.
As time has passed, many great manufacturers have come and gone. Some companies have specialised in particular types of microphones for particular purposes. An example of this is the manufacturer Neumann, who specializes in developing vocal microphones. These manufacturers often have expensive products, but this is not always the case. Specialist manufacturers are also often the place find the very best microphones. Their focus is on only one type of microphone and so this often means that they are further ahead in developing the best designs than other companies. For this reason, they usually also ask a higher price for their products.back to menu ↑
Microphone Construction and Features
Depending on the type of microphone, it will have different functions and constructions. However, there is something they all have in common, namely, the ability to enhance your voice. Let us take a closer look at how the process works.
Imagine you are a singer. It all starts with you making sound, acoustically. When you sing, the flow of air across your larynx causes it to vibrate, creating a tone. This is acoustic energy, and that is what you hear without a microphone involved. The problem is that a band, for example, generally plays louder on their instruments, and through their amplifiers, than you can sing and, therefore, you require a microphone.
If you’ve used a microphone, you know that it feels natural to sing into the top of it – the head/grill. The head is the large and round block at the top. Inside it is a component called diaphragm/membrane and it is a thin piece of material, usually made of cardboard, plastic or aluminum. This thin piece of material vibrates, as soon as sound waves hit it (e.g. the sound of your voice). These vibrations cause the other components inside the microphone to vibrate vigorously. They convert your original acoustic signal to an electrical signal. The signal is then passed through the cable, which is typically a male XLR cable (the cables is called he or she XLR depending on the design at the bottom. He XLR = protruding outwards. She XLR = protruding inwards).
However, the cable alone does not amplify the signal. There are still some things that are needed to make the microphone sound like we know it. The electrical signal coming from the microphone is extremely weak. The signal is called ‘mic level’ and it is typically measured in millivolts. The signal must be amplified, otherwise it can hardly be used for anything. It needs a strength you call ‘line level’ (0.5-2 volts). Therefore, the microphone cable is connected to either a mixer or a sound card. The function of the mixer or sound card/recording interface is to amplify the signal until it has the desired signal strength. The next part of the system is the amplifier/mixer transmitting the sound to a loudspeaker. The speakers here convert the energy back into acoustic energy. Now you as a singer can hear yourself. Buying a microphone is therefore not enough. It is also necessary to have a mixer and speakers if you play live. With a sound card, it sends the sound further into a program for recording – this can be a program like Logic, Pro Tools or Cubase. So, with a sound card/recording interface, you also require a program for recording if you have to record his song voice or an instrument.back to menu ↑
Different Types of Microphones
There are basically two types of microphones: the condenser (or capacitor) microphone and the dynamic microphone. Of course, there are many other types that are more specialised and not so common. These are the two types of “basic microphones” used more commonly.
Condenser microphone: This microphone is characterized by the fact that it requires some kind of electrical voltage to operate. The way this voltage is applied differs from microphone to microphone, and can be by battery, plug-in, 48-volt power (also called phantom power), or higher voltage, as seen with tube microphones. It is usually at 120 V. The voltage is generally transferred in the XLR cable that is connected to the microphone. The cable has two functions here: to supply the signal to the mixer or sound card and to supply voltage. The greater the voltage a condenser microphone has, the greater the sound pressure it can withstand. For this reason, microphones with battery and plug-ins are categorized as semi-professional whereas, with the others, they are categorized as professional microphones.
The output level of condenser microphones is high. This means that they easily distort/clip if the sound source is high (for example, a loud guitar amplifier). Therefore, this microphone is useful for, for example, live streaming, speech and sung vocals in a studio where other sound sources our blocked out (there is no ‘bleed’). The frequency range of a condenser microphone is also very wide, and this means that there are less restrictions when choosing which microphone is best for you.
The dynamic microphone: the dynamic microphone, unlike the condenser/capacitor microphone, does not require connected power – it is ‘passive’. It generates power by affecting vibrations in the microphone’s casing. The dynamic microphone is somewhat tougher and more durable than the capacitor. Therefore, it is this type of microphone that is generally used in the rehearsal room and for playing live gigs. A dynamic microphone can most likely withstand being dropped on the floor (which of course I do not recommend!), which a condenser certainly cannot. Likewise, a dynamic microphone is not delicate in terms of humidity and humid weather conditions – a really bad enemy for the condenser microphone. The diaphragm on a dynamic microphone is, in turn, thicker which can cause some problems; this is due to the fact there is what is called a ‘swing coil’ attached to it. This results in some frequencies not being captures as well as they are on a condenser microphone. It is typically the high frequency ranges between 12 and 15 kHz. A dynamic microphone, however, has the great advantage that it is incredibly difficult to distort the sound or generate feedback. This means that it is often the best choice for situations where several instruments are playing together at the same time. However, it is the case with dynamic microphones that, depending on which model, their frequency field bends a lot. This means that you have to pay special attention when you go out and buy a dynamic microphone. If it does not fit perfectly with your setup, then you can quickly realize that it does not capture the desired frequencies, and may not sound as good as when you tried it down in the store.back to menu ↑
Microphone Buying Guide
When buying a microphone, it is incredibly important to find out what it’s specific purpose is. There are many good microphones on the market. Each can have something different and it is, therefore, very important to choose right from the start. A microphone may sound really bad in one situation, but incredibly good in another. It depends on what the microphone was designed to do.
First of all, it is recommended to consider whether it should be used in a studio (or at home, for example, live streaming) or whether it should be used in a rehearsal room or live where there is usually more loud sound from other sources. As a starting point, if you are the only one who will use the microphone. For instance in a quiet room where you would like to hit a wide frequency range, go for the condenser microphone. If you are in an environment where there is a lot of noise from other instruments, then you need to go for the dynamic microphone.
Many microphones are, as one of the few musical tools, being sold at about the same price used as new. This is because they maintain their quality, provided they have been looked after and cared for well. I’d recommend buying anew microphone. First of all you have a whole new tool. This in itself is incredibly handy as you will probably have warranty for the product or be able to return the product, which allows you to take it home, try it out and bring it back if you don’t like it. I believe that microphones can behaves differently in different environments and so could sound different in your own set up than it does in the store. This way you have the opportunity to really try the microphone for the purpose you require it for. In addition, you can also get a lot of advice from an expert in the store.
If you are a first-time buyer, it can always be recommended to look at a Rode microphone for singing. They develop and sell microphones for singing intended for both amateurs and professionals. The quality is always top notch. Moreover, they do not cost much in relation to what they give you in the long run – a great investment.
The microphone market is huge and there are many to choose from. Therefore, I’d also recommended that you go to YouTube and check out demos from the different brands and models. Many ecommerce stores, such as Amazon, also include videos in the product descriptions.