Some may argue that dynamic microphones are the way to go. Others will swear by a good condenser. Really, they are two different tools that complement each other. A condenser to a dynamic is like a screwdriver to a hammer.
A microphone is a device known as a transducer: an energy conversion device. A microphone converts acoustic energy (sound) into electric energy, which can then be stored as data on a disc or hard drive, or simply amplified and played through speakers.
Dynamic and Condenser microphones both accomplish this function, but they differ in their methods of performing this conversion.
1. Sound waves
3. Charged wire coil
4. Permanent magnet
Shure Dynamic Microphones Are Durable
A dynamic microphone is the most familiar of the two types and has the most durable construction. The basis of the dynamic microphone is electromagnetic induction.
The diaphragm (the "eardrum") is attached to a wire coiled in the field of a permanent magnet. When the microphone is plugged in, an electric current runs through it.
As the sound waves hit the diaphragm, the coil shifts, changing the magnetic field created by the coil. This, in turn, varies the current travelling through the microphone cord.
Dynamic microphones are famously durable. In the video linked above, a dynamic microphone is dropped several floors yet still picks up audio clearly and cleanly.
Oftentimes, a set of dynamic microphones will be used, as one dynamic mic won't respond the same to all frequencies. Some higher end microphones will include multiple diaphragms to accomplish this goal, but the price rises in proportion.
A condenser microphone uses a circuit component known as a capacitor. Used in some more expensive applications, condenser microphones are reliable for accurate sound reproduction.
The diaphragm is one plate in the capacitor, and as the sound waves strike it, driving it closer to the the other plate, the current in the wire is strengthened, thereby sending the audio information through the wire.
So Which is Better?
Neither. Actually, dynamic microphones and condensers are both good to have in your audio arsenal.
- Dynamic microphones provide an excellent capture of the human voice: ever seen those little duel mics in front of the President of the U.S.A. while delivering a speech? Those are Shure SM57, classic dynamic microphones - they've been using those ever since 1965.
- Condenser microphones are widely used in film production. Those boom mics are condenser microphones. Also the built-in microphones on your phone, camera, etc. are condensers.
Microphone Choices by Application
- If you're going for capturing the human voice (such as vocals in a song, speeches, plays, interviews, etc.) the Shure SM58 is the way to go; a trusted brand, specific design, durable construction.
- If you want to record drums, most people recommend two Shure SM57, coupled with other condenser microphones. See How to Mic and Record Drums to get a Great Professional Studio Sound.
- If you want to record a musical performance, the microphone choice varies from instrument to instrument. In general, go for a large diaphragm dynamic microphone, or a ribbon microphone if you can afford it. See Music Recording For Musicians.
- For film making and television, condenser microphones are the best choice, because they can be made lighter and smaller for getting them in awkward places. Also, the shotgun mic, a favorite of the filmmaker, can only be made with a condenser.
- Which Is Best? A Dynamic Microphone or A Condenser Microphone?
A similar article written to filmmakers.
- The Ultimate Microphone Guide ~ Voltaire
A very thorough hub on microphones