Are you interested in producing higher quality recording for your podcasts, videos or streams, but are not satisfied with the sound quality that is being recorded from your laptop or smartphone mic?
Then you should seriously look into buying an external microphone that can provide a cleaner and more professional sound.
Before hopping on Amazon to make a purchase, you should be aware that there are two types of microphones: Condenser mics and Dynamic mics. Unfortunately I didn’t take the time to learn the difference between these two types of mics before I purchased one and realized I got the wrong one for my recording environment.
Don’t make the same mistake as I did and take a minutes to understand the difference between the two, so you can save some of your hard earned cash.
How Do Condenser Mics Work?
A condenser is an old term for capacitor, which is a device used to store energy in an electric field. A condenser microphone could really be called “capacitor microphones”, but for whatever reasons the term “condenser” won out.
The capacitor inside the microphone has two plates: a fixed back plate, and a thinner flexible front plate. When sound waves hit the front plate, they cause it to vibrate, which is how a condenser records sounds.
The Benefits of Condenser Mics
- High sensitivity leading to high fidelity sound recording.
- High sensitivity means good response at high frequencies.
- Ideal for use in recording vocals, either singing or spoken.
The Drawbacks of Condenser Mics
- Typically higher cost due to electronic parts.
- The electronics and capacitor are somewhat fragile, meaning they can be easily damaged.
- High sensitivity leads to poor performance, or even distortion, in environments that aren’t quiet and echo-proof.
How Do Dynamics Mics Work?
Dynamic, or moving-coil microphones, work by electromagnetic induction. Inside the microphone there is a diaphragm which has an induction coil attached. This coil is positioned within the magnetic field of a permanent magnet.
When sound waves enter the microphone, they cause vibrations in the diaphragm. These movements cause the coil to move within the magnetic field creating a varying current and transducing the sound into electrical energy, which is how a dynamic mic records sounds.
The Benefits of Dynamic Mics
- Durable and rugged.
- Ideal for recording louder sounds and instrumentation, such as drums or amplified guitar.
- Low sensitivity means they are unable to pick up distant sounds, making them better suited for live environments and minimizing feedback.
The Drawbacks of Dynamic Mics
- Flatter recording range leading to flatter audio.
- Low sensitivity, especially at high frequencies.
- Low sensitivity leads to poor performance in capturing detail in sounds.
Which One Is Right For You?
If you’re like me and live and work in a normal house or office and don’t have access to a sound-proof recording studio, then more likely than not, your “recording space” will have a lot of ambient sounds. I live in a 4th floor apartment in San Francisco in a very quiet neighborhood. I record within a very large walk-in closet in the center of my apartment, away from any windows, but I still have to deal with ambient noise in the form of the footsteps of my neighbors and the city buses that pass by my building.
I initially purchased the Rode NT-USB condenser mic because it is a plug-in-play mic that provides a great sound. But after working with it for a few weeks, I realized that it was too sensitive to the background noise in my apartment. Although I could reduce most of the noise during post-production, I wanted to find a mic that was better suited for my recording environment.
Ultimately I made the switch to the Shure SM58 dynamic mic last week. It utilizes a XLR connection so I needed to get a USB audio interface to be able to connect it to my laptop, but so far I have been much happier with the sound. It is less sensitive to the ambient noise in my recording environment and my vocals sounds great.
The following are recordings I made of both the Rode NT-USB and the Shure SM58. I recorded some silence before and after my vocals to highlight the ambient noise that each mic picks up. I did not make any adjustments to these recordings in post-production so the recordings should be a good apples-to-apples comparison.
FYI: Turn up your volume to hear all the details in the recordings.
As you can tell from the recordings, the Rode NT-USB definitely picks up more ambient noise than the Shure SM58. This was the dealbreaker for me. If you are in a similar situation as I am and record in an environment that has any amount of background noise then I recommend getting a dynamic mic. It will give you more flexibility in your recording environment and save you more headaches when you are in the post-production process, since the mic will be better suited for your recording environment from the get go. If you happen to be one of the fortunate ones that has a soundproof recording studio, then you have significantly more mic options to choose from and can focus on a mic that offers you the best type of sound for your recording need.