How Does A Condenser Microphone Work

Condenser means capacitor, an electronic component which stores energy in the form of an electrostatic field. The term condenser is actually obsolete but has stuck as the name for this type of microphone, which uses a capacitor to convert acoustical energy into electrical energy.

Condenser microphones require power from a battery or external source. The resulting audio signal is a stronger signal than that from a dynamic. 

Condensers also tend to be more sensitive and responsive than dynamics, making them well-suited to capturing subtle nuances in a sound. 

They are not ideal for high-volume work, as their sensitivity makes them prone to distort.

How Do They Work

The capacitor in a studio condenser microphone consists of two metal-surfaced plates suspended in very close proximity to each other with a voltage across them.

One of the metal plates is called a back plate, which is typically made of solid brass, and the other is called a diaphragm, made of very lightweight metal or in many cases gold-sputtered mylar. 

The capacitor is housed in what’s called a microphone capsule, and it can be plainly seen in entirety when you remove the microphone grille from most condenser mics.

The diaphragm detects subtle variations in air pressure, which make up the sound of the room, vocal, or instrument being recorded. 

As the sound waves vibrate the diaphragm, the varying distance between the diaphragm and the back plate causes the voltage across the capacitor to change. 

This voltage is the electrical signal, rapidly fluctuating to mimic the pattern of the original sound waves.

To obtain a signal, condenser microphones require an electrical current to charge the plates. The current is usually provided either by a battery or is sent down the microphone cable itself. This latter method is known as phantom powering.

Most condenser microphones can operate with phantom power voltages ranging from 11 to 52 Volts.


Pros and Cons of Condenser Mics

Condenser mics require either a battery or phantom power (external power used in audio productions), as a voltage must be constantly maintained between the capacitor and the diaphragm inside. 

Condenser microphones, because of their sensitivity and speed, are well-suited for in-studio productions and for use in film production.

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