Condenser vs. Dynamic Microphones

Selecting The Right Mic

studio microphone
Michael Kai / Getty Images

When selecting the best microphones to use both live and in your home studio, you'll commonly come across two different types of microphones, dynamic and condenser. Let's look at both of these microphone types, and what their advantages and disadvantages are.


Condenser Microphones

Condenser microphones are the most common types of microphones you'll find in studios. They have a much greater frequency response and transient response - which is the ability to reproduce the "speed" of an instrument or voice.

They also generally have a louder output, but are much more sensitive to loud sounds.

Condenser microphones are generally much more expensive than dynamic microphones, but keep in mind, many cheap condensers exist. The problem is that most of these mics are coming from a couple factories in China, and all sound the same -- very brittle and with little low end.

They require the use of a power supply, generally 48 volt "phantom power", and that's supplied very easily by most mixing boards or external power supplies (look for a switch that says "P 48" or "48V" on the channel strip or on the back of the mixer.)

Condenser microphones are generally used only in studios because of their sensitivity to loud sounds and the fact that they're quite a bit more fragile than their dynamic counterparts. That being said, you'll find them onstage at live music venues for use as drum overheads or for use in orchestral or choral sound reinforcement.

With condenser microphones, you'll find two different types: small diaphragm, and large diaphragm.

Large Diaphragm Microphones
Large diaphragm microphones (LDMs) are generally the choice for studio vocals, and any instrument recording where a more "deep" sound is desired. A large diaphragm microphone generally warms up the sound of what it's recording, which also leads to the myth that most LDMs reproduce low frequencies better than small diaphragm mics; this isn't true, in fact, small diaphragm mics are much better at reproducing everything evenly, including bass.

You'll want a pop screen if using a condenser microphone for vocals; they're so sensitive to transient noises that the "P" and "SH" sounds you make will cause distortion.

If you’re looking for a microphone with a large diaphragm, a good option is the Audio-Technica AT2035, which provides a natural sound. You can use it in your home, at a recording studio or in live performances; its cardioid studio condenser ensures low background noise.

Buy the Audio-Technica AT2035 on

Small Diaphragm Microphones
Small diaphragm microphones (SDMs) are generally the best choice where you want a solid, wide frequency response and the best transient response, which as we mentioned before, is the ability for your microphone to reproduce fast sounds, such as stringed instruments. SDMs are also the preferred choice for concert taping.

For a small diaphragm condenser microphone, I recommend two different options:

The Rode NT1KIT Condenser Microphone Cardioid features a pressure gradient acoustic principle, has a frequency range of 20Hz - 20kHz and comes with a SMR shock mount and dust cover.

Buy the Rode NT1KIT Condenser Microphone Cardioid on

If you’re looking for a seriously over-top condenser microphone with a small diaphragm, the AKG Pro Audio C414 XLII is your best bet.

The microphone delivers incredible sound quality for lead vocals and solo instruments and has nine selectable polar patterns, plus three attenuation levels for close-up recording or high-output sources. And three switchable bass-cut filters help to reduce wind noise and stage vibration.

Buy the AKG Pro Audio C414 XLII Vocal Condenser on

Dynamic Microphones

Compared to condenser microphones, dynamic microphones are much more rugged. They're also especially resistant to moisture and other forms of abuse, which makes them the perfect choice onstage. Dynamic microphones like the Shure SM57 and Shure SM58 are legendary for not only their good sound quality, but the amount of abuse they can withstand. Any good rock club probably has at least 5 of each of these microphones in various states of aesthetic ruin; however, they still turn on and more than likely sound just as they did the day they came out of the package.

Buy the Shure SM58 on

Dynamic microphones don't require their own power supply like condenser microphones. Their sound quality is generally not as accurate, however. Most dynamic microphones have a limited frequency response, which makes them well-suited, along with their ability to withstand high sound pressure levels, for loud guitar amps, live vocals, and drums.

Selecting Between The Two

Let's take a look at what you might be doing, and then we'll suggest a microphone for your use.

Recording Vocals At Home

You'll want a large-diaphragm condenser microphone if you have phantom power; if not, you might want to consider a large-diaphragm dynamic microphone like the Shure SM7B, available on

Recording Acoustic Guitar
You'll want a good small-diaphragm condenser microphone. A good choice, and if you’re on a budget is the Marshall MXL 603S, but if you’re looking for a much better upgrade, the Neumann KM184 does the trick.

Buy the Marshall MXL 603S on

Buy the Neumann KM184 on

Recording Cello/Upright Bass
You'll want a large-diaphragm condenser microphone. This is because, while the strings resonate quickly, the slower transient response of the large-diaphragm microphone will lend to better low frequency reproduction on these instruments.

Concert Taping
You'll want a pair of small-diaphragm condenser microphones for stereo recording. The small diaphragm allows for faster and more accurate transient replication, and better low end reproduction.

Here, you'll want a combination of dynamic and condenser microphones. Here’s what I recommend (all microphones are available on