What Is A Condenser Microphone? (Detailed Answer + Examples)


There are essentially two main microphone types in the world that most audio-inclined people know: dynamic and condenser. The term condenser covers an astonishingly wide range of microphones and so its definition is very large.

What Is A Condenser Microphone? A condenser microphone is an active transducer that converts sound waves (mechanical wave energy) into audio signals (electrical energy) via the movement of a diaphragm in a fixed-charge capacitor-based capsule and electrostatic principles.

This is the most basic definition and it leaves many questions unanswered…

How do condensers work, exactly? What are all the different types of condenser microphones and what are some examples of each type? Do condensers work best in certain situations? How are condenser mics different than dynamics?

This article will provide you with answers to each of these questions while presenting other important information that will help you to understand condenser microphones!


Table Of Contents


What Is A Condenser Microphone?

As we’ve just discussed, the most basic definition of a condenser microphone is as follows: An active microphone transducer (it requires power to function) with a capacitor-based capsule that employs electrostatic principles to convert sound into audio.

As with all types of microphones, condensers require a diaphragm to interact with and approximate the movement of sound waves.

So even though there are countless examples of condenser microphones, they do share one core working principle. With this principle comes a few key components that condenser microphones share:

  • Parallel-plate capacitor-based capsule
  • A diaphragm (or more) that acts as one plate of the capacitor
  • A backplate (or more) that acts as the other plate of the capacitor
  • An impedance converter
  • Circuitry to allow electrical power to properly charge and/or power the active components.

Though somewhat technical, this is the simplest way to describe a general condenser microphone with a basic amount of information.

Condenser microphones are often chosen for their wide frequency responses; high-sensitivities; accurate transient responses; and overall sound quality. Of course, some condensers outperform others and with the wide variety of condenser mics on the market, it’s incredibly difficult to come up with a list of generalities that describe all condenser mics.

To really learn about what a condenser microphone is, though, we must study how a condenser microphone works.


How Do Condenser Microphones Work?

There are countless specific types of condenser microphones each with their own unique characteristics. Therefore, this section, though highly informative, will cover only the generalities of how all condenser microphones function and will shy away from specific mics and condenser types (that is for later in the article).

Condenser microphones, like all microphones, are transducers that work to convert mechanical wave energy (sound waves) into electrical energy (audio signals). Condenser mics, in particular, do so based on electrostatic principles, which we’ll get to shortly.

Let’s start with the most universal component of any microphone: the diaphragm.

The diaphragm of a condenser microphone is a thin movable membrane that is connected to the mic capsule around its perimeter. It moves according to the sound pressure difference between its front side and backside. In other words, the condenser diaphragm moves in accordance with the sound waves it is subjected to.

This is an essential part of the condenser microphone transducer.

Condenser mic capsules are essentially designed as parallel-plate capacitors. The term “condenser” is actually an outdated term for a capacitor.

The movable diaphragm acts as the front plate in the capacitor. Again, it’s critical that the diaphragm is movable. The other plate, known as the backplate, is stationary.

So how does a moving diaphragm in a parallel-plate capacitor create an audio signal? Let’s start answering this question by discussing the first electrostatic principle:

V = Q • C

The voltage across a parallel-plate capacitor is equal to the product of the electrical charge across the plates and the capacitance of the capacitor.

  • V = voltage across the plates.
  • Q = electrical charge between the plates.
  • C = capacitance of the parallel-plate capacitor.

Note that this equation is an ideality and that certain inefficiencies cause losses of voltage, charge and capacitance. However, this equation, in theory, holds true.

So the condenser capsules (capacitor) must be charged in order to function properly. More specifically, a condenser capsule must hold as fixed a charge as possible. This is why all condenser mics are active (require power to work) and why the capsules have extremely high impedance (to stop the drainage of electrical charge).

This charge (aka “polarization”) is supplied either externally via a powering method or internally via electret material placed strategically in the capsule. Externally-polarized condenser mics get their charge from phantom power, external PSUs, T-power, batteries, or another powering method. Electret mics are pre-polarized with quasi-permanently charge electret material.

With a constant charge, any change in capacitance will cause an inversely proportionate change in voltage across the plates. This brings us to our second electrostatic principle.

C = ε0(A/d)

The capacitance of a condenser capsule is equal to the product of the dielectric constant and the quotient of the area of the plates and the distance between the plates.

  • C = capacitance of the parallel-plate capacitor.
  • ε0 = dielectric constant.
  • A = area of the plates.
  • d = distance between the plates.

This equation is also an ideality so inefficiencies cause losses in some of the factors.

The dielectric constant and the area of the plates are constants. Therefore, we can simplify the equation to state that the capacitance of the mic capsule is inversely proportionate to the distance between the plates.

Combining what we know of the two electrostatic equations, we infer that the voltage across the capsule is reliant on the distance between the capsule plates. Therefore, a diaphragm moving back and forth about its resting position would cause an AC voltage across the plates.

As discussed, the diaphragm moves according to sound waves. Thus the microphone represents the sound waves as an AC voltage (aka audio signal). In other words, the condenser mic capsule is a transducer!

However, the “signal” produced by the capsule has a very high impedance (a byproduct of keeping a constant charge across the plates) and requires an impedance converter in order to be used by the microphone and beyond the microphone. There are a few methods to drop the impedance (tubes and transistors) which we’ll get to shortly.

Other than that, there are a variety of different circuits and output designs a condenser may use to further treat the signal before it is outputted.

That is how a condenser microphone, in general!


The Condenser Microphone Capsule

The condenser microphone capsule refers to the entire transducer element of the mic. It is made of the diaphragm and backplate capacitor setup and the housing that holds it together.

Let’s have a look at a simple diagram that represents the condenser mic capsule:

In this simplified graphic, we see the diaphragm and backplate with electrical leads coming off of them. These leads effectively take the signal produced by the capsules and carry it to the impedance converter.

Note that in electret microphones, there would be electret material on either the diaphragm or backplate (or the electret material would make up the diaphragm). Also, note that the housing and backplate of the capsule are often designed with acoustic holes to allow sound pressure variation at the rear of the diaphragm (this pressure-gradient setup allows for various polar patterns).

To learn more about microphone capsules, check out my What Is A Microphone Capsule? (Plus Top 3 Most Popular Capsules).

Let’s have a look at a few condenser capsule examples:

Rode HF6

The Rode HF6 is a single large-diaphragm cardioid condenser capsule. It has a 1″ diaphragm diameter. It is also edge-terminated, meaning that the conductive electrical leads are taken from the edge of the housing rather than from the centre of the diaphragm/backplate.

The HF6 is the capsule in the famed Rode NT1. This microphone is an electret condenser and so its capsule is pre-polarized rather than externally-polarized.

AKG CK12

The AKG CK12 is perhaps the best (and certainly one of the most influential) capsules in the world. This dual large-diaphragm multi-pattern edge-terminated capsule was first introduced in 1953 in the design of the legendary AKG C12. Since then, the design of CK12 has been used for countless other microphones though the original product is difficult to meet or exceed in terms of quality.

For more information on the AKG C12 and other legendary vintage microphones, check out My New Microphone’s Top 12 Best Vintage Microphones (And Their Best Clones).

Mics that use CK12 capsules are often designed with 9-selectable polar patterns and incredible frequency and transient response specifications. Most notable among these mics are the family of AKG C 414 mics and Telefunken’s Ela M line of mics.

The original gold-sputtered diaphragms of the CK12 were 10-micron Styroflex plastic. AKG made a decision to change the diaphragm gauge to 9-micron Mylar for improved durability and later changed the diaphragms to 6-micron Mylar to improve the response (once the technology was there).

The CK12 does not only have two diaphragms but two backplates as well. These backplates are spaced apart ever so slightly to improve high-end frequency response when the diaphragm signals are combined.

Originally these tensioning ring was made of brass and was attached by screws. AKG later changed this spec to be nylon with a friction attachment mechanism.

Neumann K67

The Neumann K67 is another top-of-the-line dual large-diaphragm multi-pattern condenser capsule. This capsule, unlike the others, is centre-terminated. Its diaphragms are gold-sputtered and the capsules were first introduced in the Neumann U 67 microphone in 1960. Originally the K67 was designed as a multipattern-capable alternative to Neumann’s successful K47 capsules (of the Neumann U 47).

For a detailed read on edge-terminated and centre-terminated capsules, check out my article What Are Centre And Edge-Terminated Microphone Capsules?

The K67 is designed with dual-diaphragms and a single shared backplate. However, in manufacturing, each diaphragm is tensioned to its own backplate and then these equally-tuned systems are joined together at their backplates to form one cohesive backplate.

The K67 capsule was designed to use gold-sputtered polyester-film diaphragms rather than the PVC of the original M7 and K47 capsules.

Neumann KK84

The Neumann KK84 is an example of a small-diaphragm condenser capsule. This single-diaphragm cardioid capsule is designed for the top-address KM 184.

To achieve the cardioid directionality, the backplate is carved with a series of slits rather than the standard through-holes in most diaphragms. The diaphragm itself is a gold-sputtered polyester Mylar film.


The Impedance Converter

Note that the impedance converter is sometimes referred to as the mic’s internal preamp. Though the impedance converter may very well boost the voltage of the capsule’s signal, it is not a true preamplifier because it does not apply gain to an input signal.

As we’ve mentioned, in order for the condenser microphone capsule to hold a fixed charge, it must have extremely high impedance. The high impedance of the capsule prevents the leakage of electrical charge at the expense of a poor signal transfer. Therefore, if we are to be able to actually use the signal from the mic capsule, we need an impedance converter (IC) immediately after the capsule to drop the impedance of the signal.

Once again, electrical impedance impedes the flow of AC signals. Higher impedance means the mic signal will have a more difficult time travelling through a signal wire and will ultimately degrade before reaching its intended device in a circuit (especially during longer cable runs). This is why the impedance converter must come immediately after the capsule to ensure minimal signal loss between the capsule and IC.

Impedance converters are so important and necessary in condenser microphones that these mics are often described by their IC types. In general, there are 2 types of impedance converters:

  1. Vacuum tubes
  2. Field-effect transistors

Vacuum Tube Impedance Converters

A vacuum tube (also known as an electron tube or a valve) is an electronic device that controls the flow of electrical current between electrodes when a voltage has been applied across these electrodes. This process takes place within a sealed vacuum.

Microphone vacuum tubes require at least 3 electrodes (making the tubes “triodes”). They are made of an outer container (of glass or ceramic). There is a vacuum within the container with no air present. It’s critical that there is no oxygen in the tube so that the device doesn’t burn up while in the process of sending electrical currents.

Within the tube are electrodes that cause the flow of electrons, hence producing an electrical current. The triode tube (the base level for a microphone tube) has three electrodes. Below is a simple diagram with the electrodes listed underneath:

Simple Triode Vacuum Tube Diagram
  • H: heater
  • K: cathode
  • A: anode
  • G: gate

A microphone tube requires power to function. This power is typically supplied by an external power supply unit and is used to heat the heater of the vacuum tube.

Once sufficiently heated, the tube’s negative electrode, the cathode, will begin to emit electrons (which are negatively charged). These electrons will be repelled by the negative cathode and be attracted to the positive anode. This causes a flow of electrons (electric current) between the cathode and anode!

This current has relatively low impedance compared to the capsule’s output. It is also constant unless there is a signal applied at the grid electrode. This is where things get interesting.

The grid can be thought of as the input of the triode tube. It has incredibly high input impedance and is able to accept the high-impedance signal from the capsule.

The grid then acts as a modulator, allowing varying amounts of electrons to flow between the cathode and the anode. The alternative current (audio signal) outputted from the vacuum tube is modulated by the capsule’s signal. This, in effect, allows the vacuum tube to convert signal impedance and even boost the voltage (level) of the audio signal!

To learn more about tubes and tube microphones, check out my article What Is A Tube Microphone And How Do Tube Mics Work?

Field-Effect Transistor Impedance Converters

Transistors have replaced vacuum tubes in practically all electronic disciplines. Though many tube microphones are cherished for their character (saturation, distortion, etc.), most condenser microphones on the market today use transistors as their impedance converters.

Transistors are more accurate; smaller; cheaper, and require less power than their tube counterparts.

The typical FET impedance converter is based on a field-effect transistor and more specifically a junction-gate field-effect transistor.

A JFET is an active electronic device with three terminals. It utilizes semiconductive material (ie: doped silicon) and uses voltage/current at one pair of terminals to control the voltage/current at another pair of terminals. Let’s have a look at a simple diagram of a JFET following by a list of its terminals:

  • S = source
  • D = drain
  • G = gate

To properly power a JFET, external voltage (via biasing or phantom power) must be applied across the source and drain. The capsule’s AC voltage signal is then applied across the gate and source.

The gate-source can be thought of as a high-impedance input capable of accepting the high-impedance signal from the mic capsule. This source-drain can be thought of as the low-impedance output which often has a greater amplitude as well.

The high-impedance “input” signal, then, effectively controls the low-impedance “output” signal, allowing the FET/JFET to converter the impedance of the capsule signal appropriately.

For more info on FETs and microphones, check out my article What Are FETs & What Is Their Role In Microphone Design?


Condenser Microphone Power Requirements

Condenser microphones are all active regardless of if they have pre-polarized capsules (electret mics) or not. This is true because all condenser microphones require an impedance converter which is an inherently active device.

On top of that, many condenser microphones have printed circuit boards with active components built into them.

So condenser microphones may require power to polarize their capsules and run their printed circuit boards but all condensers require power for their impedance converters.

The main point here is that condenser microphones require power so how do we supply this power? Here is a list of microphone powering methods:

  • Phantom power
  • External power supply units
  • DC biasing
  • T-power (A-B power)
  • Plug-in power
  • USB-power
  • Batteries

Phantom Power

Phantom power is a very popular, standardized and safe way to power condenser microphones. It supplies +48 volts DC on pins 2 and 3 of a balanced cable and is used primarily to power studio and film condenser microphones.

Learn everything you need to know about microphones and phantom power by reading my article What Is Phantom Power And How Does It Work With Microphones?

External Power Supply Units

External power supply units are required for tube microphones since vacuum tubes are so power-hungry. External PSUs connect to the wall plug and to the microphone and are designed specifically for their intended microphone’s power needs.

DC Biasing

Bias voltage is a low DC voltage (typically between 1.5 and 9.5 volts DC) that runs along the audio (and return) lines of an unbalanced mic cable. It is typically used to power the JFET impedance converters of miniature microphones.

T-Power (A-B Power)

It was one of the first methods to power condenser microphones directly through their audio cables using 12 V DC. Since then, phantom power has effectively replaced T-power as the standard microphone powering technique due to its superior powering and safety.

Plug-In Power

Plug-in-power is a common method to power consumer-grade electret microphones that connect to consumer audio equipment (portable recorders, computer sound cards, etc.).

PiP is a low-current source that supplies +5 volts DC. This method sends power through an unbalanced cable, using the sleeve/shield as a return. PiP and DC biasing are nearly the same though their applications are different.

USB-Power

USB power is a +5 V DC voltage carried on pin 1 of the USB connector.

In USB condenser microphones, USB power is used to power both the FET impedance converters and the analog-to-digital converters (note that all USB condenser capsules are pre-polarized electrets).

Batteries

Batteries are sometimes and an option for providing power to a condenser microphone.

My New Microphone has an in-depth article on microphone powering methods called How Are Microphones Powered? (7 Mic Powering Methods).


Types Of Condenser Microphones

As mentioned earlier in the article, there are many types of condenser microphones.

The major factors that are worth distinguishing are:

  • Capsule polarization: is the mic capsule permanently polarized with electret material or does it require an external source to provide the fixed charge across the plates?
  • Impedance converter: is the condenser mic’s IC based on tube electronics or transistors electronics?
  • Diaphragm size: the size of the diaphragm plays a role in mic design, functionality and ultimately the specifications of the microphone. Is the diaphragm small or large?

So with that being said, let’s have a look at the general “types” of condenser microphones. Note that any particulate mic will likely belong to many different types. The types we’ll discuss are as follows:

  • Electret condensers
  • Externally-polarized “true” condensers
  • Tube condensers
  • FET condensers
  • AF condensers
  • RF condensers
  • Small-diaphragm condensers
  • Large-diaphragm condenser
  • Miniature-diaphragm condensers

Electret Condensers

Electret condenser microphones have electret material built into their capsules which maintains a quasi-permanent electric charge across the plate. These mics are considered pre-polarized and so not require an external power source to provide a polarization voltage for the capsule.

The term “electret” is a portmanteau between “electrostatic” and “magnet” and acts as a permanent provider of an electric charge. Note that the term “quasi-permanent” is often used to state that electrets will eventually lose their charge but with today’s technology, the charge will last for a very long time.

In microphones, the electret material is typically Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) plastic in film form or in solute form. This PTFE is melted and resolidified in a strong electric field in order to keep the electric charge within its solid formation.

The electret material is designed to supply the appropriate fixed electric charge across the capsule of the electret microphone.

Electret microphones are typically also FET microphones.

For a detailed read on electret condenser microphones specifically, check out my article The Complete Guide To Electret Condenser Microphones.


Externally-Polarized “True” Condensers

Externally-polarized condensers, as the name suggests, require an external voltage to properly polarize their capsules.

The term “true” came about in the early, cruder, days of electret microphones when the electret technology was not nearly as good as it is today. Manufacturers used the term “true” to differentiate their externally-polarized condensers from the lesser electret condenser microphones. With today’s technology and modern mics, the difference is not nearly as pronounced (if at all).

With all that being said, externally-polarized condensers remain great options. For example, the highly reputable microphone company, Neumann GmbH, prides itself on only producing true condenser microphones.

Tube microphones are nearly all externally-polarized condensers. Quite a few studio-grade condenser microphones are also externally-polarized.


Tube Condensers

As you could probably guess from reading the earlier parts of this article, tube condensers utilize vacuum tube electronics as their impedance converters.

Tube mics are often loved for their character. Vacuum tubes often inherently exhibit saturation, distortion and compression which all colour the mic signal in sonically pleasing ways. So although tube electronics are not as precise as transistor-based electronics, tube mics are still sought after because they sound magnificent.

Tube condensers all have externally-polarized capsules.


FET Condensers

FET condenser microphones (otherwise known as solid-state condensers) have transistor-based impedance converters. Because transistor technology is so popular in these mics (and can be quite inexpensive), we have a wide range of condenser microphones that utilize FET ICs.

There are high-end studio-grade FET mics, lavalier FET mics, and measurement FET mics. There are mid-range FET mics. The cheap consumer-grade mics in toys and other devices are also commonly FET mics (though MEMS microphones are becoming more and more standard).

To learn more about MEMS mics, check out my piece called What Is A MEMS (Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems) Microphone?

The main point here is that FET condensers have solid-state transistor-based impedance converters.

FET condensers can be pre-polarized or externally-polarized and can have small or large diaphragms.

For an in-depth article on solid-state FET microphones, check out My New Microphone’s What Is A Solid-State Microphone? (With Mic Examples).


AF Vs. RF Condenser Microphones

Thus far in the article, we’ve been discussing AF (audio-frequency) condenser microphones. These are the mics that use a high-impedance capacitor-based capsule to store a fixed charge and vary the capacitance of the capsule to produce a voltage. These mics require an impedance converter if the capsule signal is to be used at all.

AF condensers are very popular and have been designed to work tremendously well. However, there’s no winning against high humidity with an AF condenser. In a humid atmosphere, the stored charge across the plates can escape on water molecules in the air rather than through the impedance converter. This causes noisy and reduced output. The high biasing voltage also attracts dust particles to the diaphragm, reducing its efficiency and linearity.

There is another type of condenser capsule we must mention that works much better in these humid environments. This system was developed by Sennheiser for use in their MKH shotgun microphones and is known as the RF (radio-frequency) condenser microphone.

RF condensers utilize a low-impedance capsule as a tuning capacitor for an RF oscillator. This oscillator employs the capacitor/capsule in a low-impedance circuit where a high-frequency signal is passed through the capacitor at all times.

The front and backplates are set up the same way with the front plate acting as a diaphragm. Sound waves cause the diaphragm to move and, therefore, a change in capacitance of the capsule.

This change in capacitance alters the resonant frequency of the circuit (~8 MHz) and so its frequency becomes proportional to the audio signal.

An RF demodulator (rather than an impedance converter) is then put in-line to restore the output to an audio signal.

This system is rugged and practically immune to humidity due to the low-impedance of the circuit. It makes Sennheiser’s MKH line of microphones a top-pick for engineers when recording in the great outdoors!


Small-Diaphragm Vs. Large-Diaphragm Condensers

A major differentiator between condenser microphones is the size of their diaphragms.

Though very vague, these sizes are generally used to give the user a good idea of what to expect in terms of microphone character and performance.

In general, these sizes are as follows:

  • Small-diaphragm: a condenser diaphragm with a diameter less than or equal to 1/2″ (12.7 mm).
  • Large-diaphragm: a condenser diaphragm with a diameter greater than or equal to 1″ (25.4 mm).

Of course, these sizes leave a relatively large range of diaphragm diameters out of the question. This is simply a rough guide though large-diaphragm and small-diaphragm condenser do have their own differences. That being said, it is actually quite uncommon to have a condenser diaphragm diameter be between 1/2″ and 1″.

Tables are an easy way to disseminate information. Let’s look at the differences between SDCs and LDCs in the following table:

 Small-Diaphragm Condenser MicrophonesLarge-Diaphragm Condenser Microphones
Diaphragm Size1/2" (12.7 mm) or less1" (25.4 mm) or more
Transient ResponseMore accurateLess accurate
Frequency ResponseFlatter and more extendedMore coloured especially in the high-end
Address TypeTop or sideTypically side
Polar PatternsAny polar pattern. Very consistentAny polar pattern. Less consistent
SensitivityHighHigh
Self-NoiseMoreLess
PriceCheap to very expensiveInexpensive to very expensive

For the complete article on the differences between SDCs and LDCs, head over to My New Microphone’s Large-Diaphragm Vs. Small-Diaphragm Condenser Microphones.


Miniature-Diaphragm Condensers

It’s worth mentioning miniature-diaphragm condenser separately from SDCs and LDCs. These mini mics make up the vast majority of lavalier/lapel microphones.

These microphones are often used in conjunction with wireless systems. They connect to wireless transmitters which are generally used not only to send the signal wirelessly but also to provide the JFET impedance converter with proper DC biasing voltage in order for the mic to work.


Other Differentiators

There are other, more general differentiators between condenser mics that also apply to other microphone transducers as well. They include:

  • Transformer-coupled or transformerless output circuitry
  • Multi-pattern or single-pattern
  • Wireless or wired

Condenser Microphone Applications

Condenser microphones are pretty well used on every application where sound needs recording. It would be nice to go through every common application in detail but that would take up a whole other article.

This is mainly due to the wide variety of condenser microphones available. As mentioned, these mics range from the top-of-the-line best studio mics ever to the cheapest possible mics in consumer goods. This range also covers countless microphones in between.

With that being said, some common and noteworthy condenser mic applications include:

  • Studio vocal mics (especially large-diaphragm FET and tube mics)
  • Instrument mics
  • Voiceover mics (especially large-diaphragm FET and tube mics)
  • Wireless lavalier mics (especially miniature pre-polarized FET mics)
  • Shotgun mics in film and video (small-diaphragm AF/RF capsules in shotgun mics)
  • Consumer devices that require microphones

For My New Microphone’s recommended microphones page, click here.


Condenser Microphone Examples

In this section, we’ll go through condenser microphones of each of the types listed above. I’ll add a shortlist after each to note which types the microphone belongs to.

The condenser microphone examples are:

  • Neumann TLM 103
  • Rode NT1-A
  • Sony C-800G
  • Neumann KM 184
  • DPA 4006A
  • Sanken COS-11D
  • Sennheiser MKH 416
  • Cylewet CYT1013
  • Blue Yeti

Neumann, Rode, DPA, Sennheiser and Blue are all featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphone Brands You Should Know And Use.

Neumann TLM 103

The Neumann TLM 103 (link to check the price on Amazon) is a transformerless large-diaphragm solid-state microphone.

Neumann TLM 103

This mic has a signal diaphragm and a cardioid polar pattern. Its externally-polarized capsule and FET impedance converter are powered via phantom power.

The Neumann TLM 103 is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 50 Best Microphones Of All Time and Top 11 Best Microphones For Recording Vocals.

The Neumann TLM 103 belongs to the following mic types:

  • Externally-polarized capsule
  • Large-diaphragm
  • Single-pattern (cardioid)
  • Single-diaphragm
  • FET impedance converter
  • Phantom-powered
  • Transformerless output
  • AF capsule

Rode NT1-A

The Rode NT1-A (link to check the price on Amazon) is a large-diaphragm electret microphone with a cardioid polar pattern.

Rode NT1-A

This mic has a transistor-based impedance converter and a transformerless output. It runs on phantom power.

The Rode NT1-A is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 50 Best Microphones Of All Time and Top 10 Best Microphones Under $500 for Recording Vocals.

The Rode NT1-A belongs to the following mic types:

  • Pre-polarized electret capsule
  • Large-diaphragm
  • Single-pattern (cardioid)
  • Single-diaphragm
  • FET impedance converter
  • Phantom-powered
  • Transformerless output
  • AF capsule

Sony C-800G

The Sony C-800G (link to check the price on Amazon) is a large-diaphragm multi-pattern tube condenser microphone.

Sony C-800G

This condenser mic example features a dual-diaphragm capsule and a transformer-coupled output. It is powered by an external power supply unit.

The Sony C-800G is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 50 Best Microphones Of All Time and Top 11 Best Microphones For Recording Vocals.

The Sony C-800G belongs to the following mic types:

  • Externally-polarized capsule
  • Large-diaphragm
  • Multi-pattern (cardioid, bidirectional, omnidirectional)
  • Dual-diaphragm (single backplate)
  • Vacuum tube impedance converter
  • External PSU
  • Transformer-coupled output
  • AF capsule

Neumann KM 184

The Neumann KM 184 (link to check the price on Amazon) is a small-diaphragm top-address condenser microphone with a cardioid polar pattern.

Neumann KM 184

This mic’s capsule is externally-polarized and its impedance converter is transistor-based. The capsule and IC both run on phantom power.

The Neumann KM 184 is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 50 Best Microphones Of All Time.

The Neumann KM 184 belongs to the following mic types:

  • Externally-polarized capsule
  • Small-diaphragm
  • Single-pattern (cardioid)
  • Single-diaphragm
  • FET impedance converter
  • Phantom-powered
  • Transformerless output
  • AF capsule

DPA 4006A

The DPA 4006A (link to check the price on Amazon) is a high-end small-diaphragm condenser mic with an omnidirectional polar pattern.

DPA 4006A

This electret microphone is phantom powered with a FET impedance converter and transformerless output.

The DPA 4006 is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 50 Best Microphones Of All Time.

The DPA 4006A belongs to the following mic types:

  • Pre-polarized capsule
  • Small-diaphragm
  • Single-pattern (omnidirectional)
  • Single-diaphragm
  • FET impedance converter
  • Phantom-powered
  • Transformerless output
  • AF capsule

Sanken COS-11D

The Sanken COS-11D (link to check the price on Amazon) is a great example of an industry-standard miniature lavalier microphone. It is an electret condenser mic with an omnidirectional polar pattern.

Sanken COS-11D

This electret mic has a small JFET impedance converter that is powered via DC-biasing (typically from the connected wireless transmitter). Its simple circuitry does not include an output transformer.

The Sanken COS-11D is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 50 Best Microphones Of All Time.

The Sanken COS-11D belongs to the following mic types:

  • Pre-polarized capsule
  • Miniature-diaphragm
  • Single-pattern (omnidirectional)
  • Single-diaphragm
  • FET impedance converter
  • Powered by DC-biasing
  • Transformerless output
  • AF capsule
  • Intended for use with a wireless system

Sennheiser MKH 416

The Sennheiser MKH 416 (link to check the price on Amazon) is our single example of an RF condenser microphone. It is a small-diaphragm shotgun mic with an RF capsule.

Sennheiser MKH 416

Sennheiser’s MKH 416 is a solid-state mic with a transformerless output. It runs on phantom power.

The Sennheiser MKH 416 is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 50 Best Microphones Of All Time.

The Sennheiser MKH 416 belongs to the following mic types:

  • Externally-polarized capsule
  • Small-diaphragm
  • Single-pattern (supercardioid/shotgun)
  • Single-diaphragm
  • FET impedance converter
  • Phantom-powered
  • Transformerless output
  • RF capsule

Cylewet CYT1013

The Cylewet CYT1013 (link to check the price on Amazon) is an example of a small consumer-grade electret microphone.

Cylewet CYT1013

These mics are designed to be included in circuits that require a microphone rather than as a primary capsule in a microphone unit.

The Cylewet CYT1013 belongs to the following mic types:

  • Pre-polarized capsule
  • Small-diaphragm
  • Single-pattern (omnidirectional)
  • Single-diaphragm
  • FET impedance converter
  • Powered by DC biasing
  • Transformerless output
  • AF capsule

Blue Yeti

Finally, the list would be complete with a USB microphone (which often have condenser capsules). The Blue Yeti (link to check the price on Amazon) is the world’s most popular USB mic and actually uses three different condenser capsules in its design.

Blue Yeti

The capsules are combined in various ways to yield 3 different polar patterns and even provide a stereo option. These capsules are run through a FET impedance convert before being switched into digital audio for the mic’s output.

The Blue Yeti is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 50 Best Microphones Of All Time, Top 9 Best USB Microphones and Top 12 Best Microphones Under $150 For Recording Vocals.

The Blue Yeti belongs to the following mic types:

  • Multiple capsules (tri capsule design)
  • Externally-polarized capsules
  • Small-diaphragms
  • Multi-pattern (cardioid, bidirectional, omnidirectional)
  • Stereo option
  • FET impedance converter
  • USB Powered
  • Transformerless output
  • AF capsule
  • USB output

Differences Between Condenser & Dynamic Microphones

The major difference between condenser mics and dynamic mics is their transducer principles:

  • Condenser microphones convert sound to audio via electrostatic principles
  • Dynamic microphones convert sound to audio via electromagnetic induction.

This major distinction comes with other general differences. For example, condenser transducers are active (they require power) while dynamic transducers are passive (though some ribbon mics are active due to their internal amplifying circuitry).

Condenser microphones typically benefit from better sensitivity and accuracy (in transient and frequency response) while dynamic mics are more durable and are sold at lower prices.

All the major general differences between dynamic and condenser microphones are listed below:

 Dynamic MicrophonesCondenser Microphones
Transducer PrincipleElectromagnetic inductionElectrostatic principles
Active/PassivePassiveActive
Frequency ResponseColouredFlat/extended
Transient ResponseSlowFast
Polar PatternsAll but bidirectionalAll (especially with dual-diaphragm capsule)
SensitivityLowHigh
Self-NoiseNoYes
Maximum Sound Pressure LevelOften too high to measureOften within practical limits
DurabilityVery durableSomewhat durable
PriceInexpensive to moderateCheap to very expensive

To learn more about the distinctions between dynamic and condenser mics, check out my detailed article on the Differences Between Dynamic & Condenser Microphones,


Is a microphone an input device? According to a computer, a microphone is an input device since it inputs information into the computer. For the observation point of the microphone, however, mics are output devices since they output audio signals. Typically though, input/output devices refer to their interaction with a computer.

To learn more about mics and input and output devices, check out my article Are Microphones Input Or Output Devices?

Are condenser mics omnidirectional? Condenser microphones and polar patterns are independent of one another. Therefore, some condenser microphones are omnidirectional while others are not. Some multi-pattern condenser microphones even have omnidirectional options and can be switch to exhibit another polar pattern at any time.

For everything you need to know about microphone polar patterns and the omnidirectional pattern in particular, check out my articles The Complete Guide To Microphone Polar Patterns and What Is An Omnidirectional Microphone? (Polar Pattern + Mic Examples), respectively.

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