What’s The Difference Between Dynamic And Condenser Microphones?

A microphone transforms sound waves like those created by a human voice singing or an acoustic guitar into an analog AC signal. In the world of microphones, there are two main categories: dynamic and condenser. So, what’s the difference between dynamic and condenser microphones?

A dynamic microphone converts sound into an electrical signal using an electromagnet (A wire wrapped around a magnet). In contrast, a condenser microphone uses a capacitor (two metal plates separated by air) to create the electrical signal.

Both of these types of microphones can be used for recording or live performances. Still, they both have very different characteristics that make them better suited to specific applications than others.

This article will discuss these two types of mics in-depth and help you make an informed decision about which one to purchase for your studio or home recording setup.

If you would like to learn about USB Microphones, both dynamic and condenser, check out my article on the topic: USB Microphones 101: A Comprehensive Overview

Various Microphones

What Is A Condenser Microphone?

Condenser is an old term that means capacitor. A capacitor is an electrical device that stores energy in an electrostatic field. Both capacitors and condensers are the same things from an electrical standpoint. 

The term “condenser” is no longer used in engineering, but it is still utilized to describe microphones that use a capacitor to detect acoustic energy.

How Condenser Microphones Work

A condenser microphone consists of an electrically charged backplate, called the “diaphragm” or “backplate,” which produces voltage variations in response to changes in air pressure from sound waves that reach it.

A capacitor consists of two conductive plates near each other. In the condenser microphone, one of these plates serves as the diaphragm. The material of this metal plate is a very thin, light, and malleable material.

The diaphragm is the part of a microphone that vibrates when it is hit with a sound wave.

When the diaphragm of a condenser microphone, one of the metal plates of the capacitor, is moved, it causes the distance between the plates to change, which changes the capacitance. The voltage across the capacitor changes in response to the capacitance’s fluctuations. The microphone’s signal output is the voltage difference.

To detect this change in capacitance, a bias voltage is required across the capacitor. Therefore, a condenser microphone needs to be powered. This is known as ‘phantom power’ in the industry. Hence, a condenser microphone can’t be connected to a speaker without being powered. 

What Is A Condenser Microphone Used For?

Condenser microphones tend to be more sensitive and responsive than dynamic microphones, making them helpful in capturing subtle nuances and intricate detail. A condenser microphone is not always ideal for high sound pressure work as its high sensitivity can cause overload distortion in some mixers and preamps.

Large diaphragm condenser microphones are often used for recording in the studio, and in particular, vocals. Small diaphragm condenser mics work well with acoustic instruments and ensemble groups. They can be used for live sound and in the studio.

A condenser microphone is sensitive to sound vibrations and is suitable for areas where a dynamic microphone would be too insensitive and would not pick up subtle details and sound nuances well enough.

Condenser microphones are not only sensitive to sound. They are more sensitive to being bumped or dropped. Since it is very sensitive, a condenser mic must be handled carefully, or it could easily be damaged. This makes working with them more difficult than dynamic microphones, which are more rugged.

What Is A Dynamic Microphone?

A dynamic microphone is a type of microphone that converts sound into an electrical signal using a coil of wire that moves around in a magnetic field. This coil of wire is attached to the diaphragm, which allows it to move when exposed to vibrations from sound waves.

A dynamic microphone uses a diaphragm, like a condenser microphone, but instead of having an electrically charged backplate, the diaphragm uses the principles of electromagnetics. As vibrations from sound waves reach the diaphragm, they cause changes in the magnetic field and induce an electric current within the coil of wire suspended in the magnetic field.

What Is A Dynamic Microphone Used For?

A dynamic microphone is more rugged than a condenser mic, which makes it appropriate for live stage use or anywhere that you are likely to encounter high sound pressure levels.

Dynamic microphones are commonly used on stage and for live performances because they are pretty sturdy and do not require external power. Dynamic microphones are also good studio mics for loud instruments.

Dynamic microphones are suitable for recording things like drums, brass instruments, and when mic’ing amplifiers.

A dynamic microphone is a type of microphone that is used for a variety of purposes. If you are not using a microphone in the studio, you are likely using a dynamic microphone.

Dynamic microphones are typically used for speeches or singing performances because they need no power source and can handle louder volumes. Dynamic Microphones are also commonly used in front of guitar amplifiers.

Dynamic microphones are often used as snare drum mics because they can handle loud noises, and their increased durability allows them to be hit by drumsticks without causing any damage.

One of the most popular dynamic microphones of all time is the Shure SM58. It is probably the most versatile microphone in existence and is used by everyone, from touring professionals to garage bands.

There’s a reason it’s so popular: It’s not only incredibly rugged and reliable, but also it sounds excellent. It has a favorable frequency response for vocalists.

Are Condenser Mics Better Than Dynamic?

“What are the differences between condenser and dynamic mics? Which is better for my application?” A common question in any audio-related forum, these two questions are often asked by newcomers to audio production. I’ve already answered the question of what’s the difference between them, but is one better than the other?

Condenser microphones are better for recording quality sound with more natural sounding details. Dynamic mics are better for many live situations and are good studio mics for loud instruments like drums, amps, and brass.

Condenser microphones have the widest frequency response and the best transient response.

Transients, in this case, are fast bursts of sound energy. For example, hitting a drum or the “pick” of an acoustic guitar).

Secondly, condenser microphones usually offer much higher sensitivity and lower noise than dynamic microphones. Microphone sensitivity is measured in mV/Pa, which stands for millivolts per pascal. This is a measure of the output voltage of the microphone in mV (millivolts) using an input of 1kHz at 94dB SPL (sound pressure level) or 1 Pa (pascal).

This measurement is a useful standard for comparing the output levels of different microphones. A higher sensitivity number means the mic’s output is hotter, offering greater voltage output for an identical input signal.

Condenser mics are more sensitive, resulting in a lower signal-to-noise ratio.

Here are some output voltage levels for a few popular microphones, which are a direct result of how sensitive the microphone is.

Dynamic Mics:

  • AEA R84: 2.5mV/Pa
  • Royer R-121: 3.1mV/Pa
  • Shure SM7B: 1.12mV/Pa

Condenser Mics:

  • RODE NT1-A: 13.7mV/Pa
  • Manley Reference Cardioid: 17mV/Pa
  • AKG C414 XLII: 23mV/Pa

As you can see, sensitivities for condenser mics are much higher.

What Is Better For Streaming Or A Podcast: A Dynamic Or Condenser Microphone?

There are a variety of microphones available on the market, and it can be challenging to decide which one is best for your unique situation. We often get asked whether it’s better to purchase a dynamic or condenser microphone.

In general, Dynamic microphones are better for streaming and podcasting if you’re not in a recording studio. Dynamic microphones pick up less background noise and are not as easily damaged.

Dynamic microphones record a narrower range of frequencies so that the sound will be a little less full. Because they can record less ambient noise, you’ll have to be very close to the microphone. They are also more suitable for noisy recording settings because of these characteristics.

If you want a more immersive podcast, consider investing in a condenser microphone. That said, it’s essential to know that condenser microphones work in an entirely different way, as described above.

Condenser microphones tend to pick up a lot of background noise. To get the most out of the higher-quality sound, you’ll need a quiet recording environment. Condenser mics are a lot more delicate, making them unsuitable for travel in a bag that is frequently banged around.

The second disadvantage is that condenser microphones require external power. This is supplied via phantom power, provided by either a mixer, audio interface, or digital recorder.

The microphone is powered by the console it is connected to; a mixer, audio interface, or digital recorder. This type of power supply is called phantom power.

Dynamic Vs Condenser For Gaming

In general, Dynamic microphones are better for recording game commentary if you’re not in a recording studio. Dynamic microphones pick up less background noise and are not as easily damaged.

It is also dependent on the environment in which you’ll be recording.  Dynamic microphones will sound great but require you to be more diligent with how you move your head and where the mic is positioned when playing games.

Condenser microphones have the benefit of allowing you to move about more freely while you game, plus they can often catch a bit more detail in the sound. The disadvantage is that they will hear noises from all around just as well.

The environment in which you record has a much more significant impact on the quality of your voice when using a condenser microphone than a dynamic microphone.

In Summary

The difference between dynamic and condenser microphones comes down to the environment in which you’ll be recording. 

Many professionals in the audio industry will tell you that condenser mics are better for recording quality sound with more natural-sounding details.

Dynamic microphones, on the other hand, are often used in front of guitar amplifiers because they can handle loud noises. 

The Shure SM58 is a popular dynamic microphone known as “the workhorse” by most professional musicians due to its ruggedness and reliability– it’s perfect for touring professionals who need reliable equipment day after day.

If you’re going to be using the microphone live, dynamics might be best; otherwise, a condenser mic would likely suit your needs better. 

Condenser microphones are usually mics with the widest frequency response and the best transient response, while dynamic mics are more suited for loud environments.

Dynamic mics will suit your needs when streaming or podcasting, but they do require a little more care when it comes to handling because of their sensitivity. Condenser mics provide an immersive sound quality for gaming commentary, but you need a quiet space to get the most out of them.

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