How To Determine What Condenser Microphone To Get
Whether your microphone is busted, you're looking to upgrade, or you need a microphone, there's always the question: "What do I get?" There are several kinds of microphones out there suited for hobbyists, beginners, professionals, musicians, voice-overs, concerts, public speaking, computers, and so on. Every microphone has their own set of specifications, and those are what you want to focus on. Here, I'll list some microphone qualities to look for. Because some qualities only matter if you're using more advanced means or looking for more accurate quality, please follow this legend to discern what details you'll want to pay attention to:
[Prof.] - Important details for professional mics.
[Adv.] - Important details for advanced mics.
[Beg.] - Important details for beginner mics.
[Beg.] Microphone Connectors
Mainly important in how you'll connect your microphone to your recording equipment. Some microphones will require you to have a medium (mixer, 'x' to 'x' cable, etc) in order to connect to your computer/recording gear. Here's a description of most of the connectors microphones use below:
XLR: Standard in most professional microphones. Requires a mixer, portastudio, etc to use. You can buy a converter (XLR to USB, 1/4", 1/8", etc) but it's not recommended since some will hamper the microphone's sound.
1/4" Pickup: A 1/4" pickup will require a 1/4" to (1/8" or USB) adapter to connect to your computer. Alternatively, if you have a studio, portastudio, or mixer, there's usually natural 1/4" inputs in those to use.
1/8" Pickup: An eighth-inch pickup will fit right into your computer's natural 1/8" pickup port.
USB Pickup: A USB microphone will fit right into your computer's USB slot(s).
[Beg.] Microphone Power
There's generally 2 options here. Most microphones run on phantom power (they take their voltage from the audio input). Some require you to plug them in to an external power source. Some microphones require a 'direct box' to use. Most/many of you will just stay with microphones using phantom power, as it's the standard for condenser microphones.
[Adv.] Microphone Polar Pattern
The microphone's polar pattern determines how sensitive the pickup is from what direction. Too see how this works, if you have a cardioid microphone, try recording from the front, then from the back. You'll notice one side will barely pick up the noise compared to the other. Voice-Over microphones typically use the cardioid polar pattern, as this polar pattern is most sensitive in the direction the voice actor would be speaking from, and less everywhere else. This reduces ambiance and minimizes recording sounds produced outside of the pickup angle from the pickup's axis.
Good: Supercardioid, Subcardioid, Hypercardioid
Average: Omnidirectional, Bi-Directional/Figure 8
*: Shotgun (Commonly used for Commercial/Radio Productions, but not in animation studios.)
[Adv.] Diaphragm Size
The diaphragm of a microphone is what picks up the vibrations. For voice-over work, large diaphragms (3/4" or larger) are recommended. They're more sensitive and pick up a bigger sound, meaning your vocals will record fuller and more accurately compared to smaller models due to the increased surface area of the pickup.
[Adv.] Frequency Response
This is how the microphone responds to different frequencies. I won't go into much detail with this, since condenser microphones use a flatter frequency which helps pick up sounds more accurately. Dynamic microphones do not pick up a better sound than condenser.
[Prof.] Sound Pressure Level
When referenced in microphones, SPL (or 'Sound Pressure Level') often refers to the noise the microphone generates itself (usually measured in decibels, dB). The lower this is, the less ambiance the microphone itself will make. SPL in microphones can also refer to the decibels a microphone can take up to.
Microphones with low impedance perform best over long cable distances, and are generally recommended. High impedance microphones may be less expensive, but perform poorly the more distance the cable puts between input and output.
[Adv.] Microphone Features
Many microphones have options confusing to new users such as Pad switch, cut/roll-off, and so on. These will be explained here so you can better use your microphone features:
(-10dB) Pad: Almost self explanatory. It lowers sound input by 10 dB, which is ideal for loud scenes, screaming, or if you just happen to have trouble lowering your recording volume to a good dB level.
Low Cut Roll-Off: This eliminates hum, rumble, and low freq. noise. This switch is your best friend when eliminating ambiance.
[Adv.] Shock Mounts, Mic Stands, and Screens
There are several external components to use with a microphone. I'll explain three of them here so you have a better understanding of their use.
Shock Mounts are used to isolate the microphone from any vibrations the mic stand may produce.
Mic Stands are self explanatory. There are different types though. Boom stands are the best because they're (mostly) fully adjustable. Standard mic stands are alright, but don't give you maximum flexibility. I wouldn't recommend desk stands unless you're not looking for quality (since you need to stand up to properly engage your air and diaphragm when recording).
Screens are used to protect the microphone from picking up unwanted sounds (mostly wind, plosives, and sibilance). If you want to reduce the popping 'P' noises and the hissing 'S' noises, I reccomend getting a 'pop screen'. They're relatively inexpensive to buy or even make on your own. Pop screens generally use metal mesh or a fabric like nylon. Most studios use a fabric pop-screen. Some utilize both, having a fabric pop screen nearest the voice actor, and a metal mesh pop screen by the microphone.
[Prof.] / [Adv.] - Recording Software & Optimization
Every recording program out there as its own spectrum of features, settings, options, and so on. If you want to optimize the quality of your recordings, you'll want to learn what these features do, and how to incorporate them into your recordings without masking your natural sound. I'm not going to cover specific audio programs in this section, because there are way too many programs out there to choose from ranging from free to professional, cheap to thousands of dollars, simple to complex. I'll just go over some common settings you can work with to help adjust and improve your natural sound. I will not cover effects in this section. If you want to know more about effects, I'll be glad to answer PMs, but for now this is dedicated to getting clear, precise, flat-lying vocals.
Equalizing Filters (EQ) are often accessible in most recording software. They're easy to find. It's usually a box or option that says "Equalizer" or something similar in it. When you run an equalizing filter in your audio program, it allows you to alter the frequency response characteristics (and can often be used creatively to change the sound of a recording). In this section, I'll just cover how to EQ to get clearer vocals. Most simple EQ interfaces will allow you to tweak the Bass-Mid-Treble frequencies or the Bass-Mid.Low-Mid.High-Treble frequencies. Some more advanced will let you adjust individual frequencies in a line-graph style interface. Adjusting the lower frequencies or 'bass' will effect the fullness of your voice. The higher frequencies or 'treble' adjustment will effect the higher frequencies. You can easily experiment with all the settings on a test track to see how they'll effect your voice. One versatile tip I learned over time is that if you're having trouble getting your voice to lay flat with the track (your voice sounds too 'copy-pasted onto the main track', try this. Boost the treble (10k kHz range). It should add some air and help your voice lay flat with the track better.
Questions? Comments? Concerns? Post them here and I'll answer them or include them in this guide. Rate up, karma, recommend to your friends, and maybe try to get the mods to sticky this! I'll continue to update it over time as people post questions and information. Please refrain from posts that do not benefit the thread. This was made as a developing reference guide, not a thread for immaturity.