Microphones: types and connections

Capture your voice, amplify your message
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So much of this show is about capturing your voice in a figurative sense. It’s about exploring who you are and what you need to express and refining your message.

But I thought it might be useful to talk about capturing your voice in a literal sense through the wonder of microphones.

There’s a lot of ways we could tackle this subject, but for today’s show, let’s focus on two things:

  • Dynamic microphones versus condenser microphones, and
  • Connection types: XLR and USB

Hi, I’m John Lacey, and this is Build A Presentation Muscle.

Dynamic versus condenser microphones

There are two basic types of microphone, dynamic microphones and condenser microphones.

Condenser microphones are active, they require a power source (typically what we call ‘Phantom Power’) to work and will capture more higher frequencies than a Dynamic microphone.

Condenser microphones are great for capturing singing and musical performances, though they can capture more of the room sound so it’s important to think about how your space is treated. Are there a lot of shiny surfaces, tiles, wooden floors?

My first ‘real’ microphone (after using cheap computer mics for years) was the Rode NT1-A. It is a condenser microphone. I was really blown away after using it for the first time because it captured me how I sound in ‘real life.’ I still own and use this microphone, though not really for everyday podcasting, livestreaming and video calls because the shockmount and pop filter take up a lot of visual real estate on camera.

Dynamic microphones are passive, they don’t typically require a power source and are perfectly fine for capturing the spoken word. They are a great choice for podcasters and livestreamers.

The microphone you may have seen me use a lot is the Shure SM7B. Full disclosure: this is the most expensive microphone I own. I have a complicated relationship with it.

Its best feature is that it is a very quiet microphone. I record in the suburbs. People here like to mow their lawns a lot. My neighbours are yet to meet a noisy power tool they didn’t feel compelled to own.

Now if I use this microphone, that outside noise won’t be captured. (I will still hear it through my headphones and get a headache, but, hey, at least you are spared from it!)

Paradoxically, though, the worst feature of this same microphone is that it is super quiet. It is so quiet in fact that I needed to use a Cloudlifter microphone activator to get it to work with the original Rodecaster Pro.

You don’t need to spend a lot of money on your microphones and I have some relatively budget options for you to consider coming up.

Connection types: USB and XLR

Microphones will have a USB or XLR connection (or sometimes both – and more on that in a moment!).

USB connections will let you connect your microphone directly to a computer. You won’t need a special audio interface. This can be very convenient for a lot of people, plug and play, make sure your audio settings are set to the right microphone and away you go ready to record or go live.

XLR connections (which consist of three metal pins) do require you plug in to an audio interface like the Rodecaster Pro, the Steinberg UR22C and Focusrite Scarlet.

So how do you choose between these two options?

A few things to consider:

  1. Do you have an audio interface or intend to use one? USB microphones won’t play nicely with it, so if your plan is to use an interface, XLR are the way to go.
  2. Will you use the microphone for other things away from the computer like live music for example? XLR might be the way to go.
  3. Will you record or stream remotely, on different computers, or via a laptop on the road? USB requires you take less things with you and is compatible with most computers.

Why not both?

“But, John,” I hear you asking, “Why must I choose?”

The good news is you don’t. Increasingly we are seeing more and more microphones give you both USB and XLR capabilities within the same microphone.

Microphones like:

The Rode NT1 is a condenser microphone so it’s important you think about how treated your space is, but it also has 32 bit float capability which means you can set your microphone volume after you record which blows my mind a little.

The Rode PodMic USB gives you a lot of the signal processing options of the Rodecaster Pro via software if you use it as a USB microphone too. Handy if you want to make some tweaks to your sound.

I really like the flexibility of having both USB and XLR in one package.

So whatever your microphone and audio setup looks like, make sure your technology to amplify your voice.

For more information about today’s show, head over to JohnLacey.com

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