What are Condenser, capacitor or electrostatic microphones?

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Inside the Oktava 319 condenser microphoneIn a condenser microphone, also known as a capacitor microphone, the diaphragm acts as one plate of a capacitor, and the vibrations produce changes in the distance between the plates. There are two methods of extracting an audio output from the transducer thus formed: DC-biased and RF (or HF) condenser microphones. With a DC-biased microphone, the plates are biased with a fixed charge (Q). The voltage maintained across the capacitor plates changes with the vibrations in the air, according to the capacitance equation (C = Q / V), where Q = charge in coulombs, C = capacitance in farads and V = potential difference in volts. The capacitance of the plates is inversely proportional to the distance between them for a parallel-plate capacitor.

A nearly constant charge is maintained on the capacitor. As the capacitance changes, the charge across the capacitor does change very slightly, but at audible frequencies it is sensibly constant. The capacitance of the capsule and the value of the bias resistor form a filter which is highpass for the audio signal, and lowpass for the bias voltage. Note that the time constant of an RC circuit equals the product of the resistance and capacitance. Within the time-frame of the capacitance change (on the order of 100 μs), the charge thus appears practically constant and the voltage across the capacitor changes instantaneously to reflect the change in capacitance. The voltage across the capacitor varies above and below the bias voltage. The voltage difference between the bias and the capacitor is seen across the series resistor. The voltage across the resistor is amplified for performance or recording.

RF condenser microphones use a comparatively low RF voltage, generated by a low-noise oscillator. The oscillator may either be frequency modulated by the capacitance changes produced by the sound waves moving the capsule diaphragm, or the capsule may be part of a resonant circuit that modulates the amplitude of the fixed-frequency oscillator signal. Demodulation yields a low-noise audio frequency signal with a very low source impedance. This technique permits the use of a diaphragm with looser tension, which may be used to achieve better low-frequency response. The RF biasing process results in a lower electrical impedance capsule, a useful byproduct of which is that RF condenser microphones can be operated in damp weather conditions which would effectively short out a DC-biased microphone. The Sennheiser “MKH” series of microphones use the RF biasing technique.

Condenser microphones span the range from inexpensive karaoke microphones to high-fidelity recording microphones. They generally produce a high-quality audio signal and are now the popular choice in laboratory and studio recording applications. They require a power source, provided either from microphone inputs as phantom power or from a small battery. Power is necessary for establishing the capacitor plate voltage, and is also needed for internal amplification of the signal to a useful output level. Condenser microphones are also available with two diaphragms, the signals from which can be electrically connected such as to provide a range of polar patterns (see below), such as cardioid, omnidirectional and figure-eight. It is also possible to vary the pattern smoothly with some microphones, for example the Røde NT2000 or CAD M179.

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What are Condenser, capacitor or electrostatic microphones?What are Condenser, capacitor or electrostatic microphones?What are Condenser, capacitor or electrostatic microphones?

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