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If you’re choosing between a condenser mic or a dynamic mic, you must know what you will use it for in the first place. Knowing the applications you intend on using your microphone for will allow you to select the right one for the job so you can achieve the best sound quality possible.
For this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at what condenser microphones are best used so you can carefully decide if this mic is the right one for you.
Before we look at the applications of condenser microphones, we must know what a condenser microphone is so we may fully understand why they are built for these specific uses.
A condenser microphone is a recording device with a lightweight membrane, a wide frequency response, high sensitivities, and a superior transient response. Due to these details, condenser mics are built to pick up delicate sounds with great detail in a controlled and quiet setting.
Using the capacitor inside them, condenser microphones work by converting acoustic energy into an electrical signal. These capacitors are suspended by a fixed solid metal plate and are near each other. A voltage will run across them as the sound waves hit to be then translated into an audio signal.
A condenser microphone works with the help of an external power source either in the form of phantom power through an XLR cable, USB cable, or a 9v battery. Most USB mics would come in a plug-and-play setup making them easy to install.
There are two types of condenser microphones and they vary based on the size of their diaphragm and uses.
A large diaphragm condenser mic is often bigger in shape and is side-addressed. It needs a higher signal voltage as is built to capture more acoustic energy. With that, large diaphragm mics are ideal for vocals and instrument applications with a more “studio recording” sound quality finish.
A small diaphragm condenser mic is often pencil-shaped and would sport a capsule at the end of its tube. Small diaphragm condenser mics have a consistent pickup pattern, excellent transient response, and wider frequency response, which give you an overall pure and natural sound recording.
Given their build and design, condenser microphones are more sensitive to sound. With that, condenser mics are ideal in a quiet recording environment, such as closed studios, where you can control noise levels.
Generally speaking, condenser mics are best used for recording vocals but there are specific uses when small diaphragm condensers are better suited than large diaphragm condensers and vice-versa.
Small diaphragm condenser mics are thin and end-fired microphones that can capture a sound source that is facing directly toward it. For this reason, they are great at close-miking applications, especially when recording instruments.
Small diaphragm mics have a superior transient response, which allows them to do an excellent job at capturing bursts of sounds from drum overheads. Although these are loud sounds, the short explosive moments can be captured in rich detail by small diaphragm microphones.
With the ability to pick up details while retaining a natural sound, small diaphragm condensers can superbly record multiple acoustic guitars at the same time. Should there be pick attack sections in the piece being played, small diaphragm condenser microphones can record all the intricacies and details beautifully.
Given their wider frequency response, these microphones can also give a more accurate recording of all the lows, mids, and highs of the acoustic guitars.
Similar to an acoustic guitar, a piano also has highs, mids, and lows when played. Given this, small diaphragm microphones can also pick up all the details and small nuisances superbly without making the recording sound muddy. You are assured that the different octaves of your piano can be picked up by your condenser.
Classical stringed instruments in the orchestra can be recorded by small diaphragm condensers excellently because of their consistent polar pattern. May it be string, brass, an ensemble, choirs, or bass, your condenser microphone can capture all details of these instruments to a tee and as close to the original sound.
Unlike small diaphragms, large diaphragm microphones are great at close-miking rooms because they are bigger, wider, and side-addressed. As condenser microphones are sensitive to sound pressure and details, large diaphragms can even record a room ambiance. With that, you must be careful in capturing any unwanted background noise.
With the ability to pick up the slightest of nuances while still retaining a professional studio sound quality, large diaphragm microphones are best for vocal applications. Since it has a low-end frequency response, a large diaphragm mic has the stability to record vocals even when the singer is moving.
However, it’s not ideal to use this microphone during a live performance because of how sensitive it can be to noise. For recording vocals in a live and large setting, it’s best to use dynamic microphones.
When it comes to recording a whole performance of a single acoustic guitar, then a large diaphragm mic can do a great job of making it sound fuller and more vibrant. Unlike a small diaphragm condenser, large condensers add more color to the sound source being recorded, thus, making the recording come out bigger and thicker than it is.
On the other hand, if you’re thinking about using a condenser for an electric guitar, then you might want to switch to a dynamic mic instead. Condensers work for high-frequency instruments whereas dynamic mics are better suited for low to mid-frequency instruments such as electric guitars, brass instruments, and amps.
While both small and large condensers can record higher-range frequencies, large diaphragm mics are better at picking up low-end instruments because of how full and vibrant they can turn the sound into.
Condenser microphones feature a tailored frequency response that will provide a detailed and full sound compared to a dynamic microphone. This makes them better suited for vocal applications because they will record a singer’s natural voice accurately while making it sound fuller.
Although it’s ideal to use condenser microphones in closed and quiet settings, you can still use them in live settings provided that you have noise reduction accessories to help prevent any booms or unwanted noise pickup.
Aside from using it for the right application, there are other ways a condenser microphone will help make you sound better. There are general placement tips that can help you achieve the best sound possible, ways how to optimize your mic, and even specific positions to keep in mind if you’re using a condenser for streaming.
One thing to keep in mind is that condenser microphones are sensitive to sound so using them can be tricky. While it can highlight all the subtleties of your recording, it can also pick up unwanted noise if you’re not careful.
With over 10 different types of microphones out there, each one of them has the intended applications that it can best perform. For condenser microphones, the best use is for closed recording studios as they are sensitive to sound and can pick up recordings with great detail. Although condensers are generally versatile when it comes to applications, the two subtypes also have specific applications of their own.
Knowing the best uses of your microphone will allow you to achieve the best sound quality possible and assure you that your recording device is the right one for the job.