Condenser Microphone Vs Dynamic Microphone: What’s The Difference?

Media consumption is pretty big in our modern world. And so is creating content about it. And why shouldn’t you? Nothing is holding you back from making content about the things you love or do. Audio is an important part of your work and can make or break your content.

If you looked into the world of audio, you might have seen a lot of microphones with descriptions like ’Condenser’ or ‘Dynamic’ microphone. And you might have asked yourself: What are they?

In this article I will explain the difference between the different types of microphones, and when you should use them.

condenser vs dynamic

Let’s start with the basics

Everything around you creates sound waves. Like a human speaking, or a dog barking. Those sound waves can be picked up by a microphone. And the microphone converts it into electrical waves for a recording device or computer to understand.

The conversion of these signals vary, depending on the microphone that you use. I would highly recommend testing the two different styles of microphones out in your local music store before purchasing. Take a note with you with hard to pronounce words so you can test the microphone to its fullest potential.

Condenser and Dynamic Microphone: What are they

Let’s start with the oldest one. The dynamic microphone is the one that people use most of the time. Its design has a pretty primitive form factor. When sound is created, the sound wave will hit the diaphragm of the microphone. It’s a small device made of polyester film or plastic.

A dynamic microphone is mounted on a mic stand.
A dynamic microphone is mounted on a mic stand.

A metal coil is attached to the diaphragm, and this coil is suspended between two magnets. When sound waves hit the diaphragm, it will move the coil up and down thus producing a small AC that mimics the sound wave.

This is best explained like the waves in the water. The waves in the water make a lightweight object go up and down when each wave passes. The coil is like that lightweight object But then hit with sound waves.

Expert Tip: If you want to record either something intimate or something high or low frequency you are better off getting a condenser microphone. The condenser microphone also has a diaphragm made of a very thin piece of metal and a separate piece of metal called a backplate.

When you apply electricity to both, a static charge is created. When the soundwave hits the diaphragm, it will produce a small electric current from its vibrations. The condenser microphone needs a small current of electricity to amplify the microphone, whereas the dynamic microphone can be used without extra electricity.

How much electricity is needed ranges from 9 to 48 volts. Some condenser microphones require batteries to work, and others require phantom power to get it going. I can assure you that it’s not something scary. Phantom power is a small amount of power that helps the condenser microphone to move the diaphragm to be able to pick up the sound.

Pre-amps and the audio interface from where you plug the microphone into will provide you the phantom power. The condenser microphones are great for complex and quieter sounds with a big range of frequencies. Unfortunately, it will cost you more and it is not a great all-round microphone.

A condenser microphone with lamp on the background
A condenser microphone with lamp on the background.

There is a lot of confusion between the condenser and dynamic microphone and when to use which. If you ever looked online for microphones, you might have also seen words like ‘cardioid’ and ‘omnidirectional’ in the descriptions. This represents from which direction the microphone will pick up the sound. It is easier than you think.

Omnidirectional means that the microphone picks up the sound waves from all around the microphone. The Cardioid microphone will only pick up sounds that are directly in front of it and from the back of the microphone. Pretty cool to use for interviews where you do not want the noise from the background to be recorded.

Omnidirectional microphones are great for when you want to record everything: sounds from the instruments, but also sounds from the background. For example, in a big room, you can record the echoes and the instruments playing in the background using the omnidirectional microphone.

On the other hand, the cardioid microphone is better suited for recording the direct sound of your voice or instrument. The microphone is commonly used to record musical instruments like the snare drums. This makes it perfect for capturing that instrument and not all the other instruments surrounding it.

What’s the difference

Side by side comparison of a condenser and a dynamic microphone
Side by side comparison of a condenser and a dynamic microphone.

As mentioned before, dynamic microphones are used the most because of their flexibility. They can handle loud sounds and are ideal for loud bands and live performances. The dynamic microphone is also not that expensive. They can handle a lot of wear and tear thanks to the design of the microphone.

The microphone does have its downsides because of how it is built. The coil of the microphone is built to pick up the mid­range of the audio frequency spectrum. So if you want to record something intimate, or something high or low frequency, it might not be able top ick up the sound. This is because the former mentioned audio frequencies will not vibrate the coil enough in its movement to pick up the sound.

The condenser microphone also has a diaphragm made of a very thin piece of metal and a separate piece of metal called a backplate. When you apply electricity to both, a static charge is created. When the soundwave hits the diaphragm, it will produce a small electric current from its vibrations.

A man with a condenser microphone.
A man with a condenser microphone.

The condenser microphone needs a small current of electricity to amplify the microphone, whereas the dynamic microphone can be used without extra electricity. How much electricity is needed ranges from 9 to 48 volts. Some condenser microphones require batteries to work, and others require phantom power to get it going. I can assure you that it’s not something scary.

Phantom power is a small amount of power that helps the condenser microphone to move the diaphragm to be able to pick up the sound. Pre-amps and the audio interface from where you plug the microphone into will provide you the phantom power.

The diaphragm in the microphone is moving up and down as the sound wave hits the device. Condenser microphones often have a choice of having a large or small diaphragm. All you need to know is that the bigger the diaphragm, the more low frequencies it can pick up.

The smaller the diaphragm, the more accurate the microphone can pick up higher frequencies. So think about what you would like to record. If you like to record vocals, stick to the large diaphragm. But if you want to record high-pitched sounds like a violin or flute, then it is better to use the condenser microphone with a small diaphragm.

There is another choice you have to make regarding your microphone. Do you want a USB cable or an XLR cable attached to your microphone?

The XLR cable consists of three pins and a connector. They are a lot more versatile. For example, you will not be stuck to a computer. XLR cables can be bought in different lengths.

Expert Tip: You can buy them 20 meters or more and sit in a different room while recording. You also do not need a computer with a USB port to get working on your recording.

There’s also the benefit of multiple uses. Say you want to record something outside with a field recorder. Most field recorders have an XLR input Plug it in and you’re ready to go. Another plus is that XLR cables are balanced and therefore give a lot clearer sound to your recordings.

Microphones with a USB cable are better for when you are working on a budget, or want a cheaper microphone. Great for when you are just starting and want to see if you’re committed first. USB microphones are also good for when you don’t want a lot of cables to maneuver around with. And they are also more lightweight than the XLR microphones.

Are condenser mics better than dynamic?

I hope you have a better idea of the different types of microphones and why there are so many to choose from. One type is not better than the other. It just depends on what situation you are in. What do you want to record and how do you want it.

A recording artist uses a condenser microphone to sing.
A recording artist sings in the recording booth while using a condenser microphone and a pop filter.

If you want to record vocals, there are pretty good choices available. Like the reasonably priced microphones Rode NT 1 A, and the AKG P220. They both have a large diaphragm and are condenser microphones Mostly it comes down to personal preference. Do you want a more accurate tone-sounding microphone, or rather something that sounds warm? Mind you. it also depends on the style that you want to sing in.

Like an opera singer, a soprano, or maybe even a hard metal band. A condenser microphone will be the best option in most cases. A small or large diaphragm will both work perfectly. But if you need to choose, take the one with a larger diaphragm, as that one can pick up a pretty good frequency range.

One hidden gem that I forgot to mention is the Audio Technica AT2020. This microphone is the best value and reasonably priced option that I would recommend.

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Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Studio XLR Microphone

There is a lot of confusion between the condenser and dynamic microphone and when to use which. If you ever looked online for microphones, you might have also seen words like ‘cardioid’ and ‘omnidirectional’ in the descriptions.

This represents from which direction the microphone will pick up the sound. It is easier than you think. Omnidirectional means that the microphone picks up the sound waves from all around the microphone.

The Cardioid microphone will only pick up sounds that are directly in front of it. and from the back of the microphone. Pretty cool to use for interviews where you do not want the noise from the background to be recorded.

Omnidirectional microphones are great for when you want to record everything: sounds from the instruments, but also sounds from the background. For example, in a big room, you can record the echoes and the instruments playing in the background using the omnidirectional microphone.

On the other hand, the cardioid microphone is better suited for recording the direct sound of your voice or instrument. The microphone is commonly used to record musical instruments like the snare drums. This makes it perfect for capturing that instrument and not all the other instruments surrounding it.

How microphone directionality works and when/where to use different recording patterns.

Don’t forget to look after your microphones when you bought them. They are essential for you to go streaming, so take care of them as best you can. Build quality and susceptibility to damage vary per microphone. The parts are quite sensitive and can be easily damaged when you’re not careful. In good hands, microphones can last you a lifetime, here are some tips:

  • Handle infrequently: This can lead to accidentally dropping them, and that is pretty bad for a microphone.
  • Dust damage prevention: make sure to cover your microphone with a towel or bag when you’re not using them. This prevents dust to fall on the diaphragm and can cause the microphone to be less sensitive, or alter the response.

Is dynamic or condenser better for streaming?

A woman uses a silver condenser microphone to stream her podcast.
A woman uses a silver condenser microphone to stream her podcast.

Both can work fine. It depends on what you want to do on your stream. If you want to sing, then stick to a big diaphragm condenser microphone so it can pick up a wide range of frequencies.

If you want a more budget-friendly microphone, you can also choose a dynamic one. I would highly recommend testing the two different styles of microphones out in your local music store before purchasing. Take a note with you with hard to pronounce words so you can test the microphone to its fullest potential.

There is another choice you have to make regarding your microphone. Do you want a USB cable or an XLR cable attached to your microphone?

The XLR cable consists of three pins and a connector. They are a lot more versatile. For example, you will not be stuck to a computer. XLR cables can be bought in different lengths. You can buy them 20 meters or more and sit in a different room while recording. You also do not need a computer with a USB port to get working on your recording.

There’s also the benefit of multiple uses. Say you want to record something outside with a field recorder. Most field recorders have an XLR input Plug it in and you’re ready to go. Another plus is that XLR cables are balanced and therefore give a lot clearer sound to your recordings.

Expert Tip: Microphones with a USB cable are better for when you are working on a budget, or want a cheaper microphone. Great for when you are just starting and want to see if you’re committed first.my.

USB microphones are also good for when you don’t want a lot of cables to maneuver around with. And they are also more lightweight than the XLR microphones.

Don’t forget to look after your microphones when you bought them. They are essential for you to go streaming, so take care of them as best you can. Build quality and susceptibility to damage vary per microphone. The parts are quite sensitive and can be easily damaged when you’re not careful. In good hands, microphones can last you a lifetime, here are some tips:

  • Handle infrequently: This can lead to accidentally dropping them, and that is pretty bad for a microphone.
  • Dust damage prevention: make sure to cover your microphone with a towel or bag when you’re not using them. This prevents dust to fall on the diaphragm and can cause the microphone to be less sensitive, or alter the response.
A dynamic microphone and a pop filter are used to record a podcast.
A dynamic microphone and a pop filter are used to record a podcast.

Conclusion

There are a lot of microphones to choose from if you are planning on streaming from your home or studio. Which one works for your situation depends on what you’re planning to do. Will you be singing? Or are you planning on doing interviews in your streams?

Condenser microphones with a big diaphragm are a good choice for the former. For podcasting, you can choose both. Just keep in mind that you can choose from a cardioid and an omnidirectional microphone.

The former is more focused on the audio from the front and a bit from the rear. The latter lets audio come through from all sides.

Omnidirectional microphones are great for when you have multiple people in the studio and not enough microphones. Or when performers want to perform on your stream. Cardioid microphones are better for interviews and for when you do your streams solo.

It will not pick up as much background noise as the omnidirectional counterpart I would highly recommend testing the two different styles of microphones out in your local music store before purchasing. Take a note with you with hard to pronounce words so you can test the microphone to its fullest potential. And have fun streaming.

About Jayden Buckley

Hi, my name is Jayden and I am author/editor for PlayTheTunes. I remember the first time I hopped on the drums, I was hooked. Music has played an enormous part of my life, and I'm honored I get to share my experiences with you!