A microphone is one of those devices that you speak into and then it magically enlarges and reproduces your voice, right? Well, let’s just say that that’s a rather blunt way of putting it. One thing that all microphones have in common is that they take sound and turn it into electricity. Dynamic microphones and condenser microphones each do this in a completely and noticeably different way, so it’s about time we share the nitty-gritty with you.

The Difference Between Dynamic and Condenser Microphones

How Does a Dynamic Microphone Work?

A dynamic microphone works kind of like a dynamo. Both have a copper coil that’s wound around a magnet and are surrounded by the magnetic field created by the magnet. By moving the coil up and down, electrical current gets generated. Since it’s not at all practical to move the coil up and down the magnet manually, dynamic microphones are fitted with a diaphragm. This diaphragm pushes the coil further up the magnet when it’s hit by sound waves, or air pressure if you will. This means that dynamic microphones actually generate electricity from sound and are essentially their own power supply.

How Does a Dynamic Microphone Work?

1. Acoustic (Air) Waves – 2. Diaphragm – 3. Coil – 4. Magnet – 5. Signal – Image by Banco (Wikimedia Commons), licence CC BY-SA 3.0

The Benefits of a Dynamic Microphone

Dynamic mics are pretty straightforward devices and usually more affordable than their condenser counterparts. As a matter of fact, their simple construction actually protects them from temperature changes caused by stage lighting, moisture (you know, beer and saliva) and extreme sound pressure levels from drums and guitar amps. Also, since dynamic mics are self-sufficient in terms of power, you won’t need an external power supply to get one working. While the reproduced sound is nowhere near true-to-life, that doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem. It’s exactly because of their ‘personal timbre’ that dynamic mics are widely used for vocals, drums and electric guitars.

How Does a Condenser Microphone Work?

The core of a condenser mic is formed by a wafer-thin diaphragm and a backplate. Between these two components, electrical tension is generated either by a battery or via phantom power supplied by a mixing desk. This configuration makes sure electrical current is stored inside and explains why it’s called a ‘condenser’ mic. Just how powerful this electrical current is, depends on how much space there is between the diaphragm and the backplate. Like we said, the diaphragm is extremely thin and the smallest of changes in air pressure will make it move. When air pressure pushes the diaphragm towards the backplate, the result is a positive electrical charge in the output of the microphone. When the diaphragm moves away from the backplate, a negative charge is produced.

How Does a Condenser Microphone Work?

1. Acoustic (Air) Waves – 2. Diaphragm – 3. Backplate – 4. Battery – 5. Resistor – 6. Signal – Image: Wikimedia Commons, licence CC BY-SA 3.0

The Benefits of a Condenser Mic

Since the diaphragm of a condenser mic is much thinner than that of a dynamic mic, there’s no voice coil attached to it. This allows the diaphragm to vibrate a lot faster, which in turn results in a broader frequency range and a more detail-rich sound. Condensers also tend to add less colour to sound than dynamic equivalents do. This makes them exceptionally well suited to capture and record acoustic instruments and jazz vocals. What’s more, condenser mics can have a more compact build compared to dynamic versions, which explains why lavalier and headset mics are practically always condensers.

Is a condenser microphone better than a dynamic model?

No. Each type has its own set of talents. Condenser microphones are often used to get a sparkling and natural sound when, for example, recording acoustic guitars or drum overheads. Due to its natural sound character, condensers are also well suited for ambient recordings of an orchestra or choir, while dynamic mics are designed to capture loud instruments with a prominent mid-range from a close distance, such as guitar amplifiers, brass, toms and snare drums.

And what’s better for vocal recordings?

When it comes to recording vocals, you’ll want to be aware of the age-old and persistent dogma claiming that you need to use a dynamic mic on stage and a condenser mic in the studio. From a practical point of view, it makes sense that most people usually opt for a dynamic model, mainly because they’re more robust and there’s less chance that feedback will pop up. In the studio, however, you’ll definitely want to take some time to figure out and see which type best suits your voice. Here’s another tip: don’t let the superabundance of high frequencies in cheap condenser mics mislead you. While these might sound highly detailed, they’re nearly impossible to mix if you’re looking to create serious productions. Depending on your taste, they’re perfectly fine for other purposes, though.

If you need a little more help or guidance in picking the right mic, you can check out the different Microphone Buyer’s Guides listed below. Also, feel free to leave a comment letting us know which mic you’ve bought and what you’ll be using it for!

» Buyer’s Guide – What Is The Best Studio Microphone For me?
» Buyer’s Guide – What Is The Best USB Microphone For me?
» Buyer’s Guide – What Is The Best Microphone Shock Mount For Me?
» Buyer’s Guide – What Is The Best Wireless Microphone For me?
» Blog – How To Record A Great Sounding Demo
» Blog – Recording And Amplifying Vocals For Beginners

» USB Microphones
» Dynamic Vocal Microphones
» Dynamic Instrument Microphones
» Condenser Vocal Microphones
» Large-Diaphragm Condenser Microphones
» Small-Diaphragm Condenser Microphones
» All Microphones & Accessories

2 responses
  1. Clover Rayner says:

    The most common type of microphone found in live music settings is the dynamic mic. In most dynamic mics, a very thin, light diaphragm moves in response to changes in sound pressure.
    Condenser microphones are most often found in recording studios. However, many condenser mics are now being used in live sound environments. The condenser microphone is a very simple mechanical system, simply a thin, stretched conductive diaphragm held close to a metal disk called the back plate.

  2. Green Leaf Air's Dallas Air Conditioning says:

    The difference between a dynamic and a condenser microphone is a dynamic microphone is better for capturing loud, strong sounds (drums or loud vocals), particularly in a live setting, whereas a condenser microphone is used to capture more delicate sounds and higher frequencies (studio vocals for example), particularly.

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