The “Best” Contact Microphone Doesn’t Exist (Here’s Why)

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  • Looking to get wild and experimental with your recordings? A contact mic might be the way to go.
  • We help you navigate the wonderful world of recording with contact microphones.
  • You should also check out our separate guide to the best field recording mics.

If you’ve stumbled upon this article, chances are that you’re looking for the “best contact microphone”.

I hate to break it to you, but it’s hard to recommend a specific contact microphone because they’re all the same at the end of the day.

The only difference is the mic’s casing, which makes very little difference to recording results.

With that in mind, I’ll suggest a few good options to get you started on your contact microphone journey, teach you how they work, and explain how you can use these mics for experimental sound design.

What Is A Contact Microphone? 

Contact microphones, formally known as piezo microphones, have been a staple tool for sound designers for years.

They work by picking up vibrations through physical contact with solid objects instead of airborne sound waves, hence the name contact microphone.

One of their intended purposes is for acoustic instruments. However, they are a very versatile piece of tech that allow endless amounts of creative design.

How Is A Contact Microphone Made? 

Contact microphones are very cheap to buy, this is due to how simple they are to make.

They are a metal disk with piezo material, a balanced microphone lead, a mono jack, and a plastic casing. That’s it!

You will need tools like a soldering iron, wire strippers, and something to fix the microphone casing, but you can easily make your own.

If you want to try and make your own contact microphone, there’s an excellent guide on how to do so here.

Contact Microphone Options

If you want to purchase a contact microphone, I have listed a few options below, outlining their best uses for sound design: 

  1. OTraki Acoustic Guitar Passive Pickup Stable Contact Microphone
  2. Imelda Contact Microphone
  3. KORG CM-300-WHBK
  4. Barcus Berry 4000: Planar Wave Piano and Harp Pickup System (Premium)

1. OTraki Acoustic Guitar Passive Pickup Stable Contact Microphone

OTraki Acoustic Guitar Contact Microphone

This super lightweight acoustic guitar pickup is great for most string instruments and can be connected to different recording devices.

Why We Love It:
  • Flexible volume control
  • Self-adhesive
  • Highly restored sound
Check Price On Amazon

Overview

Unlike the other two recommended contact microphones, the OTraki has a volume dial.

With this more flexible volume control, you can boost the volume for low amplitude signals and decrease the volume of the microphone clipping.

The OTraki mics are purposely built for instruments. You can use this contact mic in an experimental way.

For example, if you mount the contact mic on the strings, try exciting the strings in different ways as the contact mic is picking up the strings’ vibrations rather than the instrument’s acoustics.

And with the volume gain wheel, it is easy to adjust the levels on the fly for this. 

Pros:

  • Dedicated volume gain 
  • Well constructed design 

2. Imelda Contact Microphone

Imelda Contact Microphone

Pocket size and easy to use, just plug it into your amp, bass amp, or other recording equipment.

Why We Love It:
  • Very affordable
  • Disposable
  • Multiple mounting options
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Overview

These are the contact microphones I usually use within my practice.

The benefits of a cheap contact microphone are you can be more aggressive with your performances as you do not need to worry about damaging them.

When using this for experimental sound design and live processing, it is hard to tell the difference between this and the most expensive item on our list. 

The best application of these contact mics is to use multiple microphones on the same object.

Furthermore, you can simultaneously mic up several objects with the same processing to create a makeshift instrument. This can create some very interesting results. 

Pros:

  • Very cheap and disposable
  • You can buy a pack of 5 of these for under $20

3. KORG CM-300-WHBK

Korg Tuner (CM-300-WHBK)

The CM-300-WHBK is a clip-type contact microphone that attaches directly to your instrument. It uses a piezo element that sends the vibrations of your instrument directly to your tuner.

Why We Love It:
  • Clip on design
  • Excellent for on-the-go recording
  • High-precision tuning
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Overview 

This contact mic was built to tune string instruments in a loud music hall or venue. However, this is an excellent microphone for capturing sound design.

The clip-on nature of this contact mic makes it very accessible for recording as you can easily attach it to most objects. 

This is an excellent option for on-the-go audio recording. You can take this mic and record areas and objects wherever you are.

This is a fantastic way of building a sound library that you can use for your sound design practice. 

Pros:

  • Clip-on design
  • Excellent for on-the-go recording

4. Barcus Berry 4000: Planar Wave Piano and Harp Pickup System (Premium)

Premium
Barcus Berry 4000 Pickup System

The Barcus Berry 4000 Planar Wave System captures a level of high fidelity that would otherwise require multiple microphones and a mixer to achieve.

Why We Love It:
  • High fidelity recordings
  • Dedicated amplifier
  • Exceptional clarity
Check Price On Sweetwater

Overview

Our premium pick is a $400 contact microphone! Yes, you read that right! The Barcus Berry 4000 is no doubt the best contact microphone you can pick up today.

With a higher frequency response and improved build quality compared to some of the cheap contact microphones on our list, you will be able to produce less tinny recordings with this mic.

However, I find it hard to recommend this microphone for experimental design. The reason being, in most instances, you may want to mic up multiple contact mics at the same time, and you can see where this will start to get very expensive with this microphone. 

If you can afford this microphone, it would most be at home in the studio. You can produce some incredibly detailed sound recordings with this device.

This way, you can take full advantage of the microphones pre-amp, as this is a great selling point for the product.

However, I would be cautious about taking this microphone for environmental recording due to the price and nature of the mic itself. 

Pros:

  • High fidelity recordings
  • Dedicated amplifier

Tips And Tricks To Get You Started With Contact Mics 

You must consider two main things when recording with contact microphones: the materials you use and the exciters to generate the sound.

Also, don’t forget the tape! The microphones need solid and constant contact with the object to record the sound. 

Using Different Activators To Excite Objects

Firstly you might be asking, what is an exciter? Exciters are items that you use to create vibrations through an object.

The most basic and recognizable exciter is a drum stick. However, you can use whatever you want.

Each exciter produces different sounds when working with contact microphones, so it is essential to experiment with different ones when working with objects.

Try using brushes, drum mallets, your hands, mechanical exciters, or even rubber to excite the objects you work with; all will produce different results. 

Types Of Materials That Are Great For Sound Design

This is the best thing about recording with contact microphones, the experimentation with different materials to produce the sound design.

The larger the surface area of the object, usually tends to produce more interesting the sound.

The best materials to work with are glass and metal. Glass produces a deep rich resonance, whereas metal covers the higher frequency section.

One of the best methods of producing sonically interesting sound design is using moving exciters like a whisk over glass and metal. Accompanied by some processing, this can produce some excellent results. 

FAQs

What Is A Contact Microphone Used For?

Primarily they are used for acoustic instruments such as stringed instruments and percussion. 

Do Piezo Mics Need Phantom Power?

Yes, you will need to provide phantom power to make a contact microphone work.

Are Contact Mics Waterproof?

Generally speaking, no, contact mics are not waterproof.

Before you go, check out our guide to the 7 Best Microphones For Recording Acoustic Guitar!