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When it comes to condenser mics, you will often come across small and large diaphragm condenser microphones. While both make use of a condenser transducer and operate the same way, the size of their diaphragms will be detrimental to the overall sound quality of your audio recordings.
With that said, it pays to know the difference between a small and large diaphragm condenser mic so you may know when to use which one over the other. In this guide, we will list down their differences and uses in the simplest way possible for you!
From their names alone, the size of their diaphragms is the key differentiator between small and large-diaphragm condenser mics. The diameter size of small diaphragm condensers would typically be less than ½” compared to large-diaphragm condensers that are at least greater than 1”.
It is because of the diameter size of these condenser mics that their sound and performance are different from one another. To put it simply, here’s a table that will show the general differences between a small and large diaphragm microphone:
|Small-Diaphragm Condenser Mic||Large-Diaphragm Condenser Mic|
|Diaphragm Size / Diameter||½” or less||1” or more|
|Transient Response||More accurate||Less accurate|
|Frequency Response||Flat and extended||Colored especially in the high-end|
|Address Type||Top, Side||Most of the time side|
|Polar Pattern||Any depending on the model. Consistent.||Any depending on the model. Less consistent.|
What do these actually mean? The diameter size of small diaphragm condenser microphones means they have smaller membranes. As a result, a small diaphragm condenser can boast extended low frequencies and high frequencies. This extended frequency range allows small-diaphragm mics to produce a more accurate audio image of the sound source while retaining a natural sound.
On the other hand, the diameter size of large diaphragm condensers gives these microphones bigger membranes. This allows large diaphragm mics to produce a higher signal voltage while generating less self-noise. For that reason, a large diaphragm condenser can add more color to vocal recordings and even the room sound.
With that said, the key difference between a small and large diaphragm condenser is the size of its membrane. Depending on the size, factors such as the sound pressure level, transient response, and how the condenser mics will reflect a sound wave will vary accordingly. This makes small and large diaphragm condenser mics great for recording varying sound sources and used in different applications. You will just need to know when to use a small diaphragm mic and a large diaphragm mic so you can maximize its performance.
For technical recordings and performances, large diaphragms are the way to go. The ability of these condenser mics to generate a higher signal voltage while controlling the noise level makes large diaphragms ideal for loud applications, vocals, and instruments.
Sound engineers would often prefer to use large diaphragms in a recording studio when coloration of big sounds is desired. A large diaphragm mic can add warmth to the sound recording and give that ‘professional’ recording quality touch. If you want to record acoustic guitars, vocals, guitar amps, bass amps, drums, and big brass instruments, then a large diaphragm mic is highly recommended.
Although both large and small diaphragm condenser mics are quite sensitive, the former has more edge when it comes to noise level and sensitivity. A large diaphragm condenser can be used as an overhead mic and can produce a louder output signal.
Generally speaking, both small diaphragm condenser mics and large diaphragms make for great vocal microphones. However, it is the latter that can outperform the former.
The large membrane helps make this condenser mic add more character and color to the vocal sound recording. Since the pickup pattern of a large diaphragm is also less consistent than a small diaphragm’s and their frequency response is less neutral, these all add to the ‘lush’ and ‘warm’ sound of the vocal recording.
Small diaphragm microphones have a small membrane. This gives them an advantage when it comes to picking up lower lows and higher frequencies. Aside from this, their small membrane allows these condenser microphones to have a superior transient response. While one may see these factors as disadvantages, these traits allow these condenser mics to be able to record detailed sound sources accurately.
Small diaphragm condenser microphones are often used as measurement mics. This is because small diaphragms tend to be “more accurate” when reproducing the audio source while maintaining a neutral sound. Since small diaphragms are also referred to as “measurement mics”, these condenser mics are ideal for recording applications wherein you want to explore techniques, capture intricate pluckings from an acoustic guitar, or mimic sources to a tee.
If you are a “realist” and “purist”, then using a small diaphragm mic is your best bet. A small diaphragm mic will give you an uncolored, neutral, and detailed sound recording.
The key differentiating factor between small and large diaphragm condenser mics is the size of their diaphragms. The diameter of the membranes of small and large diaphragm condensers will determine the sound quality and performance of these mics. Small diaphragms are great measurement mics because of their ability to reproduce a sound accurately while large diaphragms are great colorful mics because of how they can add warmth and bigness to a sound.
With everything said, having both a large and small diaphragm microphone may come in handy as these two condenser microphones bring something different to the table. Here’s our list of the best studio microphones to choose from so you can take your pick depending on your recording needs!