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Condenser Microphones vs Dynamic Microphones: Everything you Need to Know!

Walk into any major recording studio for voice over, video game or animation work, and you're going to find condenser mics and not dynamic mics. But why?


Condenser microphones, particularly large diaphragm options like the Neumann U87 or TLM 103, are ubiquitous in major commercial recording studios that handle voice acting. In fact when studios book other studios they'll often verify that this is what they're getting. Another hugely popular condenser microphone is the Sennheiser 416 shotgun mic. But despite what some of your fellow voice actors might tell you, you'll likely not see a Shure SM7B or RE20 in a session. That doesn't mean they're not great mics, and that doesn't mean they have no place in a studio. Radio stations and podcast studios tend to have them everywhere! Just recently, an actor I've been consulting with was told by an audiobook engineer to consider the Shure SM7B over their current condenser mic. This sort of thing leads to a lot of confusion, and the mic you need depends on the work you're doing. Commercial work almost always wants the sound of a condenser mic.


Let's get into what's different between these two types of mics.


 

Dynamic Microphones

RE20 Dynamic Mic
The Electrovoice RE20- a very popular dynamic mic

Dynamic microphones are known for their ruggedness and durability. They use a simple moving-coil diaphragm that generates an electrical signal from sound waves. This makes them ideal for live performance, as they can handle high SPL (Sound Pressure Level) without distorting the sound. Additionally, dynamic microphones are less sensitive to background noise and handling noise, making them suitable for noisy environments. But no, this isn't going to fix the air conditioner noise or the refrigerator in your background. And no, recording at a lower volume to fix that doesn't work either. That is a myth.


When it comes to sound quality, dynamic microphones tend to have a more limited frequency response and less clarity in the high-end frequencies. However, they have a more pronounced mid-range and a slight boost in the bass frequencies, which makes them ideal for live vocals, drums, and other musical instruments that require a punchy, in-your-face sound. In almost every instance, I can spot a dynamic mic being used for VO work because it has what I consider to be a 'podcast tone'. Having said that, I have met a couple of people with the right booth and distance to the mic that actually sound pretty solid! But that is rare. And heck, if you're out to do podcasting work, I was super impressed with the Rode PodMic, which sells for $99! I reviewed it for Mix Magazine back in 2019, which you can read here. When recording music, I've used many different dynamic mics to record drums, bass and guitar amps, etc.


Condenser Microphones

Neumann TLM 103
The Neumann TLM 103- a popular large diaphragm condenser mic

Condenser microphones, on the other hand, use a thin, electrically charged diaphragm that vibrates in response to sound waves. This vibration generates an electrical signal that is then amplified by an internal preamp. Condenser microphones are highly sensitive and can pick up even the slightest sound, making them ideal for recording studios capturing fine details in sounds, such as the nuances in an acoustic guitar or the subtle nuances in a vocal performance.


When it comes to sound quality, condenser microphones have a more accurate and extended frequency response, allowing them to capture a wider range of sounds. They also have a more natural and transparent sound, making them ideal for capturing subtleties in voices.




Power Requirements

Dynamic microphones do not require external power, as they generate their own electrical signal from the sound waves. Having said that, if you're going to be using a dynamic mic with a typical audio interface, you'll want to add a cloudlifter to maximize gain and improve the signal to noise ratio from the electronics.


Condenser microphones, on the other hand, require external power, either from a phantom power source or a battery, to function. This makes them less ideal for live performance and other applications where power is not readily available. Mic preamps, including the ones in audio interfaces, have a 48V phantom power button. Some smaller portable units like the IRig Pro achieve this via a 9 volt battery, while high end mics might have a seperate power supply box.



Cost

Dynamic microphones are generally less expensive than condenser microphones, making them more accessible for a wider range of users. They are ideal for applications where cost is a concern, such as live sound reinforcement, broadcasting, and more.


Condenser microphones, on the other hand, tend to be more expensive due to their high-quality sound and sensitivity. They are ideal for recording studios and other applications where sound quality is a top priority. Anyone who's consulted with me or attended any of my Home Studio Primer events, knows that there are some amazing large diaphragm condenser mics for around $200 that are completely bookable! Studios rely on the consistency and engineering behind expensive mics like the Neumann U87, knowing that if the same actor is in a good studio anywhere in the world, they'll likely match existing audio pretty well. Less expensive mics may not have the same consistency unit to unit- but it's a nonstarter, since you'll likely only be using it only for your home studio.


The Bottom Line

These two microphones work differently and have very different characteristics and general uses. If you're a voice actor working from home and want the same caliber sound that engineers are used to at the studio, stick with condenser microphones. If you're in a smaller space, like a tight closet, lean toward the shotgun mics like the Sennheiser 416. If you're looking for a rugged and durable microphone for live performance or podcasting use, consider a dynamic microphone. I would argue that even podcasts could generally benefit from switching to condenser mics! But that's just me. If you ever find yourself needing help picking what's right for you, feel free to reach out. We can work together and put together a package that suites your space... and your budget!



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