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A microphone uses a capacitor to convert the compression and rarefaction of sound waves into electrical energy. Microphones require power (voltage) in order to operate.

Basic Working

The capacitor microphone works on the principles of electrostatics and needs to be powered, normally with a 48-volt system known as phantom power. They need this a) to charge the electrostatic diaphragm and back plate (which forms the capacitor), and b) to power the internal amplifier that is necessary.

The point in having a small diaphragm, some 12 millimeters or so in diameter, is that a small diaphragm can be extremely responsive to sound. A larger diaphragm will tend to have a less accurate frequency response to sound that doesn’t arrive at the mic directly on-axis, and a larger diaphragm may have resonances that color the sound. An even smaller diaphragm can be used for newsreaders’ clip-on mics.

Things to Consider

Work through each of these characteristics and determine your needs.


Decide which type of directional pattern best fits your needs. Remember that it’s usually better to use a less directional mic in a position close to the sound source, than to be further away using a hypercardioid. For more information see microphone directional characteristics.

Frequency Response

Make sure the mic’s frequency response is appropriate for the intended use. As a rule of thumb flat response patterns are best, but in many cases a tailored response will be even better. For more information see microphone frequency response.


The rule of thumb is: Low impedance is better than high impedance. For more information see microphone impedance.

Handling Noise

Remember that the diaphragm works by converting vibrations from sound waves into an electrical signal. Unless the microphone has some sort of protection system, the diapragm can’t tell the difference between a desirable sound wave vibration and any other sort of vibration (such as a person tapping the microphone casing). Any sort of vibration at all will become part of the generated audio signal.


  • The diaphragm assembly is light compared to that of dynamic microphones, hence is more efficient at moving and is capable of capturing a range of high frequencies
  • Easy to obtain a flat frequency response and extended frequency ranges
  • Can be small in design

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