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There's a dizzying amount of microphones out there and in the studio you'll find all sorts.

The majority are based on one of two types of technology; condenser or dynamic. Understanding the differences will help you choose the right microphone for the thing you’re trying to record. In this article, we’ll cover the differences between these types of microphones and when to choose one over the other.

It’s important to remember though that all you are trying to do is record sound and every microphone has the ability to do that If you only have one then there’s no reason why you can’t use it for everything!

Your Questions About Microphones Answered

Which is better condenser or dynamic mic?

Robin Vincent

It depends on what you’re trying to record and the environment in that you find yourself. This article will tell you all about when to use the right one.

Do singers use dynamic or condenser mics?

Robin Vincent

They use both depending on the situation. For live use a dynamic microphone is more robust and perfect for the dynamic range of a PA system. Whereas a condenser microphone is more sensitive and great for when you’re in a quite and controlled recording environment.

Do condenser mics sound better?

Robin Vincent

Condenser mics are more sensitive and have a wider frequency response and dynamic range. So for recording quality, yes, they are better.

What are condenser microphones best for?

Robin Vincent

Condenser mics are best for the studio recording of vocals and acoustic instruments.

Which mic is best for recording vocals?

Robin Vincent

The best condenser microphone to use is the one that you have to hand. If you don’t have one then get one that’s appropriate to your budget because you can spend as much as you like on a single microphone.

The Difference Between Condenser and Dynamic Mics

The purpose of a microphone is to turn sound waves into electrical signals that can be amplified and recorded. This is done through the use of a thin diaphragm that vibrates in response to sound waves. The diaphragm interacts with a magnet and that generates an electrical voltage. It’s actually the exact reverse of what a loudspeaker does.

A device that converts one form of energy into another is called a transducer and “condenser” and “dynamic” are types of transducer which gives them their name.

A condenser microphone uses a transducer that’s based on variable capacitance. What’s important to know is that a condenser is very accurate, fragile and requires powering to boost the signal. A dynamic mic is much simpler, using a coil of wire and a magnet to induce the electrical voltage. What’s important to know is that dynamic microphones are less sensitive, robust and do not require powering.

Condenser Microphones

Female singer in closeup with vocal mic

Condenser mics are super-sensitive usually using a large diaphragm to maximise the range of frequencies they can handle. The technology inside is complex and delicate and condenser mics should be handled with care. These are not the mics you’ll see vocalists swing around on stage. They require a form of power called Phantom Power which is fed up the cable from the mixer or preamp. This is why condenser mics always use 3-pin XLR cables.

Condenser microphones tend to be found in the controlled environment of the studio where they are less likely to get broken. They have a wide and natural sound that works brilliantly with acoustic instruments. Most commonly they would be used for recording vocals, acoustic guitars, stringed instruments, kick drums and piano. If quality and nuance are the most important thing in what you are trying to capture then a condenser microphone is what you need.

Dynamic Microphones

Male recording artist singing into a mic in studio

These are the sorts of microphones you are likely to see on stage and are immediately familiar. They are tough and robust and can be swung around and thrown into the cymbals and still work completely fine. They are not as sensitive as condenser mics and usually require the user to get up close and personal with it in order to get a good level. These are not powered and rely purely upon the vibration of that magnet within the coil of wire to produce a signal.

You’ll find dynamic mics anywhere noisy. Guitar amplifiers, brass instruments, heavy vocals and drum kits are all good places to use dynamic microphones. They are easy to set up and don’t mind getting pushed and bumped around. If you’re after simplicity and good raw sound then you can’t beat a dynamic microphone.

Which should I use?

The best answer is to have one or two of each type and use them in the right places. And it absolutely depends on what you’re trying to do. If you’re trying to record a live band then dynamic mics are the way to go, but if you are in the studio working on an album then condenser mics will give you a broader sound to work with.

When recording a singer use a condenser mic and set it about a foot from their mouth. If they get too close you’re in danger of overloading the mic and causing distortion. A great tip is to use a “popper stopper” or “pop shield” which is a piece of gauze-like material on a frame that you put in front of a microphone to prevent the peaks of a plosive “p” sound. It has the added effect of keeping the singer at a safe distance from the mic.

If the singer likes to scream and jump around when they perform then a dynamic mic is a better bet. They’ll be able to handle the mic with a minimum amount of noise and sing directly into it without any filters. Plenty of famous vocalists make award-winning albums with regular dynamic microphones and they sound great!

You can apply the same idea to whatever you’re recording. If it’s something natural with a wide range of frequencies then power up a condenser. If it’s loud and raucous then a dynamic is the better bet.

Pros and cons

Most condenser mics are used from the side rather than the end like dynamic mics and pick up sound best from one side. They can also have added technology such as filters for removing noise and changeable polar patterns to better serve the situation they are placed in. A polar pattern is a description of how well a mic picks up sound depending on its position and direction. Condenser mics are much more versatile in that regard so they can sit amongst musicians and gather sound from all sorts of directions. Or they can be switched to prevent unwanted sound spilling in from other instruments.

The sensitivity of a condenser mic can work against you. If your recording environment is not very quiet you’ll find all sorts of background noise will get picked up by a condenser microphone. That’s why you find vocal booths inside studios – to prevent unwanted background noise. Not so much with a dynamic mic which generally can only detect what’s directly in front of it.

When working with condenser microphones you’ll need a mixer with phantom power which is another factor to consider when deciding on a mic.

Which microphone should I buy?

We’ve got articles on the best microphones so check these out:
Best microphones for vocals
Best USB microphones
Best cheap microphones

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