Performance Audio Blog

Comparing Dynamic and Condenser Microphones

Posted: February 10, 2016

In the today's world of audio production, whether you are capturing sound at a live show, recording a hip new album, or picking up dialogue for a movie, any microphone you will be using likely falls into just two main categories: dynamic microphones and capacitor microphones. While the number of categories is small, the reasons for picking in microphone are not. The right microphone for you will always depend on the specific sounds you are capturing, and the environment you are recording them in.

Dynamic Microphones:
Dynamic microphones are the most common type of microphone. Made by locking a small metal coil into a magnetic field, they record sound through vibrations in the coil of the magnetic field by reading an electrical signal made in the process. They tend to be on the cheaper end of things, but can be very efficient. Dynamic microphones have a strong and sturdy design that makes them more resistant to the elements and prevents damage from louder sounds. This makes them a very ideal choice for live sound, such as stage shows and outdoor use.

Dynamic microphones have a limited frequency range. So, while great for recording most things, upper harmonics, or anything on the higher range, will be a weakness in most dynamic microphones. If you are recording an instrument with lots of tonal detail in the higher frequencies, this may pose a problem for you. However, the standard range of recording with dynamic microphones make them perfect for drums and guitars, as well as most percussion instruments.

It must be noted that the electrical current made by the microphone's coil is small, and therefore usually requires the presence of a preamp to reach workable levels without substantial noise in the gain. Because of this, it is best to place the microphone as close to the source of sound as possible in the recording process. The good news is that, other than for the preamp, dynamic microphones don't typically require power.

Condenser (or Capacitor) Microphones:
Condenser microphones tend to be made light, and are more fragile than dynamic microphones. The sound of a condenser microphone is recorded by measuring the vibrations between the diaphragm of two plates, thus creating an electrical current. Condenser microphones are generally more expensive than dynamic microphones, and require greater precision with the interior workings. They are much better suited to be used inside of a studio, and may be used for music recording, or even for recording video sound with shotgun or lavalier condenser mics.

Condenser microphones capture a wider range of frequencies, and can capture greater detail in the upper harmonic range. Because of the warm tone and finer details provided, condenser microphones are great for capturing the human voice. They have the ability to pick up on the smaller sounds that can make instruments (or voices) with more frequencies sound immensely richer.

Condenser microphones require power to work, and most are designed to operate with phantom power. Due to the need for phantom power, one must make certain that mixer is compatible with balanced microphones. Balanced audio cables (such as XLRs) must be used, as well.

The quality of condenser microphones may be achieved at a lower cost by using electret microphones, a specific subset of condenser mics in which each of the plates between the diaphragm has a fixed charge. This process makes electret microphones heavier and more akin to dynamic microphones, but using the same method of capturing the audio as condenser microphones. Depending on the specific mic and what audio you are recording, this can translate to higher quality at lower cost. All phones, computers, and headsets today use electret microphones.

Good luck, and Do Research!
Before purchasing or renting a microphone, always do your research and make sure that what you are getting will suit all of your needs. Having a good microphone to capture the initial audio can make the process of mixing and playing with sound so much easier, but also remember that good audio also depends on mic placement, as well as other factors.

Happy recording!
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