If you are just starting out with recording music at home, you might be wondering what are the differences between a dynamic and condenser mic and which one you should get.
Generally speaking, condenser microphones are better at recording high frequency sounds such as vocals and acoustic instruments. Dynamic microphones, on the other hand, are better at capturing lower frequencies and louder sounds such as loud vocals, drums and guitar amps.
Condenser mics require phantom power to drive their internal active circuitry to operate while dynamic mics do not. This means that if you intend to use a condenser mic, you will need a microphone preamp which is often included within an audio interface (most audio interfaces will provide +48V of phantom power).
Which type of microphone you should get ultimately depends on what kind of music you intend to record.
What is a condenser mic?
A condenser mic uses a condenser capsule that is constructed with a thin diaphragm in close proximity to a metal plate. When sound hits the diaphragm, the diaphragm moves back and forth in close proximity to the solid backplate and creates soundwaves. Because the signal strength of capsule is very weak, it requires phantom power to boost the signal current so that it can be picked up by your recording equipment.
With that said, because the diaphragm of the condenser mic is very low mass, it captures the sound waves more accurate and is more sensitive to external sounds. This allows condenser mics to pick up a lot of details during recording sessions and offer much higher sensitivity as compared to dynamic mics.
If you are recording vocals or acoustic guitar, a condenser mic would be able to pick up subtle nuances in your voice and the sparkle in an acoustic guitar, such as the plucking of the strings and subtle vibrations of the guitar strings – which adds a lot of depth and substance to your music recording.
A condenser mic like the Neumann TLM 103 Condenser mic are regarded as some of the best condenser mics in the recording industry that delivers crystal clear and accurate sound, particularly for vocals. Because of its level of sensitivity, this microphone can also capture every single detail inside a quiet room or recording studio, making it great for acoustic guitars or any high-frequency instruments.
What is a dynamic mic?
A dynamic microphone converts sound waves into electric signal using a moving coil that is attached to the back of a membrane. When sound hits a dynamic microphone, the membrane and moving coil move to the rhythm of the sound and produces an electric signal.
Compared to condenser mics, the moving coil inside the dynamic mic is sturdy and does not require phantom power to operate. This means that dynamic mics are much better at capturing loud sounds or higher sound pressure levels without distorting. However, they tend to capture less acoustic detail due to the nature of the moving coil inside the microphone, making them great for loud vocals or live performances where it will capture less ambient noise.
The Shure SM58LCs are the classic favorite dynamic microphones in the recording industry and have been around for a long time. Although they are less sensitive than condenser mics, the SM58LCs provide crisp vocals and have really good rejection of off-axis sound, making them great for on-stage live performances where surrounding noises can be rejected and the voice of the vocalist can be heard more directly through the mic.
Which mic should you use?
Condenser mics are more sensitive and better at recording higher frequency sounds. You should use a condenser mic if you are recording:
- Acoustic Guitar
- Room Ambience
- Live performances if the emphasis is on vocals
Dynamic mics are better at recording louder and lower-frequency sounds. You should generally use a dynamic mic if you intend to record:
- Loud vocals
- Drums / Kick drums
- Guitar amps
- Live performances with drums and loud music
Dynamic vs condenser mic: which one is better for vocals?
Generally speaking, condenser mics are much better at capturing vocals because they are more sensitive and detailed than dynamic mics. Condenser mics add a level of warmth and depth to vocals to make it sound much more “natural”, while dynamic mics may not be able to pick up subtle nuances and details in vocals.
If you want a mic that can capture the details in your vocals and acoustics and add warmth and tonality to your music recordings, we would generally recommend going for a condenser microphone.
You might be wondering what is the difference between a large diaphragm vs small diaphragm condenser microphone, which we explain more in depth below.
Small diaphragm vs large diaphragm condenser
Condenser microphones can generally be divided into large diaphragm condensers and small diaphragm condensers.
Large diaphragm condensers are generally more sensitive because they have a diaphragm that is easier to move, resulting in a louder sound output. They also tend to capture low-frequency sounds better, which helps to add warmth and some coloration to vocals and acoustic guitar – ultimately this makes your voice sound bigger and “larger than life”.
Small diaphragm condensers, by contrast, are better at capturing high frequency sounds with lesser low-frequency pickup. This makes them great for recording instruments to capture the natural sound without any coloration. While small diaphragm condensers can be used to record vocals, they tend to sound airy and more “neutral”.
A large diaphragm condenser mic is usually the preferred option as compared to small diaphragm condensers because they can record vocals and add a layer of warmth and tonality to the recordings.
To learn more about the differences in sound quality and pickup between a small and large diaphragm condenser, check out this post: