What is a Condenser Microphone?

What is a Condenser Microphone?

A microphone takes an acoustic sound like your voice or an instrument’s sound and will turn it into an electric signal. Microphones are a necessity for anyone who has anything to do with music. So why not understand them and their functioning? There are two types of microphones that you will come across when you go out to buy them: a condenser microphone and a dynamic microphone.

This article will mainly deal with condenser microphones. So what is a condenser microphone and why or how is it different from the dynamic microphone?

A condenser microphone is also known as an electrostatic microphone or capacitor microphone. This is because it has a capacitor which stores energy in the form of an electrostatic field to convert acoustic energy into an electric signal. The microphone gets its name from the word ‘capacitor’ that is within the microphone because capacitors were referred to as condensers. The term no longer exists but the name stuck and now these microphones are called condensers.

A condenser microphone has a diaphragm which is also called the front plate. It also has a back plate and there is a low voltage/charge between these two plates that is constantly maintained. The capacitor will not work unless there is voltage supplied from an external source. This can be in the form of a small battery or by 48v phantom power (found in most mixers).

The sound waves enter this diaphragm/front plate which is made of light materials. Now, as the sound waves hit the diaphragm, it will vibrate and this changes the distance between the two plates and causes a change in the capacitance. This change in capacitance is the electrical signal that is formed in response to the acoustic sound.   

The condenser microphones are sensitive and much better (overall) if you are aiming to capture the subtle nuances and dynamics of a sound. They have an even reproduction of sound and will capture the depth of every sound accurately.

The same high-sensitivity means you can’t really use them for live performances because – a) they are expensive and fragile and b) their sensitivity will cause the sound to distort if it is too loud. These may however be used for live performance to mic the drums (especially the bass drum) or other instruments in an orchestra. When used in a studio, they require a pop-filter when you are using them for a vocal recording because they will distort the plosive sounds (like p, b, sh etc.) very easily. They are also used with a shock mount.

Condenser microphones are used in a variety of appliances and in common everyday places that we tend to overlook. These are the cheap karaoke mics or the telephone transmitters that you use. 

These are also manufactured by well-known companies like Neumann, Rode, AKG, Audio-Technica and others as high-fidelity microphones which are the norm in the recording studios for recording vocals.

Condenser mics are usually more expensive than their dynamic counterparts but there are a lot of cheap ones available in today’s market. Unfortunately, unless you are willing to shell out a fairly expensive amount – all you will get is a cheaply constructed microphone that has fragile tone and poor low-end response. You can read more about dynamic microphones in our article here (insert link).

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