What is a Condenser Microphone? – [All Explained]


Condenser, Dynamic, and Ribbon, are few common types of microphones that you would encounter in the market. Each of them has a separate working mechanism and targets a specific population. However, when it comes to the recording industry the condenser mics stand out as the preferred choice of artists and studio owners. So, if you were wondering what is a condenser microphone? This is where you would get all your answers.

In this article on what is a condenser microphone, we would address everything you need to know. How these microphones work, who should use these microphones, and most importantly how much do these microphones cost? So, without any further ado, let’s jump right into it.

Brief Overview- What is a Condenser Microphone

Condenser microphones are preferred in the studio environment where the audio can be tightly controlled. This is in contrast to the dynamic microphones that are generally preferred for live performance or extra-studio recordings. It is because the condenser microphones are designed to pick the nuanced and subtle sounds instead of abrasive and loud sounds.

Thus, the microphone is able to pick a clear and crisper audio signal which sounds very natural when it is reproduced. We will be going into detail of its components later in what is a condenser microphone. However, as of now, all you need to know is that when you want to capture a clear and natural sounding audio, condenser mics should be on the top of your choices.

What is a Condenser Microphone Used For?

The condenser microphone is ideal for recording the vocals, voiceover artists, low frequency sounds and light musical instruments. In order to work to the best of their potential, these microphones need acoustically treated surroundings. Thus, you would often find them handed out or on the top of the desktop in the studios.

Furthermore, with the evolution of USB, some people might also use these for skype calls, or live streaming on the internet. We would discuss more about what makes them so good about the given purposes in the next sections of what is a condenser mic.

Components of The Condenser Microphones

In order to understand how a condenser mic works, you would have to understand the components that make these microphones. Don’t worry we would like to keep it simple so everybody can understand it. So, let’s dive into this section of what is a condenser microphone and how a condenser mic works.

Diaphragm

Some people think of diaphragm as the perforated metallic sheet that is present at the top of the microphone body. However, it is not the case. In fact, it is the what underneath that metallic sheet that makes the diaphragm of the microphone. It is a thin membrane that responds to external sound and pressure variation.

Furthermore, it is involved in conversion of sound signals into electric current which is then converted back to sound via amplifier or interface. The condenser microphones can be classified further based on the size of their diaphragm, i.e large-diagram and small diaphragm.

Each of these types has different features, characteristics and is used for a specific purpose. The section below in the what is a condenser microphone would let you know more about this.

Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphones

Larger diaphragm condenser microphones generally have a diaphragm that is over an inch in size. The larger diaphragm consequently increases the surface area of the capsule, more on that later. Although polar pattern plays a major role in determining the position from which the microphone can catch the sound, large-diaphragm mics are generally more active from a side-facing position.

Furthermore, these microphones are usually fixed in stationary positions in the recording booths of the studio. A widening effect is associated with such microphones which produce fullness in the audio space. Consequently, these are used to capture the fullness and richness in the low-frequency sounds.

Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphones

Microphone with diaphragm less than one inch in size is generally classified as small diaphragm microphones. They have small, thin but long designs that look like pencil; hence, they are also referred to as pencil microphones sometimes.

Because of their small and compact design, they can be used handheld or can be used in desktop position. Unlike large diaphragm microphones, these microphones are usually more active from front. However, as mentioned earlier, the polar pattern would play a key role in determining the active side of the microphone.

Their usage is in contrast to large diaphragm microphones and are used to capture the high frequency and transient sounds.

Backplate

Backplate is a piece of metal that is present right behind the diaphragm. When the diaphragm is subjected to the sound it vibrates but the backplate remains still. This mechanism produces the air pressure difference between the two components which consequently results in capacitance which in turn is translated into audio signal.

In simple terms, the backplate and diaphragm together work as a capacitor to produce and transmit the electric signal further in the circuit.

Capsule

You would often see the term capsule floating around while browsing for the microphones. The capsule itself is not a component but a combination of diaphragm and backplate. You might see the term capsule and diaphragm being used interchangeably but it is not correct. However, the clue that you should get from the capsule is whether it is big or small.

The bigger one would have a bigger diaphragm and would work better for low frequency sounds. The smaller capsule, on the other hand, would have a smaller diaphragm and would work best for the transient or the high frequency sounds.

Impedance Converter

The electric charge that is produced in the capacitor as discussed earlier needs the voltage to move forward. However, there are not enough voltages and this is where the impedance inverter is. It increases the voltages of the circuit which consequently help the charge to move further in the circuit.

It is present in the majority of the microphones but might not be present in some, especially in high-end microphones. It is because their capsules themselves generate significant voltage and do not need a separate component to boost the signal.

Furthermore, the impedance converter is what determines the self-noise of the microphone. If the impedance converter has to produce more voltage it would generate more noise as well and vice versa.

Power Sources

Power source of the condenser microphone is probably what brought you to this article on what is a condenser microphone. You might be even more confused after reading a bunch of articles that are available online. However, we promise to clear all those confusions and put this complex topic in simple and easily understandable terms.

To start off let’s just question why do condenser microphones need a separate power supply? The answer is like every electronics, the microphone needs something to get powered. However, the use of a separate dedicated power supply and phantom power still remains the mystery? Isn’t it?

Simply put, the condenser microphone produces a lot more voltage but it does not produce enough current which is needed for the recording. To get this current flowing an impedance inverter is used which needs to be powered by either a dedicated power supply unit or phantom powers.

Dedicated power supplies and phantom powers have their own shares of pros and cons. These will be discussed in the coming section of what is a condenser microphone.

Dedicated Power Supply Unit

Dedicated power supply units are now rarely used but are still a cheaper and viable option for some. The major drawback of these power supplies are they cannot power two microphones at the same time. Thus, you would need a separate power supply for the second microphone.

The use of dedicated power supply only seems reasonable when one has to use just a single microphone. Therefore, in the studio environment where multiple microphones have to be used simultaneously, use of these do not make sense. It is because of this you would hardly see these in any studio.

Phantom Power

Phantom Power is supplied to the microphone from another device through a non-power line. These non-power lines are either USB cables or XLR cables depending on the type of microphone. 48 volts of DC is supplied constantly with this mechanism which is why some people call it R48 power as well.

The benefit of using phantom power is you do not require a separate power supply anymore. Plus, you can attach a number of microphones to the same power source to use them simultaneously.

The Good About Condenser Microphone

The components discussed in what are condenser microphones should give you a clue about how good these microphones are. They are fine pieces of electronics and preferred choices of vocalists, voiceover artists, instrument recorders and studio owners.

It is because the components discussed in what are condenser microphones make them highly sensitive to sound. Because of it they are able to capture the sounds that are otherwise inaudible to other microphones. Therefore, the vocals, voiceover and acoustic instruments sound very great when recorded on this microphone.

Furthermore, the condenser mic with omnidirectional pattern is ideal for recording jamming indoors. The omnidirectional microphone can pick sound from all directions and thus every instrument and every vocal would be captured by the microphone. All you have to do is to place the microphone in the middle of the group and start recording.

Beside these, these are some other advantages that you get with purchasing the condenser microphone.

  • Wider Dynamic Range
  • Little self-noise
  • Rapid response to sound
  • More natural audio

The Bad About Condenser Microphone

While it is true that condenser microphones are really great at what they are designed for, they might not be suitable for every situation. In this section of what are condenser mics, we would be addressing these situations

While the high sensitivity of the microphone comes in handy in a number of situations, discussed earlier in what is a condenser mic, it can also be troublesome in others. The obvious disadvantage of high sensitivity is it gets overwhelmed when you subject it to loud sounds. This will lead to distortion in the audio which will be evident when you try to record loud instruments like drums and electric guitars.

Furthermore, the diaphragm of the condenser microphone itself responds to sound which makes it very fragile. This makes them vulnerable to damage and even a little bit of carelessness can render them useless.

Lastly, these microphones are not useful outside the studio and cannot be used for live performances. This includes speaking to the crowd, performing at the concert or using them in the churches.

Beside these some other disadvantages of condenser microphone include:

  • Affected by extreme temperature
  • Limited SPL
  • Fragile designs
  • Costly
  • Require acoustic treatment

We have enlisted all the cons in what are condenser mics so you could make an informed choice about getting this microphone. If you are someone who requires the features listed in this list, we would suggest you look for other options.

Conclusion- What is a condenser microphone

Condenser microphones are complex pieces of technology and have a lot of components in them. They are used widely in the studios to record the voiceovers, vocals and light instruments. However, they cannot be used for the live performances or speaking to the crowd.

This is all that we had on what is a condenser microphone and what is a condenser microphone used for. We hope this article has brought clarity to you about what a condenser microphone is. If there is anything that you want to add or ask about what a condenser microphone is, let us know in the given section. We would love to respond. Thank you.

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