The best microphone depends almost entirely on your setup. This list gives a brief overview of all-purpose mics, podcasting mics, music mics and so forth. Basically, determine what you most need a microphone for, then find the appropriate one for your needs. As with most other gadgets, cheaper microphones tend to be more generalized, whereas more expensive ones tend to be more specialized. This doesn’t mean that cheaper microphones are inherently worse. But if you want semiprofessional quality, you’ll have to pay semiprofessional prices.
Visit manufacturer websites, and learn for which purpose each mic is optimized. The official website will usually give you a good idea as to whether the mic excels in podcasting, gaming, music or some other application. Failing that, remember that cardioid is generally the most useful audio pattern if you’re going to be recording by yourself in a home environment. Other patterns are good to have, but they’re useful only when you bring in more people or sound sources.
What do the different audio patterns mean?
Some of the mics on this list offer different options for audio patterns: Bidirectional, cardioid, omnidirectional and stereo. Others offer only cardioid. Here’s a brief explanation of each pattern, to help you decide when to use which one:
Bidirectional: The pattern picks up audio coming from two directions only. This is ideal for two speakers sitting directly across from one another.
Cardioid: This pattern picks up audio coming from one direction. This is ideal for a single source, speaking directly into the mic.
Omnidirectional: This pattern picks up audio from all around the mic. This is ideal for a whole group of people surrounding the microphone.
Stereo: This pattern picks up audio in front of the mic, as well as off to the sides. This is ideal for a musical group, or a panel of speakers facing the same direction.