November 6, 2023

Dynamic vs. condenser microphones: What’s the difference?

A dynamic microphone uses a magnetic field to generate an electrical signal. A condenser microphone is a type that creates audio signals using a capacitor.
November 6, 2023

Dynamic vs. condenser microphones: What’s the difference?

A dynamic microphone uses a magnetic field to generate an electrical signal. A condenser microphone is a type that creates audio signals using a capacitor.
November 6, 2023
Ashley Hamer
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When you’re in the market for recording mics, the options can be dizzying. There are microphones for $50 and $1,000, some that plug into your computer and others that require an audio interface, and an unending list of terminology and specifications. So let’s break it down.

There are three main types of microphones for musicians, podcasters, film crews, and other recording artists: the dynamic microphone, the condenser microphone, and the ribbon microphone. 

We’ll focus on dynamic and condenser microphones, as they’re the most commonly used for home content creators.

Dynamic vs. condenser microphones: the big difference

Here’s the TL;DR: Generally, dynamic microphones are more rugged and less sensitive to high sound pressure levels, so they're great for live performances and recording loud sources. A condenser microphone captures a broader frequency range with more detail, so it's better for studio recordings and situations with good sound quality.

Need more detail? We’ve got you.

What is a dynamic microphone?

A dynamic microphone is a microphone that uses a magnetic field to generate an electrical signal. Sound waves in the air, like from your voice, move a tiny metal coil suspended within the microphone. When metal moves within a magnetic field, it creates an electrical current, and that current transmits the audio.

Image of a dynamic microphone from Shure
Source: Sweetwater

Audio engineers use dynamic mics for recording nearly any type of sound. Los Angeles-based producer, composer, and audio engineer Dave McKeever has used this type of microphone to record vocals, instruments, and ambient sounds. He shares some pros and cons of dynamic mics.

Pros of a dynamic microphone

  • Durable design can withstand rough handling
  • Requires no external power or batteries
  • Handles high sound pressure levels effectively
  • Generally more affordable than condenser mics

“Dynamic microphones are extremely durable,” Dave says. “They aren’t terribly sensitive to things like humidity, heat, and electric shock. A dynamic mic captures less detail than a condenser, which can be a good thing because that makes them more forgiving in noisy situations. They’re also simple to set up and require minimal work to optimize.”

Cons of a dynamic microphone

  • Limited frequency response compared to condensers
  • Less sensitive to subtle sound nuances
  • Heavier build, less convenient for travel

“The flipside to dynamic microphones being less sensitive is that most models don’t capture the same level of detail as a condenser microphone or a ribbon microphone,” Dave says. “For live performance, this isn’t much of an issue. But for studio recordings, which often benefit from the rumble of lower frequencies or the breathy air of higher frequencies, you can lose something with many dynamic mics.”

What is a condenser microphone?

A condenser microphone is a type of microphone that creates audio signals using a capacitor — a device made up of two metal-covered plates (the backplate and the diaphragm) suspended close together with a voltage passing between them. 

Image of a condenser microphone by Neumann
Source: Sweetwater

When vibrations from a voice or an instrument hit the diaphragm, it produces a change in voltage, and that voltage variation transmits audio signals. But for that signal to be heard, it must be amplified by a power source. That power source is usually phantom power, which comes directly through the XLR cable. Condenser microphones are popular among recording studio engineers for their remarkable ability to capture detail.

Pros of a condenser microphone

  • Superior sensitivity for detailed sound capture
  • Wide frequency response enhances audio fidelity
  • Clearer recordings
  • Excels in studio settings 

Dave says there’s a lot of upside to condenser microphones. “Compared to a dynamic mic, a good condenser mic will have a wider frequency response,” he explains. 

“This means they’ll capture everything from very high frequencies to very low frequencies — pretty much everything the human ear can process.” You can expect a ton of detail in a condenser microphone recording, provided that the mic is properly set up and that you choose an appropriate model.

Cons of a condenser microphone

  • Requires phantom power or external power supply
  • Less durable than dynamic mics
  • Susceptible to moisture and temperature changes
  • Typically more expensive than dynamic microphones

“There’s no hiding any sound from a condenser mic,” Dave says. “It’ll pick up every sound in the room, whether you like that sound or not. They can also be harder to set up than dynamic microphones. 

“For one thing, they require an external current of energy called phantom power. You can get phantom power from your audio interface, but it’s one extra thing to plan for. Finally, you may find that your condenser mic can’t handle the same sound pressure levels (SPL) as a dynamic mic before it starts distorting. For incredibly loud sounds, you’ll definitely want to use a dynamic mic.” 

Finally, Dave says condenser mics aren’t exactly “plug and play” the way that dynamic mics are. “No matter what,” he advises, “plan to spend a lot of time positioning condenser microphones and adjusting input levels in order to get the best sound.”

Large vs. small-diaphragm mics: What’s the difference?

A microphone’s diaphragm is a thin membrane that can conduct electricity. It sits next to a metal plate within the microphone housing. The sound of a large-diaphragm microphone will differ from that of a small-diaphragm mic—generally, the larger the diaphragm, the more detailed the sound and heftier the microphone.

Large-diaphragm mics, particularly large-diaphragm condensers, are some of the most detailed microphones on the market. They’re a standby for recording vocals, but you’ll also see large-diaphragm mics in front of guitar amps, acoustic instruments, and even drum kits. They can come in somewhat unwieldy shapes, and a large-diaphragm condenser requires external phantom power — which means you have to include a power source like a laptop computer, connected via a digital audio interface — but the sound of a good large-diaphragm mic is second to none.

True to their name, small-diaphragm microphones are smaller than large-diaphragm mics, and this makes them more portable. In most applications, recording engineers use small-diaphragm mics to record instruments. Because of their compact size, small-diaphragm mics can clip to a drum set and record individual pieces of the kit. They can also work for recording vocals, but for that, most engineers opt for large-diaphragm mics instead.

Polar patterns: What to know

A microphone’s polar pattern, also known as its pickup pattern, describes the direction from which it records its sound sources. Dynamic and condenser mics come with a wide variety of polar patterns. Here are the four main patterns:

  • Cardioid: This polar pattern is named for its heart shape—imagine that the heart’s indentation is right behind the mic. This pattern gives it high sensitivity to sound in front of the mic, slightly reduced sensitivity from the sides, and almost no sensitivity from behind. This is the best polar pattern for picking up a single speaker. There are two variations of the cardioid polar pattern: super cardioid, which is like cardioid but with more sensitivity behind the microphone; and hyper cardioid, which covers more sound sources behind the mic.
  • Omnidirectional: This polar pattern captures sound from all directions, which makes it more ideal for recording environmental sounds than for recording on a single speaker. 
  • Bi-directional: This polar pattern captures the same amount of sound in front of and behind the mic, making it good for a two-way conversation.
  • Shotgun: This polar pattern captures a narrow band of sound in front of and behind the microphone. It’s mostly used in video production.

5 awesome dynamic and condenser mics for every use

Code:
Mic Type Best for
Shure SM7B Dynamic Podcasting and broadcasting
Rode NT1-A Condenser Studio recording and podcasting
Sennheiser MD 421 II Dynamic Recording both vocals and instruments
Neumann U87 Condenser Professionals with big budgets
Rode PodMic Dynamic Live streaming

1. Shure SM7B 

Ideal for podcasting and broadcasting

  • Price: Around $400
  • Type: Dynamic
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency response: 50 Hz to 20 kHz

The SM7B is the go-to model for radio stations that have a lot of DJs cycling in and out. It’s a large-diaphragm dynamic microphone, and it’s forgiving for all types of voices. 

Dave notes that the SM7B “sounds as good as most condensers but it doesn’t require the same tweaking and adjusting you can expect when setting up a condenser.” 

While the SM7B doesn’t require phantom power, it does have a high impedance that can only be overcome by a very strong preamp. Make sure your audio interface or amplifier has one, or else invest in an external preamp. Note that the SM7B is a large mic, so it’s impractical for most field recordings. It doesn’t come with a built-in stand and is usually mounted on a boom arm or a microphone stand.

2. RØDE NT1-A

Well-suited for studio recording and podcasting

  • Price: Around $230
  • Type: Large-diaphragm condenser
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz

A standout choice for vocalists and podcasters seeking studio-quality recordings, the RØDE NT1-A captures rich audio with clarity. This mic is perfect for recording nuanced vocal performances and spoken word, giving it a professional-sounding richness.

3. Sennheiser MD 421 II

Versatile for recording both vocals and instruments

  • Price: $429
  • Type: Dynamic
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid 
  • Frequency response: 30 - 17,000 Hz

The Sennheiser MD 421 II captures crisp, detailed vocals and a wide array of instruments, making it a favorite of studio pros and home recording enthusiasts alike. It's got a tailored frequency response and durable design, so you'll be able to capture everything from acoustic guitar dynamics to kick drum resonant depths, and get great audio quality no matter what you're recording.

4. Neumann U87

Best for industry professionals with a big budget

  • Price: $3,695
  • Type: Large-diaphragm condenser
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid, along with omnidirectional and figure-8 (bi-directional) patterns
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz

For pros looking for the pinnacle of audio fidelity, Neumann's U87 handmade microphone is it. Neumann is an industry name known for unparalleled quality. Its versatility in capturing vocals and instruments with pristine clarity justifies its premium status.

5. Rode PodMic 

Ideal for live streaming and recording good vocals 

  • Price: Around $100
  • Type: Dynamic broadcast
  • Polar pattern: Tight cardioid 
  • Frequency response: 20Hz - 20kHz

The Rode PodMic is one of the best microphones for under $100. This microphone is ideal for podcasters, streamers, and vocalists looking for a microphone that delivers high quality sound while maintaining crisp vocal presence in live or studio settings thanks to its optimized frequency response and internal pop filter.

🧠 Learn: Best tips to improve the audio quality of a recording

What microphone is the most suitable for my needs?

Choosing the right microphone depends on a few things: environment, sound source, and budget.

Consider the environment

Let’s look at a few scenarios:

  • Home studio vs. professional studio: If you're setting up a home studio, the environment might not be perfectly soundproofed, which means you’ll need a dynamic microphone that can handle ambient noise better. In a professional studio, you can opt for a more sensitive microphone like a condenser mic. 
  • Indoors vs. outdoors: Outdoor recording demands a dynamic microphone with robust wind and handling background noise reduction. For indoors, especially in controlled environments, a condenser mic is better.
  • Live performance vs. recording: Live microphones are built to be durable and less sensitive to noise, whereas studio microphones are optimized for sound quality over ruggedness.
🧠 Learn: Top 10 microphones for iPhone on the market

Evaluate the sound source

The best microphones for vocals are large-diaphragm condensers, while for instruments it depends on the type: dynamic mics for loud sources like drums, and small-diaphragm condensers for acoustics. 

Consider budget and durability

If you're on a tight budget, brands like Audio-Technica and RØDE are great choices. But if you've got money to spend, Neumann or AKG are excellent options.

Choose a mic with a good build quality if you're going to use it frequently in live settings or transport it a lot. Brands like Shure and Sennheiser are known for being durable.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what music production or podcast equipment you use. Once you capture sound, you have to edit it. With audio editing software like Descript, you can cut, rearrange, repair, and add effects to your audio via an intuitive text-based interface.  

Thousands of popular podcasts like Planet Money and Freakonomics Radio use Descript to perfect their podcasts. Want to join them? See how Descript can supercharge your audio editing.

Ashley Hamer
Managing Editor at Descript. Musician, podcaster, writer, science nerd.
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Dynamic vs. condenser microphones: What’s the difference?

When you’re in the market for recording mics, the options can be dizzying. There are microphones for $50 and $1,000, some that plug into your computer and others that require an audio interface, and an unending list of terminology and specifications. So let’s break it down.

There are three main types of microphones for musicians, podcasters, film crews, and other recording artists: the dynamic microphone, the condenser microphone, and the ribbon microphone. 

We’ll focus on dynamic and condenser microphones, as they’re the most commonly used for home content creators.

Record or import audio, make edits, add fades, music, and sound effects, then publish online, export the audio in the format of your choice or send it directly to your hosting service.
Create your podcast from start to finish with Descript.

Dynamic vs. condenser microphones: the big difference

Here’s the TL;DR: Generally, dynamic microphones are more rugged and less sensitive to high sound pressure levels, so they're great for live performances and recording loud sources. A condenser microphone captures a broader frequency range with more detail, so it's better for studio recordings and situations with good sound quality.

Need more detail? We’ve got you.

What is a dynamic microphone?

A dynamic microphone is a microphone that uses a magnetic field to generate an electrical signal. Sound waves in the air, like from your voice, move a tiny metal coil suspended within the microphone. When metal moves within a magnetic field, it creates an electrical current, and that current transmits the audio.

Image of a dynamic microphone from Shure
Source: Sweetwater

Audio engineers use dynamic mics for recording nearly any type of sound. Los Angeles-based producer, composer, and audio engineer Dave McKeever has used this type of microphone to record vocals, instruments, and ambient sounds. He shares some pros and cons of dynamic mics.

Pros of a dynamic microphone

  • Durable design can withstand rough handling
  • Requires no external power or batteries
  • Handles high sound pressure levels effectively
  • Generally more affordable than condenser mics

“Dynamic microphones are extremely durable,” Dave says. “They aren’t terribly sensitive to things like humidity, heat, and electric shock. A dynamic mic captures less detail than a condenser, which can be a good thing because that makes them more forgiving in noisy situations. They’re also simple to set up and require minimal work to optimize.”

Cons of a dynamic microphone

  • Limited frequency response compared to condensers
  • Less sensitive to subtle sound nuances
  • Heavier build, less convenient for travel

“The flipside to dynamic microphones being less sensitive is that most models don’t capture the same level of detail as a condenser microphone or a ribbon microphone,” Dave says. “For live performance, this isn’t much of an issue. But for studio recordings, which often benefit from the rumble of lower frequencies or the breathy air of higher frequencies, you can lose something with many dynamic mics.”

What is a condenser microphone?

A condenser microphone is a type of microphone that creates audio signals using a capacitor — a device made up of two metal-covered plates (the backplate and the diaphragm) suspended close together with a voltage passing between them. 

Image of a condenser microphone by Neumann
Source: Sweetwater

When vibrations from a voice or an instrument hit the diaphragm, it produces a change in voltage, and that voltage variation transmits audio signals. But for that signal to be heard, it must be amplified by a power source. That power source is usually phantom power, which comes directly through the XLR cable. Condenser microphones are popular among recording studio engineers for their remarkable ability to capture detail.

Pros of a condenser microphone

  • Superior sensitivity for detailed sound capture
  • Wide frequency response enhances audio fidelity
  • Clearer recordings
  • Excels in studio settings 

Dave says there’s a lot of upside to condenser microphones. “Compared to a dynamic mic, a good condenser mic will have a wider frequency response,” he explains. 

“This means they’ll capture everything from very high frequencies to very low frequencies — pretty much everything the human ear can process.” You can expect a ton of detail in a condenser microphone recording, provided that the mic is properly set up and that you choose an appropriate model.

Cons of a condenser microphone

  • Requires phantom power or external power supply
  • Less durable than dynamic mics
  • Susceptible to moisture and temperature changes
  • Typically more expensive than dynamic microphones

“There’s no hiding any sound from a condenser mic,” Dave says. “It’ll pick up every sound in the room, whether you like that sound or not. They can also be harder to set up than dynamic microphones. 

“For one thing, they require an external current of energy called phantom power. You can get phantom power from your audio interface, but it’s one extra thing to plan for. Finally, you may find that your condenser mic can’t handle the same sound pressure levels (SPL) as a dynamic mic before it starts distorting. For incredibly loud sounds, you’ll definitely want to use a dynamic mic.” 

Finally, Dave says condenser mics aren’t exactly “plug and play” the way that dynamic mics are. “No matter what,” he advises, “plan to spend a lot of time positioning condenser microphones and adjusting input levels in order to get the best sound.”

Large vs. small-diaphragm mics: What’s the difference?

A microphone’s diaphragm is a thin membrane that can conduct electricity. It sits next to a metal plate within the microphone housing. The sound of a large-diaphragm microphone will differ from that of a small-diaphragm mic—generally, the larger the diaphragm, the more detailed the sound and heftier the microphone.

Large-diaphragm mics, particularly large-diaphragm condensers, are some of the most detailed microphones on the market. They’re a standby for recording vocals, but you’ll also see large-diaphragm mics in front of guitar amps, acoustic instruments, and even drum kits. They can come in somewhat unwieldy shapes, and a large-diaphragm condenser requires external phantom power — which means you have to include a power source like a laptop computer, connected via a digital audio interface — but the sound of a good large-diaphragm mic is second to none.

True to their name, small-diaphragm microphones are smaller than large-diaphragm mics, and this makes them more portable. In most applications, recording engineers use small-diaphragm mics to record instruments. Because of their compact size, small-diaphragm mics can clip to a drum set and record individual pieces of the kit. They can also work for recording vocals, but for that, most engineers opt for large-diaphragm mics instead.

Polar patterns: What to know

A microphone’s polar pattern, also known as its pickup pattern, describes the direction from which it records its sound sources. Dynamic and condenser mics come with a wide variety of polar patterns. Here are the four main patterns:

  • Cardioid: This polar pattern is named for its heart shape—imagine that the heart’s indentation is right behind the mic. This pattern gives it high sensitivity to sound in front of the mic, slightly reduced sensitivity from the sides, and almost no sensitivity from behind. This is the best polar pattern for picking up a single speaker. There are two variations of the cardioid polar pattern: super cardioid, which is like cardioid but with more sensitivity behind the microphone; and hyper cardioid, which covers more sound sources behind the mic.
  • Omnidirectional: This polar pattern captures sound from all directions, which makes it more ideal for recording environmental sounds than for recording on a single speaker. 
  • Bi-directional: This polar pattern captures the same amount of sound in front of and behind the mic, making it good for a two-way conversation.
  • Shotgun: This polar pattern captures a narrow band of sound in front of and behind the microphone. It’s mostly used in video production.

5 awesome dynamic and condenser mics for every use

Code:
Mic Type Best for
Shure SM7B Dynamic Podcasting and broadcasting
Rode NT1-A Condenser Studio recording and podcasting
Sennheiser MD 421 II Dynamic Recording both vocals and instruments
Neumann U87 Condenser Professionals with big budgets
Rode PodMic Dynamic Live streaming

1. Shure SM7B 

Ideal for podcasting and broadcasting

  • Price: Around $400
  • Type: Dynamic
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency response: 50 Hz to 20 kHz

The SM7B is the go-to model for radio stations that have a lot of DJs cycling in and out. It’s a large-diaphragm dynamic microphone, and it’s forgiving for all types of voices. 

Dave notes that the SM7B “sounds as good as most condensers but it doesn’t require the same tweaking and adjusting you can expect when setting up a condenser.” 

While the SM7B doesn’t require phantom power, it does have a high impedance that can only be overcome by a very strong preamp. Make sure your audio interface or amplifier has one, or else invest in an external preamp. Note that the SM7B is a large mic, so it’s impractical for most field recordings. It doesn’t come with a built-in stand and is usually mounted on a boom arm or a microphone stand.

2. RØDE NT1-A

Well-suited for studio recording and podcasting

  • Price: Around $230
  • Type: Large-diaphragm condenser
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz

A standout choice for vocalists and podcasters seeking studio-quality recordings, the RØDE NT1-A captures rich audio with clarity. This mic is perfect for recording nuanced vocal performances and spoken word, giving it a professional-sounding richness.

3. Sennheiser MD 421 II

Versatile for recording both vocals and instruments

  • Price: $429
  • Type: Dynamic
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid 
  • Frequency response: 30 - 17,000 Hz

The Sennheiser MD 421 II captures crisp, detailed vocals and a wide array of instruments, making it a favorite of studio pros and home recording enthusiasts alike. It's got a tailored frequency response and durable design, so you'll be able to capture everything from acoustic guitar dynamics to kick drum resonant depths, and get great audio quality no matter what you're recording.

4. Neumann U87

Best for industry professionals with a big budget

  • Price: $3,695
  • Type: Large-diaphragm condenser
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid, along with omnidirectional and figure-8 (bi-directional) patterns
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz

For pros looking for the pinnacle of audio fidelity, Neumann's U87 handmade microphone is it. Neumann is an industry name known for unparalleled quality. Its versatility in capturing vocals and instruments with pristine clarity justifies its premium status.

5. Rode PodMic 

Ideal for live streaming and recording good vocals 

  • Price: Around $100
  • Type: Dynamic broadcast
  • Polar pattern: Tight cardioid 
  • Frequency response: 20Hz - 20kHz

The Rode PodMic is one of the best microphones for under $100. This microphone is ideal for podcasters, streamers, and vocalists looking for a microphone that delivers high quality sound while maintaining crisp vocal presence in live or studio settings thanks to its optimized frequency response and internal pop filter.

🧠 Learn: Best tips to improve the audio quality of a recording

What microphone is the most suitable for my needs?

Choosing the right microphone depends on a few things: environment, sound source, and budget.

Consider the environment

Let’s look at a few scenarios:

  • Home studio vs. professional studio: If you're setting up a home studio, the environment might not be perfectly soundproofed, which means you’ll need a dynamic microphone that can handle ambient noise better. In a professional studio, you can opt for a more sensitive microphone like a condenser mic. 
  • Indoors vs. outdoors: Outdoor recording demands a dynamic microphone with robust wind and handling background noise reduction. For indoors, especially in controlled environments, a condenser mic is better.
  • Live performance vs. recording: Live microphones are built to be durable and less sensitive to noise, whereas studio microphones are optimized for sound quality over ruggedness.
🧠 Learn: Top 10 microphones for iPhone on the market

Evaluate the sound source

The best microphones for vocals are large-diaphragm condensers, while for instruments it depends on the type: dynamic mics for loud sources like drums, and small-diaphragm condensers for acoustics. 

Consider budget and durability

If you're on a tight budget, brands like Audio-Technica and RØDE are great choices. But if you've got money to spend, Neumann or AKG are excellent options.

Choose a mic with a good build quality if you're going to use it frequently in live settings or transport it a lot. Brands like Shure and Sennheiser are known for being durable.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what music production or podcast equipment you use. Once you capture sound, you have to edit it. With audio editing software like Descript, you can cut, rearrange, repair, and add effects to your audio via an intuitive text-based interface.  

Thousands of popular podcasts like Planet Money and Freakonomics Radio use Descript to perfect their podcasts. Want to join them? See how Descript can supercharge your audio editing.

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