Whether you’re an artist about to enter the studio, or a brand-new audio engineer, it’s important to know the difference between a dynamic and condenser mic.
The two types of mics are used in different situations to achieve specific results, so knowing when to use which can help, whether you’re looking to record a performance or amplify live sound.
In this guide, we’ll look at the difference between dynamic and condenser mics.
What Is The Difference Between A Dynamic Vs Condenser Microphone?
The two types of microphones feature different constructions. Dynamic mics are designed to capture the sound of loud, dynamic instruments. Meanwhile, condenser mics are much more sensitive and are designed to pick up a more detailed, nuanced sound of voices and instruments.
From a technical perspective, dynamic microphones come with a diaphragm, voice coil, and magnet assembly. Soundwaves vibrate the diaphragm, as well as the voice coil. This generates an electrical signal in the magnetic field.
It may sound complicated, but it’s relatively simple. Dynamic mics have been around much longer than condenser mics, meaning they are less sophisticated in design.
Dynamic mics are generally used for louder, dynamic sounds, like drums and guitar amps. Generally, they are also affordable, durable, acd don’t require a power source.
But because dynamic mics are less sensitive to quiet and high frequency sounds, they aren’t ideal for every application.
With condenser microphones, soundwaves vibrate the diaphragm, which is mounted in front of a backplate. This is also known as a capacitor because it can store voltage or a charge. The motion of the diaphragm relative to the backplate is what produces the electrical signal.
Generally, condenser mics are used for quieter, complex sounds that vary in frequency because of their sensitivity and overall accuracy. Condenser microphones require 48V phantom power to work, but you can typically find a switch on your audio interface to activate it.
Condenser mics wouldn’t be used in the same way dynamic mics are because they are more costly, less durable, and have trouble handling louder sounds.
When Should I Use A Dynamic Microphone?
Dynamic microphones are often used for amplifying or recording the sound of drums and guitar amps. This is because these instruments or sound sources can quickly go from quiet to loud but tend to maintain a loud sound consistently.
This could offer a possible explanation as to why they’re called “dynamic” mics, because they’re better able to handle dynamic sound sources.
Dynamic mics are the go-to in live settings since they’re affordable and tend to hold up to wear and tear. Dynamic mics also tend to reduce unwanted ambient noise. This means you can isolate the sound of individual instruments with ease. Further, because of this, you’re less likely to encounter issues with feedback.
Mileage does vary depending on the mic, however. The ever-popular Shure SM57 is a favorite for use with guitar amps and snare drums. But in my experience this mic is still prone to bleed. If you’re okay with other noises creeping in, though, this is not a problem.
Dynamic mics are also great for voice – specifically speech, podcasting, broadcasting, and so forth. You can find both dynamic and condenser mics intended for use with voice, though the preferred choice is generally dynamic, with the Shure SM7B being among the most recognized.
This isn’t to say dynamic mics are not suited to vocals or singing. Some pros, in fact, prefer the sound of dynamic mics to condenser mics, including Bono of U2, James Taylor, Brandon Flowers of The Killers, and others.
By the way, I also like to record vocals with a dynamic mic (like the SM7B), but I have had good results recording with both a dynamic and condenser simultaneously.
So, those are the most popular uses for dynamic mics – drums, guitar and bass amps, and vocals. Dynamic mics are sometimes used to record other instruments, but the previously mentioned are the most common.
I love dynamic mics for recording vocals. I wouldn’t use a Shure SM57 or 58, but I would opt for a SM7B any day.
I own a Rode Procaster myself, and it’s comparable to the SM7B, if a little more affordable. It’s my go-to mic for vocals and voice. Whether I’m signing, recording my latest podcast episode, or recording any kind of speech, I like to take advantage of the Procaster.
I’ve tried the mic on my acoustic guitar as well, and I didn’t mind the results, though I would typically go for a condenser (or a pair) to record acoustic guitars.
I like the SM57 on guitar cabinets, but typically only for clean tones. I have never achieved a dirty tone I was happy with using a 57.
I’ve also used dynamic mics extensively for drums, where they truly shine. Snare, toms, kick, are all best served with dynamic mics. For capturing the shine of cymbals, as a room mic, or for some added warmth from the kick, condensers are better.
When Should I Use A Condenser Microphone?
As you’ve already seen, condenser mics are typically used to capture quieter, more nuanced, more detailed, and/or high-frequency sounds. This isn’t to suggest they can’t be used for recording drums or electric instruments, but I’ll talk more about that in a moment.
As an overview, condenser mics are used to record vocals, acoustic instruments (acoustic guitars, horns, stringed instruments, and so on), bass drum, and are even used as drum overheads.
Typically, vocal soundwaves are far from consistent. They tend to feature many peaks and valleys and can go from a whisper to a scream. And as you can imagine, sometimes vocalists do this on purpose! But even without the extremes, vocals vary a lot in delivery and dynamics.
When you hear vocals on a recording that seem “smoothed out”, it’s usually because of compression and other post-processing techniques. Vocals aren’t naturally consistent (you would need to have incredible control!).
As for acoustic guitars (and other acoustic instruments), they’re generally sensitive to touch. Much like a voice, they can go from a whisper to a scream depending on how they’re being played.
With a condenser mic (vs. a dynamic mic), however, you can capture more detail of the instrument, which can give you that raw, beautiful, authentic tone.
Now let’s talk about recording bass drum with a condenser. It might seem odd that anyone would want to capture the sound of a bass drum with a condenser based on what I’ve shared with you.
A condenser would not make for a good “close” mic, nor would you put it directly inside of the bass drum as you might with a dynamic. But you can capture a lot of the warmth of the drum when it’s positioned to capture the sound on the outside.
Condenser mics are a popular choice for drum overheads as well, which are generally used to capture the sound of cymbals and sometimes toms. Since condensers are great for capturing high frequencies, it would make sense that, at the right distance, they could bring to life the brightness of cymbals too.
I have used condenser mics for vocals and generally like the results (which is why I’ll sometimes use a dynamic and condenser simultaneously – great for lead vocals, not so much for backing vocals).
And, condensers work great for acoustic guitars and other acoustic instruments, as well as cymbals. If you need a room mic, a condenser is the way to go.
My favorite condenser in an affordable price range is the Rode NT1-A.
What’s The Difference Between Large Diaphragm & Small Diaphragm Condenser Mics?
There are basically two types of condenser mics – large diaphragm and small diaphragm.
The diaphragm is an essential component that vibrates when soundwaves hit it. So, naturally, every condenser mic has one.
Some condenser mics are considered “large diaphragm” and others are considered “small diaphragm.” As it turns out, the difference is small.
Large diaphragm condensers are bigger, which makes them better at picking up lower frequencies. Small diaphragm condensers handle higher frequencies with more ease.
Depending on what you’re recording, it would be a good idea to have access to both large and small diaphragm condensers.
That way, you could pull out the large diaphragm when you need more warmth, and you could bring out the small diaphragm when you want to accentuate punchy highs.
Best & Most Popular Mics To Own
If you’re interested in learning about the difference between dynamic and condenser mics, then there’s a good chance you might be looking to purchase a mic (or maybe multiple mics) in the future.
In this section, I’ll highlight a few mics that are worth knowing about – both dynamic and condenser.
Dynamics are generally affordable, durable, and effective for specific applications. They may not do everything well, but they are worth owning even just for the few things they do well.
Here are a few dynamic mics you’re bound to find in most popular studios, because of how usable they are.
One of the reasons the Shure SM57 is so popular is because it’s versatile. It comes in handy for a variety of applications.
The SM57 is the most common mic you’ll see on a guitar cab. I only like it for clean tones myself, but plenty of engineers have achieved great tones by finding the amp’s sweet spot.
You’ll also commonly see the SM57 on a snare drum since it can handle loud noise and capture the desired tonal characteristics of a snare.
And in a pinch, the 57 can come in handy for vocals, acoustic guitars, or even brass – depending on the mics available to you.
The SM58 is just as popular as the 57, and it basically carries the same guts. The difference is that it’s perfectly suited to vocals (especially on stage) because it eliminates bleed and feedback.
Insanely durable, the SM58 is perfect for most live vocal applications, and it can be used in the studio too. Most engineers will opt for a condenser, however, as it can capture a more detailed sound.
The AKG D112 can be found in practically every studio. As with many dynamic mics, it’s cost effective, sturdy, and useful.
The D112 is almost exclusively used for the kick drum.
The Sennheiser MD421 is a go-to for capturing the sound of toms and is tailor-made to handle lows and low-mids exceptionally well.
Likewise, it can make for a great broadcast mic.
The SM7B may not be the most affordable dynamic mic available. But you will find one, if not many, in any given studio.
It has been designed to capture voice – especially spoken word. At the same time, many have found it to be a great vocal mic and use it that way (I think it works great as a vocal mic).
If dynamic mics are all you’ve got, then use what you’ve got. But most engineers, studios, or self-recordist of any persuasion are going to benefit from owning both.
Here we’ll look at several popular condenser mics.
Neumann KM 184
Neumann mics are generally known as top shelf mics. They aren’t cheap, and they aren’t necessarily durable either. But their sound is hard to beat.
The KM 184 is a pencil condenser mic offering an even frequency response with some sparkle on the high end.
This would prove a great mic for hi-hats and could also work for drum overheads (as a stereo pair).
AKF C414 XLS
The versatile C414 XLS is a high-quality large diaphragm condenser mic offering an amazing frequency response across all spectrums.
This premium priced mic is great for just about any tracking requiring nuance and detail. It’s worth trying on just about everything, so experiment plenty and figure out for yourself in what situations it produces the best results.
The Rode NT1-A large diaphragm condenser may not be in every studio. But you’d be hard pressed to find a mic in its price range that even comes close to its overall quality, and is a favorite among home studio owners.
Condenser Mic Vs Dynamic Mic Difference – Final Thoughts
Mics aren’t all created equal. The best way for you to discover the difference, and to find out what works in what situation, is to experiment and try things out for yourself.
Unless speech is the only thing you’re planning to record, you’ll likely benefit from owning at least one quality dynamic mic and one condenser mic. But as you’ve already seen, you usually end up wanting or needing more than one each.
We hope you enjoyed this guide, discovered the difference between a dynamic and condenser mic, and even got a better sense of how each mic works, as well as when to use which.