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Dynamic Microphone vs Condenser: Which one to Use When

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Dynamic Microphone vs Condenser: Which one to Use When

When it comes to recording crystal-clear audio, it pays to be picky about your choice of mic. Every content creator that works closely with audio, whether they’re a live streamer, podcaster, voice-over artist - you name it, will have their own preferences and favorite mic. 

When you dig a little deeper, the nuanced difference between different types of microphones can start to get a little tricky and make it hard to make what feels like the ‘right’ decision. Actually, when it comes to a microphone’s quality, if you find one that works for you, that’s the most important thing. However, if you’re a stickler for the smaller details or really want to know what you’re talking about, you’re in the right place. This article looks at the key differences between condenser and dynamic mics, explaining why type of mic works best for different applications. So you can walk away knowing exactly which type of mic you should be looking for. 

TL;DR

  • The biggest difference between dynamic and condenser mics is the way they convert sound into electric signals. 
  • There are two types of dynamic mics: ribbon and moving coil mics. 
  • Benefits of dynamic mics include their durability, versatility, and how easy they are to use. 
  • Benefits of condenser mics are their high-audio quality, ability to capture nuanced and high-frequency sounds, and their performance in studio-environments.
  • When comparing condenser vs dynamic mics, the biggest factors are your recording environment and what you’ll be recording. 
  • For loud environments, try the dynamic Shure SM7B.
  • For vocals, try the condenser Neumann U87.
  • For beginners, the condenser Rode NT USB-Mini is a great option.

Key terms 

Before we jump into looking at condenser vs dynamic mics, here are a few key technical terms that relate to microphones: 

Frequency Response 

A mic’s frequency response indicates what sound frequency it is able to reproduce and how it performs within that range. The frequency response of your mic will tell you a lot about how it sounds. 

Polar Patterns

Your mic’s polar pattern tells you how sensitive your mic is to sound coming from different directions. 

Bi-directional 

A bi-directional mic picks up sounds from two directions, generally the front and back of the mic. These kinds of mics work really well for interview setups, for example, because you and your interviewee can sit opposite each other and you’ll still be able to record crystal clear audio. 

Omnidirectional 

Omnidirectional mics are sensitive to sound from all directions. They’ll pick up sound wherever it is coming from around the mic. 

Cardioid

Cardioid mics get their name from their ‘heart’ like shape. Cardioid mics are most sensitive to audio coming from the front of the mic and reject any sound that comes from behind it or from the side. 

Supercardioid 

Supercardioid mics are comparable to cardioid mics but have a far tighter pickup angle with far more focus on sounds from the front and greater rejection of any other sound coming from the back or sides. 

Microphone diaphragm 

A microphone diaphragm is the thin membrane that sits within all types of mics (whether condenser or dynamic). The microphone diaphragm is the component that vibrates or moves when hit by sound waves.  You’ll see mention of large diaphragm and small diaphragm condenser mics. This refers to the difference in size of the membrane and can (minimally) affect the quality of sound reproduction. 

What Is A Dynamic Microphone?

A dynamic microphone is a type of mic that converts sound waves into electrical signals using electromagnetism. 

There are two types of dynamic mics: moving-coil mics and ribbon mics. Although slightly different, they both contain permanent magnets that allow them to work using electromagnetic induction. 

How does a dynamic microphone work? 

In a moving coil mic, a metal coil sits flush to a diaphragm within a magnetic field inside the dynamic mic. When a sound wave hits the mic, it causes the membrane (and thus the coil) to move. Through the phenomenon of electromagnetism, this results in an electric signal. 

A ribbon mic works in much the same way except instead of a coil and membrane, there is a ‘ribbon transducer’. This is essentially a thin piece of aluminum foil that moves when sound waves hit it thus creating an electric signal. 


The Shure SM7B, an example of a dynamic microphone
(Image source: Shure)

What Is A Condenser Microphone?

Condenser mics, also known as ‘capacitor microphones’,  are microphones that have a small conductive membrane or diaphragm fixed in place close to a metal plate. When sound waves hit the diaphragm this causes the distance between it and the metal plate to fluctuate, mirroring the sound waves. This turns the sound into an electric signal. Condenser mics require phantom power to work. 

What are the main differences and similarities between dynamic microphones and condenser microphones?

At the end of the day, both condenser and dynamic mics perform the same function: turning sound waves into electric signals. The biggest objective difference is how they do this. And as we’ve said, if you find a mic that works for you, the likelihood is that it won’t matter too much whether it’s a dynamic or condenser mic. 

That being said, the internal construction and processes of condenser and dynamic mics do result in nuanced differences that make them more or less suitable to certain recording environments. In addition, there are noticeable differences in the durability or sensitivity of condenser vs dynamic microphones.

Example of a condenser microphone, the Audio Technica AT4021 
(Image source: Amazon)

Dynamic Microphone Benefits & Downsides

Now that we know how they work, let’s take a look at what this means in terms of advantages and disadvantages of using a dynamic mic: 

Note: we cover the differences between ribbon and moving coil mics below. 

Benefits of Dynamic Microphones 

  • Durable. Because of their sturdier construction, dynamic mics are more rugged and durable. 
  • Plug & Play. Dynamic mics are often extremely easy to get started with. 
  • Louder environments. Dynamic mics are well equipped for loud recording environments including high sound pressure levels. 
  • No need for external power. Dynamic mics don’t require phantom or external power to work. 
  • Affordable. Dynamic mics are often cheaper than condenser mics (although this is not always the case). 
  • More forgiving. Dynamic mics will be more forgiving when it comes to background noise, whereas condenser mics tend to pick up on every single detail. 
  • All-rounder. Dynamic mics are versatile and perform well in a variety of applications. 

Downsides of Dynamic Microphones 

  • Don’t perform as well with high-frequency sounds. Dynamic mics aren’t as suitable for recording high-frequency sounds. 
  • Less sensitive. Dynamic mics also offer a lower level of sensitivity than condenser mics. 

Ribbon Microphones vs Moving Coil Microphones 

Generally speaking, ribbon mics are seen to offer better and higher-fidelity sound reproduction than coil microphones. This is because the ribbon is comparatively lighter and therefore more sensitive than a metal coil. 

Moving coil mics are typically used for on-stage recordings because of how durable they are. 

Condenser Microphone Benefits & Downsides

Benefits of Condenser Microphones 

  • Superb sound quality. Given the low mass of a condenser mic’s diaphragm, means it can produce nuanced and high-quality sound quality. 
  • Performs well with vocals and sounds at higher frequencies. The high sensitivity of a condenser mic means that it performs very well with high-frequency sound and vocals. 

Downsides of Condenser Microphones 

  • Delicate and sensitive. Because of their delicate construction, condenser mics are not as durable as dynamic mics. 
  • Potential self-noise. Some condenser mics suffer from self-noise which could negatively impact your recording. 
  • Require external power source. To use a condenser mic, you’ll need an external power supply.  
  • Work best in studio environments. Though this isn’t necessarily a ‘downside’, it does mean that condenser mics are less versatile. 

Condenser Vs Dynamic Mic – Which One To Use When

As we’ve seen, on balance, both condenser and dynamic mics have particular advantages and disadvantages. There isn’t a significantly ‘superior’ option, rather only better suitability for different applications. Ultimately, the choice comes down to what works for you and what your setup looks like. In addition, the weigh up between dynamic vs condenser isn’t the only factor to take into consideration. Make sure to look at budget, polar pattern, frequency response, and amongst other things when choosing your mic. 

You can learn more about other considerations in our guide to choosing a podcast microphone

For recording in loud environments 

If you’re going to be recording in a loud environment with vocals and instrumentals such as drums, then take a look at the Shure SM7B, a dynamic microphone. 

Shure SM7B 

  • Price: $399.00 
  • Type: Dynamic 
  • Cardioid Pattern: Cardioid 
  • Frequency response: 50Hz to 20kHz 

Good for loud vocals and instruments. The Shure SM7B is a large-diaphragm mic meaning it can handle loud environments without being too severely impacted by background noise. 

For field recording 

A condenser mic that is able to pick up superb and detailed audio even in the most demanding of environments is exactly what you need for field recording: 

Audio Technica AT4021 

  • Price: $349.00 
  • Type: Condenser 
  • Cardioid Pattern: Cardioid 
  • Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz 

Good for field recording because of its ability to pick up delicate, quiet and nuanced soundscapes. 

Sennheiser MKH 416- P48U3 

  • Price: $999.00 
  • Type: Condenser 
  • Cardioid Pattern: Supercardioid 
  • Frequency response: 40Hz to 20kHz 

Good for field recording because of its impeccable sensitivity and low levels of self-noise. 

For vocals 

When it comes to vocals, there are so many options and every vocalist will have their own personal preference. As we saw earlier, dynamic mics offer great versatility and work really well for general vocal needs such as podcasting. By contrast, condenser mics produce high-quality and high-clarity sound that would suit professional voice over artists well - or just content creators who are a real stickler for quality. 

Neumann U87

  • Price: $3,650.00 
  • Type: Condenser 
  • Cardioid Pattern: Cardioid, Omnidirectional and Figure-8 Polar Patterns 
  • Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz 

Good for industry professionals with a serious budget. Since the Neumann U87’s sound quality really can’t be beaten, it’s not hard to see why this mic is an industry favorite. 

Rode PodMic

  • Price: $99.00
  • Type: Dynamic  
  • Cardioid Pattern: Cardioid 
  • Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz

Good for podcasters, live streamers, and everyone looking to record good quality vocals without breaking the bank. 

For instrumentals 

Whether you’re recording guitar amps, vocals or acoustics, you’ll need a mic that’s capable of picking up the nuance of your chosen instrumental. 

Audio Technica AT2020 

  • Price: $99.00
  • Type: Condenser  
  • Cardioid Pattern: Cardioid 
  • Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz 

Good for general instrumentals and musicians looking to capture accurate and reliable recordings. 

sE Electronics sE X1R Ribbon Mic 

  • Price: $229.00
  • Type: Ribbon, dynamic mic   
  • Cardioid Pattern: Figure-8 
  • Frequency response: 20Hz to 16kHz 

Good for recording with guitars, drum overheads, brass, woodwinds, strings and more. 

For live streaming & gaming 

If you’re live streaming, you want a plug and play mic that is easy to use without sacrificing good sound quality. 

HyperX Quadcast S 

  • Price: $159.99
  • Type: USB, condenser 
  • Cardioid Pattern: Stereo, Omnidirectional, Cardioid, Bidirectional 
  • Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz 

Good for live streamers and gamers who want a mic that combines good audio with stylish aesthetics. The HyperX Quadcast has unique built-in RGB lighting that you can customize to match your recording space. In addition, the 4 different polar patterns make this a highly adaptable mic. 

Elgato Wave 3 

  • Price: $145.09 
  • Type: USB, condenser 
  • Cardioid Pattern: Unidirectional 
  • Frequency response: 70Hz to 20kHz 

Good for live streamers looking for a simple plug and play microphone that is designed specifically for content creators. 

For versatility 

Blue Yeti

  • Price: $129.99 
  • Type: USB, condenser 
  • Cardioid Pattern: Cardioid, Bidirectional, Omnidirectional, Stereo 
  • Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz 

Good for recording directly from your computer, whether you’re live streaming, recording a podcast, or recording a voice over. 

Shure MV7 

  • Price: $249.00 
  • Type: USB/XLR Dynamic Mics 
  • Cardioid Pattern: Unidirectional 
  • Frequency response: 50Hz to 16kHz 

Good for a range of applications, designed to be a high-quality broadcast microphone, the Shure MV7 gives you a great deal of flexibility with the USB and XLR connectivity. 

For beginners

Rode NT-USB Mini 

  • Price: $99.00 
  • Type: USB condenser mic 
  • Cardioid Pattern: Cardioid 
  • Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz 

Good for beginners looking for a plug and play mic that offers great audio quality. 

FAQs

How do you make a dynamic microphone sound like a condenser?

Firstly, fundamentally dynamic and condenser mics work in completely different ways. In addition, every single mic produces a unique sound quality and scape. For this reason, it’s advisable to focus on finding a mic that produces sound quality that matches your expectations rather than getting bogged down in comparing dynamic and condenser mics. 

How does a dynamic microphone register sound?

A dynamic mic converts sound into electric signals using electromagnetism. Read above for a more in depth explanation. 

Why do singers put their mouth on the microphone?

Some singers put their mouths on the mic to increase the volume of their voice as picked up by the mic. Plus, when recording in a live environment since there tends to be a lot of background noise, making sure they’re as close to the mic as possible tries to mitigate against the competing sounds around them. 

Do microphones have autotune?

Autotune isn’t actually an integral feature of any microphone. Instead, there’s something called an autotune mic controller. This is an added function of some mics that effectively autotune your voice as you speak or sing into the mic. 

Do dynamic microphones require power?

Unlike condenser mics, dynamic mics don’t require an external power source to work. That’s why they’re often referred to as ‘plug and play’ mics. 

Are shotgun mic dynamic or condenser?

Shotgun mics can be either dynamic or condenser. 

Does a condenser mic make you sound better?

The answer to this question is always going to be fairly subjective. It depends what kind of sound quality you’re looking for and what kind of sound you’re recording. 

Are dynamic microphones good for recording?

Yes, depending on your specific recording needs and environment. Dynamic mics offer incredible versatility and flexibility, as well as high-quality sound. 

What are the three types of microphones?

You’ll mostly hear about dynamic vs condenser mics. As we’ve seen you can break dynamic mics down further into ribbon and moving coil mics. However, there are lots of other different ways of differentiating microphones. For example, you might see some people comparing microphones based on polar patterns. 

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