Dynamic Vs. Condenser Mic: How They Work, When to Use Which

condenser vs dynamic microphone

Dynamic and Condenser are the most common microphones we use today. But what’s the difference between them? And when is it better to use a dynamic microphone and vice versa? Does it actually matter what microphone you choose? And what the heck is a transducer? If you have ever asked yourself these questions, this is definitely the post for you. 

So what is the difference between dynamic and condenser microphones?Dynamic microphones are durable, robust and good for capturing loud vocals and instruments. It is ideal for on-stage performances due to its high tolerance for overloads. The condenser microphone is more sensitive and responsive, making it very suitable for capturing detailed and subtle sounds, such as nuances in vocals, guitar harmonics, and other delicate sounds. 

Try to think beforehand what kind of sound you would like. Is it a relaxing, soft song with only voice and guitar? Then a condenser might do the job for you. Is it a guitar, bass and drum instrumental featuring harmonics and other refined techniques? Then you would probably need both types of microphones. This post will hopefully give you the knowledge to be able to make decisions like this much quicker. 

The Differences Between Dynamic and Condenser Microphones 

Whether you are planning on recording your songs or wondering what microphone suits your needs, you need to know this: getting your sound right from the very beginning is critical. 

All microphones transform sound waves into an electrical signal. But how the microphone does this depends on what operating principle it uses. 

There are two very common types of microphones you might have encountered. 

First out is the moving-coil microphone that is most commonly known as a «dynamic microphone».

1. Dynamic Microphone

The dynamic is the most sold microphone in the world. They are very solid, affordable microphones. In addition, the dynamic is quite moisture-resistant as well.

You can also gain them up quite a bit before you get feedback from the speakers. That, and that it deals well with moisture, makes it ideal for on-stage use. 

In addition to being rugged and robust, they can also handle very very high sound levels. Actually, they almost never overload.

What is the dynamic microphone good for?
Their full-bandwidth operation is not as crystal clear as a condenser microphone. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. Since it is very difficult to distort, the dynamic microphone is excellent for recording loud vocals, acoustic instruments, drums, guitar amps, etc. It is also the ideal microphone to use on stage.

World-class dynamic microphones: Shure SM58, Shure SM57, Sennheiser 421 II, and Electrovoice RE20.

The second type of microphone that you ́ve surely come across is the capacitor microphone. This type is most commonly known as a condenser microphone.

2. Condenser Microphone

This type of microphone was invented in 1916 and is also called a capacitor microphone or electrostatic microphone. They tend to cost quite a bit more than a dynamic microphone. 

Also, condenser microphones tend to be much more responsive and sensitive than dynamic microphones. This makes them very suitable for capturing details like subtle nuances in a singers´ voice.

But beware! Unlike the dynamic microphone, the condenser tends to distort way quicker due to its sensitive nature. So it is definitely not the best choice for capturing a snare drum or other loud instruments. 

So what is the condenser microphone good for? 
The condenser microphone is known to capture very fine details, which makes it excellent for vocals, delicate instruments, and other intricate sounds. That is why it is also very practical if you would like to record harmonics on your acoustic guitar. Your typical studio microphone.

World class condenser microphones: Neuman U87 and AKG C414.

As you can see, even though they operate with the same goal in mind, their strengths, and sound signatures are different. And they pick up sound in different ways too. Dynamic microphones convert sound through electromagnetic induction and condenser microphones use electrostatics

Their transducer processing is different.

Okay, then. But What’s a Transducer?

Well, to put it simply: a transducer is a device that transforms one form of energy into another. One example of this is the change of acoustic energy into electrical energy, which is something the microphone does. The microphone is, therefore, a transducer.

Another example of a transducer is the loudspeaker. It converts electrical signals into sound. Which is actually the reverse way of what a microphone does. 

A transducer is categorized into different types, for example, the electroacoustic type. One more example from this category is a tabletop pickup, which converts the motion of metal strings into an electrical signal.

How Does it Pick up Sound and Convert the Signal?

In all microphones there ́s something called a diaphragm. And actually, in many ways, it works just like our eardrums. The diaphragm is a thin metal piece that begins to vibrate when sound waves hit it. 

This results in the microphone converting the sound into an electrical signal. This is what your speaker needs in order to produce sound. 

We also have other types of microphones like the condenser microphone, which works a little differently. 

This type of microphone uses another transducer principle. 

– Can you see the diaphragm?

Transducer Principles and Components

Every microphone shares the same goal. They all amplify your voice so you can be heard across a large distance/audience and make it possible to record and capture your voice, sounds, and instruments.

But their way of getting there is quite different.

The Dynamic MicrophoneElectromagnetic

How it works: The dynamic microphone picks up sound based on the principle of electromagnetic induction.

Inside the dynamic microphone you will find:

  • A diaphragm
  • Induction coil 
  • A magnet

It is a relatively easy build and it works like this:

  1. The sound waves enter the windscreen and hit the diaphragm, a thin and small metal piece that vibrates when sound waves strike it. 
  2. Attached to the diaphragm is a movable voice coil. The vibrations of the diaphragm cause the coil to move.
  3. The voice coil moves in a magnetic field. And through electromagnetic induction, the magnetic force created by the movement of the coil has now produced a varying current in the coil.
  4. Since a speaker use the same principle (only reversed) it needs an electrical signal to produce sound. And yes, you guessed it: It gets the electrical signal from the microphone.

The Condenser Microphone – Electrostatic

How it works:  Uses capacitance, which means it stores energy in the form of an electrostatic field. 

Inside the condenser microphone you will find these key components:

  • Diaphgram Case
  • Diaphgram
  • Backplate

The build of a condenser microphone is a little more complex than a dynamic. This is how it works.

  1. Just like the dynamic microphone, when sound waves hit the diaphragm, it begins to vibrate. 
  2. However, from here on, the process is a little different. When the diaphragm starts to vibrate, it also changes the distance between the diaphragm and the backplate. 
  3. When this happens the capacitance changes. If the diaphragm and the backplate move closer to each other, the capacitance increases and a charge current occurs. If the diaphragm and the backplate move further away from each other, a decrease in capacitance happens and a discharge current occurs. 

What ́s capacitance, you ask? Capacitance is something that is created between two different conductors that are at different voltages and is a measure of the ability to store energy in the form of an electrical charge. 

In order for any of this to work, the condenser is dependent on power. This could be from a battery inside the microphone or by external phantom power. This can be generated through mix consoles and preamps.

What Else Affects how Microphones Sound?

The smaller the diaphragm is, the more sensitive it is as well. So if you want to avoid too many lips and mouth sounds, go for a larger condenser microphone.

Background noise
Yup, this is pretty obvious, right? If you record your music in a noisy area, some of the background noises will be captured along with your instrument. 

But if you have background noises you can’t really get rid of, the dynamic microphone will be the better choice since it is less responsive and less sensitive than the condenser microphone. 

– Good luck in recording your music in here.

Polar Pattern
Microphones have a directionality. This is also known as their polar pattern.  Most dynamic microphones out there are known to have what we call a front address.

This means that the microphone has to be pointed directly at your instrument or mouth. Condenser microphones are most commonly front and side address.

To use their directionality correctly is critical in order to get the best sound possible. Some microphones also pick up sounds from more than one direction. These microphones are called omnidirectional (picks up sounds from all directions) or bidirectional microphones, which pick up sounds from two directions.  

The most common though is the unidirectional microphone. This type picks up sounds just from one direction. You might have seen the words cardioid, supercardioid or hypercardioid before? These words tell you to which extent a microphone rejects sounds from other directions. 

Make Better and Faster Decisions

Now that you know how a dynamic and a condenser microphone picks up sound and what their respective strengths and weaknesses are, you are in a very good position of making quick and well-thought decisions the next time you are going to record your sounds.

I have used quite a few microphones in my day. Click here to find out which ones are my favorites and how affordable a quality mic could actually be.

Recommended Further Reading

Thomas Leypoldt

Hey there! My name is Thomas and I have been a film composer for over 10 years, delivering music to feature films, documentaries, video games, and commercials. I share everything I have learned on this website, to hopefully be of help to your own development as a musician.

Recent Posts