The time has come. You're about to embark on your first microphone shopping adventure. Or maybe this time, you just want to narrow the field from the dizzying assortment that's out there before visiting your dealer, surfing the web or thumbing through the most recent catalog in the stack that's been accumulating under your desk.

In this issue of Shure Notes, we'll guide you through this maze by asking you to ask yourself some basic questions. Once answered, and by the way, you will be able to answer them even if you don't know a capacitor from a transistor, you'll be able to shop with confidence. We'll explore applications and microphone types. What brand to buy is already, we hope, a done deal!

A Simple Question

Your microphone decision begins with this question: What am I doing with the microphone and under what conditions am I doing it?

This leads us to the following considerations:

1. Vocal or instrument mic?

2. Dynamic or condenser?

3. What kind of pickup pattern?

4. Wired or wireless?

5. Money to burn or on a budget?

What am I trying to mic?

Vocal or instrument? Start here. Most manufacturers produce microphones for specific types of sound sources. Microphones that are specifically designed for drum kits have different characteristics, for instance, than those that are used for vocals. Are you miking your acoustic guitar? Or your guitar amp? Are you recording a rap in your home studio? Or are you looking to rock the house with screaming vocals? In most, but not all cases, your first choice will be between a vocal mic and an instrument mic.

What kind of sound do I want?

Graduate from Transducer College. Here's where we need to spend a little time on what microphones do and how they work.

What They Do: A microphone is a device that changes sound into an electrical signal.

How They Do It: Inside the microphone are transducers. Transducers are the elements inside a microphone head unit. There are two types: dynamic and condenser. Both convert sound waves produced by your voice or instrument into electrical signals that become amplified sound. But they differ slightly. The two most common types are:

Dynamic - A simple, rugged diaphragm/coil. It handles extreme volume levels without distortion. These are workhorse microphone elements with great sound that stand up to rugged regular use. They are also generally more affordable options with dynamic microphones.

Condenser - A lightweight, sensitive diaphragm that precisely and smoothly captures sound nuances. It is powered by battery or phantom power supply. Condenser microphones produce a crisper, more defined sound and are better at capturing subtle details of delicate voices and instruments. They also require power to operate, which is supplied by the battery in a handheld wireless transmitter.

This chart gives you a broad overview of some of the characteristics of dynamic and condenser mics. These are very general guidelines there are exceptions in most categories.

Fundamentals of Frequency Response

Every microphone has a signature and part of that signature is its Frequency Response. Frequency response determines the basic sound of the microphone. It is determined by the range of the sound (from lowest to highest frequency) that a microphone can reproduce and how that sound varies at different frequencies.

The most common response curves you are likely to see are flat and tailored. When you look through catalogs or web pages, you're probably going to see icons that look something like these.

Microphones Content Provided by: Shure