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What Is a Condenser Microphone? How Do They Work?

I often get asked about what a condenser microphone is. In this post, I will answer this question and more about how condenser microphones work.

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What is a condenser microphone? How do they work? - audio apartment

There are many different types of microphones out there, all with different uses. You might have heard of a condenser microphone, but what is a condenser microphone?

This article will discuss the different types of condenser microphones and their characteristics. So whether you’re a recording artist, podcast producer, or video editor, read on to learn more about condenser microphones!

Image of black colored condenser microphone on a stand. Source: amin asbaghipour, pexels
Image of black colored condenser microphone on a stand. Source: Amin Asbaghipour, Pexels

What is a condenser microphone? A condenser microphone is a mic that’s diaphragm is sustained by a solid plate and is very light. The pressure created by sound waves on the diaphragm results in its movement. Condenser microphones are often employed for picking up soft sounds due to their narrow diaphragm and high sensitivity.

What is a condenser microphone?

Condenser microphones, also known as “capacitor microphones,” are commonly used in recording studios due to their high fidelity and precision. Condenser microphones are ideal for recording vocals and high-frequency sounds.

A condenser microphone is similar to a capacitor but with additional features. A capacitor is a passive electrical component that temporarily stores energy in an electric field. A capacitance in a capacitor is created by two parallel plates. As the distance between two things gets smaller, their ability to hold an electric charge, or capacitance, goes up.

The diaphragm of a condenser microphone is suspended from a solid plate and weighs very little. The diaphragm moves in response to sound wave pressure. When sound waves strike the diaphragm, it vibrates, changing the distance between the plates. The resulting capacitance change represents the electrical representation of the acoustic energy from the input source.

If you are looking for one of the best condenser mics in the market, look no further than the Audio Technica AT2035. This is a well-reviewed mic that won’t break the bank. And this unit below comes with a ton of extras. Check it out!

If you are looking for one of the best condenser mics in the market, look no further than the Audio Technica AT2035. This is a well-reviewed mic that won’t break the bank. And this unit below comes with a ton of extras. Check it out!

  • KIT INCLUDES: Audio-Technica AT2035 Cardioid Condenser Side-Address Microphone | AT8458 Shockmount | 5/8"-27 to 3/8"-16 Threaded Adapter | Protective Pouch | Audio-Technica 2 Years Limited Warranty | H&A Reflection Filter (Silver) | Reflection Filter Tripod Mic Stand | Pop Filter with Gooseneck and Adjustable Knob | H&A Elite Pro 10' XLR M to XLR F Microphone Cable with Rean Connectors | Closed-Back Studio Monitor Headphones
  • STUDIO AND LIVE: Exceptional Detail and Low Noise, The performance of this side-address mic makes it an excellent choice for both studio and live applications.
  • HOME STUDIO: With its smooth, natural sound, the AT2035 is ideal for musicians, streamers, podcasters, and other content creators.
  • PROFESSIONAL PERFORMANCE: Professional Extras, The AT2035 is equipped with a switchable 80 Hz high-pass filter and 10 dB pad, and comes with a custom shock mount.
  • The Audio-Technica AT2035 Cardioid Condenser Microphone is a well suited solution for home studios, project recording and live sound reinforcement alike. The side-address condenser microphone features a cardioid polar pattern for minimal feedback and off-axis noise. The element and output stage combine to produce a smooth yet natural audio quality with low noise.

How do condenser microphones work?

A condenser microphone picks up sound with a membrane called a diaphragm coated with a conductor, like gold. This membrane is attached to a metal plate that forms the device’s rear. The diaphragm vibrates very near the backplate when sound waves strike it.

Simply put, a microphone records the pressure fluctuations in the air caused by the membrane’s vibration against the capsule’s metal backplate (the sound waves). To record the difference in pressure between the diaphragm and the backplate (capacitance), a voltage is applied, amplified, and then turned into a representation of sound waves in the recording device or software.

What are condenser mics used for?

For the most part, condenser microphones are the go-to for capturing a human voice. Because the human voice makes a sound at a level that works well for most recording situations, the mic picks up a lot of information and does a good job reproducing natural tones.

Acoustic instruments are also recorded using condenser microphones. It’s common knowledge that condenser microphones are the best choice for recording acoustic instruments like guitars and other stringed instruments.

Due to their sensitivity, condenser microphones may also record environmental noise. As a result, making sound effects produced on a soundstage seem more realistic is a common practice in the film industry.

The different types of condenser microphones

Condenser microphones come in two basic varieties: large-diaphragm and small-diaphragm. Each is unique in some aspect of audio recording and is used in somewhat different ways.

Large-diaphragm condenser microphones

Large-diaphragm microphones often have a side-firing input. That’s because the diaphragm’s length of almost an inch increases the capsule’s exposed area. A large-diaphragm condenser microphone is often put in the same spot in a recording studio. Large-diaphragm condenser microphones are often used to pick up the richness and fullness of low-end sounds. This creates a widening effect that fills an audio space in the mix.

Small-diaphragm condenser microphones

Small-diaphragm condenser mics are often long and thin, and their diaphragms are less than an inch long. Because of their small size, they are sometimes called “pencil microphones.” Most of the time, the diaphragm of a unit like this will be facing forward, and the sound source will be pointing up into the top of the microphone.

Although small-diaphragm condenser mics may be handled with a hand, many studios prefer to record with them on a desk or in a rack. Little diaphragm microphones readily capture transients and other high-end noises.

What are the pros and cons of using a condenser microphone?

Condenser microphones are often used in recording studios and other places where clarity and sensitivity are important. Listed below are some benefits and drawbacks of condenser microphones:

Benefits (advantages) of condenser microphones

The high sensitivity of condenser capsules allows them to pick up nuances and textured tones that other microphones would miss. This is especially helpful when recording voices or voiceovers, but it may also help when recording acoustic instruments that need to be recorded with a good sense of tone.

When set to an omnidirectional polar pattern, a condenser microphone is also a great way to record sound in a group. Since condenser microphones are not often used for on-the-go recording, they may be set up in a big recording studio or voice booth to pick up clear sounds from all directions. This means fewer tracks to manage in post-production and more time spent recording with a single device.

Drawbacks (disadvantages) of condenser microphones

The fact that a condenser mic is sensitive to sound may be both its best and worst features. Their hypersensitive capsules make them susceptible to distortion when exposed to excessively loud sounds. Therefore, a condenser microphone for recording loud instruments or amplified signals is highly recommended.

The diaphragm of a condenser microphone is particularly vulnerable to damage at high volumes. Due to the fragility of the diaphragm, condenser microphones can easily be broken. The connection between the diaphragm and the backplate could be broken with a simple drop or a very hard bump.

They often struggle when recording sound in a concert or other live setting. Speaking to a large audience, singing on stage, and doing play-by-play commentary all call for using a handheld microphone. Because of its sensitivity, a condenser microphone will likely pick up ambient noise. Still, it can also pick up noises made by the user while handling the device, which can compromise the quality of a recording.

If you want even more tips and insights, watch this video called “What Is a Condenser Microphone?” from the Sweetwater YouTube channel.

A video called “What Is a Condenser Microphone?” from the Sweetwater YouTube channel.
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Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do you still have questions? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about condenser microphones.

Which is better, condenser or dynamic mic?

It depends on your use. Condenser microphones record softer sounds and higher frequencies, while dynamic microphones are better suited to recording loud, powerful sounds (such as drums or loud vocals), especially in a live setting.

Can you use a condenser mic for live vocals?

Since a condenser mics frequency response is typically approximately 50 Hz–20 kHz, it is optimized for live voices. It removes the low-end boom and closeness effect that can happen when singing in a small space. However, Condenser microphones are typically less rugged than dynamic microphones and may not be suited to applications like a live performance.

What’s the difference between a dynamic and a condenser microphone

Dynamic microphones pick up sound waves and convert them into electrical signals using a diaphragm, voice coil, and magnet. Condenser microphones use an electrically charged diaphragm, which vibrates and generates an electrical signal proportional to the sound.

Conclusion

We hope this article helped you understand a condenser microphone and why many professionals use it when recording their tracks. Just keep its durability in mind too! In the end, it’s all about your sound quality and how you perform. So, before you purchase, try out different types to find the right type of condenser microphone for your needs.

This article covered what a condenser microphone is, the types of condenser microphone, and how it works. Here are some key takeaways:

Key takeaways

  • Condenser microphones most effectively capture high-frequency sounds. 
  • A condenser microphone picks up sound with a membrane called a diaphragm coated with a conductor, like gold. 
  • Large-diaphragm and small-diaphragm condenser microphones are available.
  • Condenser microphones have a superior transient response.
  • Condenser microphones require external power.
  • Large-diaphragm condenser mics are bigger and side-addressed.
  • Large-diaphragm condenser microphone excels at recording vocals thanks to its incredible warmth and clarity. 

So, does a condenser microphone suit your needs? And did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below (I read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend, and check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on music production. Thanks for reading, and never stop making music.

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Audio Apartment Author
Written By Andrew Ash
Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I've been making music since I was a kid. I now run this blog all about home studios and music production. If you want to improve your home studio setup, this is the place for you!

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