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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: I know literally nothing about microphones - help

Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link:

hoodoo - Posted - 01/16/2020:  15:02:01


I'd like to improve the quality of my mp3 recordings (my grandma asked if I could make her a cd), but as the title implies, I know nothing about microphones. What is a pick up, condenser etc?? What does it all mean?

I'm looking for something that I can easily plug into my computer or phone with a clip-on mic that won't break the bank, maybe up to $200-ish if its worth it

I've looked on Amazon, but i don't really know what I should be looking for.

Any recommendations (bonus points if there is a link) would be appreciated.

Edited by - Lynne on 01/16/2020 19:11:29

jdeluke137 - Posted - 01/16/2020:  16:10:46

I don't have one of these,but it gets good reviews and plugs into your computer's USB port.">Blue Yeti USB Mic for Recording & Streaming on PC and Mac, 3 Condenser Capsules, 4 Pickup Patterns, Headphone Output and Volume Control, Mic Gain Control, Adjustable Stand, Plug & Play - Blackout

Brian Murphy - Posted - 01/16/2020:  16:15:15

That link did not work for me.   If others having the same issue, try this

kwl - Posted - 01/16/2020:  17:38:14

The Blue Yeti is a good microphone and easy to use. I would spend the extra money and get the studio edition which adds some helpful software for enhancing your recordings. I think it is worth the extra $48. Plus Sweetwater provides great help for free if you need it.

Brian Murphy - Posted - 01/16/2020:  18:38:03

I noticed that is marketed as a vocal microphone. It works well for banjos? Are there different computer mics for instruments like there are for regular mics (e.g. Shure 57 vs 58)?

tdennis - Posted - 01/16/2020:  19:31:02

I've found the best combination is a Shure SM-57 on the pot , & a condenser mic on the neck (I use an AKG 1000).  If you can only afford one mic go w/ the  Shure  SM57. 

Edited by - tdennis on 01/16/2020 19:35:08

mdthib - Posted - 01/16/2020:  20:24:01

I would actually suggest maybe an all-in-one recorder like a Zoom. These typically can also be connected to a computer and used as a microphone right into the computer, but they can also be used in a standalone fashion. Why I'd say this is that it can be nice to record without lugging a lot of gear, or fussing with software, just record and later import and work with what you have. And you can record live events (with permission) or just anything.

Let me also say this: Experiment, experiment, experiment. Particularly with placement. Even a phone can get a good sound if you try several spots. If you're in a non-studio room, you might want to be closer (say 2-3 feet or so) from the banjo, to get more sound off the banjo and less from the reverberation of the room. My engineer friends will be able to hear a difference even moving a microphone a few centimetres, and they'll prefer one over another position. And the interaction of banjo, room, etc. is rich, so differences are real. Listen also to your favourite recordings and think a bit about whether the microphone sounds close or far.

And along with experimenting, if you're a bit more serious, I'd make several tracks in different positions, then listen to them on your playback mode of choice for a week and see if you end up liking one more than another. What sounds best at first might change once you realise, for instance, you listen a lot in your car and the mix of a particular position sounds better there.

I often will simply announce where a position is as I record, something like, "12 inches off the pot [play a phrase], 16 inches off the pot [play a phrase]" then put on good headphones and listen to the whole track.

Have fun!

scramblefingers - Posted - 01/16/2020:  21:18:15

If you are looking for a versatile mic that plugs straight into your computer the Rhode NT-USB is a decent option. The usb connects directly to your computer, Apple or windows and is recognised by any recording app that accepts an external microphone, eg Garageband, etc. I am very happy with the bang for my bucks. They can be bought for under $200.
Check the Rhode website, it could be just what you're looking for. They are simple to use and available on Amazon and E Bay. Good luck with your search.

hoodoo - Posted - 01/17/2020:  03:38:42


Originally posted by tdennis

I've found the best combination is a Shure SM-57 on the pot , & a condenser mic on the neck (I use an AKG 1000).  If you can only afford one mic go w/ the  Shure  SM57. 

Thanks, but what is a condenser mic? I'm looking for a "plug and Play" type thing

ryoung1379 - Posted - 01/17/2020:  06:08:02

I have several mikes: Sure SM-57 and SM58, and Audio-Technica AT2021 and AT2020. The Sures are dynamic and the Audio Technicas are condenser type. All sound a bit different. The condensers are very sensitive and record better but are less forgiving on positioning. The dynamics are basically bulletproof. The difference between the SM-57 and SM-58 is the foam covering at the head (both use the same cartridge). You can basically convert a SM-57 into a SM-58 by adding a windscreen (Sure A2WS). Condenser mikes need a continuously applied voltage to operate (this is called "Phantom Power"). Dynamic mics do not need any phantom power as they generate their own voltage.

I have a cool little device that I plug my microphones into that then connects to my computer via a printer port. It has phantom power so it works with my condenser mics as well as dynamic mics. It's the ART USB Dual Pre (available on Amazon and elsewhere for $99.99). I like it. It's simple and cheap and sounds good. There are other units on the market, but you do need some way to get the microphone's signal into the computer. Some mics have this interface built in, but the ART USB Pro let's me use any microphone I want.

The other thing that is useful is some kind of software to record and process your input. I use Audacity which is free (free is good)! It has a surprising array of features including multi-tracking, etc.

eagleisland - Posted - 01/17/2020:  06:24:49


Originally posted by hoodoo

Thanks, but what is a condenser mic? I'm looking for a "plug and Play" type thing

Hoodoo, I suggest you read the PA 101 sticky at the top of this forum. It's focused on live sound, but there's a discussion of microphones in it.

Briefly, the two most common types of mics we see are DYNAMIC and CONDENSER mics. They work differently.

Dynamic mics generate an electrical current by means of a small induction coil set into a permanent magnet. The coil is attached to a diaphragm, which moves with in response to sound waves. The movement of the coil through the magnet generates the current.  Because the mics create their own voltage, they do not require a power source.

Condenser mics use the diaphragm as one plate of a capacitor. The voltage changes as the vibrations impact the capacitor. Because of this, condenser mics need a power source - what's sometimes called "phantom power." Some mics get their power from an outboard source (such as a mixer or standalone phantom power source); some have batteries.

There's more to it than all that - again, this is discussed in more detail in the PA 101 thread - but for whatever it's worth condenser mics tend to be a little more accurate and sensitive than dynamic mics. Good dynamic mics do produce decent sound quality and tend to be a lot less fragile than condensers.

In a home recording environment, I doubt there'd be much detectable difference - because once you get into aspects of where to place the mics, natural room dynamics and other factors, the differences between the two may well be moot.

kjcole - Posted - 01/17/2020:  06:32:26

Condenser mics use a capacitor to change motion of the diaphragm (from sound waves) into changes in electrical current. They require an external voltage source (usually 48V). Some have large diaphragms (for a broader recording field and more sensitivity, and also lower frequency range) and some have small diaphragms (for directional specificity). Mics also have specific recording field sensitivity patterns (e.g., 'cardioid' literally meaning heart-shaped) so that you know what sound source positions will be recorded with the most sensitivity, and which locations won't. I have a small diaphragm 'pencil' condenser mic for recording my guitar when I make a loop for guitar backup so I can practice improvising with the banjo, guitar, etc. Good top end response and respond well to transients (think banjo). Condenser mics can run from cheap to thousands of dollars.

Dynamic mics work like a speaker in reverse (an induction coil suspended in a magnetic field - when relative motion occurs due to the sound waves hitting the diaphragm, currents are produced). So they don't require an external voltage source. Cheap, durable, but not as sensitive as condenser mics. Should work fine for your purposes.

Then there are ribbon mics, but you shouldn't have to go there.

Edited by - kjcole on 01/17/2020 06:34:16

kjcole - Posted - 01/17/2020:  06:32:49

Jinx! Skip beat me to it

kmwaters - Posted - 01/17/2020:  07:02:55

Blue Snowball is simple with usb. Set it right in front of you and off you go. I use Audacity to record what I play.

J.Albert - Posted - 01/17/2020:  14:50:38


Here's what you need:

Looks like you'll also need an XLR cable (figure 15') and a mic stand (get one with a boom)

Edited by - J.Albert on 01/17/2020 14:51:03

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