For podcasters, there are two primary types of microphones. On today’s Tune-Up edition of Fast Lane Podcast University, we’ll ask Chris Curran of the Podcast Engineering School which one is right for you and why.
Learn more about Chris Curran and the Podcast Engineering School at podcastengineeringschool.com.
And hear the latest episode of The Podcast Engineering Show here.
You’ll find a full transcript of this episode below.
For podcasters, there are two primary types of microphones: dynamic and condenser.
There are diffent kinds of condenser microphones and, of course, many different models. But generally speaking, condenser microphones capture a wider frequency range and are more sensitive than dynamic mics. They often produce, as Chris Curran put it, a more “high definition” sound.
However, the sensitivity of condenser mics can be a problem for many podcasters. They tend to capture small sounds you may not even notice until you listen back to the recording. Condensers are designed for use in a well sound-treated studio.
Condensers also usually require external “phantom” power, meaning they must be plugged into a mixer, USB interface or other device designed to provide power to condenser microphones.
As with condensers, there is a wide range of dynamic microphones on the market. Dynamics are generally more durable. They’re also more forgiving than condensers. They don’t capture as much background sounds or even small clicks or other noises you might unknowingly make with your mouth.
Some dynamic microphones produce a brighter sound than others. In my opinion, dynamic microphones are at their best when used in conjunction with a microphone pre-amp, such as the dbx 286s or the ART ProMPAII
Dynamic mics are typically quieter than condensers, and pre-amps help to boost the signal, while also giving you options to tweak and brighten the sound.
However, a pre-amp is not necessary, particularly if you’re using a quality condenser mic. And some podcasters achieve a nice sound without a pre-amp using only a relatively low-cost dynamic mic.
And unlike condensers, dynamic microphones do not require external power.
As Chris Curran notes in this episode, for most podcasters, a dynamic microphone is your best and safest choice.
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Electro Voice RE-20 Cardioid Microphone (dynamic)
KENT: Welcome into our very first Tune-Up edition of Fast Lane Podcast University! I’m Kent Covington.
And Tune-Ups—just to explain what we’re doing here—these are shorter versions of the show, usually very focused on one narrow topic or particular lesson or thought. So we’re trying to keep these focused short, sweet and to the point. And today we’re going to explain the two main types of microphones for podcasters. So speaking broadly, there are really just two kinds, and we’re going to simplify it and explain what the strengths and weaknesses are of each so that you can understand what’s right for you and what’s going to get you sounding great.
And here to explain all of that is somebody you’ll be hearing a good bit on this show. It is Chris Curran with the Podcast Engineering School. Aand that, as the name would suggest, is a school that teaches you how to become a podcast engineer. So that’s how to be an expert at recording and editing audio, which is of course a growing field these days.
But Chris also has a long resume as a recording studio engineer in the music industry, and he’s just a really smart guy all the way around.
So let’s jump right in. Chris, how you doing sir?
CHRIS: Wonderful. Thanks for uh, inviting me.
KENT: Absolutely, yeah! So, all right, there are two main types of microphones that we need to know about as podcasters. What are they?
CHRIS: Yeah, for podcasting it really comes down to dynamic and condenser. Condensers are very, very sensitive. They’ll pick up a lot more background noise and room noise and just way more sensitive, even little mouth clicks and all that stuff.
Dynamic mics are not as sensitive, and that’s why typically they’re good for broadcasting and podcasting. And dynamics can usually accept a higher sound pressure level, which means you can be louder. They can accept a louder signal before distorting. So with dynamic mics, that’s why it’s good to get close to them because they pick up less of the room, but then they can also handle a louder signal. So when you get close to it, the signal to noise ratio is higher, which means that your voice is louder and the room noise is much lower.
KENT: So if you’re not in a a well sound treated room or an actual studio, homemade or otherwise, if you’re not in a place that’s well sound treated to block out noises and cut down and reflections and echo and all of that, then a dynamic is is probably the way to go.
So what’s the upside of a condenser microphone if you are in a studio or a well sound treated space? Are there any advantages to a condenser microphone?
CHRIS: Yeah, condensers in general are, are much more articulate. So it’s more, I would say, lifelike. If you heard a dynamic versus a condenser, the condenser would just sound sharper and clearer, almost like high definition clarity. It’s subtle, but it’s, but it’s there.
On music albums, when singers are in a studio, they always use condensers, but they’re the really expensive ones that sound awesome. And of course they’re in a quiet environment. So if you’re ever going to sing lead vocals on an album, then definitely you would want to condenser. But of course a quiet studio as well.
KENT: So would you say for most podcasters that a dynamic microphone is probably the way to go?
CHRIS: Yeah, and there’s a lot of good dynamic mics. So there’s almost no need to go condenser just for a podcast. Okay. It’s really not a need. So it’s almost like why, why risk all that noise and nonsense when you can just get a good dynamic and you’ll sound great.
KENT: All right, so what are we looking at here in terms of price? What does it cost to get a, a good condenser microphone versus a good dynamic?
CHRIS: A good condenser probably would start at about a thousand or maybe 800 bucks. Whereas on the dynamic side you can get the, you know, the Sure SM7B for $400 and you can get the Electro-Voice RE-20 $450, and those are the two best, typically the two best, dynamic microphones for broadcast and podcasting.
KENT: Okay. Yeah. And those are microphones, the ones you mentioned, with long-established reputations. And I’ve used an RE-20 most of my career for a couple of decades. But you can get a pretty good sounding mic for even less than that. Right?
CHRIS: Correct. And here’s the thing, I have a client—I’ve been producing her show for three years. Out of all my clients, she gets the most downloads by far. She’s very popular in her field. She’s killing it. She uses a $65 ATR-2100 to this day, but she has good mic technique. That helps a lot.
KENT: Oh yeah, yeah, absolutely. And that’s a good topic for another day. We’ll have to have you back on to talk about that sometime soon; about mic technique and what that means. But Chris, thanks for helping us out today, man!
CHRIS: Yeah, thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.
KENT: Alright, that again was Chris Curran, and you can find him at PodcastEngineeringSchool.com. And he’s got a really cool “Daily Goodie,” a free a tip that he puts out every day on his website, so check that out. Also, check out his podcast, which is the Podcast Engineering Show. And you can find that on all of the major podcast platforms, I believe. And we’ll have the links, all of that, of course, on our website at FastLanePodcastU.com.
But we recorded that conversation a little while back, and I will let you in on the secret. Chris mentioned the RE-20 microphone, which, as I said, I’ve used for many, many years. It’s a microphone made by Electro-Voice. It’s a great microphone, and it’s been a standard in broadcasting for years and years and years. And I’ve got one right here. It’s sitting two feet away from my left foot as I talk to you right now. But I’m actually speaking to you on an MXL cardioid condenser microphone. It’s an MXL 770 that currently lists on as of the time of this recording, it’s listing on Amazon for $78 bucks. And I actually bought this microphone for my daughter because she’s sings in and we’re building a little studio for her in her room. And I got this for her and I tried it out, and I liked it better.
Now, I’m not [processing] this audio [on the way into my computer]. I don’t have a preamp. I’m not using processing or anything. Maybe if I did, I would like the RE-20 a little better, giving it a bit more clarity. But with the microphone going straight into the USB interface and then into the computer, I actually liked the sound of this MXL condenser better than the $400 microphone. And hey, listen, I’m open minded. I’m just trying different things out.
Now again, the thing is with with a condenser is—I am in a sound treated studio. I’m in a heavily sound treated room, and so I don’t have to worry about outside noises. I don’t have to worry about reflections and echo and all of that. And that’s key if you’re going to use a condenser.
But the point here is that you can still get a really good sound out of something that is pretty inexpensive, and the same is true for a dynamic. Again, I agree 100% with Chris that if you are not in a well sound treated space, you want to go with a dynamic microphone, but you don’t have to spend several hundred dollars on a mic to sound really good. It’s just not something you need to be all that stressed out about because there are microphones out there on almost any budget that’ll have you sounding good.
And then the other part of that really is, and it’s a conversation for another day, but you know, you’re recording space, your mic technique, which again, we’ll talk about another day—just keeping a consistent distance from the microphone, being in a good space where it doesn’t sound like you’re talking in a tin can, and stuff like that. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money though. There are a lot of options out there for a good microphone that’ll fit almost any budget.
All right, we’re going to leave you today with a quote.
Our quote today comes from Tony Robbins and here it is:
“People who succeed have momentum. The more they succeed, the more they want to succeed and the more they find a way to succeed. Similarly, when someone is failing, the tendency is to get on a downward spiral that can even become a self fulfilling prophecy.”
— Tony Robbins
So the key word here is momentum. Just get to work! I mean whatever you’re doing in your podcast, if you have a business, or in your life, just keep moving forward and keep the momentum going! Keep going, and it doesn’t have to be perfect. Let go of the perfectionism. Take the action, get it out there, get your voice out there, get your thoughts out there, get your podcast out there. Take action, keep the momentum rolling!
All right, if you are enjoying the show, please subscribe to it. That would be awesome! You can do that at our website, FastLanePodcastU.com. Just click the subscribe link there at the top. And we’ve got links for Apples, Stitcher, Spotify, about a half dozen different platforms there. That’s FastLanePodcastU.com, and just click subscribe.
That’s it for today. Thanks so much for listening! We’ll talk to you next time.