How to buy a microphone
A microphone buying guide Microphones
are useful and popular electronics supplies
for speaking to audiences. Microphones are designed to be both general-purpose and used in specific settings. So, as you explore how to buy a microphone, consider how and where you'll use it, the type of microphone you need and the microphone style.
>> How will you use it?
The first thing to understand as you determine how to buy a microphone is how you might use it. Consider the following microphone uses to help you know what to look for as you compare microphones:
- Casual use, such as singing karaoke with friends or giving young children something to sing into, so they can put on "concerts."
- Public speaking, such as lectures or presentations to large groups, and for addressing outdoor crowds.
- Live performances for choirs, bands, acoustic performances and live theater.
- Recording music or other audio, such as in a studio or for a podcast.
- Use at the computer, such as interacting with other players while gaming or recording audio directly to your computer.
>> Consider microphone styles
The next consideration as you learn how to buy a microphone is which microphone style is best suited to your uses. Before you consider the technical aspects, consider the microphone style, because most styles are available with any combination of technical aspects you may need.
Handheld microphones are the most versatile and popular types of microphones. There are many designs to meet a broad range of needs. They are popular for casual use, public speaking and live performances. Handheld microphones come in wired and wireless styles. If you aren't sure what style is ideal, a handheld might be the best microphone to buy.
Lapel microphones clip to a lapel or shirt. These are designed for public speaking and live performance because they allow hands to be free and are discreet. Typically, the microphone connects to a receiver that attaches to your waistband.
Amplified megaphones with built-in microphones are popular for people who need to address a large crowd, such as during a public gathering or sporting event. Choir and band directors, theater directors and stage managers in particular have a use for these devices. These types of microphones require no additional equipment to amplify your voice.
Boom headsets are another hands-free option. This might be the best microphone to buy if you need a microphone to address an audience - for example, lecturing or live performances. Some performers favor this style.
>> Which is best for you: a condenser or dynamic microphone?
Another microphone consideration, based on where you'll use it, is to compare condenser vs. dynamic microphones. Each setting might have different types and levels of background noise, both of which affect audio quality.
If you'll be using a microphone in crowds, outdoors or in areas with background noise, you might prefer a dynamic microphone. It responds only to direct sound pressure, which makes it less sensitive to background noise. It's also more rugged, so it's a popular option for travelers.
If you intend to use a microphone in a studio or quiet place, you might prefer a condenser microphone. These types of microphones are quite sensitive, so they pick up softer sounds clearly. For example, they can pick up the subtle sound of the flick of a pick on a guitar string.
If you aren't sure where you might use a microphone or anticipate a variety of settings, you'll probably find that a sensitive dynamic microphone works best for you.
>> Which type of direction is best for you?
The next thing to think about as you consider how to buy a microphone is what type of direction is best suited for your microphone uses. Each type of microphone - omni-directional, uni-directional and bi-directional - picks up sound from specific directions.
The following microphone comparison will help you understand directional terms and what they mean, so you can determine which microphone to buy.
| || |
Where it picks up sound
|Omni-directional ||All directions ||Recording outdoors, live theater or acoustic music performance ||Multiple people can speak or sing into a single microphone at once |
|Uni-directional ||From one direction - either the top or front of the microphone ||Lead singer, public speaker, recording podcasts at home ||Reduces background noise |
|Bi-directional ||Two directions ||Conducting interviews, presenting to a participating audience, for backup singers or to amplify acoustic musical performances ||Picks up sound from two specific directions; reduces background noise while picking up sound from multiple directions |
>> Which type of connection is best for you?
Another important consideration as you determine which microphone to buy is the connection. The gold standard for microphones is XLR, which allows them connect to PA and other audio systems.
USB connections are becoming more common since microphones are standard computer accessories, and computers are taking a more prominent role in audio production. USB microphones connect to computers or advanced digital audio systems.
Wireless connections are essential if you want a type of microphone that allows unrestricted movement. They require a receiver, which is typically included with the microphone. Usually, the receiver clips onto your waistband, which transmits your voice to another receiver connected to an audio system. There are also wireless adapters available that plug into standard microphone cord connections.
>> What accessories do you need?
Now that you have explored how to buy a microphone, hopefully you have an idea of which microphone to buy. The next thing to think about is what accessories you might need to complete the package.
A stand is a popular accessory, because it allows you to set the microphone down in a safe place when you aren't using it. The most functional stands are those that allow a speaker or performer to take the microphone out of the stand easily.
Cords are essential for wired microphones. Make sure your cord fits the microphone's connection (XLR or USB), and then consider microphone impedance. Impedance describes the strength of a microphone's signal is as it travels through a cord. Higher impedance means the microphone will sound best when paired with a shorter cord, while lower impedance means that a microphone can use a longer cord without compromising audio quality.
If you're using condenser, wireless or megaphone types of microphones, you'll need batteries. Check the microphone's specs to determine what type of battery is required for operation.
If you'll need to pack your microphone to go, you'll want to buy a case. Some microphones include a case while others don't. Hard-sided cases filled with molded foam offer the best protection, but soft-sided cases, such as padded bags, are popular for light-duty protection and storage.