generally fall into one of two categories.
No. The categories aren’t big and small.
They’re Condenser and Dynamic.
Let’s talk about that…
Note: If you’re not familiar with the reference “Microphone Check”, check out this classic video by Tribe Called Quest.
Condenser mics have two characteristics you need to care about:
- They require a power source
- They’re sensitive
* Photographs of 3 very different types of condenser microphones.
Phantom Of The Podcast
Condenser mics require a power source. They usually get this from the microphone preamp. Whether you’re using a mixer, audio interface, recorder or stand-alone preamp, a condenser mic will need Phantom Power. This is a 48 volt power that’s very silently sent to the mic over the same wires it uses to send audio signals to your interface or recorder. Pretty cool, huh?
Without getting too much into the science, the diaphragm (i.e. the small piece of material that catches sounds waves) in a condenser mic produces a very low-volume signal.
To prevent the signal from getting lost on the way to your preamp, condenser mics contain electronic circuits that boost the signal. And these circuits need a power source. They get that source from — you guessed it — phantom power.
The good news is most decent devices (i.e. mixers, interfaces, recorders, etc.) made for podcasting or studio recording have built-in phantom power.
But if you’re planning on using a condenser mic, don’t assume your device does phantom power. Ask, inquire, research. Don’t get stuck with your phantom pants down.
Don’t Be So Sensitive
The other important characteristic of a condenser microphone is its sensitivity.
Partly due to the diaphragm being made of very light material and partly due to the fact the signal being amplified by the mic’s electronics, condensers hear everything.
They hear your voice — which is mostly good.
But they also hear:
- your computer fan
- keyboard keystrokes
- the televisions
- your air conditioner or furnace
- the guy mowing his lawn two houses away
And these are sounds you don’t want on your podcast.
Don’t misinterpret this. The message here isn’t “Condenser Mics = Bad.”
In an ideal, quiet environment, condenser mics are wonderful. In fact, condensers are used in close to 80% of all studio vocal recordings in recent history.
But it’s rare that us podcasters are able to record in ideal, quiet environments.
Where does that leave us???
It’s not that dynamic mics are “better.”
It’s more correct to describe them as “different.”
The first difference… they don’t require phantom power.
Dynamic mics are designed to produce a higher volume signal without built-in electronics. And because they have no built in electronics, they don’t need a power source.
This design has two direct effects:
1) Dynamic mics are less sensitive
Just moments ago, we discussed how condenser mics hear not only your voice but also the sounds in your room, home and neighborhood.
As a general rule, dynamic mics don’t.
Instead, they’re most sensitive to sounds within a few inches of the microphone’s diaphragm.
So with a dynamic mic, there’s much less chance you’ll hear your computer fan. Or the guy mowing his lawn next door.
Good news, right?
Mostly, yes. However…
2) Dynamic mics require more power
The trade-off is that dynamic mics need more powerful preamps.
As an example, the Shure SM7B needs close to 60dB (i.e. decibels) of gain to record at optimal levels.
So you’ll need a high-quality (read: expensive) preamp to provide this much gain at low noise levels.
What’s a budget-conscious podcaster to do?
For an experienced podcaster recording in a quiet room with proper wall treatments, I wholeheartedly recommend a high-quality condenser microphone.
I’d stay away from the sub-$200 condensers and gravitate toward something like a Neumann TLM102. It’s not cheap but it’s a microphone that will last a long time and deliver great results in a good room. (Note: The TLM102 is a mic I personally own.)
But what if you’re starting out in podcasting, don’t have a great room and can’t afford to blow your entire budget on a microphone?
Fortunately, there’s good news.
You can pick up a quality dynamic microphone for a fraction of the price of a TLM102 and it can produce great results.
What dynamic microphones do I suggest?
I’m glad you asked.
- Shure SM7B – If your budget allows it, consider this mic. It’s a heavy hitter in the world of podcasting and radio broadcasting. It’s the one I use myself.
- Heil Sound PR 40 – Much like the SM7B, the PR 40 is popular among podcasters, sounds great and is built to last a long time.
- Shure SM57 – The next time you see the President give a press conference on television, take a close look at the microphones he uses. You’ll likely see two of these mounted to the podium. If it’s good enough for the POTUS, it’s gotta be good enough for your podcast.
- Audio-Technica ATR2100 – The ATR2100 is a dynamic mic that works over both USB and XLR. I own this one myself and I’m impressed with its quality — especially for the price. Check this one out. For around USD $60, it’s well worth a listen.
Warning: Don’t expect any microphone to perform miracles. The more attention you pay to things like microphone placement & technique, the quality of your preamp and the acoustics of your room, the better your recording will sound.
What are your experiences with condenser mics versus dynamics?
Any good experiences?
Let me know in the comments section below.
Gear Referenced In This Post
- Neumann TLM102
- Shure SM7B
- Heil Sound PR 40
- Shure SM57
- Audio-Technica ATR2100