The most important component in any microphone for determining microphone sound is the diaphragm. The diaphragm’s ability to move accurately with the sound pressure waves hitting it is determined by a combination of its size, mass, and surrounding covering. Over the years experts have strived to perfect diaphragm materials and diaphragm construction techniques that can produce all audio without distortion. Looking at current developments, microphone manufacturers still have a series of compromises with cost, durability, and sound quality that go against the irreversible laws of physics in producing high-quality microphones.
Then, to what extent this diaphragm affects the sound result, and why when in the studio or microphone manufacturers offer small and large-diaphragm types. What does that mean, and what are the sonic differences? Which type is best for field application? This is all there is to know.
If you have time to read books on microphones, broadly speaking the term “small” diaphragm means about an inch and “large” diaphragms (or membranes) are 1 inch (25.4 mm) in diameter or more. But that’s just a rule of thumb or theory. In fact, many small diaphragm microphones for audio recording use larger capsules. Also, there are large-diaphragm microphones with a diaphragm size of slightly under 1 inch, often 22 mm. Some manufacturers will provide an entire capsule size, which in the case of a typical large-diaphragm capsule is 32-34 mm. The actual diaphragm size rarely exceeds 27 mm. As such, it seems sufficient to differentiate between large and small diaphragm microphones.
What is important to note is that the difference between small and large diaphragms is only in condenser microphones. There are some dynamic microphones used for broadcast purposes that are explicitly called “large diaphragms”, but other than that neither the manufacturer nor the users seem to care about the dynamic capsule or diaphragm size.
In terms of size, it is also easier to distinguish, or the size of the diaphragm is often reflected in the construction of the microphone. Small diaphragm condensers are usually slim, pencil-shaped whereas large-diaphragm condensers are usually much larger.
Small Diaphragm Microphone
Historically, large-diaphragm condensers were invented before small diaphragms. In the early 1930s and 40s condenser microphones had to use large-diaphragm capsules to cope with electronic tube noise. Large membranes capture more acoustic energy, resulting in a higher signal voltage. In its development, in the 1950s and 60s, small diaphragm condenser microphones were developed. To this day, the main technical advantage of large diaphragm condenser microphones is their noise performance. However, in all other respects, the small diaphragm condenser is the superior type, technically. Its main advantages are: excellent transient response (small diaphragm can follow sound waves more accurately), extended high-frequency response (even beyond human hearing), very consistent picking pattern.
However, the sound is more than just a technical performance. The (supposedly) drawback of a large-diaphragm condenser microphone is part of what makes it so appealing, especially for vocals and spoken word. The low-frequency widening pattern and low-frequency response are still good, although some singers need to move around to express themselves. In addition to vocals and spoken words, large-diaphragm microphones are often used for solo instruments to make them appear more lively.
Large Diaphragm Microphone
Small diaphragm condensers are the best choice if your goal is to capture pure and natural sound. No other type of microphone will give a voice more detailed character. Because of their neutral sound, high-quality small diaphragm microphones can be used for almost anything. In popular music, such as metal, small diaphragm microphones are commonly used for pianos, acoustic guitars, and other stringed instruments as well as drums (overhead, snare, hi-hat, cymbals) and percussion. In another context, sound engineers who record classical music mostly use small-diaphragm condensers almost exclusively. Due to its consistent pickup pattern, it is considered excellent for capturing choirs, ensembles, and orchestras, or even surrounds.
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Neither better nor worse, large and small diaphragm condenser microphones are great recording devices. It’s all about choosing the right tool for sharing purposes only. In essence, small-diaphragm condensers provide colorless, neutral, and highly detailed (realistic) sound that can be used for any purpose, like the original sound or as it is. While the large-diaphragm condenser is a microphone that aims to make the sound source appear bigger, more attractive, more beautiful, and adorable. They will give the effect of a “sounding like a record” feeling so as to bring vocals and other main instruments into the spotlight for listeners.