Condenser vs. Dynamic Microphones: The Ultimate Mic Guide
Updated: August 30,2022
Microphones are essential for recording, and there are two main types: condenser and dynamic. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, so it's essential to know which type is right for your project.
In this ultimate mic guide, we'll settle the condenser vs. dynamic debate and see which type of microphone works best for podcasting, gaming, and music. We'll break down the differences and discuss their pros and cons. But, first, let’s go through a short overview of both.
An Introduction to Condenser Mics
A condenser microphone is an electro-acoustic transducer that converts sound waves into electrical signals. Unlike dynamic microphones, which use a magnetic coil to produce electricity, condenser mics rely on an electrically charged diaphragm to generate an electrical current.
This makes them more sensitive than their dynamic counterparts and capable of capturing subtle details in both highs and lows.
What is a condenser microphone ideal for, then? Due to this increased sensitivity, condenser microphones are often used in studios and other controlled environments. They are also popular among podcasters and other audio professionals who need to capture clear, high-quality sound.
Condenser microphones come in both large- and small-diaphragm models. Large-diaphragm condensers are typically used for vocals, whereas small-diaphragm models are better suited for instruments. There are also some all-purpose condenser microphones that can be used for a variety of applications.
But, most condensers require an additional power source to work correctly, called phantom power. Over time, manufacturers figured out ways to include an electret material inside the microphones, allowing them to create microphones that are Plug'n'Play in nature, leading to the rise of small-form, affordable condensers.
One of the most significant differences between the condenser and dynamic microphones is the requirement for phantom power on the condensers.
Phantom power is a standard feature on audio equipment and is typically supplied by batteries or from external power supplies connected to the microphone. The term "phantom" refers to the fact that the power is provided to the microphone through the same cable that is used to carry the audio signal.
Phantom power can be supplied at various voltages, but the most common voltage used is 48 volts. While phantom power is not required for all condenser microphones, it is necessary for most professional-grade models. Without phantom power, condenser microphones will not be able to function correctly.
The Pros and Cons of Using Condenser Mics
Now that we've covered the basics and before making a condenser vs. dynamic mic comparison, let's first take a more in-depth look at the pros and cons of condenser microphones.
- The increased sensitivity results in a clearer sound with more detail.
- A wide frequency response captures both highs and lows.
- Can be used for a variety of applications.
- More susceptible to feedback and noise.
- Requires phantom power (an external power source).
- Can be expensive, especially the models for studio use.
About Dynamic Mics
Dynamic microphones are the most common type of microphone and are often used in live settings. They are less sensitive than condenser microphones, making them less likely to pick up unwanted noise.
Additionally, when comparing condenser mics vs. dynamic mics, a significant difference is that dynamic mics don't require phantom power, making them more versatile and easier to use.
Dynamic microphones come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and each one is designed for a specific purpose. For example, handheld dynamic mics are typically used for vocals, while larger mics are designed to capture the low-end frequencies produced by drums and other percussion instruments.
Dynamic mics are best for live events, concerts, and rallies. While some may like to use them for gaming and streaming video games, those setups aren’t as common still.
The Pros and Cons of Using Dynamic Mics
Aside from examining the inner workings of dynamic mics and their usage, we also need to check the main condenser and dynamic mic differences. Therefore, here’s a short breakdown of all the pros and cons of dynamic mics.
- Less susceptible to feedback and noise.
- Don't require phantom power.
- More rugged and durable than condenser microphones.
- Often less expensive than condenser mics.
- Reduced sensitivity results in poorer overall sound quality.
- Narrower frequency response means you miss out on some highs and lows.
- Can be difficult to position correctly.
Differences Between Condenser vs. Dynamic Technology
The most significant difference between condenser and dynamic microphones is how they convert sound into electrical signals. Condenser mics use an electrically charged diaphragm, while dynamic mics rely on a magnetic coil. This is why condenser mics respond better to quiet sounds and capture a “warmer” sound.
While that is an excellent feature of these mics, it’s also their downside. Any outside noise in a room that isn’t properly sound-proofed will be captured, as will taps and other “small” sounds around the room. It’s why they’re best for studios and, in recent years, for professional podcasting.
In terms of the advantages of a dynamic mic vs. a condenser mic, it mostly comes down to their ruggedness. They can withstand higher sound pressure levels (SPL) without distorting, making them ideal for live settings. Additionally, dynamic mics don't require phantom power, so they’re great for multi-mic setups.
Even so, condensers can't be beaten when it comes to sound quality in controlled conditions. Their ability to pick up fine details and produce crystal clear sound that’s very pleasant to the ear is why they’ll always be a better choice for studio and home recordings.
Dynamic vs. Condenser Mics: The Pickup Patterns
In addition to their different sound qualities, condenser and dynamic microphones also have different pickup patterns. A pickup pattern is a term used to describe how a microphone responds to sound coming from different directions.
The most common type of pickup pattern is omnidirectional, which means the mic picks up sound equally from all directions. They are not well-suited for use in noisy environments because they will pick up all the ambient noise, not just the sound you want to record.
Another common type of pickup pattern we need to mention in our microphone comparison is cardioid, which means the mic only picks up sound from the front. This makes cardioid mics ideal for use in noisy environments because they can be positioned to point away from the source of the noise.
Additionally, the cardioid pattern is great for podcasts and live streaming, where you typically want your voice pronounced over whatever else is going on.
The final type of pickup pattern is bidirectional, which means the mic picks up sound from the front and rear but not the sides. This makes bidirectional mics ideal for use in studios, because they can be positioned to pick up sound from two performers simultaneously. Since there are plenty of good affordable models of this type, podcasters on a budget will frequently opt for them.
Choosing the Right Microphone
With the condenser and dynamic mics compared, it's time to choose the right microphone for your needs. We’ve already said that condensers work the best in controlled environments, like studios, while dynamic mics are a better choice for outdoor events and concerts.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a microphone, regardless of the type:
- Sound quality: As mentioned above, each microphone type works best in certain conditions. So, consider the usage and pick accordingly.
- Pickup pattern: If you're recording a single speaker, a cardioid mic is a good choice. However, if you need to capture more of the ambiance, then omnidirectional is the way to go.
- Price: An important factor when deciding between a condenser mic vs. a dynamic mic is the pricing, and the condensers tend to be more expensive. Luckily, electret technology has lowered their price, too, so you can pick up some good budget models without breaking the bank. Likewise, high-end dynamic mics are not cheap, but they do tend to be more affordable overall.
No matter what your needs are, there's a microphone out there that's perfect for you. So get out there, find yourself the ideal mic, and start recording!
Frequently Asked Questions
It depends on your needs. If you’re looking for a versatile mic that can be used for a variety of home and studio recording tasks, then a condenser mic is a good choice. If you need a durable mic that can handle high SPLs and weather some abuse, then a dynamic mic is a better option.
Condenser mics are often seen as better than dynamic mics because they have a wider frequency response and can capture more sound detail. They also require less gain, producing a clearer sound.
The main difference is in the construction. Condenser mics have a thin, metal diaphragm that is charged with a voltage, while dynamic mics use a magnetic coil to capture sound.
Another difference is that condenser mics require phantom power, while dynamic mics do not. Phantom power is a voltage sent to the mic through the XLR cable. It powers the electronics in the mic and allows it to function.
It depends on your definition of “better.” Condenser mics have a wider frequency response and can capture more detail, so they may sound “better” to some people.
However, when we put a condenser vs. a dynamic mic in a live performance environment, the dynamic mics will sound “better” as they can handle higher sound pressure levels without distorting the sound.
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A true tech and gaming savant, Ivan has been fascinated by the digital world since the early days of gaming on antiques such as the ZX Spectrum and Commodore’s beloved Amiga. Whether you’re interested in the latest PC and console gaming news, antivirus software, or smartphone reviews, or simply want to learn about the newest geeky gadgets around, we at KT have you covered, and Ivan’s likely the one we’ll ask.