What’s the Difference Between Dynamic and Condenser Microphones?
1.What does a microphone do?
A microphone is used to convert sound waves, which can be created by anything from the human voice to a booming saxophone, into electrical waves that a computer or other recording device can receive and understand.
The way a microphone converts this signal varies depending on the type of microphone.
2.What is a dynamic microphone?
A dynamic microphone is the oldest type of microphone and is thus the most primitive in terms of design.
-Used for: loud sounds, live instruments/ amps, drums
-Pros: cheap, durable, doesn’t need a power source
-Cons: not very sensitive to quiet or high-frequency sounds
In very simplified terms, the sound in a dynamic microphone is created when a sound wave hits a diaphragm (a device usually made of plastic or polyester film used to sense a sound signal) causing it to move.
The diaphragm is attached to a metal coil which is suspended between two magnets. When the diaphragm moves the coil also moves up and down producing a small AC current, mimicking that of the sound wave.
Dynamic microphones are capable of withstanding high sound pressure levels. This makes them ideal for recording loud sounds or for use in a live setting. They are also extremely reasonably priced due to their fairly rudimentary design and they can withstand a lot of wear and tear. This is one of the reasons they are the most frequently used microphone for live performances.
This durability becomes a limitation of dynamic microphones in some situations.
The coil has a certain weight to it and therefore if you make a quiet sound or perhaps a sound of particularly high or low frequency, the coil will not vibrate sufficiently to produce an accurate representation of the sound.
So in a studio, where you aren’t worried about sounds being particularly loud, and where you want to record the intricacies of your vocals. A dynamic microphone may not be the best fit.
And that is when you may need a condenser microphone.
3.What is a condenser microphone?
Unlike dynamic microphones, condenser microphones are capable of capturing those much quieter sounds with a high degree of accuracy.
-Used for: quieter more complex sounds with a greater range of frequencies
-Pros: sensitive, accurate
-Cons: more expensive, more delicate, don’t deal well with very loud sounds
A condenser microphone contains a diaphragm, which is usually made of very thin metal and another piece of metal called a backplate. Electricity is applied to both of these creating a static charge between them.
Once a sound wave hits the diaphragm it vibrates and produces a small electrical current.
As you may have noticed I said that electricity is applied to the diaphragm and backplate. So this means that you need electricity for a condenser microphone to work, whereas you don’t for a dynamic one.
The amount of electricity required ranges from between 9 and 48 volts. For this, you will either need batteries in the microphone itself or something known as PHANTOM POWER!
4.Then, what is PHANTOM POWER?
Phantom power refers to the tiny amount of power needed to make the diaphragm move. This power usually comes from your audio interface or pre-amp. You will usually find a phantom power switch on them like the one below.
What is the difference between small and large diaphragms?
As I explained above the diaphragm is used in the microphone to vibrate when sound waves hit it.
In condenser microphones, you will see a choice between a small diaphragm or a large diaphragm. But what difference does it make?
All you really need to know is that a large diaphragms, due to its size, is better at picking up lower frequencies. Whereas a small diaphragm can more accurately capture higher frequencies
So decide on what you are trying to record before choosing the size. If you mainly want to record vocals or more bass sounds then a large diaphragm is usually best. But if you just want to capture a high pitched flute or violin then a small diaphragm may be what you want.
5.Omnidirectional vs Cardioid
Omnidirectional means the microphone captures sounds from all around it and cardioid only captures sound directly in front of it.
Omnidirectional mics are great when you are looking to get the sound of the instrument/ voice but also the sounds of the room too. If you are recording in a church, for example, you may want the echo sound of the hall and therefore you will want to capture sound waves coming from all angles.
In contrast, a cardioid microphone is used when you only want to record the direct sound of your voice or instrument. This is why you will often see them on a snare drum for example. You just want to capture the sound of the snare and not the sound of all the cymbals and other drum pieces crashing around it.