Beginner's Gear Guide: Classic Recording Microphones

Beginner's Gear Guides: Classic Recording Microphones

Peek into a professional's microphone locker.

While many classic microphones are beyond a beginner's budget, it never hurts a budding engineer to become familiar with the industry's most celebrated recording tools. Some famous recording microphones are no longer in production, but their legacy lives in on modern counterparts that are classics in their own right.

This guide highlights a few of the classic mics you might find in a professional studio's mic closet, plus tips for how to use each type of microphone. Need more advice from the experts? Give us a call at 1-800-ZZOUNDS for gear recommendations or help placing an order.

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Classic FET Large-Diaphragm Condensers
Ideal for vocals and voiceovers, large-diaphragm condensers can lend unique, flattering quality to the sources they pick up. Many LDCs are multi-pattern microphones: they have switchable pickup patterns. Try the heart-shaped, unidirectional cardioid pattern for vocals, or use the figure-8 shaped bidirectional pattern on a pair of singers, as a mono drum overhead, or on a singer who plays acoustic guitar. Need a nice room microphone? The omnidirectional pattern delivers the most natural, uncolored sound. These classic FET (field effect transistor) microphones are true studio workhorses.
Classic Small-Diaphragm Condensers
Small-diaphragm condensers are classic tools for accurately capturing the fast transients produced by cymbals, hand drums, and the percussive sound of acoustic guitars. Sometimes known as "pencil mics," small-bodied SDC microphones can often fit places that large-diaphragm mics can't -- like inside an acoustic piano. A pair of small-diaphragm condensers in a stereo X-Y configuration are an ideal setup for recording a classical ensemble or choir in a concert hall.
Distinctive Ribbon Microphones
Going for a vintage sound? Ribbon microphones impart a dark, smooth character that's flattering on vocals, guitar amps, horns, and more. These classic mics have enjoyed a comeback in the 2000s, and they're a great choice when condenser microphones sound too bright. If you're working with a source that might sound a little harsh or strident -- like a violin, trumpet, or female vocalist -- try recording with a ribbon mic to round off the sharp edges. Ribbon mics naturally pick up in a figure-8 bidirectional pattern -- both front and back -- so aim them carefully so the back of the mic isn't pointed directly at a sound source you don't want to capture.
Tube Condenser Microphones
Tube condensers, the crown jewels of many pro studio mic collections, deliver a sweet, warm quality that's flattering on just about any voice. Powered by vacuum tubes, these microphones come with their own dedicated phantom power supplies, and they require at least a few minutes of warming up. Tube condensers typically have continuously-variable polar patterns: turn the knob on the power supply to dial in a pickup pattern of bidirectional, cardioid, omni, or anywhere in between.
Classic Dynamic Microphones
Rounding out the classic mic closet are our favorite must-have dynamic microphones. Classics like the Sennheiser MD421 and Shure SM7B are often found on the notoriously hard-to-mic floor tom and rack tom, while the Audix D6 microphone is a modern classic on kick drum. The EV RE-20, an exceptionally smooth vocal microphone, is often found in broadcast radio DJ booths. These tough dynamic mics also shine on loud sources like screaming guitar amplifiers, or aggressive rock or rap vocals.