Dynamic vs Condenser Mics for Recording Vocals

When choosing a microphone for recording vocals at home, our initial instinct is to reach for a condenser microphone.

After all, we're used to seeing industry-standard mics, such as the Neumann U87 in posh studios all around the world. They sound superb, and this ubiquitous studio classic has certainly left its sonic signature on countless records.

Saying that, is a studio condenser microphone always the way to go? Does a dynamic mic offer any advantages in specific performance applications or studio environments?

The answer depends on many factors, from the recording environment to the vocal style you're recording and, to a certain extent, budget.

What's The Difference Between a Dynamic and a Condenser Mic?

Before we delve into which type of mic is best for recording vocals at home, it's important to understand the difference between each type.

All microphones, regardless of their design, convert sound waves into an electrical signal.

Dynamic and condenser microphones use different operating principles to achieve the same task.

How Dynamic Microphones Work

The device inside a microphone that converts sound into an electrical current is known as a transducer (that's a device that converts energy from one form into another).

A dynamic mic design consists of a diaphragm, a voice coil, and a magnet.

Sound waves hit the diaphragm, causing the attached coil of wire (voice coil) to move within the magnetic field. This motion of the voice coil inside the magnetic field is what generates the electrical signal.

How Condenser Microphones Work

Condenser microphones work very differently and consist of an electrically-charged diaphragm and backplate assembly.

The diaphragm (usually made of a very thin metal or metal-coated plastic) is mounted in front of an inflexible metal or metal-coated ceramic backplate.

When this transducer design is fed an electrical charge, an electric field is created between the diaphragm and the backplate. As the diaphragm vibrates, the distance between the diaphragm and backplate changes, varying the electrical charge and producing an electrical signal.

Are Condenser Mics Better than Dynamic Mics?

So what is better? Condenser or dynamic? Well... it depends...

Traditionally, condenser microphones are far more sensitive and have a wider frequency response than dynamic microphones.

This doesn't make them better as such, just suitable for different applications and possessing distinct sound characteristics.

Condenser microphones are superb at capturing high amounts of detail with exceptional clarity, but their design makes them typically less robust and more susceptible to extreme environmental conditions, such as extreme temperatures and humidity.

Dynamic microphones are typically much less sensitive and detailed in their sound capture but can often handle much greater sound pressure levels (SPL) and the rougher conditions of live performances and touring.

The decision to use one or the other depends entirely on the desired outcome and the application environment. We're used to seeing condenser microphones in the recording studio as they capture lots of fine detail and clarity.

But with greater sensitivity also comes more of the details you don't want if your recording environment is less than ideal.

If the acoustic environment you're recording in doesn't sound very good, or you have a lot of background noise—perhaps in the form of your neighbour's dog or nearby traffic noise—the increased sensitivity of a condenser mic might not be right for you.

The Case for Using a Dynamic Mic to Record Vocals

So while a condenser microphone remains the best option for detail and frequency response, a dynamic mic has a number of distinct advantages:

One: Less Room Noise

As we've briefly touched on already, a dynamic mic will capture less of the recording environment than a condenser. If you're unable to apply acoustic treatment or live in a noisy neighbourhood, this might be essential for achieving a professional recording.

There's no use having a lovely detailed recording if it also contains road noise, dogs barking, or the sound of your kids screaming in the background!

In terms of reverberation (or the sound of your room), it's often easier to capture a dry sound on the way into your DAW (recording software) and then apply reverb using a plugin during the mixing stage.

Two: 'Warmer' Less Harsh Sound

As we've learnt, dynamic mics have a more narrow frequency response. In particular, they produce much less detail in the higher frequencies. For some vocalists, this restricted frequency range might help you avoid a harsh-sounding recording.

In addition, you might just find that a less-bright, warmer sound suits the recording or genre better than a bright, highly detailed alternative.

Three: You Might Require Less De-Essing

Related to the above is the possibility that your recording will require less de-essing when using a dynamic microphone for vocals. Condenser microphones can often highlight these harsh 's' and 't' sounds that, if left unchecked, can become highly irritating.

Some of this depends on the quality of your condenser microphone, the vocal style, and your microphone technique, of course.

Four: Your Vocal Might Require Less Compression

When recording vocals, applying a degree of compression is essential to help the vocal sit nicely in the mix.

When applied too vigorously, though, compression can also destroy a recording, leaving it void of dynamics and bringing harsh higher frequencies to the forefront.

The natural restriction of a dynamic mic can result in a naturally less dynamic recording, thus requiring less dynamic control during when mixing.

For a complete guide to pro vocal compression, check out our full guide.

Dynamic vs condenser for Singing & Recording - Summing Up

Condenser microphones remain the number one choice for refined high-end and capturing plenty of detail. It's true that the vast majority of professional vocal recordings are recorded using a large-diaphragm condenser mic.

That said, countless professional records don't use a condenser mic to record vocals. In fact, large-diaphragm dynamic mics (such as the Shure SM7b or Electro-Voice RE20) are used time and time again on lead studio vocals.

So even though these records are recorded in a purpose-built recording studio with world-class acoustic control, an engineer may still reach for a dynamic mic if the song calls for it or the mic compliments the singer's voice.

Your task as a home studio engineer is to learn when to apply each type of microphone. If you do choose a dynamic microphone, it's worth considering that dynamic mics also require more pre-amp gain, so if you're using a cheaper audio interface or pre-amp, you might struggle to achieve a strong, clean signal without either upgrading your pre-amp or purchasing a signal booster. Condenser microphones (even the cheaper models) don't suffer from this problem due to their higher signal output.

So like most questions in professional audio, there's no concrete yes or no answer. Both types of microphones have pros and cons, and naturally, there's always a degree of personal taste involved too!

In most cases, investing in a wide selection of different microphones will open up creative possibilities for you. Regardless of budget, there are many great options on the market; check out our complete buyer's guide to microphones for recording vocals to learn more.