Do you want professional quality audio recordings? Here’s decide between dynamic and condenser microphones.
Choosing the correct microphone is extremely important to obtain the correct sound. If your microphone can’t capture sound clearly and accurately, even the best post-production won’t produce the sound you want. Get the sound right by choosing the right microphone for the job!
When I started recording, one of the first things I wanted to do was record acoustic guitar and simple vocals. Mainly because at the time I only had an acoustic guitar, so I didn’t have many options. With no line out on my traditional wood guitar, I knew I would need a mic to do this.
But when I started googling which one I should get, I soon realized that it wasn’t that simple. It turns out that there are different types of microphones. Two words I came across most often were condenser and dynamic. But what is the difference between dynamic and condenser microphones? Did I need both?
The difference between a dynamic and a condenser microphone is that a dynamic microphone is better for capturing loud, loud sounds, particularly in a live environment, whereas a condenser microphone is used for capturing more delicate sounds. and higher frequencies, especially in a studio. A dynamic microphone also does not require power, while a condenser microphone does.
In this article, I’ll try to explain in more detail what I discovered while researching this, the conclusions I drew, and the microphones I eventually purchased.
So, let’s difference between condenser and dynamic microphones so that you can decide which microphone is right for your needs.
No, one microphone does not sound louder than another; it’s just a matter of sensitivity. Generally, condenser microphones have higher sensitivity than dynamic microphones.
Either way, the sensitivity should always be chosen in relation to the job requirements.
In other words, if the microphone has to withstand very high sound pressure levels (SPL), it is better to select a unit with low sensitivity, be it a condenser or dynamic microphone.
Table of Contents
What does a microphone do?
As usual, I’ll start with the basics.
The first thing to do when selecting a microphone is to establish what you want to use the microphone for. It’s not just about deciding whether you need a live performance microphone or a studio microphone.
You must first determine if you need an instrument microphone, a drum microphone, or a voice microphone. Now that you’ve done that, let’s take a closer look at condenser microphones and dynamic microphones.
What is a dynamic microphone?
A dynamic microphone is the oldest type of microphone and therefore the most primitive in terms of design.
In very simplified terms, sound in a dynamic microphone is created when a sound wave hits a diaphragm and causes it to move.
The diaphragm is attached to a metal coil that is suspended between two magnets. When the diaphragm moves, the coil also moves up and down producing a small alternating current, mimicking that of the sound wave.
Dynamic microphones sometimes called moving coil microphones use electromagnetic induction to record sound. Inside the microphone, there is a diaphragm with an attached induction coil.
This coil is generally made up of two insulating wires tightly wound around an iron core. The coil is placed within the magnetic field of a permanent magnet.
Consequently, the induction coil moves within the magnetic field, creating a variable current.
As a result, the components transform sound waves into electrical energy. The resulting electrical signal is then amplified by your microphone, preamp, or mixer.
You may want to use a dynamic microphone as they are available at affordable and entry-level prices due to the inexpensive components. They are also comparatively durable and sturdy, as the internal mechanisms are not that fragile.
This style of the microphone is also ideal for recording louder sounds and instruments, such as drums or powered guitar. Low sensitivity makes them an excellent choice for noisy environments such as live events or musical performances.
However, the units struggle to capture higher frequencies and their low sensitivity means losing some detail in the captured audio.
Likewise, they respond poorly to short-lived or transient sound and have a reduced optimal frequency range compared to other microphones.
What is a condenser microphone?
Condenser microphones are also known as condenser microphones because of the technologies within them.
A capacitor provides the primary sound capture mechanism just below the outside of the microphone. This component stores an electrical charge and is measured in capacitance.
Condenser microphones are commonly used in studios to pick up sounds with great detail and precision. This is accomplished with a lightweight membrane suspended by a fixed plate. Sound pressure against the diaphragm causes it to move, which in turn creates an electrical output.
The important thing to note about this process is that condenser microphones are delicate and are used to pick up and amplify more delicate sounds.
Capacitors use phantom power or power from an external source (usually 48V sent from the preamp) to create their characteristically high output.
This is ideal because you won’t need as much gain on the preamp to bring the signal down to a usable level.
If you use the wrong mic for the job without enough output, you may need considerable gain in the preamp.
Many cheaper preamps just can’t provide enough gain or introduce too much noise when turned all the way up. Condenser microphones solve this problem.
Think of condenser microphones like holding a magnifying glass in front of the sound, capturing all its complexities with high precision.
It would make sense to use this when capturing a crooning singer-songwriter, but not for a loud drummer. For that job, we have dynamic microphones.
Condenser microphones are ideal for recording vocals. This is thanks to the flexible faceplate, which leads to accurate sound recording.
In addition, they are suitable for recording high frequencies. The electronics are small, resulting in a variety of options, from handheld microphones to portable lavalier microphones.
On the other hand, condenser microphones require phantom power, tend to be more expensive than other microphones and capture background noise due to their high sensitivity.
The components are fragile, making it easier to damage or compromise the microphone.
What other kinds of the microphone are available?
Of course, music equipment manufacturers wouldn’t make it easy for you to choose and there are a few other, slightly less common types of microphones that you may come across:
A boundary microphone is basically a condenser microphone in a special housing that is shaped to pick up reflected sounds from a surface such as a wall.
They are used when people want to capture the sounds produced in a particular type of room or where several instruments are being recorded at the same time.
These also require phantom power to function.
A ribbon microphone shares, I mean more similarities with a dynamic microphone. It differs in the fact that it has a thin band (hence the name) made of aluminum, rather than plastic as the diaphragm.
Ribbon microphones are not very common these days. They are expensive and extremely fragile. Even a slight breeze could break one.
What is the difference between small and large diaphragms?
As I explained earlier, the diaphragm is used in the microphone to vibrate when sound waves hit it.
In condenser microphones, you will often see a choice between having a small diaphragm or a large diaphragm. But what difference does it make?
All you really need to know is that large diaphragms, due to their size, are better at picking up lower frequencies. While smaller diaphragms can more accurately capture higher frequencies.
So decide what you are trying to record before choosing. If you want to record primarily vocals or lower sounds, a large-diaphragm is usually best. But if you want to capture a high-pitched flute or violin, you might just want a small diaphragm.
Omnidirectional vs cardioid
That is why I wanted to write this article. The amount of confusing words you see when you buy one is pretty overwhelming.
Another couple of words you may see are “Omni-directional” and “cardioid.”
It’s actually pretty simple though, Omni-directional means the mic picks up the sounds from everything around it and the cardioid just picks up sound directly in front of it.
Omnidirectional microphones are great when you’re looking to get the sound of the instrument/voice but also the sounds of the room. If you are recording in a church, for example, you may want the echo sound of the room, and therefore you want to capture sound waves coming from all angles.
The decision to use a condenser or dynamic microphone depends not only on the sound source and sound reinforcement system but also on the physical environment.
From a practical point of view, if the microphone will be used in a harsh environment such as a rock and roll club or for outdoor sound, the dynamic types would be a good choice.
In a more controlled environment such as a concert hall or theater stage, a condenser microphone may be preferred for many sound sources, especially when the highest sound quality is desired.