Today I’ll be comin’ 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.
This baby is pretty sweet, and definitely very rugged! A lot of mics in this class are rock solid and heavy, and will last you quite a long time. Currently I still have the Samson CO1, and after 9 years of studio use it’s still going strong! What a steal!
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 to
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.
They also require 48v phantom power to operate. Check out my post on Your Audio Interface for a more in depth description!
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 will tend to have a bit more “air” to their sound and often have less coloration than large diaphragm microphones. Some good applications with the small diaphragm mic would include:
woodwinds and other delicate instruments
cymbals and hi hats
small percussion instruments
any instrument that has a lot of detail that needs to be brought out
(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 studio. They are more sensitive than SDC (small diaphragms), and they have more of a “big” sound, which many people enjoy and identify with. They also sport a thicker diaphragm, which makes them more durable in high SPL (sound pressure level) situations. What is SPL? Lastly, Large diaphragm microphones tend to be used on stuff that requires a bit of coloration, or deep response. Vocals, guitar or bass amps, drums, acoustic guitar, and some 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. Check out: What is a cardioid capsule? for more info on this amazing process of how microphones generate sound!
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, and more suited for:
handling transients (the ability to reproduce the “speed” of an instrument or voice)
they have more air
they have a better frequency response
they are very sensitive, picking up a lot of sound
they respond quicker, and are better suited for the studio
they are great for vocals, breathy air, finger picking, and over head drums
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.
The diaphragm material is also thicker, and they are less sensitive in general. They do well with horns, drums, snares, kicks, and toms.
Dynamic microphones don’t require their own power supply, but the sound is generally not as accurate. An exception to this is the famous Shure SM7B dynamic microphone, which is truly a gold standard when it comes to any microphone! 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 a baby crapping all over the house 😛 More and more people are starting to see the true potential of a dynamic in studio. It’s not news though: Plenty of people throughout the years have used dynamics to record albums. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” for example utilized an SM7B.
Sibilance is also less of a factor when recording with a dynamic mic. Where as a condenser may pick up all the S’s and T’s of a persons voice, the dynamic does not. This is another reason it’s great for vocals in studio. What does Sibilant mean?
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. Check out the Shure SM57 vs. SM58 comparison!
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!