Condenser vs. Dynamic Microphones

Choose Right Mic for Your Band

studio microphone
Using the right mic is important to your result. Michael Kai / Getty Images

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

About Condenser Microphones

Condenser microphones are most commonly found 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 many less expensive condensers are made. The problem is that most of these less-expensive mics come from a couple of factories in China, and they all sound the same -- very brittle and with little low end.

Condenser mics require the use of a power supply, generally 48-volt "phantom power," and that's supplied 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.


Types of Condenser Microphones

There are two different types of condenser mics: small and large diaphragm.

Large-diaphragm microphones (LDMs) are most often the choice for studio vocals and any instrument recording where a deeper sound is desired. A large-diaphragm microphone 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 you're 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 Amazon.com.

Small-diaphragm microphones (SDMs) are the best choice when you want a solid, wide-frequency response and the best transient response, which as noted above, 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, check out these two options:

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

Buy the Rode NT1KIT Condenser Microphone Cardioid on Amazon.com.

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 Amazon.com.

About 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 also for the amount of abuse they can withstand. Any good rock club probably has at least five of each of these microphones in various states of aesthetic ruin, but 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 Amazon.com.

Dynamic microphones don't require their own power supply like condenser microphones. However, their sound quality is generally not as accurate. 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.

Choosing the Right Mic

To make the best choice, you should consider what you are doing with the mic.

If you're 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 Amazon.com.

If you're recording acoustic guitar, you'll be best served by good small-diaphragm condenser microphone. A good choice 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 Amazon.com.

Buy the Neumann KM184 on Amazon.com.

For recording on cello/upright bass, the one to choose is a large-diaphragm condenser mic. This is because, while the strings resonate quickly, the slower transient response of the large-diaphragm microphone will make for better low-frequency reproduction on these instruments.

Concert taping works best with 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.

For drums, you'll want a combination of dynamic and condenser microphones. Here’s are some recommendations. All these mics are available on Amazon.com.