In this article, you’ll learn all that you need to know about the condenser microphone.
In audio recording, there are two main types of microphone. They are: ‘condenser’ microphones and ‘dynamic‘ microphones. Whilst other microphone types exist, such as ribbon mics for example, condensers and dynamics are by far the most commonly used.
Condenser microphone sound characteristics:
Of the two mic types, condenser microphones capture the widest range of frequencies. Condenser microphones are a lot better than dynamic mics at picking up the high-end of the frequency spectrum. Condenser mics also provide a fast transient response, meaning that they will capture the attack of a drum kit or the picking of an acoustic guitar very well. Accordingly, condenser microphones are known for capturing a clear and accurate sound. Some condenser mics also include a low cut switch. This switch allows you to roll off the mic’s low end (usually below 80Hz or 100Hz). This offers even greater adaptability to the sound that condenser mics can capture.
Condenser microphones and loud signals:
Condenser microphones are not capable of handling very loud signals in the way that dynamic microphones can. So although they excel when capturing lower volume signals such as vocals or acoustic guitar, they are often not well suited to things like close-miking drums or recording loud guitar amps. Condenser mics typically have a much higher output level than dynamic mics. Some condenser mics have a built in pad switch to allow you to attenuate the output level of the mic.
Small diaphragm & large diaphragm variations:
Condenser microphones come in two main types. Those are ‘large diaphragm’ and ‘small diaphragm’ variants. Large diaphragm microphones capture a greater amount of low and low-mid frequencies and less high-end than small diaphragm mics. Small diaphragm condenser mics capture less low and low-mid frequencies and capture a greater amount of high-end than their larger counterparts.
This difference means that large diaphragm condensers have a richer sound whilst small diaphragm condensers are more accurate sounding. A small diaphragm condenser will generally have a faster transient response than a large diaphragm condenser. It will also have a more consistent pick up pattern.
Common uses for large diaphragm condensers include the recording of vocals, guitar amps, bass amps, cellos and horns. Whereas, small diaphragm condensers are often used to record things like mandolins, violins or percussion instruments. It is not uncommon to see both small and large diaphragm condenser microphones used to record things like acoustic guitars, pianos, or for drum overheads.
Powering a condenser microphone:
A condenser microphone needs power to function. Older condenser microphones came with their own external power supply. Today however, some condenser microphones can be powered by an internal battery whilst others rely on phantom power from your audio interface, mixing desk or preamp.
Do you use a condenser microphone in your home studio? If so, what do you use it for? Leave your feedback in the comment section below.