If you are in the market for a new microphone, one of your options is to choose a condenser microphone vs dynamic microphones. They have their pros and cons, but what are the key differences between them?
In this blog post, we will discuss how they work, what you can use them for, and which one may be best and makes sense for a specific use you have.
A condenser mic uses an electric current to create an electromagnetic field that moves a diaphragm in front of the sound source. This type typically has less sensitivity than its counterpart, but it does offer higher fidelity with more detail in higher frequencies.
On the other hand, most dynamic microphones are sensitive to lower frequencies, so if you’re listening closely or want those deep and delicate sounds, then this would be a better option for you.
If you need help choosing which one is right for your needs, don’t miss this Hooke Audio article.
What is a microphone used for?
As usual, I’ll start with the basics.
Microphones convert sound waves from any source, such as the human voice or a booming instrument, into electrical sound waves that a computer or another recording device can understand.
Depending on the microphone, the way that a microphone converts this signal will vary.
The Condenser Microphone
A condenser microphone or simply a capacitor microphone is an electro-acoustic transducer commonly used in telephone systems, video conferencing systems, loudspeaker systems, acoustic guitars, and recording studios for live performances.
The capacitor microphones contain one or more electrical charge plates (also called electret) similar to the plates in an electric battery and a diaphragm that functions as a sound-collecting element by means of an external power source.
The voltage of the audio signal causes the plate(s) to change their size, producing a varying voltage across the plate(s). The large and small diaphragm condenser mics are usually made of thin plastic or rubber that is more or less flexible.
The sound waves vibrate to cause the diaphragm to vibrate, and a small portion of these vibrations are passed on to the plate(s), where the sound wave is collected as an electrical signal.
This kind of condenser is sensitive to handle loud sounds, typically used in the recording studio for instrument microphones such as cymbals and drum overheads or brass instruments such as trumpet and trombone mics.
Condenser microphones can be easily damaged by excessive exposure to high volumes/decibels because the diaphragm materials of condenser microphones (mostly thin metal or metal-coated-plastic diaphragm and conductive metal plate are easily distorted as the voltage of audio signals cause them to vibrate when sound waves hit them).
Condenser microphones are made with three key differences polar patterns. There’s Cardioid, Figure 8 or Omni-directional, and Bi-directional (or true cardioid).
Each pattern is used for a specific reason, and each will benefit from different recording techniques. Hence, it’s important to understand each one before choosing the best microphone for the job.
The Dynamic Microphone
A dynamic microphone is composed of a mica diaphragm. As the diaphragm moves that vibrates in response to sounds, transmitting the vibrations through an attached coil of wire (the voice coil ), which produces the electrical audio signal. The voice coil itself is surrounded by a magnetic field created by a small permanent magnet. It is the motion of the voice coil in this magnetic field that generates the electrical signal corresponding to the sounds picked up by a dynamic microphone.
Dynamic microphones are more rugged than condenser microphones and do not require a phantom power supply. In contrast to condenser mics that need some kind of phantom power supply. Dynamics can be used for low-level applications such as recording vocals, instruments, or amplifiers or for high SPL applications such as close-talking stage vocals.
The main difference between them is that dynamic microphones don’t have any diaphragms, so there’s no danger of them being affected by high volume, which means dynamic microphones are ideal for use on stage to be exposed to louder sounds and high sound pressure levels.
A dynamic microphone is the most commonly used microphone type in live sound reinforcement today, especially as a drum mic.
It’s almost always the case that if you’re operating more than one microphone over your drum kit, that at least one of those microphones would be a dynamic mic.
This design has proven its worth in countless situations while doing so with little or no modification to the original design.
Dynamic mics are often called pencil mics due to their appearance and construction using a moving coil mics wire to connect the mica diaphragm to the voice coil.
Condenser vs dynamic: What really matters when choosing a microphone?
If you are confused by the information, don’t bother. You don’t need to know the details of how your microphone is made.
You only need to pay attention to how it sounds. This could be due to the frequency response, polar pattern, and other factors.
The microphone’s intrinsic directionality is called the polar pattern. An opposite pattern refers to the microphone’s sensitivity to sounds coming from different directions. It is also known as its central axis. There are many types of polar patterns.
Directional: This collection includes three polar patterns, including the super-cardioid, cardioid, and hyper-cardioid. The most popular type is the cardioid.
This is used when one source of sound is needed while simultaneously reducing capture from the sides or rear. An example would be a singer performing live on stage with a handheld microphone.
Omnidirectional: Omnidirectional microphones can pick up sounds in all directions at equal volume and clarity. This results in a natural, accurate audio recording and particularly at high frequencies. Omnidirectional microphones are often equipped with headsets and lavaliers.
They allow talent to freely move their heads without affecting the quality of the sound. Omni microphones can be used when sound isolation is not required, such as interviews where more than one sound must be captured, and good isolation is not an issue.
Frequency response refers to the frequency range that a microphone can reproduce. This is the most critical factor in determining the microphone’s sound signature.
These are the two most popular types of response: flat response and shaped.
Flat response microphones have equal sensitivity to all frequencies. The flat response microphone is designed to accurately reproduce the source sound with little to no deviation from the original sound. This is an excellent choice for recording sound effects or musical instruments.
A microphone with a shaped response is more sensitive to specific frequency ranges. A microphone with a shaped response has a low sensitivity to low frequencies.
This would decrease the ability of the microphone to capture both noise and rumbles when mounted on a stand.
Some microphones have a frequency response that can be adjusted to allow them to adapt to different applications. A low-frequency filter reduces room rumbles and an upper mid-range boost to improve voice quality.
Here are some additional factors to consider when choosing a microphone.
Impedance refers to the microphone’s resistance. In general, microphones can be classified into three types: low (50-1,000ohms), medium (55,000-15,000ohms), or high (20,000+ohms).
This is how the microphone reacts to noise and frequency. A microphone with higher frequencies resistance will allow for hum and high frequencies. This can make the studio recording sound thin or noisy.
Sound pressure level (SPL).
The sound pressure level (also known as acoustic energy level) is the maximum sound intensity that a microphone can handle without causing distortion.
Max is the standard for sound pressure levels. SPL stands for the maximum mic resistance. A spec of 120dB is preferred. Microphones with a higher maximum SPL are recommended for podcasters who intend to record loud instruments such as drums, bass, or acoustic guitars.
It is also known as equivalent noise level or electrical energy noise, which refers to the noise or hiss that a microphone makes. Its level of 28dB or less is considered acceptable for audio quality recordings.
Signal to noise ratio (S/N).
This is the difference in dB between the microphone’s sensitivity (in dB) and the equivalent noise level (in dB). 64dB or more is considered good.
What’s the Difference Between Dynamic and Condenser Microphones?
Pros for Condenser Mics:
- A condenser has a wider dynamic range than that of a dynamic.
This means that it can reproduce sounds in the quietest settings while still handling loud sounds without distorting or getting damaged, as dynamics do.
- A condenser has less proximity effect than a dynamic mic, which means that vocals can be recorded closer to the mic before that annoying bass bump starts showing up in your recording.
This is important if you are recording a voice track that you want to be clear.
- A condenser is quieter than a dynamic microphone, meaning it’s less susceptible to picking up unwanted background noise when recording in the same room as your sound source.
Condenser microphones are often used in recording studios or on stage for live performance because of the ability of condenser mics to capture quiet sounds without being of low sensitivity.
This results in cleaner recordings where noises from outside influence (such as air conditioners) don’t intrude into your performance.
- Condenser microphones often have better frequency and more uniform frequency characteristics than dynamic.
Pros for Dynamic Mic:
- Large-diaphragm dynamic mics, which means a smoother frequency response and wider frequency range than a condenser microphone, all while sounding natural. You won’t need to spend time equalizing the sound in the recording software once recorded.
- High sensitivity means that dynamic mics are better at picking up quiet sounds when compared with condenser microphones.
A typical dynamic mic will have a 15-20dB higher sensitivity than an average condenser (at 1kHz). This means they can be used in more rural settings with less background noise (e.g., the ocean).
- Dynamic mics are rugged and durable. You can drop a dynamic microphone from waist height without damaging it—something that would destroy a condenser mic in terms of its ability to produce good recordings in the future.
- Dynamic microphones often have better self-noise levels than a condenser microphone, which means will dynamic mics be less hiss if your recording software doesn’t include a de-esser or if one isn’t needed on the voice track itself.
While this may not sound like much now, if you are recording a voice track, you will notice fewer hiss, and this could take hours to fix later.
Dynamic microphones also usually have a lower proximity effect than a condenser microphone, which means that vocals can be recorded closer to the mic before that annoying bass bump starts showing up in your recording.
- A dynamic microphone is much cheaper than a condenser microphone (around 10x difference). Think about getting 2 or 3 of them for the price of one high-quality condenser microphone!
- The frequency response of a typical dynamic microphone is generally more uniform with less high-end emphasis and low-end roll-off than condenser microphones, meaning that you can adjust the mix later for a more consistent sound.
Condenser vs dynamic microphones are two different types of equipment that offer unique benefits. While they may seem similar, there are some important differences between dynamic and condenser mics to keep in mind when deciding which type of mic will work best for your project.
These tips should help you understand the pros and cons so that you can choose the right mic for your needs. One thing is certain – with a little research into what these mics have to offer, it’s possible to find one perfect for any occasion!
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