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These special microphones and their usefulness

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Are you an audio engineer or recording studio professional? Be aware that there are several microphones that are not only intended for voice recording and recording of musical instruments. There is also the simple and 3D ambisonic microphone, the binaural stereo microphone, the microphone designed specifically for the ORTF technique, and the modeling microphone. Here are some different special microphones that you can acquire in your studio.

special microphones

🎤 by Kevin Jung

Summary of the article 👇

There are many microphones that you can find on the market. They come in several forms and are generally intended to record voice and the sound of musical instruments . Be aware that there are microphones that are designed for a specific use (for example for capturing surround sound ). Focus on these special microphones and their usefulness.

The 3 main types of microphones

Before discovering the special microphones, a quick reminder of the main types of microphones is necessary. Microphones can be classified into 3 major categories :

  • Condenser microphones
  • Dynamic microphones
  • Ribbon microphones

Condenser microphones

A condenser microphone (or electrostatic microphone) transforms mechanical energy into electrical energy using an electrostatic system.

This type of microphone is equipped with a membrane covered with a thin conductive layer and a fixed electrode. Between these two components there is air. Under the action of acoustic pressure, these two armatures will move closer or further apart. And it is precisely the difference in movement between these two parts which will generate an electrical voltage .

condenser microphones
Picture from Onlinemictest.com

Note that to use a condenser microphone , an external power supply is required. In particular, you will need 48 V phantom power to power the capacitor.

Use : Condenser microphones are known for their increased sensitivity. As such, they are capable of delivering precise and detailed sounds. This is why these types of microphones find their importance in a recording studio. They are used in particular to record voice and capture the sound of acoustic instruments.

Examples of reference condenser microphones:

  • Neumann U87 Ai, a high-end condenser microphone considered the king of studio microphones
  • Rode NT-1 , a condenser microphone that is suitable for beginners
  • Sennheiser MKH 416, a condenser microphone that offers excellent value for money

Dynamic microphones

A dynamic microphone is made up of a diaphragm, a voice coil and a magnet. The sound wave exerts pressure on the membrane (called the diaphragm). This moves and carries with it the coil which is fixed around the magnet. And it is this movement which will create an electric current.

Use : Dynamic microphones stand out for their robustness and their ability to withstand high sound pressure levels. These types of microphones are mainly used during live recording.

Examples of reference dynamic microphones:

Ribbon microphones

The operating principle of a ribbon microphone is identical to that of a dynamic microphone except for a few details. Indeed, in ribbon microphones, we find a thin metal ribbon in place of the moving coil.

ribbon microphones
Picture of Projethomestudio.fr

Ribbon microphones have the particularity of being fragile. Thus, they cannot support loud sound sources. The strong point of ribbon microphones lies in their warm, vintage sound . To take advantage of this, however, remember to use a good preamp since this type of microphone generally has a low output level.

Usage : Ribbon mics are recommended for vocals and speech. They generally have bidirectional directivity. As such, they are practical when capturing the voice of two singers located on either side of the microphone.

Examples of reference ribbon microphones:

Special microphones and their usefulness

In the remainder of this article, discover 7 special microphones. They belong to one of the categories mentioned above. However, they are specially designed for a very specific use .

Rode NT-SF1, an ambisonic microphone

most famous microphone model is undoubtedly the Rode NT-USB. This USB microphone is especially popular with podcasters and streamers because of its ease of use. In fact, you just need to plug a USB cable into a computer to make it work. But what interests us in this article is a somewhat special microphone: the Rode NT-SF1.

The NT-SF1 from Rode is a model that belongs to the family of ambisonic microphones . Featuring 4 capsules arranged tetrahedrally, this mic is designed to capture 360° sound on 4 different tracks.

Rode NT-SF1 ambisonic microphone
Picture from Twitter.com

To fine-tune the results of your recordings with the NT-SF1, you'll need the free SoundField plugin . This tool from Rode is full of many interesting features. Among other things, this allows you to modify the polar pattern , rotation and position of the microphone after recording.

Ambisonic microphones like the Rode NT-SF1 are used in many areas of application. These include capturing 3D soundscapes and making 360° videos .

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Zylia Pro Have it all, a microphone for creating surround sound

The Zylia Pro Have it all is a kit that includes a 3D ambisonic microphone (the ZM-1) and a post-processing plugin (the Zylia Studio Pro). By using these tools, you will no longer need a dedicated microphone for each sound source. Indeed, this microphone captures sounds at 360° . You can then manipulate the positions and polar patterns of the virtual microphones using the software.

Just like the Rode NT-SF1, the Zylia Pro have it all can be used to create surround sound in virtual reality content, sports broadcasts or even video games.

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Neumann KU100, an immersive microphone

Neumann is a brand with an established reputation for designing high-end studio microphones. This German manufacturer offers audiophiles a rather special model: the KU100. This is a binaural stereo microphone . It takes the form of a human head with two ears, each equipped with an omnidirectional condenser capsule .

This mic captures sound sources exactly as the listener naturally perceives them. In other words, the person who listens to sound recorded with this type of microphone hears the sound as if they were present when the sound was recorded.

Picture from studiocare.com

This type of recording allows the listener to have a totally immersive experience . To promote the immersive effect, you should use headphones when listening.

The Neumann KU100 is mainly used for acoustic measurements and ambient sound recording . This professional microphone can also be used in industry (for example to examine car noises).

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Catchbox Mod, a microphone for conferences

The Catchbox Mod is an omnidirectional microphone specially designed to host classes and conferences in small or large rooms. The wireless microphone is wrapped in a customizable cube which serves as protection in the event of an impact.

micro conferences Catchbox Mod
Picture from Granteq.com

This model benefits from the AutoMute function . This means that it is able to detect movement and automatically mute the sound when the device is launched until the floor passes to the next speaker.

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Superlux S502MKII, a microphone for ORTF sound recording

To record stereo sounds with the ORTF technique , two cardioid condenser microphones spaced 17 cm apart are generally used. They are placed so that they form an angle of 90° to 150° to each other.

Picture from audiofanzine.com

Using the Superlux S502MkII, it is no longer necessary to invest in two microphones to capture overheads or acoustic guitars with the ORTF technique . Indeed, this model is equipped with 2 cardioid capsules arranged to reproduce this configuration.

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Earthworks Audio PM40, a microphone for recording a piano

The Earthworks Audio PM40 is a microphone specially designed to capture the sound of a piano in the studio or on stage. No need for a stand or a pole to use it. It is in fact equipped with a telescopic tube adjustable in height (from 116 to 162 cm). Which allows it to adapt to any type of grand piano.

Picture from earthworksaudio.com

The PM40 has two omnidirectional microphones that faithfully reproduce piano sounds (from the lowest to the highest frequencies). They have a frequency response of 9 Hz to 40 kHz and an SPL of 148 dB . These microphones have the advantage of not being sensitive to the proximity effect.

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Townsend Labs Sphere L22, a microphone to emulate other microphone models

The Townsend Labs Sphere L22 is a so-called modeling . This type of device is capable of reproducing the sound characteristics of several microphones . Among the microphones that this model can emulate, we can cite in particular the U47 and the U67 from Neumann , the Shure SM57, the AKG C12, the Coles 4038 and many others.

Townsend Labs Sphere L2
Picture from Vintageking.com

Note also that this microphone allows you to modify the directivities of the microphones using the Sphere DSP plugin .

You can even use a polar pattern that is not available in the original mic. Take for example the case of the Neumann U47. This legendary microphone allows you to choose only between two types of polar pattern (cardioid and omnidirectional). Using the Townsend Labs Sphere L2 and its plugin, you will be able to record sounds with the U47 by opting for a supercardioid polar pattern.

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