A microphone is an acoustic-to-electric transducer or sensor that converts sound into an electrical signal. Electromagnetic transducers facilitate the conversion of acoustic signals into electrical signals. Microphones are used in many applications such as telephones, hearing aids, public address systems for concert halls and public events, motion picture production, live and recorded audio engineering, two-way radios, megaphones, radio and television broadcasting, and in computers for recording voice, speech recognition, VoIP, and for non-acoustic purposes such as ultrasonic checking or knock sensors.
Most microphones today use electromagnetic induction (dynamic microphones), capacitance change (condenser microphones) or piezoelectricity (piezoelectric microphones) to produce an electrical signal from air pressure variations. Microphones typically need to be connected to a preamplifier before the signal can be amplified with an audio power amplifier and a speaker or recorded.
The way that a microphone picks up sound at different angles is referred to it's polar response. Different types of polar response are useful for different applications.
The most common type of polar response, "cardioid" microphones generally pick up sound best from the front, and worst from the back. Useful for your shitty let's plays, when you would only have one person talking over a game of Yahtzee.
Less commonly found than cardioid, but also useful. Omnidirectional microphones pick up sound equally well all around it. Useful for situations where you would intend to use a single mic to pick up sounds all around a room. (ex. a porno, a group let's play (don't))
Similar to cardioid, except the mic will pick up sound equally well from both it's front and it's back.
Same situation as in frequency response for headphones, except in this situation, frequency response is used to show what frequencies the microphone is able to pick up, rather than reproduce. If you're to purchase any mic that's half decent, a frequency response chart will likely be included on paper with the mic. If not, it can probably be found online.
USB and XLR microphones
Are you interested in doing podcasts? Are you doing obnoxious and humorless let's plays of horror games? Are your friends sick of hearing your annoying, distorted voice through your webcam mic? Well kiddo, looks like you are in dire need of a quality microphone.
It is easy to end up ripping yourself off; you need a good balance between quality and cost.
USB microphones The only requirements for a USB microphone is a USB port and maybe a driver. That is it! You are ready to go!
- Blue Yeti - An excellent quality USB microphone with an affordable price.
- Blue Snowball - Quality is not as great as the yeti and lacks the features, but is a good option if you are poor. A very popular microphone among gamers.
- Audio Technica AT2020 - A common choice on /g/ due to it's non riced style, as well as flexibility.
- MXL USB series - MXL makes a large variety of microphones, some of which have USB connectivity.
XLR microphones Beware, if you want an XLR microphone you need an audio interface, a microphone stand and an XLR cable.
- Audio Technica AT2020 - This condenser microphone combined with a decent audio interface should provide you with "studio quality" vocals.
- MXL - MXL makes a large variety of microphones for just about any purpose.
USB Audio interfaces
- Focusrite Scarlett - Comes in different shapes and sizes. It is definitely the best bang for your buck audio interface. For the bare minimum, the Solo is a good place to look, having only one XLR. Scarlett interfaces are red, and can be commonly seen in battle station threads.
- Presonus Audiobox - There is only one type of the Audiobox. It has two XLR inputs on the front.
- Tascam - Tascam makes a variety of interfaces, some of which have their controls on the top of the interface.
- M-Audio M-Track - M-Audio makes a variety of interfaces as well, the M-Track being their current lineup.
- Lexicon / Zoom - Lexicon and (some of) zoom's interfaces are designed quite like Apple products, if you're a stylish macfag, they might be the best choice.
- Pop filter - Prevents that "popping" sound from fast moving air. Prevents moisture and saliva from getting into your mic.
- Shock mount - If you are in a very sensitive environment doing recordings you do not want any vibrations travelling to your mic. The shock mount just absorbs those vibrations- like banging your desk, tapping your feet, or your mom walking around the house.
Quick Do's and Do-Not's
- While becoming increasingly more convenient to carry with the higher proliferation of USB ports, USB mics draw power directly from the computer or other embedded device, thus causing very high amounts of static to be heard, even with little to no audio boosting. Unless you're trying to intentionally sound like you're speaking inside a garbage can, I highly suggest avoiding USB mics like a contagious disease, so at least use mics with 3.5mm jacks.
- Unless you want to counteract the static of USB mics or plugging in XLR-based microphones, Audio Interfaces aren't completely necessary for the average person.