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Condenser vs Dynamic Microphones

Condenser vs Dynamic Microphones

Microphones - Condenser vs Dynamic 

Microphones? Dynamic? Condenser? Phantom Power? What are these terms, what do they mean? 

Well as I am sure you know a microphone is a device used for converting sound waves into electrical energy variations which may then be amplified, transmitted, or recorded.

How does a Microphone work?

Whilst there are many ways to convert sound into electrical energy, we’ll concentrate on the two most popular methods: dynamic and condenser. Both types are commonly found in recording & radio studios, on film sets and, of course, on stage. 

Typically Dynamic microphones are used in live scenarios as they are very rugged and can take a beating, whether it's being carted on and off a tour bus for the hundredth time, dropped on the floor by a singer or used to whack the drummer over the head. Whatever is thrown at them they can take it. 

Condenser microphones on the other hand tend to be used in studios for recording purposes they are much more delicate and far more sensitive than dynamic mics, this requires them to be used in more controlled environments.

However, it's worth noting that there are of course no rules, but generally this can be considered the standard. We will cover Dynamic & condensers further in a moment. 

Why Microphone Selection is so Important?

A microphone is, by its very nature, found at the very beginning of the signal trail in any sound reproduction system and recording applications. If the mic can’t capture the sound clearly and accurately, and with low noise, even the best electronics and speakers following it won’t produce a usable sound. So it’s important to invest in good microphones, to maximize a sound system's performance potential.

Dynamic Microphones
Condenser vs Dynamic Microphones

To help understand how a Dynamic microphone works it is useful to compare it to a speaker. 

They are similar to standard loudspeakers in many ways. They each have a diaphragm (or cone) which has a voice coil that is connected near the apex. In each example, they have a magnetic system with the coil found in the gap.The difference is found in how they are used.

In the example of a speaker, the current comes from the amp flowing around the coil. The magnetic field created by the current flowing through the voice coil interacts with the magnetic field of the speaker’s magnet, forcing the coil and the attached cone to move back and forth, producing sound.

Dynamic microphones operate in much the same way as a speaker simply in reverse. The diaphragm is moved by changing sound pressure. This moves the coil, which causes the current to cut the lines of flux from the magnet. So, instead of putting electrical energy into the coil (as in a speaker), you get energy out of it. A great example of this is when you see a DJ speaking into a pair of headphones as a microphone. A speaker doesn’t make a great microphone, but can be used as a last resort. 

Dynamic microphones are renowned for their ruggedness and reliability. They need no batteries or external power supplies. They are capable of a smooth, extended response and are available with “tailored” responses for special applications. The output level is high enough to work directly into most microphone inputs with an excellent signal-to-noise ratio.

Dynamic microphones essentially look after themselves, they don’t need regular maintenance and as long as you don’t abuse them too much will keep their quality for years to come.

These are the kind of microphones you might use as a DJ, a classic example is the ubiquitous SM58, found on almost every stage in the world this microphone has been leading the way for over 50 years. 

You can check the out the SM58 variations via the following links: 

Shure SM58 Dynamic Vocal Microphone:

Shure SM58 Dynamic Microphone Inc Switch:

Shure SM58 Stage Performance Kit:

Shure GLXD24/SM58 Digital Wireless Vocal System:

Condenser Microphones
Condenser vs Dynamic Microphones

Condenser microphones make use of a light membrane and a fixed plate that functions as opposite sides of a capacitor. When the sound waves apply pressure to the thin polymer film it moves, this movement, in turn, fluctuates the capacitance of the circuit creating an altering electrical output. 

Condenser microphones are preferred for their very uniform frequency response, and their ability to accurately reproduce high frequencies. The low mass of the diaphragm permits an extended high-frequency response, while the nature of the design also ensures outstanding low-frequency pickup. The resulting sound is natural, clean and clear, with excellent separation and detail.

Due in part to their low-mass diaphragms, dynamic microphones are inherently lower in handling or mechanical noise than condenser microphones. 

Condensers are the ideal choice for a variety of applications for two reasons, firstly they weigh a lot less than most dynamic microphones and secondly they can be made much smaller. This of course makes them ideal “shotgun” – microphones, lavaliers and smaller microphones of all designs. 

There are two main types of Condenser microphones available: Large Diaphragm Condenser Mics & Small Diaphragm Condenser Mics.

You can find a selection of Condenser Microphones via the following links:

Rode NT1 Kit:

Rode NT1A Vocal Mic Pack:

Audio Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Microphone:

PreSonus PX-1 Microphone:

Phantom Power
Condenser vs Dynamic Microphones

The final thing we need to cover is Phantom power.

A condenser microphone requires power to work. This can be provided by either a small low-voltage battery or a separate “phantom power” (+48v) supply.

Phantom power delivers a DC voltage directly to the mic via the shielded two-conductor cable that also carries the audio from the microphone. This is supplied directly from a mixer, audio interface or external power supply. It is worth noting that dynamic microphones are not affected when phantom power is sent down their corresponding cables. This is because there isn't a connection between the shield and the signal lead which means there is no circuit for the DC voltage to travel round.

Look out for that +48 volts on your mixer or interface to send phantom power to the mic.