10 Reasons to Use a Condenser Microphone
Røde NTK Cardioid Condenser Microphone

10 Reasons to Use a Condenser Microphone

In this article I’m going to drop 10 good reasons for using a condenser microphone on you. There’s a lot more than these, but these reflect the best reasons to use one on set, in the studio and otherwise.

Some of these are taken from my book on Live Sound Mixing which can be purchased here, but I’ve switched a few out for our production needs. Don’t forget that there is a Cinema Sound article on “10 Reasons to Use a Dynamic Microphone.”

10. They Look Cooler. With the rare exception, condenser mics are awesome feats of beautiful engineering. And

MD 421 II Dynamic Mic

while a Sennheiser 421 is a cool alien looking tricorder, a Neumann U89 or AKG 414 XLS with its gold grill is just

U-89
Neumann U-89

straight dope. Never underestimate the power of being “Produceable” as Michael Lehmann Boddicker would describe it: that reaction that happens with clients when they say, “wow. cool.” That reaction usually means more money for you.

9. They have a Greater Dynamic Range than Ribbon or Dynamic Mics. Sure, you have to give them special power, but once they’ve got it, the ability of a condenser mic to deliver low noise floor whispers to gun shot overpressure and transduce both well in the same second is easy. If you know you’re going to have a dynamic sound source, choosing a condenser mic is the better choice. But you’re right, it’s weird. For a dynamic situation don’t choose the dynamic mic. Also remember that dynamic microphone technology is about 50 years older than condenser mics.

8. They Have a Better Frequency Response than Dynamic Mics. While modern dynamic mics are wonderful examples of sensitive audio transducers, they simply can’t compete with the thump and sizzle available in even the cheapest condensers. Because of the nature of their electronics, condensers easily emphasize higher frequencies which brings about a feeling of “brighter” or “cleaner” sound. It also creates a more “brittle” sound in cheaper mics.

7. They Have a Better Noise Floor than Dynamic or Ribbon Mics. Another function of their circuitry is a lower level for self-noise. We call it the “noise floor.” It doesn’t usually matter unless you’re recording something at a low level. Especially sounds under 60 dB. Dynamic mics typically can take a louder volume for longer – which in such a case means you’ll never hear even a high noise floor. But for practical purposes – especially when in a mix you must use compression, having a microphone with an imperceptible noise floor is critical.

6. When Hit with Loud Transients, They Generally Sound Snappier than Dynamic or Ribbon Mics. The

KM 84
Neumann KM 84

transient response of condenser mics are quicker when hit with loud volumes. Of course, that Sennheiser 421 or Shure SM 57 or some other dynamic mic is the transducer of choice for drums in the music studio, but it’s not always the right choice. Try putting a Neumann KM 84 or AKG 451 – or even a lav mic in a kick drum…you’ll get a hair cut just like mine real fast. You get that snappy attack along with a whole lot of high frequencies. You may not want this at all, but if you’re looking for thwack which was rude instead of cool, a condenser is what you reach for.

5. They’re Great for Recording Ambiences. Because of their sensitivity and wide dynamic range coupled with

451
AKG 451

their low noise floor, condensers are the right choice for recording ambiences. If you’re recording with multi-channel microphones like stereo or surround mics, the spatial imaging of condenser microphones can’t be beat for ambiences either.

4. They’re Great for Recording Sound Effects. Just like with ambiences, having a low noise floor is a great

reason to use condenser microphones for Sound Effects. But more than this, the condenser’s ability to emphasize high frequencies allows sound effect recordists to have more flexibility in post. It’s always better to cut than boost, and recording “too much” highs is usually a good thing when recording sound effects. Given the condenser’s propensity for creating punchy sounds as well, a condenser is your go-to mic for recording sound effects.

3. They’re the Only Choice for a Shotgun Mic. There have been some venerable attempts at creating a dynamic shotgun mic, but none of those attempts belong on your set or in your audio cart. Condensers have the most powerful off-axis rejection capabilities, and it’s why we see them as the near-exclusive choice on the end of boom poles everywhere.

2. They’re Better Value. You can certainly get a cheap dynamic mic that sounds great…how great? Maybe just

The Røde NTG-8 Ultracardioid Microphone

passable. But from passable to pro – you go from $100 to $800 or more. For a condenser you can get a lot

NTK
Røde NTK Tube Cardioid Condenser Microphone

more bang-for-your-buck. A $550 Røde NTK is more than enough to sound über pro. Not to mention shotgun mics which can do a great job in the mid to high three-figures. Dynamics? Not so much. To be fair, a $100

dynamic mic is going to sound WAY better than a $100 condenser.

One. If you need a pristine sound, there’s no direct wind into the capsule (or anywhere), and you have phantom power available, a condenser should be what you use. I love dynamic mics, but generally speaking, we don’t use them on set unless there’s an issue with water or power. Now with the proliferation of phantom power – even from connections to your smart phone – there’s no reason to not use them.

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