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What is A Condenser Microphone? | Top Condenser Mic’s Applications

This post was most recently updated on June 2nd, 2024

If you are working towards a career as a musician, producer, content creator, or game streamer, or you just want to have some fun and record for your own personal entertainment, a good microphone is a must.

And if you can only get one style of microphone, then there are a lot of reasons to make that a condenser microphone.

If you’ve never bought a microphone before, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed by the number of choices.

The market is admittedly huge. You can find condenser microphones that range in price from the cost of a pair of shoes, right up through to mics that cost the same as a new car!

How do you even know what specs you want? Which condenser microphone brands are good?

What capsule or polar pattern do you think is best for your projects?

You’ve probably asked yourself every one of those questions.  

Well, you’re about to learn what a condenser is, and why buying one will help you out.

What is a Condenser Microphone?

If you’ve already started to go down the rabbit hole of condenser microphones, you’ll probably see that most of them tend to be a little pricier than a dynamic mic.

A condenser microphone is an essential part of any recording studio.

But why? What makes a condenser better in some cases than a dynamic mic?

To understand this, you need to understand a few basic condenser microphone concepts.

Why A Condenser?

The most popular microphone type when it comes to professional recording is a condenser mic, as it gives you the power to capture accurate audio over an extensive frequency range.

While condenser microphones can be pricey, the cost is absolutely worth it in certain situations.

In truth, buying the right condenser mic can actually end up being a positive long-term investment for your studio rig!

A Few Benefits Of Using Condenser Mics:

  • Greater dynamic range
  • Lower self-noise ‘noise floor’
  • Faster response to loud sounds
  • Often give you better value at lower price points

Condenser Vs. Dynamic

Mic choice is everything when it comes to capturing the best audio… from the size of the diaphragm condenser microphones use, through to the placement of the mic in the room.

First off, Condenser microphones are able to provide more sound output. The phantom power that these microphones require to run will give them a much higher headroom and a clearer sound than you would get with a typical dynamic microphone.

Condenser mics also tend to give you more subtle nuances to your sound than dynamic microphones.

What do Condenser Mics Do - mic - microphonebasics

How Does a Condenser Mic Work?

The design of a condenser microphone is not simple.

The main part of it is a capacitor (microphone condenser) and it consists of two thin metal plates, with one being a back metal plate and the other being a diaphragm.

The size of the diaphragm determines many of the features you see listed in the microphone specs for each model.

The Internal Mechanics

The air pressure from talking or singing into a condenser microphone causes energy transfer between the two plates contained within.

This makes the capacitor move according to the rhythm of the sound, turning the sound waves into electrical information that is fed down the cable for recording or projecting through a PA system.

As a stand alone mic, condenser microphones don’t produce enough current for the signal to be effectively emitted. 

This is the major difference between condenser mics and dynamic microphones.

Phantom Power

Investing in a phantom power supply (48V) will provide you with a reliable and effective current source, which will allow for clean, high headroom sound.

If you already have a small mixer or USB interface that does not have built in phantom power, then you can purchase an external phantom power supply to power your studio condenser microphones.

If your USB interface or mixer runs off the mains power, chances are it does have phantom power. A quick check of your specs should tell you.

Large Vs. Small Diaphragm Condensers

You can get small diaphragm condensers or large diaphragm condensers.

The larger diaphragm condenser microphones are often lower in noise. They also typically have a pleasing sound, which makes them mainstays for vocal recording and voice overs.

They keep low frequencies warm and full sounding, and often capture the high end of a source with a smooth sheen.

Small diaphragm condenser microphones will offer better transient response, and can even pick up frequencies that live outside of the audible spectrum for humans.

This makes them great for close mic applications, such as for amplifier or percussion mic’ing.

Both small diaphragm and large diaphragm condenser microphones will be at home in any recording studio… small diaphragm mics for their fantastic transient response and high frequency capture, and large diaphragm mics for their warm and rounded sound for capturing intimate vocals.

How Much is a Good Condenser?

The great news is, if you are just starting out, you can keep the price low when buying your first condenser. You don’t have to search too hard to find some fantastic bargain condensers that will deliver the best sound for the price range.

Here are some things to keep in mind.

  1. Low price does not always mean low quality.
  2. Many budget condenser microphones can hold their own against some of the best, highest-cost brands in the business.

If you’re looking for your first small diaphragm condenser for recording drums, or a large diaphragm condenser for vocal work, you will easily find mics to suit your budget and needs… as long as you know which microphones to look for.

Also, if you are looking to keep the price high, you have plenty of high end brands to choose from with proven track records in studios all around the world.

Are Condenser Microphones Good For Vocals?

You bet they are! If you test all the types of microphones out there, they will all give you different results.

No two microphones are alike. Sure, microphones may have similar specs or visually look similar, but they all have their own identity.

Condenser microphones are great for vocal work. Condenser microphones often have larger diaphragms, which boosts their ability to capture warm and intimate vocal takes.

They are also great microphones for voice over or streaming work.

Not many microphones are as versatile as condenser microphones. They work well for a wide variety of different purposes, and bring few downsides to the table.

Pros of Buying Condenser Microphones

As you can imagine, there is a long list of reasons for why a condenser mic is a wonderful investment for any studio.

You don’t have to look far to find out that they’ve been used for the majority of vocal recordings. You’ll also be hard-pressed to find a studio that doesn’t have at least a handful of great condenser microphones in stock.

Condenser mics are designed with the main goal of capturing the truest and flattest sound, without imparting too much of their own inbuilt frequency curve onto the source material.

It’s also worth remembering that every single mic you try will have its own sound characteristics, so part of the fun is matching the best mic to the source.

Condenser mics also have the headroom for recording anything loud. Guitar amps, drums, vocals… if you can name it and it’s loud, you’ll get great results with a condenser mic in front of it.

Depending on what you plan on using the microphone for, you may also see the pro of having a switchable polar pattern. This means you can widen, or restrict, the field of audio the capsule picks up in use.

Basic Condenser Mic Pros:

As a general rule, these are the main advantages that condenser mics have when compared to dynamic mics.

  • The diaphragm assembly is lighter, which helps condenser mics to be more sensitive
  • They can be smaller and more compact
  • They are good at capturing neutral, flat audio

Cons of Purchasing Condenser Microphones

As awesome as condenser mics are… they still have some downsides.

If you are seriously considering a career in any field that holds audio close to its core, then condenser microphones will certainly be a valuable asset for you… but you should also know where they struggle.

One big risk with condenser microphones is that, due to their design, they can sometimes be fairly fragile.

Where they fall into the ‘at risk’ group is when you take them out into a live sound scenario. They may sound the best for certain applications, but their fragility may be a negative for live sound.

This is why you see many live sound engineers using dynamic mics. They may not sound quite as good, but they are robust and can handle the physical demands for longer periods of time.

Another problem you would face using a condenser in a live environment is the potential lack of phantom power. Many stage boxes wouldn’t have phantom power so you would need to supply an additional phantom power supply for each microphone.

And finally… condenser mics do not fair the best when recording in a studio that isn’t sound-treated… as the echoes can really show up, thanks to their more sensitive nature.

Basic Condenser Mic Cons:

As a general rule, here are the downsides that condensers face when compared to dynamic mics.

  • They are more fragile
  • They require better acoustic treatment in your room
  • They require phantom power

Final Thoughts

You didn’t come here to be told you need a condenser mic. You already knew that.

By now, you will have hopefully learned a couple of new things that will simply re-affirm your decision to get one and take your audio recording to the next level.

Carry on with your search, and you will find the best microphone to suit your project!