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Condenser vs Dynamic Mics: 10 Myths Busted!

One of the places a newcomer to the recording industry can get stuck is trying to navigate all of the misconceptions and myths out there surrounding the difference between condenser mics and dynamic mics. These are the two most popular and readily available types with some key differences. But how can we choose when we aren's sure what's actually true or false?

Some of these issues are flat out mythology and categorically false, while others are true in some applications and false in other scenarios.

No wonder there's a lot of contradiction to be found on message boards and websites.  Couple that with people pretending to be more knowledgeable than they are and others simply parroting bad advice and you can quickly see how the confusion continues to perpetuate itself.

Another main issue is that a statement can be made about a condenser or dynamic within a specific context and then someone takes that statement and generalizes it to all contexts.  If you aren't watching out for this you could even find seeming contradictions in Ledger Note articles.

Let's not worry about who, why, and how this happens.

Let's cut straight to the chase and get to the bottom of the 10 most common myths surrounding condenser and dynamic mic comparisons and lay it to rest for good!

In no particular order, let's demolish some myths:

dynamic versus condenser

Every single bit of these common misunderstandings arise from the core difference between a dynamic mic and a condenser mic.  That difference relates to how the diaphragm interacts with the rest of the circuitry to generate the electrical audio signal.  All of this makes up the transducer.

dynamic vs condenser diaphragm

To keep it simple, the diaphragm is like your ear drum.  Sound waves hit it and cause it to vibrate and move, which generates electricity.  In a dynamic microphone a magnet is moved through a coil.  When a magnet passes through the electro-magnetic field of a coil, it causes electrons to flow in a certain direction (based on the Right Hand Rule).

In a condenser microphone. the diaphragm is one of two plates of a capacitor.  A capacitor has two plates that can hold an electrostatic charge between them.  When the diaphragm moves closer to the backplate, the distance between the capacitor plates shortens and some of the electric charge is released.

This, my friends, is what causes all of the rumors and allegations about how they perform and are better or worse at.  Let's crush those myths!

If after you read these you still have a preference for a certain type of mic or it makes sense for a specific use you have, then check out our suggestions in the following buying guides:

Let's get the myth busting started...

1) Dynamic Mics Don't Need a Power Supply

Verdict: Mostly True

Somehow this binary idea came to be perpetuated that, while all condenser mics need a power supply, dynamic mics don't.  It is true that every condenser will at least need 48 volts of phantom power (if not much more supplied by a custom power supply) to charge the capacitor and other items.

It's true in most cases, but not all, that dynamic mics don't need some form of power.  This is true for passive dynamics where the acoustic energy is enough to generate a decent signal that the preamplifier can boost the rest of the way to line-level.

But some transducer designs are too feeble to even generate a strong mic-level signal with only acoustic energy from the sound waves.  This doesn't mean they produce worse quality.  They just need a power supply, which could even be a battery, to help it along.  This is an active microphone and there are active dynamics, but most of them are passive.

2) Dynamic Mics Can Withstand Higher SPL's Than Condensers

Verdict: Sometimes True

This one is complicated.  Due to the construction of the transducer, condenser mics are more sensitive than dynamics.  This means they're typically capable of reproducing slightly more detail at lower volumes, and consequentially they can distort if you place them in front of high sound pressure level (SPL) sources.  So while it is possible to damage a condenser's diaphragm with too much volume, the common real-world problem is running into distortion issues that reduce your audio quality.

A second problem with condensers and high SPL's is that condensers can be upwards of ten times more sensitive than a dynamic mic.  This means that it can respond with greater differences in voltage.  At extremely loud levels, this means the voltage can get so high as to be sending the preamplifier too hot of a signal to handle.

Condensers, for the most part, can handle a normal SPL blast fine.  But they may distort and send a hot, clipping signal that even the best mic preamp can't fix.  Dynamics don't encounter these issues.  So they can and can't handle a higher SPL at the same time, depending on your definition.

3) Condenser Mics Are More Fragile Than Dynamics

Verdict: Halfway True

We're strictly talking about the physical construction now and not SPL levels.  For the most part, I'd rather accidentally drop or knock over a mic stand with a dynamic mic on it.  The reason is that there are less moving or fragile parts, with one caveat.

broken dynamic microphone

A condenser mic's transducer is of a more sturdy construction, yet it depends on being finely tuned to produce the level of sensitivity they are built for.  Then add the fact that most of them have vacuum tubes that can break upon impact and I just don't want to go there.

Now think about a dynamic mic's transducer.  It essentially has a floating magnet that has to be able positioned so that the coil can move around it.  That magnet probably weighs more than the entire capacitor in a condenser.  So dropping it means that the weight can shift around, bang the coil, etc.  So that's one way a dynamic is truly more fragile, but because it's working with less sensitivity this kind of mishap may go unnoticed in the final product or live on stage.

4) Condenser Microphones Are Louder Than Dynamics

Verdict: Who Cares?

This is one of those ones where it depends on how you want to play with language.  Yes, we concede that a condenser recording the same sound source as a dynamic will pop out a hotter signal than a dynamic due to the sensitivity in terms of voltage.  This directly translates to volume amplitude.

But a mic is not an island unto itself.  It's absolutely worthless without a preamplifier.  This means that these two items can be seen as one unit.  You control the output gain at the preamp, so in the end the discussion of which is louder is irrelevant and a waste of time.

If you're doing proper gain staging at the preamp then this literally doesn't matter at all.

5) Condenser Mics Feed a Cleaner, Better Signal

Verdict: False

I have no clue where this type of myth comes from.  Maybe it's because a lot of people who play gigs are used to dynamics and associate them only with live performance and think condensers are only for the studio.

It all depends on the individual mic.  One condenser might have less self-noise than a dynamic.  A dynamic might have a lower noise floor and better shielding.  A condenser might be designed as an overhead, boundary, or room mic but is being used for close miking and is spitting out too much low-end.  A dynamic might have a more pronounced proximity effect.

The problem comes from people trying to take physical and mental shortcuts.  These heuristics say "I can set up every mic just like I did the last one and all should be well."  No, no, no.  There are no constants in mics or setting them up, which brings us to the next myth.

6) It's Easier To Set Up Dynamics in the Studio or on Stage

Verdict: Who Comes Up With This Crap?

I realize time is money and we're all being rushed, but if you're grabbing a ton of dynamics and putting them in front of people and instruments because you think it's more fool-proof then you're fooling yourself.  Sometimes sound guys at the bar are just being lazy or don't want their expensive condensers being stolen when they can use all Shure SM57's and SM58's instead.

drum kit miked up

Ninety-Nine times out of 100 you're using a cardioid pickup pattern regardless, so bleed isn't going to be any more of an issue with a condenser than a dynamic.  Basically, you should never slap a mic on a stand and push it in front of an instrument, mouth, or amplifier without listening intently in your best studio headphones and moving the mic around to find the sweet spot.  There are no shortcuts.  Even if you leave a drum kit miked up 24/7 you should still check for each player and each session.

7) Dynamic Mics Can Sound Different Depending on the Load

Verdict: True But Not An Issue

This gets narrowed down to such uncommon situations that you'll likely never encounter it.  What this refers to is the impedance of the preamp input on your mixer, interface, or stand-alone preamplifier.  There's the rule of making sure there's at least a 10:1 ratio of terminating load to the microphone or headphone impedance or you under-power and effect the frequency response.

It's basically like this.  If you're using consumer-level gear then the consumer-level mic will be matched with your consumer-level preamp.  Professional quality preamps and amplifiers typically needs to supply more power to overcome the higher impedance of professional mics and headphones.  This high impedance is what allows them to be more sensitive to details (has to do with extra coiling).

So unless you're mismatching a toy with tool, you're fine here.  Also, this doesn't happen with any active microphones that ensure they have enough power.  So now we're only talking about passive mics with really crappy gear.  The other time is if you try to split a mic signal to two different inputs (I've never done this in my life), you need twice the power and likely aren't delivering it.

So yes, it can happen but is extremely unlikely.  The effect is that you don't have the power to produce the bass and sub-bass frequencies and get a very anemic sounding recording.

8) Dynamics Cost Much Less Than Condensers

Verdict: Nope

The fact that a mic is one type and not the other has nothing to do with pricing.  It boils down to the research and development costs to refine the mic to the needs of the target demographic; covering manufacturing, shipping, packaging, and marketing costs; and then the pressures of the competitors willing to fight on price.

The Shure SM57 and SM58 mentioned above probably contribute to this myth.  They are fantastic, professional microphones that cost relatively very little and can take a crazy beating.  So live venues tend to stock up on these so if they break or are stolen it's a minor loss.  But the idea that categorically dynamics are cheaper is naive.  It takes a simple Amazon or Google search to see that it's nonsense.

This flips right into the next myth.

9) Audiophiles Get Duped By Pricing & Marketing of Mics

Verdict: Absolutely

This is weird because everyone interested in recording and playback wants the best results possible.  But there's a group of people come to be known as audiophiles that tend to be very gullible and some companies are happy to exploit them.

It works like this.  Some companies produce consumer-level gear and sell it at professional prices to people who don't know better.  Then there's what we're talking about here where professional quality gear is sold at astronomical, cosmic prices that aren't based on reality.

A lot of jargon and fancy marketing gets tossed around, people fall for the Veblen Effect where they think the cost is related to the results, and then they use Confirmation Bias as a defense mechanism against shame of being duped, or get tricked by the Placebo Effect.

There's also a group of people who take pride in keeping it as low-cost and garage-band-ish as possible.  Both of these groups have opinions about condenser mics.  They are either worth it because they cost more (which they don't nor are they categorically better) or they aren't better but people get duped by the price.

These are the same groups where one person buys a treadmill as if spending money will magically make you less fat and the other person scoffs and says running on the road is just as good anyways.  Both ignore the quality of the tennis shoes.

10) Condenser Mics Only Make Up For a Shoddy Signal Chain

Verdict: No.

Admittedly I've only heard or read this a few times, but the fact that I encountered it more than once warrants destroying it.  Because it's incredibly silly and is built on willful ignorance.

I call it willful because if you know all about the entire signal chain but still believe the myths listed above then you're choosing to do so.  Otherwise your general knowledge about recording already demolishes the nonsense.

When recording non-electric signals, you always have to use a mic.  The mic is the very first piece of the signal chain.  A masterful preamp, equalizer, and compressor can't magically make up for even the best cheap mic any more than the best studio microphone ever can outpace the damage of sub-par gear affecting the signal after it.  It logically falls apart immediately with a few moments of thought.


mic myths busted

That should do it.  Please keep this post in mind so any time some knucklehead on a forum mentions one of these myths you can save your own time and link them here instead of engaging them in argument.  Feel free to proactively share it using the buttons below as well if you know someone who needs to have these myths cleared up.