Greetings mate and Welcome aboard!
Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions, so…
Today I’ll be coming at you with a super informative post about microphones.
We all love these things, and there’s a quality to them that is strangely intoxicating and satisfying.
I’m sure if you’re reading this, you’re at least aware that there are 2 different types.
That’s what I’ll be dissecting today: The Condenser mic vs. dynamic mic.
So without further ado, let’s get right into it.
Condenser microphones are typically very rugged and durable, and should last you a long time given proper care.
The Samson C01 served me well for many years and was one of the most solid pieces of equipment I’ve ever owned.
It is wise to understand that Condensers, in general, are more fragile than dynamics, and a good rule of thumb is to use a pop filter for the following reasons:
- Avoid getting spit/contaminants inside the capsule. What is a cardioid capsule?
- To minimize and eliminate “plosives” which are sounds your mouth makes when using certain consonants in speech.
Otherwise, they are pretty beastly, just don’t make a habit of dropping them and you will be fine.
Also, keep them dry and in your case when not in use.
Large Diaphragm vs. Small Diaphragm
Going even further, we have 2 more aspects to concern ourselves with.
(under 1 inch in diameter)
These tend to do a better job of catching transients and other high-frequency information.
They typically have a bit more “air” to their sound and often have less coloration than large-diaphragm microphones.
An SDC is also better at handling high SPL levels because of its smaller, stiffer, and therefore more rigid diaphragm. What is SPL?
Some good applications with the small diaphragm mic would include the following:
- Woodwinds and other delicate instruments
- Acoustic guitars
- Cymbals and hi-hats
- Small percussion instruments
- Any instrument that has a lot of detail that needs to be brought out
In fact, after using a small-diaphragm pencil condenser like the MXL 991, I will never go back to using a large-diaphragm to record the acoustic guitar.
Not only does the 991 give me an excellent sounding take on the first try, but it’s a lot more forgiving of mic placement.
That is, you’re not constantly fiddling around trying to get a perfect angle.
This will save you so much time and frustration, so if you’re planning to record an acoustic guitar, just get a small-diaphragm.
You’ll thank me later.
(diameter of 1 inch or larger)
These tend to work better at bringing out the lower frequencies, which is why a lot of them do well with rap/hip-hop vocals in the studio.
They are more sensitive than SDC (small diaphragms), and they have more of a “big” sound, which many people enjoy and identify with.
Large-diaphragm microphones also tend to be used on stuff that requires a bit of a deeper response.
Vocals, guitar or bass amps, and big brass instruments all come to mind.
In short, the resonance frequency of the diaphragm is lower in the LDC due to the diaphragm’s higher mass.
Why are Large diaphragms more sensitive?
In a nutshell, because I said so. Lol just kidding.
A condenser mic is made of a conductive diaphragm next to a conductive back plate.
Those parts are charged with a bias voltage across them, forming a capacitor.
- Related: What is a cardioid capsule?
When sound waves vibrate the diaphragm in and out, the capacitance varies in step with the sound waves, which in turn generates a signal voltage.
Basically, the changes in capacitance are larger for a large-diaphragm mic than they are for a small diaphragm mic, hence the higher sensitivity.
The output signal voltage is higher.
In general, Condensers are better at capturing fullness, body, and can add some gruff to vocals.
They typically do best with all things vocal, but you can use a Large-diaphragm to record instruments as well.
So they are versatile, but again, knowing what I know about how the Small-diaphragm handles the acoustic guitar, I could never go back to recording with a Large-Diaphragm mic in those scenarios.
For me, Large Diaphragm = Vocals 99% of the time.
These are really really REALLY durable. You can drop them all day and be fine.
Heck, you could probably even throw them around and they’d come out on top.
Because they are better suited for live applications, where accidents happen. Lol.
They have a higher SPL (sound pressure level), which comes into play at large venues with lots of people.
- Related: What is SPL?
The diaphragm material is also thicker, and they are less sensitive in general.
They do well with horns, drums, snares, kicks, and toms. They also do well with vocals.
The famous Shure SM7B dynamic microphone, according to many, is truly a gold standard in recording. Some have criticized it of being too dark/veiled in the treble, but that’s a can of worms for another day.
Most dynamic mics have a limited frequency response, which makes them ideal for withstanding high sound pressure levels attributed to loud guitar amps, live vocals, and drums.
Because they are less sensitive, they are great for less than ideal studio environments.
You won’t have to worry about a dynamic picking up background noise, ambient noise, or the guy above you taking a massive dump.
More and more people are starting to see the true potential of a dynamic in the studio.
It’s not news though – plenty of people throughout the years have used dynamics to record hit albums.
Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” for example utilized the original SM7.
Sibilance/essiness/peakiness is also less of a factor when recording with a dynamic mic.
Whereas a condenser may pick up all the Ss and Ts of a person’s voice, the dynamic generally does not.
This is another reason it’s great for vocals in the studio.
- Read: What does Sibilant mean?
That said, if you’re trying to record an acoustic guitar with an SM57, it is possible, but in my experience it’s even harder to find that sweet spot than it is with a typical condenser.
Do keep in mind that if you’re using something like a Volt 2 and SM57 for vocals, a Fethead or Cloudlifter is highly advised.
This is because the SM57 requires a large amount of gain and without a Fethead, you’ll be turning up the gain on your interface a bit too much for comfort.
To close, one of the best tried and true options for decades has been the Shure SM57.
It’s been one of the most durable, reliable, and consistent mics for a long time.
Even the President of the United States speaks into 2 every time he gives a speech.
That’s powerful, and a true testament to their longevity and reliability.
The SM57 can also be used to record most anything well, but again, if you’re looking to record an acoustic guitar, go with a Small-diaphragm condenser like the MXL 991.
If there’s a downside to dynamics, it would be sensitivity and frequency range, although both shortcomings have been minimized over the years with new materials and magnets.
Well, my friend, that’s about it for today! If you have any other questions about The Condenser Mic vs. Dynamic Mic, please Contact me!
All the best and God bless,