How do microphones work

How does a microphone work?

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We are united by a love of good sound.

Check out this blog to learn how a microphone works.

We'll talk about the two main types of microphones for recording, namely dynamic microphones and condenser microphones.

You will learn why they are not good "listeners".

How does a microphone work?

Every microphone follows the same principle. Sound waves hit a membrane and move it according to the source.

The energy of the sound wave has to be converted into an electrical signal or voltage. And there are various ways of doing this.

1) When you start to speak, sound waves are created.

2) The sound waves then hit the membrane of the microphone.

3) The microphone converts this oscillation into an electrical signal that we can now use for various purposes, such as -

  • recording
  • communication
  • Reinforcement

Types of microphones

In this blog, we will focus on dynamic microphones and condenser microphones for recording purposes. Of course, there are other types of microphones, but in direct comparison they are not used as often for recording.

In general, dynamic microphones are often used in noisy environments. Condenser microphones are used for detailed recordings. You will find out why in a moment.

Listen to the sound samples below and notice the difference.

Dynamic microphones are mainly addressed from the front, which means we need to point the microphone towards its source as follows.

Here you can see a typical dynamic handheld microphone that is often used by singers on stage.

How does a dynamic microphone work?

The capsule and its membrane sit under the basket.

Do you see the slide in the picture? That's it, the membrane.

A dynamic microphone has a fairly sturdy capsule and is therefore often used for live concerts.

1) The back of the membrane is attached to a wire spool.

2) Both the membrane and the coil move back and forth according to the incident sound waves.

3) The coil is in a magnetic field and when it moves an electrical signal is induced.

Maybe it reminds you of how a speaker works. That's because they both work on the same acoustic principle, and you could say that a dynamic microphone is an inverted speaker.

Dynamic microphones are extremely robust and perfect for

  • Live singing
  • Bass and guitar speakers
  • Snare and KickDrums

How does a condenser microphone work?

Condenser microphones are used for detailed recordings in the studio. There are condenser microphones with small diaphragms and there are microphones with large diaphragms.

Here is a typical large-diaphragm microphone that you often find in the studio for vocal recordings. These are mostly addressed on the side.

Next you will see a small diaphragm condenser microphone. Because of its shape, it is also called a pen microphone or pencil mic. It is perfect for recording acoustic instruments and records from the front.

Let's see how a condenser microphone works.

It doesn't matter whether it's a condenser microphone with a small or a large diaphragm - both work the same.

Here you can see a large-diaphragm capsule condenser microphone.

The membrane is extremely thin and light, which is why it reacts very precisely to the incoming sound waves. That's why condenser microphones sound so detailed.

  • The membrane is electrically charged and behind it is a solid back plate.
  • The membrane and the back plate form a capacitor.
  • When the sound hits the membrane, the capacitance changes, and with the help of internal electronics, condenser microphones can convert this change in capacitance into an electrical signal.
  • All condenser microphones require power for the internal electronics to function. In professional microphones, this is called phantom power. It is 48 volts and comes from an audio interface or mixer.

These microphones are best suited for ...

Small diaphragm condenser microphones are perfect for acoustic instruments such as guitars or strings.

Large diaphragm condenser microphones are a must when recording studio vocals.

Why microphones are not good listeners - the cocktail party effect

And now the shocking truth! Microphones cannot hear! Yes, you are listening correctly.

Our hearing is more than just receiving sound waves. It is also characterized by the selective attention in our auditory system.

Imagine you're at a party and having a conversation. It's a good vibe ... some background music, there are other people talking, ambient noise and so on.

How is it that with all that is happening at the same time, you can still focus on the conversation you are having?

This is possible because the brain is able to "block out" sounds that it does not want to focus on, i.e. that you hear selectively.

A microphone can't do that; it has no directed attention.

Therefore, always pay attention to the noises around you before you press record or start streaming your channel.

Will self to the microphone

Train your ears to work like a microphone and pick up whatever is audible around you.

Become a microphone yourself and the quality of your recordings will improve instantly.

Pay attention to noises that you normally ignore.

  • Noise coming from outside
  • Others around you
  • The air conditioner
  • Your computer

But always remember that it's not about having the perfect equipment or the perfect environment. Rather, it's about making the most of what's available to you.


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