Which type of microphone to use?

Hi I’m new to Audacity (2.2.2) and would appreciate any advice on a microphone type to get started with. Any make or model suggestions would be appreciated. I’m running Win XP SP3 on a fairly fast quad core machine. Many thanks

What’s the job? There is no “Best Microphone.”


Vocals and acoustic guitar

Most pro (and quality home) recording is done with a large-diaphragm directional (cardioid) [u]studio condenser mic[/u]. A stage/performance mic can also be used.

Although condenser mics can be used for almost anything, they have a built-in “head amplifier” that can sometimes be driven into distortion if you stick the mic in front of a loud guitar amp or in front of a kick drum. Some condensers have a “pad” (an attenuator switch) for these situations. You probably won’t be recording a super-loud guitar amp, but a Shure SM57 is popular way to do it. The SM57 is a dynamic mic (no internal electronics) and it’s almost impossible to overload.

Stage & studio mics are low-impedance balanced with XLR connectors. They are incompatible with regular soundcards and laptops, so you need a [u]USB audio interface[/u] with one or more microphone inputs. If you’re recording electric guitar direct, some interfaces also have guitar/instrument inputs.

Studio condenser mics require 48V phantom power which will be supplied from the interface. Dynamic mics, such as the famous Shure SM57/58 don’t require power but they do use the same balanced low-impedance connection.

If you do buy an interface, I recommend looking for one with zero-latency hardware-monitoring. There is latency (delay) when you monitor yourself through the computer. If the latency in your headphones is too long, it can be difficult to perform. You can tweak the latency and often get it down to an acceptable/unnoticeable amount, but it’s just easier to avoid the problem altogether. (You can still monitor the backing track from the computer.)

Another option is a [u]“studio style” USB mic[/u]. These essentially have the soundcard/interface built-in. Some of these mics have features such as built-in headphone jack for zero-latency monitoring, and adjustable gain controls, etc. But, some of these USB mics also have a reputation for noise which gets-in through the USB power. (USB powered interfaces can have the same noise problem but it seems less frequent An interface with it’s own power supply will avoid that problem, but it’s generally going to cost more.)

…Quality recording also requires a good performance, good microphone positioning, and a quiet “studio” with good acoustics (usually sound-absorbing acoustics are desirable).

Wasn’t that fun?

Probably the hero consideration is Zero Latency Monitoring. If you’re playing music, sooner or later you’re going to want to play against yourself—overdub.

I call it Perfect Overdubbing when you can hear yourself perfectly and the backing track in your headphones at the same time. In general, you can’t listen to the computer to get that. You have to listen to the interface or microphone.

This is a Samson G-Track that follows all the recommendations.

That one is not mine. That one belonged to a performance artist at work and I borrowed it for the photo shoot. I told him if he wasn’t watching it too hard I was going to take it home with me. He said he was watching.

No I don’t recommend mixing music on earbuds. They were convenient for the shoot and pretty.

Do you know of a microphone someone else uses? Doing cold start with microphones is rough. The considerations are crazy for home users. In a small company, you buy a microphone, walk in to the studio and plug it into the sound mixer. Full Stop. The home users have no sound mixer or much of anything else. It’s starting from dead zero, and each of the levels and variations has pitfalls.

You should know one problem with home USB microphones. They’re not expandable. There is no “buy a second microphone” to record more things. If you do have two, you get to use this one or that one, not both.


If you are recording both at the same time, I’d recommend using two microphones (at least).

The “classic” way to record acoustic guitar is with a cardioid (semi-directional) mic about 30 cm from the guitar, pointing at the 12th fret.
The “classic” way to record vocals is with a cardioid mic about 20 cm in front of the mouth, with a “pop shield” between the mouth and the mic.

For vocals I prefer to use a large diaphragm condenser mic, and for acoustic guitar a small diaphragm condenser mic.
Note that condenser mics require phantom power (some small diaphragm condenser mics can be powered by batteries.)

Note that the pre-amp that you use can make a huge difference to the sound quality. The most obvious difference being the amount of noise (hum and hiss). Finger picking is relatively quiet, so it is essential for good sound quality that both the mic and pre-amp are low noise.

What he said.

Most preamps and interfaces will make 48 volt Phantom Power to run the microphone (if it needs it).
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If you do pop for a small sound mixer (which is what we’re talking about), make sure it will connect with USB and make sure it has Zero Latency Monitoring so you can do overdubbing. It should say Zero Latency Monitoring somewhere. That’s so you don’t get an echo in your headphones when you try to listen to your own microphones during a performance.