Dynamic vs Condenser Microphones

Dynamic and condenser microphones are two of the most popular types of mics for live and studio use. They are uniquely suited for different setups due to their design, differing levels of fragility, and sensitivity to sound.

Dynamic vs Condenser Microphones – Differences

 DynamicCondenser
SoundGreat for loud sounds and stage performances.Captures a much greater depth of sound, including higher frequencies. Very useful for vocals.
Best forLive gigs, studio, noisy environments (they don’t pick up as much background noise)Studios with good acoustic treatment.
Live gigs in certain situations (e.g. overhead drum mics)
InstrumentsDrums, guitar, live vocals.Vocals, stringed instruments, wind instruments, overhead drum mics (e.g. capturing cymbal sound)
BuildVery ruggedFragile (i.e. don’t drop them!)
ConsNot very good at picking up subtle or delicate sounds.
Very solid. They can handle being dropped much better than condenser mics.
Not very good at dealing with loud volumes.
They can pick up a lot of background noise.
CostMore affordableMore expensive
PowerNo power requiredRequires phantom power from Mixer or Audio interface.
Cable typeXLR (or USB)XLR (or USB)

What Is a Dynamic Microphone?

Dynamic microphones are one of the earliest designs of microphones. If you take the working principle of a loudspeaker and reserve it, that’s exactly how dynamic microphones work. They are essentially moving-coil mics that use electromagnetic induction to convert a sound wave into an electrical signal.

They generally need XLR connectors (cables). However, some dynamic microphones, like the Shure MV7 and Audio Technica ATR2100x, have USB connections. Overall, they are cheaper compared to condenser microphones, falling within the price range of $50 to $500+.

What Are Dynamic Mics Best For?

Live Performance

Dynamic mics are best for concerts and performances as they are built like a tank and are highly moisture resistant. They are also highly resistant to feedback, making them ideal for stage use.

Untreated Home Studios

They can be an excellent choice for home studios that don’t have any acoustic treatment as they do not pick up background sounds. You can also use them to record atypically loud vocals (think growling or screaming) in genres like metal.

Loud Sounds

Even professional studios use Shure SM57 – the industry standard – to record the parts of a drum kit and guitar amplifiers. The lower output and sensitivity of dynamic mics are ideal for capturing any loud signals i.e., recording a snare drum in a rock or metal song.

How Dynamic Mics Work

Their inner mechanism involves a diaphragm with a metal coil between the magnetic field of two magnets. In other words, when the sound wave hits the voice coil, the diaphragm, and the two magnets, it is converted into an electrical signal.

When you sing into the mic, your voice (sound waves) go through the windscreen and hit the diaphragm, causing the coil to move. Its movement in the magnetic field creates an AC that expresses the sound wave.

Popular Dynamic Mics

The Shure SM58 and SM57 are among the most popular dynamic microphones used in live performances and recording studios. While the SM58 is more common for vocal use, the SM57 is a staple for recording instruments such as the acoustic guitar and drum snare.

Shure SM7B is another dynamic stalwart that is the most widely used microphone for podcasting and streaming. It’s famous for its rich “broadcast tone Other popular dynamic microphones include the Sennheiser MD421, Electrovoice RE20, and Audio Technica ATR2100.

What Is a Condenser Microphone?

Condenser microphones are electrostatic devices. They can be divided into two subtypes – large-diaphragm condensers (LDC) and small diaphragm or pencil condensers (SDC). Condensers have a better transient response and are more accurate and sensitive compared to dynamic microphones. Their price can range from $100 to $1000+.

Like dynamic microphones, they generally use XLR connectors (cables). USB-condensers are an exception to this. USB condensers, like the Blue Yeti, can be plugged directly into a computer or smartphone without the need for an interface or XLR cable.

Most entry-level condensers have a single capsule with a standard cardioid pattern. However, higher models can have multiple pickup patterns based on the capsule present. This adds to the cost of the microphone but makes it more versatile.

What Is Phantom Power?

Condenser microphones require external power. Phantom power refers to an amplification method to deliver direct current to the active electronics of a microphone through a balanced XLR cable. It eliminates the need for an external power supply.

It is called “phantom” because it is embedded in pins 2 and 3 of an XLR cable and is essentially “invisible Audio interfaces usually have phantom power, designated as P48 or +48, which can be toggled on or off with a dedicated button.

What Are Condenser Mics Best For?

Condenser microphones are excellent at capturing the richness of soft tones or delicate sounds without compromising the accuracy. This makes them ideal for recording acoustic guitars or other string and wind instruments.

How Condenser Mics Work

Condensers feature a thin metal diaphragm with another slim “backplate”, also a strip of metal, that have a static charge when electricity is applied to them. When you play an instrument or sing, the sound waves make the diaphragm vibrate and create a current.

The electricity is provided through phantom power, which is why condensers need anything in the range of 9 to 48V of phantom power, usually supplied by an audio interface (or soundcard). However, some condenser microphones can also be powered by batteries.

Popular Condenser Mics

The Rode NT5, Audio Technica AT202, and MXL990 are some examples of entry-to-mid level condenser microphones. The Neumann TLM 67, AKG C414, and Sony C-100 are among the mid-market to premium microphones found in studios.

The multi-pattern TLM 67 is popularly used to record vocals in studios. It is a versatile microphone that is designed to emulate the U 67 mic from the 60s. Similarly, the Rode NT5 is a pencil condenser frequently used as an overhead mic to record drums in the studio.

Condenser vs. Dynamic Microphones

A dynamic microphone is generally a better choice for live performances and concerts. They can be used at home or in a studio if the room doesn’t have good acoustics or isn’t properly sound isolated.

Condensers, on the other hand, do a stellar job at recording quiet, delicate, and nuanced sounds – especially those with rich high frequencies. They are designed to accurately pick up a wider range of frequencies.

At the same time, they need 12-48V phantom power and are significantly more expensive than dynamic mics. Due to their high sensitivity, they don’t handle loud sounds – like drums, cranked-up guitar amps – very well.

Microphone Polar Patterns

Polar patterns (also called pickup patterns) specify which direction(s) a microphone will pick up sounds from. Most mics are unidirectional with a heart-shaped pattern that pick up focused sound from a single source in front of them.

Omnidirectional (perfect sphere), cardioid (heart-shaped), and bidirectional (figure of 8) are the most common polar patterns in condenser microphones. Based on the model, they may have one or more of these.

Each pattern is useful and effective in certain contexts. For instance, cardioid patterns (found on most dynamic mics) block sounds from all other directions. They will only pick up the vocals. This makes them ideal for live performances and recording in untreated rooms.

USB vs. XLR Microphones

The main difference between USB and XLR mics is the way they interface to devices. Each type has similar inner elements, but XLR microphones are generally considered more reliable and of better quality.

XLR mics offer more control in level-setting and are preferred in professional setups. XLR cables have three pins (or prongs). They connect the microphone to an interface or mixer. Needless to say, a good interface helps you sculpt the tone and set the levels.

The main draw of USB microphones is that they are cheaper and more convenient. You can simply plug them into your laptop and hit record. This may save you the hassles of extra equipment, but cheap USB microphones are a case of “you get what you pay for

They don’t need a mixer, preamp, or interface to work. These factors also reduce the overall cost of a rig, but the convenience comes at the cost of quality. A USB microphone circuit isn’t as capable as an audio interface at analog-to-digital signal conversion.

Ultimately, both USB and XLR mics are capable of getting the job done. While XLR mics are superior, there are justifiable scenarios when a USB might be a better option. Your budget, needs, and setup will play a significant role in deciding which one is the right choice.

Summary

Before selecting the right model, it is important to identify if a dynamic or condenser microphone is better suited for the job. There are other options, like ribbon and tube microphones, but dynamic microphones and condensers are the most commonly used types on stage or in the studio.

I hope this article has helped you understand each type’s different elements, suitability, and capabilities. Now that you have this down, you can take the next step to find the right model for your needs.

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