Dynamic or Condenser? A Tale of 2 Microphones

Dynamic Microphone

Dynamic vs. Condenser Mics

Microphones — both dynamic and condenser — are key components of every PA system and recording studio, but even among sound reinforcement pros there can be considerable disagreement as to which mic is best for which task.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be an audio school graduate to understand the difference between these two most basic types of microphones.

Dynamic Microphones Like it Loud

In dynamic microphones a physical cone acts like a lens to concentrate the incoming sound waves.

The concentrated energy of these sound waves moves the cone and its attached coil of wire back and forth inside a magnetic field. The magnetic field, in turn, induces electricity to flow through the wire to produce an electrical signal which is the microphone’s output.

The electrical signal is analogous to the original sound wave: the voltage and current are proportional to the original sound.

Dynamic microphones are well known for their versatility and their durability, but are not the best choice for reproducing high and low frequencies; dynamic microphones require significant energy to move the coil of wire and therefore loose definition at the extremes.

With the exception of relatively fragile ribbon mics (which deserve an article unto themselves) , dynamic microphones handle loud sound pressure levels with ease, and without the need for separate microphone amps.

For this reason, handheld dynamic microphones are a familiar component of many PA systems.

Condenser Microphones Offer Full-Spectrum Sound

Rather than a vibrating wire coil, condenser microphones have a thin diaphragm and solid back plate which make up an electronic component known as a capacitor.

As the diaphragm vibrates, the distance from the back plate to the diaphragm varies accordingly. This is known as fluctuating capacitance. This fluctuation produces an electrical current, resulting in the signal output.

Condenser mics usually require a power source to boost the current fluctuation to a level that can be easily amplified by a PA system.

This power source can either be internal (batteries) or external (so-called “phantom power,” most frequently provided by the mixing console).

Condenser microphones use diaphragms that are far less massive than those in dynamic mics, and as a result are much more responsive and sensitive to the full sonic spectrum.

For this reason, condenser mics are preferred for full and detailed high end reproduction of unamplified sources, such as cymbals and acoustic instruments.

Open Your Ears to a World of Mic Possibilities

Keep in mind, however, that your ears should always be your guide. Sidestepping conventional wisdom and experimenting with different microphone placements and configurations can unlock a whole world of great sound!

Have more questions about dynamic, condenser, or other microphones? Send us an email or give us a call at 1-800-263-0112 for more sound advice!