Microphones are the topic of a heated debate which has managed to divide people into two camps. As you have probably guessed it, this debate revolves around dynamic VS condenser microphones. Today we are going to take a closer look at each of these two categories of microphones, and show you that the gap between them isn’t that severe as some paint it to be. Once you understand what makes a dynamic mic tick compared to a condenser one, you will realize that one isn’t necessarily better than the other. Rather, each type of microphone has its own range of application. Let’s jump right in.
Dynamic microphones are the younger of the two types, and are considered to be more robust. The term dynamic is a bit too loose if you want to properly describe these mics, but it is widespread to a point where it almost became a synonym. Accurate term to use would be a moving coil microphone, as ribbon mics also belong to the dynamic range.
The way dynamic, or moving coil microphones work is very different to that of a condenser. Moving coil models use a diaphragm that is attached to a coil, where the coil is surrounded by magnets. As the sound engages the diaphragm, the resulting mechanical motion is transferred to the coil. Next thing that happens is that magnets surrounding the coil translate that mechanical motion into an electrical signal. Aside from being a much simpler and elegant solution compared to condensers, a moving coil microphone is also capable of sustaining higher SPL values. Additionally, their simple architecture makes them both robust and cheap to manufacture.
Despite what most people say, dynamic mics can be used in a wide range of situations. They are mostly related to stage work because of the things we have just talked about. However, a moving coil mics are also used in studio environments, live broadcast applications and more.
Generally speaking, a moving coil microphone is the tool of choice when you need to get transparency in adverse conditions. For example, recording various amplifiers where you have high sound pressure levels warrants a decent dynamic microphone. On the other hand, live stage use in the open, where things like humidity, temperature and other environmental factors are present, a moving coil will be much better than a condenser. Lastly, there is the matter of price. Dynamic segment of the market is generally more affordable and allows you to get an extremely refined model at a fairly decent price.
The other side of the ring is where we find condenser microphones.. Condensers have been around for a while, and are considered to deliver a more organic performance. Compared to moving coil microphones, condenser type is exponentially more complex in nature. A condenser works by having a thing diaphragm stretched very near a metal back plate. As sound hits the diaphragm and moves, it changes the capacitance between itself and the back plate. Consequently, that capacitance is translated into an electrical signal.
The problem with this solution is that it requires external power in order to bring that electrical signal to a level modern audio gear can read. In other words, condensers tend to be complicated. Additional complexity means that making a microphone of this type costs more, thus the end product comes with a higher price tag. However, all of that is worth it when you consider what kind of performance you can get from these microphones.
Condensers are the preferred choice of professionals when it comes to recording voice and select acoustic instruments. You will most often find them in a studio environment due to their somewhat delicate nature. With that said, condensers have been used in live settings such as closed concert halls and similar. You wouldn’t really want to use them outside where they are exposed to elements, though.
In terms of performance, condenser mics tend to add this very organic vibe to the sound, which works incredibly well with vocals. The amount of detail and nuance you can capture with a condenser is hard to achieve with any other type of microphone. You will often hear people talking about mid range warmth or warmth in general. Well, that is what differentiates great recordings from decent ones. Condensers are heavy, large and expensive, but they absolutely have their place.
Best way to know which of the two types of microphones we have talked about today is going to work for you, is to lay down your intended use and budget. If your plan is to mainly focus on vocals, a condenser could be a good choice. If you want to do a little bit of everything, a dynamic unit would probably be more flexible. Either way, if you are serious about recording music, you will end up having few of both. Most people start with moving coil handhelds because of how affordable they are. The benefit of taking this approach is that you can really learn about recording sound without worrying too much about the mic. On top of that, sharpening your skills on a decent dynamic mic will allow you to fully appreciate the depth of a good condenser later on.
If there is one thing you should take away after reading this short guide, it is that a condenser isn’t necessarily better than a dynamic mic, or vice versa. Instead, both of these microphones are tools used by a professional to achieve certain results. It is similar to comparing nails and screws. Both are designed to attach pieces of wood together, but they do it in a slightly different way. At the end of the day, every single microphone is unique in itself. If you are just starting out, don’t get yourself too involved in choosing sides. Get a microphone that is available at the moment and go to work.