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It seems that you can get a good dynamic microphone for < $100, such as a Shure SM58, which is a very widely-used and well-regarded mic. However, even low end condenser mics seem to start at around $400-500.

Why do condenser mics cost so much more than dynamics? Are they more difficult to manufacture, or do they use more expensive materials?

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    I'm not sure that this is a music question. – Your Uncle Bob May 5 at 17:15
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    @YourUncleBob I thought questions about music equipment are on topic? – Time4Tea May 5 at 17:18
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    Well, this is more about manufacturing and price setting than about using the equipment. But maybe others will disagree. – Your Uncle Bob May 5 at 17:19
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    I think this question is fine. Microphones play a key part in recording and live performing and asking what makes a specific type of mic more expensive may be informative. – b3ko May 5 at 17:35
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this is a question for Economics 101, not music. – Carl Witthoft May 6 at 15:49
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I think your question is sort of backwards. The cheapest condenser mics are very inexpensive. Electret condenser designs are used for small and cheap headset mics, phone mics, and PC/laptop mics.

I think what you really want to ask is why the most expensive dynamic mics are still less than $1000 (excluding ribbon mics), while so many condenser designs are much more than that.

There's only so complicated a dynamic mic can be. A lot of money can be spent on a large diaphragm for a dynamic mic, and transformer design can be costly, but that's about all you can do to make a dynamic mic sound better. Both Sennheiser and Neumann make high-end dynamic mics.

Condenser mics start very cheap, but they can get very expensive. A lot of money can go into the diaphragm, and then there's the electronics. A quality solid-state amp can be expensive, and a high quality tube amp, even more so. I'm not sure why multi-pattern dynamic mics are virtually nonexistent compared to multi-pattern condenser mics, but adding that feature also adds cost.

And overall, there's at least the perception (that seems to be based in reality to a great degree) that the highest quality condenser microphones can sound better than the best quality dynamic microphones, so there's not a market for $1000+ dynamic mics.

One thing that is true about condenser microphones that is objectively better than dynamic mics is sensitivity. A dynamic mic, by definition, has to have a coil attached to the diaphragm, which gives the diaphragm added mass and inertia and lowers the overall sensitivity. A condenser can have a very lightweight diaphragm assembly and therefore much lower air pressures can move it more effectively. Of course, building a lightweight diaphragm assembly that also sounds good and has an even frequency response costs money, so that's a major aspect of condenser mic prices - their greatest advantage is expensive.

So again, it's not that condensers aren't cheaper than dynamics, some of them are. It's that dynamics don't get nearly as expensive as the most expensive condensers.

  • Thanks for your detailed answer. Something else I have noticed is that condenser mics often seem to have more elaborate anti-shock mounts than dynamics, so perhaps that might also add to their cost? – Time4Tea May 5 at 19:58
  • +1 for challenging the OP's assumption. A couple of numbers: the two highest-end live vocal microphones by Shure are the KSM8 (dynamic) for 499€ and the KSM9 (condenser) for about 585€. The most expensive live vocal mic I know of is the DPA d:facto 4018 for ~950€ (condenser). However, that is an outlier, most other high-end condensers in that market are around 500€ (e.g. Neumann KMS105) or less. The cheapest ones I could find are 10€ (dynamic) and 40€ (condenser). So, while condensers seem to be more expensive, they are not ridiculously more expensive. – Jörg W Mittag May 6 at 3:50
  • @JörgWMittag - how about an industry standard Neumann U87 €2,500 or even a second hand Calrec Soundfield $5,300 just for two off the top of my head. – Tetsujin May 6 at 5:14
  • @Tetsujin: The interesting question is, how much does an equivalent dynamic microphone cost. (The OP also mentioned this in a comment.) Also, I feel that the Soundfield is cheating a bit, since it is actually not one but four condenser microphone capsules plus a processing unit. So, it's more like 1000$ for a capsule with a 1300$ vintage sound processor on top. I used the live vocal mic example since it is a field where I know of and have personally used qualitatively equivalent mics. – Jörg W Mittag May 6 at 7:12

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