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Dynamic vs. Condenser Mics: A Beginner’s Introduction

Whether you’re new to the world of music production and recording or a seasoned veteran of studio engineering, you’ll realize pretty quickly that there are multiple types of microphones. And people have preferences regarding these different types when it comes to recording certain things. 

Some singers have specific microphones that they travel with because it matches their voice just the way they like it, and every microphone makes a difference in how engineers have to mix the vocals. Recording studios might have a whole microphone closet, and you get the opportunity to experiment. 

Among these different types of microphones are two in particular that are generally most commonly used in the industry: Condenser and Dynamic. 

Deciding which one is better depends a lot on what you’re recording, what you’re recording with, and where you’re recording. 

What is a Dynamic Microphone?

To understand the differences between dynamic and condenser microphones, we’ll start with what makes them unique.

Without getting too much into the mechanics, a dynamic microphone essentially consists of a small diaphragm made up of plastic or film that’s connected to a metal coil, floating between two magnets. 

When the diaphragm absorbs sound waves floating through the air, it moves back and forth, translating the physical sounds into digital frequencies once it hits the computer. Think of how a speaker moves back and forth to produce sounds–dynamic microphones work in the same way but in the opposite direction. 

Dynamic microphones are pretty simple internally compared to condenser microphones, making them so rugged and durable. They’re frequently used in live settings because of this. 

What is a Condenser Microphone?

The condenser microphone is a similar construct initially. There’s still a diaphragm that the sound waves hit and move, but it’s metal instead of plastic, and instead of magnets, these microphones use a small amount of electricity to suspend the diaphragm. 

Sound waves hit and vibrate the diaphragm, but instead of the vibration of the plate recording the sound directly, it produces a small electrical pattern that is then transformed into an audio signal. 

Benefits of a Condenser

Condenser microphones are the lords of the studio. They have many benefits and are generally considered great microphones for almost anything you want to record.

High Detail

Condenser microphones tend to have a noticeably higher and more flat frequency response than dynamic microphones. Their recording quality attains a much sharper sound. Condenser microphones are able to pick up those higher frequencies and capture every little detail of whatever you’re recording. 

Because of this, condenser microphones are great for recording studio vocals, drum overheads, and string instruments with small intricacies, bringing the instrument to life on the record. 

Wide Dynamic Range

Condenser microphones are more sensitive on the frequency spectrum, but they also have a wider dynamic range. While they aren’t always the best pick for particularly loud instruments, they’re great at capturing soft and subtle noises. 

Not to say that condenser microphones can’t record loud sources; you can always turn down the gain. But recording every minute detail in the range of volume of your audio source is where condenser microphones shine. This can make compressing the vocals a little bit more complicated, but if you master the mixing process, then it adds an outstanding level of detail to your tracks. 

Drawbacks of a Condenser

As powerful as condenser microphones are, they do have some drawbacks.

They Require Phantom Power

If you have a studio and an interface, this isn’t a big deal. But since condenser microphones use electricity to suspend the diaphragm, they require phantom power, typically 48 volts. 

This means that they can be a little difficult to use in a mobile sense. Additionally, if your interface has limited input channels that only have phantom on or off settings, compared to individual channel control, you might be stuck with either only using condensers or only using dynamics. 

They are Fragile

Condenser microphones have a fairly intricate system working within them, which means they need to be handled with care. It might be easier than you think to damage a condenser, whether you drop it or overload the diaphragm by recording something that was too loud. 

While the sound they can capture is great, they really don’t like rugged activity. 

They are Expensive

You can definitely buy a reasonably priced condenser microphone, but it isn’t until you get at least to the $300 range that they really start to stand out as great pieces of equipment–and they only go up from there. 

A reliable, dynamic microphone like the SM50 won’t get you the same crisp recordings, but you’d only have to spend $100 to get a good, solid microphone. 

Benefits of a Dynamic Microphone

Dynamic microphones are great in the right circumstances. There are just some things the condenser microphones can’t do, and those situations are generally where dynamics can shine. 

They Don’t Always Require an Interface

If you’re a bedroom producer or just starting your collection of devices, you might be wondering if you have to get an interface. They can be pricey, and it’s another piece of equipment you have to learn and lug around with you. 

Dynamic microphones do come with XLR outputs, but you also have the option of USB microphones. These microphones plug straight into your computer, no interface required. Because dynamic microphones don’t need phantom power, they don’t need that extra step. While USB microphones are definitely a small step down in quality, their convenience can be major for producers working with a small setup. 

They are Made of Tough Material

Dynamic microphones are built like small tanks. You generally see vocalists with an SM58 on stage, swinging it around, bopping it on the floor, and just giving everything they got into the front end of it. 

There are some dynamics you wouldn’t want to whip onto the floor, but generally speaking, they’re extremely durable, tough microphones that can take a beating. This makes them great for recording outside or in unruly conditions. 

They are Affordable

As we mentioned, condenser microphones can be a little spendy. While you can definitely drop several hundred dollars on a dynamic microphone as well, you can get a reliable mic for under $200.

Drawbacks of a Dynamic

Unfortunately, neither of the microphones is always going to be perfect. 

Less Crispiness

Dynamic microphones tend to have a bit of a roll-off on the high end of their frequency response. While this can be helpful sometimes, like in live conditions where you don’t want feedback being an issue, this can make their sound a bit muffled when generally recording. 

Less Dynamic Range

Dynamic microphones are great for recording loud things, but that’s because they have significantly less dynamic range than their condenser counterparts. 

Dynamics just won’t get all the details in volume from your audio source, creating a potentially flat-sounding recording. 

The Takeaway

Producers and artists will have microphones that they like and microphones that they don’t. The truth is that condensers and dynamics both have their moments to shine and situations in which they will definitely falter. One isn’t particularly better than the other because every microphone has its strengths and weaknesses. 

If you can experiment with microphones and find the one that fits you and your style best, then that’s always the best route to go. Otherwise, do your research and try to listen as much as you can to find the one that will best suit your needs. A microphone is one of the essentials to your music production career, so finding the right one is an important decision. 

 

Sources:

Complete Guide To Microphone Frequency Response (With Mic Examples) | MyNewMicrophone.com

What Is An Audio Interface and Do You Need It? | MI.edu

How the SM58® Survives the World’s Toughest Tests | Shure.com

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