II / The different families of microphonesAs I said in the introduction, there are tons and tons of different pickups. Why do you think? Simply because in life, there are sound sources of a completely different nature . For example, a bass drum will not produce the same sound as a triangle at all. To successfully record these two sound sources, you will not be able to use the same microphone. You will need for example a sensitive microphone and specialized in the return of treble for the triangle, and a microphone that can withstand high volumes in the case of the bass drum. In short, to put it another way: there are as many microphones as there are different sound sources . In other words, there is a package. However, we can group all these microphones into three families : dynamic pickups, static pickups, and ribbon pickups.Why three families in particular? Because as we saw at the beginning of the article, the microphone is an intermediary for converting sound waves into electrical signals. However, over the years, three different methods have been developed to achieve this. Each of his methods has given birth to a large micro family . And of course, since their operating principle is different, each of these families will have a particular impact on the characteristics of the sound captured.1) Dynamic microphonesThe first family of microphones is that of dynamic microphones . To understand their sound characteristics (and therefore their frameworks of use), we will be interested at first in the way they work . Take out your blouse! Now is the time to go back to your good old school physics lessons. (Mr Hamel if you read me, it was me who was at the origin of the #TrueStory spectrophotometer explosion # Sorry).Dynamic pickups usually look like microphones from scenes you knowa) OperationImagine that you want to record the sound of your friend Bobby’s piano (by the way, to learn how to record an acoustic piano, you can have a look at my video tutorial on the subject by clicking here ). Bobby will start playing, which will create sound waves . These waves will then be picked up by the microphone capsule . Behind this capsule is a very thin plastic membrane that will vibrate and move to the rhythm of the sound waves it receives. Inside dynamic microphones, there is also a large magnet, next to which is placed a thin coil of wirecoil which is itself connected to the plastic membrane. A small diagram will allow you to see more clearly:Since the sound waves will move the membrane and the latter is secured to the coil, the coil will also move. Now, as we have seen, the coil is in the magnetic field of the magnet. This movement will therefore create a disturbance of the magnetic field . And who says variation of a magnetic flux also says? So, someone to answer? No? No one? Come on, a little clue to help you: this is the law of Lanz-Faraday (how is it rotten my index? ). Well, I give you the answer: which says variation of a magnetic flux also says induction of an electric current. And now, voila. Thanks to this, the sound waves could be transformed into electric current. (Mr Hamel, I hope you’re proud of me now). . b) CharacteristicsThanks to their operating principle, dynamic microphones are very resistant . Not only are they resistant in the ” physical ” sense of the term (you can knock them down, neglect them, or throw them out the window) , but they are also resistant in the ” use ” sense of the term. That is, you can subject them to very high volume levels (what’s known in the jargon as ” SPL decibels ” for ” Sound Pressure Level “), without being damaged. On the contrary, they will even be particularly suitable in this case.Finally, dynamic microphones are relatively inexpensive and affordable. For all these reasons, I like to call them “pickups” or ” orcs pickups “. (Do you feel it coming this metaphor of the Lord of the Rings that will come spread throughout the article? ).By cons, like any good nag that respects themselves, they are not in the lace. Dynamic microphones are indeed less accurate than their counterparts to restore the sound , especially with regard to the frequencies acute . This is due to the heavy weight of the spool of thread. The high frequencies are those that emit the least sound pressure, the coil moves less, which produces less electricity. And if there is less electricity, there will necessarily be a less accurate sound reproduction.c) UseHistorically, dynamic pickups were at first stage pickups used by singers; their resistance being particularly adapted to the conditions of live. Moreover, it is still the case today. If you see a singer on stage, it’s a safe bet that the microphone he uses is dynamic. But little by little, the sound engineers began to appropriate this type of microphone for their recordings. It must also be said that the robustness of the dynamic pickups make them perfect candidates to record the instruments that ” send the pie ” as the young people say. Thus, dynamic microphones are particularly used to record electric guitars, toms, or the bass drum of a battery.2) The static pickupsStatic microphones , also called electrostatic microphones or condenser microphones, are the second largest family of microphones.The static pickups are studio pickupsa) OperationThis time, they will not use a coil of wire but a capacitor . For those who would have dried Mr. Hamel’s physics lessons, a capacitor is a small electronic component consisting of two electrically charged electrodes, separated by an insulator.In practice, the capacitor within the microphone takes the form of two small metal plates facing each other. One of the plates constitutes the membrane , and the other a fixed electrode . As usual, the membrane will vibrate and move according to the sound waves received by the microphone. And what happens when the distance between the two plates of a capacitor changes? It makes Chocapics . It is said that its capacity varies , which leads to the creation of an electric current.The trick is that to charge both ends of the capacitor, it is necessary to base an electric current . This current will be provided by what is called phantom power . It sounds complicated said like that, but in fact it’s super simple. A phantom power is simply an electric current (usually a voltage of 48 volts ) to power the microphone. This current is necessary for the static microphone to work and it is provided by the external sound card .To put it even more simply: if you ever want to record using a dynamic microphone, just plug it into the external sound card. On the other hand, if you ever have to record in the static microphone, you will need phantom power for it to work. To do this, plug it into your external sound card, and turn on the “phantom power” button on your card to give it the juice it needs. You have seen, there is nothing very complicated in there. And if all these stories of connections and home studio configurations are still a bit unclear for you, take a look at my article ” The 3 configurations typical home studio “, it will allow you to see more clearly.b) CharacteristicsThe static pickups are very sensitive and have excellent sound reproduction . This is due to their mechanics of operation. Indeed, unlike dynamic microphones, they do not have a coil. The mobile part producing their electricity is therefore much lighter. And as you know now, who says more moves, also says better sound restitution. If the dynamic pickups were orcs, the static pickups are themselves elves (I warned you for the Lord of the Rings metaphor). So, of course, they are more precise, but they are also much more fragile . They are physically fragile (they are very sensitive to physical manipulation, be careful when using them), and they also have a hard time withstanding high sound pressure (would you put an elf in front of an amp playing trash metal you? ). Finally, they are on average more expensive than dynamic pickups.c) UseThe static pickups are the studio pickups par excellence. They are highly appreciated by sound engineers for their ability to faithfully reproduce the sound palette of an instrument. They are used mainly to record voices and acoustic instruments (piano, violin, flute, acoustic guitar etc …). On the other hand, their increased sensitivity does not allow them to record powerful instruments or high volumes of sound. For this, we prefer to use dynamic microphones.Finally, note that there are two major types of condenser microphones: condenser microphones to small diaphragm and condenser microphones large diaphragm . Large diaphragmatic microphones are the most common and the most complete . Nevertheless, small diaphragm microphones are more effective at restoring the treble (even if they tend to naturally produce more breath , we will come back to this notion in the second article). We will mainly use these last “overhead”, that is to say above a battery to capture the sound of cymbals.3) The ribbon micsFinally, comes the third and last big family of microphones: the ribbon microphones .The ribbon microphone, also called “vintage micro”a) OperationIn fact, the ribbon microphone is part of the family of dynamic microphones . Its operating principle is therefore quite similar to the one we saw previously. Here too, it will be a question of movement and magnetic field variation. The only difference is that there will be a thin aluminum ribbon instead of the membrane and coil.Here’s how they work: a metal ribbon is placed in the magnetic field of a magnet. This ribbon also serves as a membrane , so it will move according to the sound waves it perceives. Then it’s classic: the movement of the ribbon causes a variation of the magnetic field of the magnet, which creates an electric current.However, the signal level obtained at the output is very low . It will be necessary to raise it so that it can be exploitable. For this, we will once again need an external power supply . But this time, we will not use phantom power (the latter is not powerful enough). Instead, we will need a good preamplifier . The preamplifier (or preamp for the intimate) is in the form of an independent box on which you will connect your microphone. Then you just have to connect your preamp to your external sound card so that everything works.b) CharacteristicsThe mass of the ribbon is very small, the sound reproduction of the ribbon microphone is exceptional , even more than static microphones. The ribbon mics thus combine the best of both worlds : since they are dynamic they can be used to record powerful instruments (but not as much as the dynamic mics, be careful), and since their restitution is very accurate, they can also record acoustic instruments . Finally, they have another particularity (and not least): they tend to “smooth” the treble, which gives the sound a “warm” very characteristic.But as you can imagine, the ribbon microphone also has its share of drawbacks: first, it is very expensive (some models can go up to several thousand euros). Then he is very very fragile . You make it fall, it’s over. He’s taking the rain, it’s over too. Even a draft can suffice to damage the tape inside the microphone. You will have to maintain it with the greatest care. Finally, as we have seen, ribbon mics need a preamp to work. So not only will you have to pay a lot of money to get your microphone, but you will also have to make a good shake to get the preamp. Not very cool for your finances and your banking advisor all that. c) UseThe ribbon microphones were the first to see the light of day. They were very popular during the 30s to 60s , but they were gradually replaced by static and dynamic microphones (because of the many constraints related to their uses: expensive, fragile, requiring a pre-amp etc …). However, there is today a return in force of the ribbon microphones. The sound they give to the track is indeed unique, and this is what motivates sound engineers to acquire them. They are looking for that little “vintage” and warm side they bring to the sound. Side use, ribbon mics are very versatile , so you can use them in many cases.So, in your opinion, which character of the Lord of the Rings correspond to the ribbon mics? It’s super easy: they are old, extremely powerful but a little fragile at the same time, a little old-fashioned but still effective, and they give the track this little indescribable magic side. This is Gandalf, of course. 4) Small parenthesis on USB microphonesUSB microphones are not a family of microphones in their own right because there are USB static microphones or USB dynamic microphones. But I had to tell you about it, especially in view of their ever increasing number on the market. The big difference between a “classic” microphone and a micro USB is its connectivity . Indeed, normally the microphones are connected to an XLR audio interface (external sound card, multitrack recorder etc …), and this audio interface is itself connected to the computer USB. But with the USB mics, no need to go through this audio interface: they are plugged directly into the computer .. On the one hand, this type of microphone is very convenient because it allows you to get a good recording with a minimum of equipment (for example, if you are on vacation and want to quickly save your idea, just take out your microphone and connect it to your computer so that everything works directly), but on the other side, I do not advise you to use them for home studio recordings. Why ? Because of the stories of analog and digital conversions. Indeed, during an audio recording, the sound will go from the analog state (created by the instrument) to the digital state( digital data interpreted by the computer). For more information on the subject, I strongly encourage you to read my article ” Analog sound and digital sound “. Traditionally, this operation is carried out thanks to small electronic components named converterspresent within the audio interface. However, since the micro USB connects directly to the computer, it is he who will have to ensure this analog / digital conversion. And what do you think is the best way to convert between a specialized interface and a microphone in which we would have integrated this functionality a posteriori? Of course, this is the specialized interface.So be careful, I do not say that all USB mics are to throw, quite the opposite. Some of them are very good. But as far as possible, I advise you to use them for nomadic use , and not for a specific use in home studio..
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