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Dynamic vs. Condenser: Which live mic is right for you?

There's nothing quite like the thrill of going to see a band live. It's raw, immediate and, most importantly, it sounds huge. Nothing kills the vibe quicker, though, than poor-quality sound or worse still, a microphone cutting out mid-song when the crowd is really rocking. A live microphone therefore has to be able to hold up to the pressures and rigours of live performance, while still providing top-notch sound quality. 

At RØDE, we know how important live sound applications are, which is why Rode's specialised microphones are designed to provide you with peace of mind that you and your music will be transmitted to an audience in its best form.

Here's a breakdown of the two types of microphone that you'll encounter on stage, how they work and what they sound best on. 

Dynamic

Dynamic or condenser is the first choice that you'll have to make, and it really comes down to your personal preference, desired sound and the instruments that you're playing.

Dynamic microphones like the RØDE M1, occasionally referred to as 'moving-coil', are the staple for live mics, and they have been for a very long time. The main reason is that they have a simple and long-wearing design that allows them to easily stand up to even the most vigorous of stage antics - leading to their reputation as being near indestructible.

In a nutshell, dynamic microphones work by the movement of a thin diaphragm (usually Mylar plastic) that is attached to a coil of wire suspended in a magnetic field. As a sound wave moves the diaphragm and the coil, an electric current is generated that is then amplified to provide noise.  

Dynamic microphones are most commonly used on sound sources that are already being amplified, including guitar and bass amps, because they can more reliably handle the high sound levels than their condenser brethren. At the other end of the spectrum, dynamic mics are very commonly used by vocalists due to the fact that they can comfortably take being swung around all night (we all know how crazy singers can be).

Condenser

Condenser microphones, on the other hand, work slightly differently. Their electric current is generated by variations in voltage caused by the movement, once again, of a diaphragm, but one that isn't attached to anything. Instead, as sound moves the diaphragm, the distance between it and an electrically charged (by batteries or phantom power) back plate changes. This change creates fluctuations in voltage, which is then amplified to create your sound. 

Condensers have traditionally been the dominant microphones in recording studios because the free and unencumbered diaphragm can react more quickly and accurately to a noise. This results in a more precise and full-frequency signal than a dynamic mic can produce. Traditionally, condenser microphones haven't been as able as dynamic mics to handle the stress of live applications, but newer products such as RØDE's S1 are designed with a rugged construction to handle the strain without compromising on studio-quality audio. 

The ideal use for condensers on-stage is for instruments that have higher frequencies (cymbals are a great example) that a dynamic can't pick up. An acoustic piano is another area where condensers sound amazing live, although a dynamic on the lower strings and a condenser on the higher ones produces a great sound, too. 

Of course, even with the most rugged microphones in the world, accidents can and do happen on stage, and a broken microphone is a surefire way to bring down the mood. That's why RØDE's live mics like the M1 and S1 are covered by our industry-leading 10-year warranty so that you can perform freely on stage without worry - whether you're using a dynamic mic or a condenser.

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