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The dynamic microphone - why isn't it dead yet?

When super-accurate capacitor microphones are available, why do we cling to the past and still often use dynamic mics? Shouldn't we be moving on?

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It would be natural to assume that as technology progresses, earlier technologies would become outdated and would wither, die and eventually be long forgotten. So why hasn't that happened to the dynamic microphone?

A dynamic microphone works by the principal of the electric generator. A coil of wire moves in the presence of a magnetic field and a current is generated within the coil. That's great for supplying factories and households with electricity in bulk, but why do we still use it for microphones?

The problem with the dynamic microphone has always been that there is a coil of wire attached to the diaphragm. This makes the diaphragm heavy and less responsive to subtle sound vibrations. The capacitor (condenser) microphone on the other hand works by a different principal and does not require a coil. Its sound is very noticeably crisper and cleaner.

So why, after all this progress, do we still have dynamics? There is an amazing range available, and it is getting bigger all the time.

One possible answer is that we are conditioned to the sound of the dynamic. It just sounds right in the context of a recording or radio broadcast because that's what we have so often heard. For live sound, dynamics are even more popular. Capacitor mics of the past were not tough enough for stage use, and the 'ruggedizing' process that now makes some models practical for the stage may have affected their sound quality.

The other possible answer is that the way we use microphones doesn't allow them to capture a natural sound anyway. When is the last time you put your head inside a kick drum, for example?

So if even the best and most accurate capacitor microphone is used in a way that prevents it from capturing a natural sound, we might as well go the whole hog and use any mic that sounds good.

At the end of the day, if it sounds right, then it is right, in the words of legendary producer Joe Meek. And the great thing is that rather than have just the one 'perfect' sounding mic, we have a fantastic range of different tonal colors from which to choose.

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By David Mellor Friday March 19, 2010
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