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How do I Choose the Best Stereo Microphone?

By N.M. Shanley
Updated Jan 24, 2024
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Stereo microphones are designed to mimic human hearing. Inside these microphones are two elements that pick up sound from the right and left sides of a room or space. Stereo microphones capture sound from the person or instrument being recorded, as well as sound from the surrounding area, known as the field. When choosing the best stereo microphone, consider how it will be used, other recording equipment to be used, and the cost.

The different types of stereo microphones are dynamic, ribbon, and condenser. Condenser, also known as capacitor, is the most commonly used type. Condenser microphones require power from a battery, a separate power pack, or phantom power, which is power provided by the recording device.

Consider how a microphone will be used for a project. For capturing audio with video, such as news footage or home videos, a microphone that mounts to the camera may be the best choice. For live performances or studio recording sessions, a stereo microphone that attaches to a stand will work well. Handheld microphones are another option for news reporting and live or recorded vocal performances. Microphones that have a pop or wind screen can help eliminate noise from wind, breathing, and harsh "b" and "p" sounds.

The amount of background sound desired in the recording is another factor in choosing a stereo microphone. There are two elements inside a stereo microphone, set at an angle called the X/Y configuration. The angle can be fixed or adjustable depending on the microphone. Generally, a wider angle will pick up more surrounding, or ambient, sounds from the field.

The stereo microphone must also have connections that will fit into the recording equipment to be used. XLR and 1/4-inch (6.35 mm) jacks and plugs are common types of connectors for equipment such as video cameras and audio recorders. Professional stereo microphones usually have XLR connectors. If a microphone needs to be plugged in directly to a computer, look for microphones with USB connectors. For certain condenser microphones, ensure that the recording device has phantom power if needed.

Cost is a big consideration when choosing a stereo microphone. A wide variety of stereo microphones are available with a large range of prices. Beginners and amateurs can spend less than professionals and still get a quality microphone. Different microphones should be tested prior to purchasing if possible. Choose a microphone at the price level that will get the project done and not break the budget.

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Discussion Comments

By amysamp — On Sep 22, 2011

@snickerish - It really depends on what applications you will be using with the microphone.

What I learned about a stereo condenser microphone was from my recording industry management program so I only know about it from a music angle. However, I noticed @Mammmood said it worked well with his camcorder.

As far as music goes a condenser is considered a small stereo microphone that is good for recording live or high pitched sounds such as a drum symbol or flute.

They make a large diaphram condensor microphone that can be used for recording vocals but aren't great at live performances. During live performances both of these condenser microphones can often be too sensitive as they get lots of feedback.

By snickerish — On Sep 21, 2011

I was recently being trying to buy a microphone, and at the equipment store the sales guy was a huge fan of the condenser microphones that they had. I see from the article that condenser microphones need a power source but are there any more cons to them?

By David09 — On Sep 21, 2011

@MrMoody - That's great for video, but I'm concerned about computer recordings. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a quality stereo headset microphone.

I am not saying that they don’t exist; it’s just that the last two I had delivered poor sound quality and have broken easily as well. As a workaround, I even tried plugging a regular stereo microphone into my computer’s sound card to see if I could get true stereo sound that way.

I don’t recommend that you do that – I almost blew the sound card.

In general, I would recommend that anyone who needs to get stereo into their computer do it in a two-step process. First, get a stereo microphone that will plug into a digital voice recorder. There are many high quality units you can get. Then, transfer the audio recording to the computer.

By MrMoody — On Sep 20, 2011

@NathanG - I’d like to point out one thing about the stereo microphones with the XLR jacks. While it’s true that you need phantom power for most of these microphones, I’ve found some microphones with adapters.

They will basically convert the XLR jack to the mini camcorder plug, so that you can insert it into a regular camcorder jack. I bought one such microphone online that lets me do that, and I use it as a shotgun type of microphone for some of my home video recordings.

By NathanG — On Sep 19, 2011

@Mammmood - I’ve used a stereo wireless microphone for some of my on location shots. While I still get the benefit of stereo technology, I get the disadvantage of interference sometimes because of the wireless signal.

Also, if the microphone is attached too close to the clothing, sometimes you will get some noise there as well.

In general I wouldn’t recommend wireless microphones unless you are in a situation where a wired microphone simply won’t do.

By Mammmood — On Sep 18, 2011

I have a mounted stereo condenser microphone for my camcorder and it works great. Sometimes I go and videotape musical performances and on playback, I can hear the separation of the musical and vocal components.

This is great for audio editing, because it means that I can tweak each stereo channel separately and add effects as needed, like reverberation, increased volume and so forth. If you buy one I would go with some of the well known brands, because cheaper microphones rarely sound as good.

I guarantee that you will be pleasantly surprised by the sound quality. It will be much better than the internal camcorder microphone.

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