Dynamic microphone vs condenser microphone; which is best and why?
What I’m going to do is discuss the difference between dynamic microphones and condenser microphones. I’ll also tell you what type of microphone you should be using depending on what you’re doing. Both types have their advantages and disadvantages, so let’s begin.
The terms ‘dynamic’ and ‘condenser’ describe the operating principle of each type of microphone. The operating principle is the way that the microphone picks up sound and converts it into an electrical signal. An example of this is through a transducer, which has the ability to convert one type of energy into another. In this case it converts sound waves into electrical voltage.
Dynamic Microphone Overview
The dynamic microphone is the most widely known microphone, and the most recognisable type. It is a passive device, meaning it needs no voltage source to work. The operating principle of a dynamic microphone works just like a speaker but reversed. In a speaker, an electric current runs through a coil which is held between a set of permanent magnets attached to a diaphragm. When this happens, the current flowing through the coil interacts with the magnetic field of the magnets. This causes the magnet, and thus the diaphragm, to move. This movement causes the air to create sound-waves.
A dynamic microphone works completely opposite to this. Sound waves from someone singing or playing guitar for example, cause the diaphragm of the microphone to move. This movement and vibration of the diaphragm causes the coil to move through the magnetic field of the permanent magnets. This movement induces an electric current which becomes the audio signal. This audio signal is then fed into a computer or sound mixer.
Condenser Microphone Overview
The other most commonly used microphone in the music industry is the condenser microphone. The condenser microphone is an active device, meaning it needs a constant voltage source to work. The operating principle in this type of microphone is an electrically charged diaphragm-back-plate assembly. This assembly forms a capacitor that holds a set electric charge. The voltage across the diaphragm and back-plate changes depending on the distance between the two. Sound waves from vocals or an instrument are able to move this diaphragm.
Because the diaphragm doesn’t take much to make it move, the condenser microphone is perfect for lower volume purposes. A situation where you’d want this in a quiet recording studio environment. It also has a wide dynamic range and is able to pick up more frequencies than a dynamic microphone.
There are two main types of condenser microphones; large diaphragm and small diaphragm. Large diaphragm microphones tend to warm up the sound and make it fuller. It does this because the large diaphragm helps the lower frequencies stand out. Small diaphragm microphones are perfect at capturing a balanced and more even frequency response when recording. They will provide no warming effects like their large diaphragm counterparts. Both types of condenser mics need a pop shield, as they are sensitive to ‘sss’ and popping sounds, which are difficult to remove from a recording.
Each type of microphone has certain advantages in different use cases. Below I’ll just outline a few scenarios you’ll need a microphone for. I’ll include the best type of microphone, and a recommendation.
For a vocal performance you will want to use a dynamic microphone. This is because dynamic microphones are able to better withstand higher sound pressure. Generally, you’ll get higher sound pressure from the vocals of a live performance. Other reasons include good resistance to moisture, the ability to perform without a pop shield, and dynamic microphones being more durable.
Vocal recording however, will usually need the use of a large diaphragm condenser microphone. This is because a condenser microphone will be able to pick up a wider frequency range than a dynamic microphone. Condenser microphones also have a better dynamic range and are much more sensitive to sound pressure. This is perfect for when recording in a studio environment where you’ll want to pick up as much of the vocal range as possible.
Recording in a studio environment also allows you to use a pop shield that will protect your recording from horrible pop’s and sss’s.
If you have access to phantom power then a large diaphragm condenser microphone is ideal. If you don’t have access to phantom power, then you can always use a large diaphragm dynamic microphone. This is a good alternative to a condenser microphone.
Acoustic Guitar Recording
For recording acoustic guitar, I’d recommend using a small diaphragm condenser microphone. You’ll want as flat and balanced recording of the instrument as possible. You won’t need or want to warm up the recording like you might want to with vocals. A small diaphragm microphone will allow you to get a good and detailed recording. This will make mixing the track much easier and it will sound great.
Electric Guitar Recording
Let’s face it, most electric guitarists love to crank up the volume when they’re playing. When recording electric guitar, you’re going to need a microphone that can handle it. One of the best and most versatile mics any studio should have is a Shure SM57 microphone.
As you’ll see next, the Shure SM57 is a very good microphone, so definitely pick one up if you can.
For drums you’ll want a range of microphones. This is because a drum kit will produce sounds that sit all all over the frequency spectrum. Using just one type and model of microphone will make some of your recordings sub-par.
A standard, typical microphone setup for drums will include:
2 x overheads
If you only have two channels to record on, then the least you’ll want is a pair of overhead mics. With regards to the overheard mics, you’ll want to capture the entire drum kit in stereo. For this you’ll need some microphones that are able to deal with the high frequencies of the symbols, but also the lower frequencies of the tom and kik. For this I’d recommend a matching pair of small diaphragm condenser mics.
If you can stretch to a third channel, then you’ll want to prioritise recording the kik drum. This is because a pair of overheads won’t be able to properly capture the sound or the dynamics of the kik. You’ll want a dynamic microphone that is specially tailored to pick up the low end punch of this drum.
The next most important element of recording a drum kit is the snare drum. Throughout the industry, there is one microphone that is used from studio to studio. That microphone is the Shure SM57. This is a durable dynamic microphone that is able to handle the high sound pressure of a snare. It also has a tight cardioid pattern that will help avoid ‘sound bleed’ from other drums.
Whenever I produce my own audio tracks, one thing I always like to focus on is the hi-hat. For this, I’d recommend a small diaphragm condenser microphone. This will have the ability to pick up the wide frequency range of this piece of kit, while keeping the sound tight.
If you still have channels free after all these, then you should really mic up those toms. A lot of audio engineers won’t bother adding mics to the toms, but I feel if you want to have good control over your mix you should.
If you want a microphone for gaming and making Youtube videos, then I’d recommend going for a small diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone. The cardioid pattern of the microphone will ensure that only your voice is picked up and little else. The small diaphragm condenser will be able to capture all the details of your voice. There is no need to make your vocal sound ‘warm’ when talking to others or making Youtube videos.
The microphone I’d recommend for this purpose is the Blue Snowball ice microphone. This is a fairly inexpensive microphone that will produce excellent quality. It is USB powered so will plug into any laptop or PC no problem.
Dynamic Microphone vs Condenser Microphone – Conclusion
So there you have it, a beginners overview on the differences of a dynamic microphone vs condenser microphone. I’ve also tried to outline different use cases for each microphone. You need to be thinking about where you’re recording as well as what you’re recording.
In short, a dynamic microphone is good for situations where sound pressure is going to be high. A dynamic mic might also be preferable if you need a more robust mic. Examples of this include vocal performance on stage, capturing kik and snare drums, and electric guitar. A condenser microphone is better for where you need to capture a wider frequency and dynamic range, and where sound pressure is going to be lower. Examples of this include recording vocals in the studio, recording acoustic instruments, and capturing the wide range of a drum kit with overhead mics.