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Size Matters: The Differences In Large- And Small-Diaphragm Condenser Microphones

What do these terms even mean, and what are the pros and cons of each?

By Bruce Bartlett April 6, 2017

Psychology 101

Specs aside, consider the psychological effect of a larger mic on a singer’s performance. Let’s face it: an LDC in a shock mount just looks cooler than an SDC on a clip. Singers feel special when their microphone looks large and important.

An LDC side-addressed design looks more like a passive “ear,” saying “I’m listening.” An SDC “points” accusingly at the singer, saying “you’d better watch it.”

Choose an LDC when the application needs:

—Low noise and high sensitivity
—Deep low-frequency response
—Good-sounding proximity effect on singers
—A cool look

Some applications: Studio vocals, ambience, deep-sounding drums, mic’ing a drum kit overhead when the overhead mics are the main pickup for the toms, quiet or distant instruments or vocals, distant single-mic technique for “old-time” or bluegrass bands.

Choose an SDC when the application needs:

—Extended high-frequency response
—Flatter frequency response
—Increased directivity
—Lower handling noise
—Excellent transient response
—Low off-axis coloration (A wider pattern at high frequencies)

Some applications: Acoustic instruments, percussion, cymbals, orchestral stereo mic’ing, and spot mic’ing

Final Note

The specifications of any particular mic, and its sound, are often more important than whether that mic is an LDC or SDC. You might come across an LDC with poor S/N or poor low-frequency response. A particular LDC might sound brighter than an SDC. It depends on the individual mic’s design.

For example, an Audio-Technica AT4041 is an SDC, but it has an excellent response down to low frequencies. Don’t be locked into using an LDC when an SDC might sound better, and vice versa.

The old adage, as always, still applies: use whatever mic that sounds best.

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About Bruce

Bruce Bartlett
Bruce Bartlett

Recording Engineer
AES and SynAudCon member Bruce Bartlett is a recording engineer, audio journalist, and microphone engineer. His latest books are Practical Recording Techniques and Recording Music On Location.


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Steve says

Thanks for helpful information!

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