To understand the difference between dynamic and condenser microphones, we first need to understand what microphones are.
Microphones are a form of ‘transducer’ in that they convert energy from acoustic or kinetic energy into electrical energy.
The two main type of transducer microphones are - you guessed it - dynamic and condenser microphones. There is a third option called a ribbon microphone, but these are much more expensive and delicate and don’t tend to be used as often.
Neither microphone is necessarily better than the other, rather they are better designed for some sounds than others.
The main difference between dynamic and condenser microphones is how they are built and how they function.
So, let’s start with dynamic microphones and how they work. These microphones work by a coil that vibrates when sound passes through it, producing an electrical signal. The wire coil is connected to a diaphragm inside a magnetic field.
These microphones are good because they can handle higher volumes before distorting as well as heat and humidity better than condenser microphones. They’re also loved for being much more durable.
When it comes to choosing which microphone to use, a dynamic microphone will work best for basic vocals that don’t require specific production like vocals or music tracks. Instead, they tend to get used for things like radio presenters, interviews and podcasts due to the rougher sound they produce.
This ‘rougher’ sound is due to the ‘polar pattern’ they utilize. Dynamic microphones tend to have a ‘cardioid’ polar pattern that will block out a lot of background noise, which is what makes them so good for interviews and podcasting.
Plus, their ability to handle higher volumes before distorting, they’re also often used to record or amplify very loud instruments such as drums.
Condenser microphones are made up of a conductive diaphragm that vibrates against a charged backplate. When it vibrates, it converts acoustic energy into electrical energy.
These microphones are much smoother than dynamic microphones in terms of frequency response. They also provide a clear, in-depth sound that is better at picking up highs.
They are not as suited to hot or humid environments like dynamic microphones, which is why they are not typically the choice for outdoor music events etc.
Instead, they tend to work best in studio environments for voice-overs and vocals for musical tracks. This is because they produce a clear sound, making vocals sound warm and smooth.
Which Is Better?
This will of course depend on what you intend to use it for. If you’re just looking for a basic microphone to record interviews or podcasts, a basic dynamic microphone will do just fine.
That being said, a lot of the sound you get from your microphone will depend on what polar pattern it has. Fortunately, lots of microphones come with multiple polar pattern options, so you can play around with different options to find the best one for your purpose.
Different polar patterns will create different sounds because each pattern will pick up sound from different directions.
So, you’ll need to know what each polar pattern does and when they work best.
These microphones pick up sound from all directions equally so regardless of where the sound is coming from, it will be received with the same level of volume and clarity
Omnidirectional microphones are very popular due to their lower cost, they’re also great for generic recording where specific requirements such as isolation is not required.
So, they’re often used for interviews and other situations where an isolated, clear vocal is required.
These microphones are designed to pick up sound predominantly from the front of the microphone. They will of course pick up sound from the side and rear of the microphone, but it will be much quieter and less clear than sound picked up at the front
Compared to omnidirectional microphones, cardioid microphones pick up much less room noise and reverb, which is what makes them perfect for voice actors, vocalists and podcast hosts because they focus on the dominant sound in the room: the voice.
These microphones utilize a much narrower direction of pickup from the front of the microphone compared to cardioid microphones. They also enhance the blocking out of background noise.
They’re great for preventing feedback and can handle a very high gain before giving off feedback.
These microphones are the most resistant to feedback and can even pick up and isolate a single sound source in loud, live environments. They have an even narrower direction of pickup than supercardioid which makes them extremely good at rejecting unwanted background noise.
These microphones pick up sound in one direction only: from the top. It will pick up a very small amount of sound from the sides but none of any use, and it won’t pick up anything from the rear.
So, these microphones must be pointed directly at the sound source in order to effectively pick it up.
The main difference between dynamic microphones and condenser microphones is how they work.
If you’re confused as to which type of microphone you should choose, you’ll need to consider what you plan to use the microphone for.
For louder, more general sounds, you’re better off using a dynamic microphone because they can handle higher volumes without distorting.
If you’re looking to record vocals for a musical track, you’ll need a condenser microphone, because they pick up higher frequencies better and produce a nice soft and clear sound and are good at picking up the main sound and blocking out the background.
Polar patterns also come into consideration because they will affect how you use the microphone and what sounds in the room will be effectively picked up by the microphone.
Fortunately, some microphones will have the option to choose between different polar patterns, making them multi-functional, so you can play around with different patterns to find the best one for the particular sound source.