In this article, we will compare dynamic and condenser microphones. How do dynamic and condenser microphones differ? We will also discuss common uses and best practices and show examples of what they sound like in real-world situations.
What is a diaphragm?
How do dynamic and condenser microphones differ? To understand how dynamic microphones work, we must first understand one of the most significant parts of every microphone; the diaphragm. This is a tiny speaker consisting of a thin plastic sheet, a magnet, and a coil, the electrical conductor. When the diaphragm vibrates, voltage is created.
Due to their size and weight, small diaphragm microphones effectively pick up higher frequencies and maintain a consistent polar pattern. Therefore, you will usually find them on snare drums, pianos, and acoustic guitars.
A large diaphragm microphone has a larger, less consistent polar pattern and a higher sensitivity, making the sound larger. Usually, you’ll see these microphones when someone records vocals, bass drums, or a live room for a vintage sound.
How do dynamic and condenser microphones differ?
A microphone converts sound waves into voltage, which is then sent to a preamp. Energy is converted differently, however. Electromagnetism is used in dynamic microphones, while variable capacitance is used in condensers. Don’t worry about this, it doesn’t sound very clear. Here’s a simplified explanation!
Using a magnet, dynamic microphones convert sound waves into voltage. Essentially, they work like speakers, but in reverse. In a speaker, electricity vibrates the diaphragm, creating sound waves. On the other hand, a dynamic microphone produces electricity by vibrating its diaphragm. Sound is created by increasing the electricity through a transformer and sending it to the microphone.
Variable capacitance is the principle behind condenser microphones. They are batteries. Magnetic plates behind the diaphragm vibrate in response to sound waves. This creates a boost of voltage which is then sent through a phantom power supply (+48V) to increase it before being sent to your microphone’s output. Since you won’t be able to boost the voltage without this phantom power supply, you won’t get any signal. A condenser can also have a built-in high pass filter, built-in pads, and a switch to change the polar pattern.
Which microphone is most suitable for me?
It’s helpful to know how they work, but when should you pick one over the other? In truth, it depends on what you intend to use. How do dynamic and condenser microphones differ? While mic placement, the type of room (or venue) you’re using them in, and the instruments you’re miking can undoubtedly play a role, if you’re creative, you can do a lot with very little once you understand how they respond to your setup.
Using a dynamic microphone
Due to their low sensitivity and higher gain threshold, dynamic microphones can take a lot of signals without damage. This is why you’ll find them used in many life situations. Furthermore, they’re suitable for things like drums, brass instruments, and pretty much anything loud. Typical uses include:
- Guitar amplifiers
- Loud vocals
- Snare drums and toms
- Brass instruments
Using a condenser microphone
In general, condenser microphones are more sensitive to signal than dynamic microphones, so if your signal is too hot, you can get a lot of distortion. In live situations, they’re sometimes used, but they’re more commonly used in studios, where the tone can be louder and more natural.
Condensers are commonly used for the following applications:
- Bass drums
- Acoustic guitars
- Ambiance (Room)
Know your polar patterns!
How do dynamic and condenser microphones differ? When purchasing a microphone, it’s imperative to consider the polar pattern because how you place it affects the tone. Almost any pattern can be found on a condenser; some have a switch that changes polarity. Dynamic microphones usually have cardioid or supercardioid patterns.