For most of us, the microphones in our smartphones and our laptops are more than likely enough to get by, but there are reasons why you might want to invest in something a little better and more professional.
If you feel like you’re at that point, then the two main types you need to worry about are dynamic microphones and condenser microphones.
Both have their advantages and disadvantages, so let’s take a look at the differences between the two to help you work out which one is the right kind for you.
Why Invest in a Microphone?
There are a lot of ways to create content, make money, and even start a career all from your bedroom. You only have to look at the latest crop of YouTube millionaires to see that it is possible.
And you know what they probably didn’t use? The default built-in microphones on their smartphones and laptops.
Want to get started streaming on Twitch or YouTube Gaming? Getting a mic that let’s everyone hear you makes the experience a lot better for your viewers. Even if you want to pursue it as a hobby rather than a career, it’s still worth investing because it won’t cost you too much.
If you’re like me and you work from home, you know that a lot of your work is either done on messaging platforms like Slack or via video chats. If this is your source of income, it’s important that you present yourself well rather than using low quality audio.
Plus, if you freelance, this adds an extra layer of professionalism to your work, which shows that you care enough about the detail and quality to invest in your work — a great sign to any potential client.
I would be remiss not to mention music recording, too. Since Apple’s GarageBand, and many other software since, lowered the barriers to entry for budding musicians around the world, it’s now easier than ever to record your work and get it out to potential fans.
Sure, there are some musicians for whom their unique selling point is their home-recorded sound, but most people want a crisper, more professional recording. That’s when you’ll need a proper microphone.
How Do Condenser Mics Work?
A condenser is an old term for capacitor, which is a device used to store energy in an electric field. A condenser microphone could really be called “capacitor microphones”, but for whatever reasons the term “condenser” won out.
The capacitor inside the microphone has two plates: a fixed back plate, and a thinner flexible front plate. When sound waves hit the front plate, they cause it to vibrate.
As the backplate and front plate are at a fixed distance from each other, the vibrations cause the plates to get closer, creating a change in capacitance. This change is converted into electrical signals, which are then amplified and transported to the pre-amp or mixing table.
In order for the capacitor to register the change in capacitance, there needs to be a charge across it, which is why condensers mics require phantom power: a constant +48 volts. This power can be provided by the mixing desk or pre-amp, but can be provided by a battery within the microphone itself.
The Benefits of Condenser Mics
- High sensitivity leading to high fidelity sound recording.
- High sensitivity means good response at high frequencies.
- Ideal for use in recording vocals, either singing or spoken.
- Unlike dynamic mics, the electronics mean that these mics are available in many different form factors, from large mics to small lapel mics.
The Drawbacks of Condenser Mics
- The requirement of phantom power.
- Typically higher cost due to electronic parts.
- The electronics and capacitor are somewhat fragile, meaning they can be easily damaged.
- High sensitivity leads to poor performance, or even distortion, in environments that aren’t quiet and echo-proof.
Recommended Condenser Microphones
The CAD M179 is an affordable condenser microphone which has been designed to give optimal performance when recording vocals and voice overs, but is also well suited to capturing instruments.
Since condenser microphones work great for recording vocals and can be fitted into small form factors, then for recording on-the-go this Miracle Sound Deluxe omni-directional lapel mic can plug directly into your smartphone and get the job done.
How Do Dynamic Mics Work?
Dynamic, or moving-coil microphones, work by electromagnetic induction. Inside the microphone there is a diaphragm which has an induction coil attached. This coil is positioned within the magnetic field of a permanent magnet.
When sound waves enter the microphone, they cause vibrations in the diaphragm. These movements cause the coil to move within the magnetic field creating a varying current and transducing the sound into electrical energy. The electrical signal can then be amplified by your microphone pre-amp or mixing desk.
The Benefits of Dynamic Mics
- Relatively inexpensive due to low cost of internal mechanisms.
- Durable and rugged.
- Ideal for recording louder sounds and instrumentation, such as drums or amplified guitar.
- Low sensitivity means they are unable to pick up distant sounds, making them better suited for live environments and minimizing feedback.
The Drawbacks of Dynamic Mics
- Flatter recording range leading to flatter audio.
- Low sensitivity, especially at high frequencies.
- Low sensitivity leads to poor performance in capturing detail in sounds.
- Poor transient (high amplitude, short-duration sound) response.
Recommended Dynamic Microphones
When a microphone has been produced since 1965 and used by every President of the United States since, then you know there is something to it. The Shure SM57 is renowned as one of the best all-round performing dynamic microphones.
If you want to record guitar amps and cabinets, then one of the best dynamic mics for that is the Sennheiser E609.
If drums are your instrument of choice, then the Audix I5 is a great place to start, and is well-recommended for use in recording snares.
Which One Is Right For You?
If we did a TL;DR version of this write-up, it would be that condenser mics give better sound quality over all frequencies whereas dynamic mics are more durable and better for cutting out background noise.
If you have an indoor, sound-proof recording environment, then get a condenser. If you want live sound recording, or if you want to record loud instruments like amplified guitars or drums, then get a dynamic. That’s the general rule of thumb, anyway. As you get more professional, more nuances emerge.
Most importantly, take the time to read reviews, look at specifications, and experiment. This will help you make an informed decision that will make your recordings sound the best they can.
What microphones do you use when recording? What do you record and which type do you think is best? Think we missed anything? Let us know in the comments below.