What is a condenser microphone?
A condenser microphone, also known as a capacitor microphone, is a specific type of recording device used in different settings, such as music studios, live performances, and broadcasting. Its role is to convert sound into an electrical signal that can be amplified, recorded, or broadcasted. The primary component of a condenser microphone is its capacitor. A capacitor is essentially two metal plates close to each other, and it has the ability to store electrical energy. In a condenser microphone, one of these plates (known as the diaphragm) is very thin and movable, while the other is stationary. The diaphragm is usually made of a light material, such as gold-sputtered mylar, and it responds to sound waves. When sound waves hit the diaphragm, they cause it to vibrate. These vibrations change the distance between the two plates in the capacitor. When the plates are closer together, the capacitor’s capacity to store energy increases. When they’re further apart, the capacity decreases. These changes correspond to the pressure changes in the sound wave.
External Power Sources
However, to detect these changes, a power source is necessary, and this is why condenser microphones require power from an external source. This power source could be a battery or phantom power provided through a microphone cable from an audio interface or a mixing console. The applied voltage creates an electrical field between the two plates. When the diaphragm moves in response to sound, it alters the electrical field. The changing field induces a voltage across the capacitor, creating an electrical signal that mirrors the original sound in its amplitude and frequency. This signal then goes to a preamplifier within the microphone, which strengthens the signal before it is sent out of the microphone to the next component in the audio chain.
Condenser microphones are favored for their sensitivity and wide frequency response. They can capture a broad range of sounds and nuances in a performance or recording. However, their need for external power and their sensitivity to loud sounds or high temperatures are downsides.
What are the two primary types of condenser microphones?
There are two primary types of condenser microphones: large diaphragm and small diaphragm. Large-diaphragm microphones are often used in studios for vocals and instruments because they are known for their warm sound. Small diaphragm microphones, on the other hand, are typically more accurate in capturing sound and are used for situations requiring a more precise response, such as recording stringed instruments or capturing ambient sounds. Despite their need for external power and their sensitivity to extreme conditions, condenser microphones are admired for their accurate sound capture across a wide frequency range.