Although no one is saying that a ribbon or dynamic mic cannot compete with the best condenser mic, everyone eventually votes with their wallets.
Condenser microphones are the most used types of mics, regardless of whether they’re used for home recording or professional studio recording, vocals or instruments.
You can’t go wrong with the best in each price range. This makes post-processing much easier and more fun.
Close miking using a large diaphragm, cardioid condenser will not only capture amazing detail but also minimizes other problems such as bleed or poor acoustic conditions (which can be a problem in home studio recording). You can achieve results comparable to major label releases by adding a reflection panel. Zero exaggeration.
Let’s look at the basics of condensers, how they work, and what you need to do to make the most of them. We’ll then look at which options are unanimously considered to be the best for each price range. This will allow you to save time and get on with recording!
There are many microphones, but the condenser is the most loved. It’s easy to see why condensers are so popular. You only need to try one and you will be amazed at the quality improvement for most applications.
What is a condenser microphone?
All microphones function in the same way as our eardrums. Diaphragms are thin plates or skins which vibrate when sound waves contact them.
The main difference between mics is how the diaphragm converts vibrations into an electric signal that can be sent down the mic cable to a speaker or computer.
Condenser refers to an older term for an electrical component known as a capacitor.
Two conductive metal plates are attached to a capacitor. The plates are charged by the battery, which creates an electrostatic field between them.
When the plates move closer together, some charge in the field is released by a capacitance shift and becomes the current that makes up your audio signal.
The diaphragm is located on the front plate of the capacitor. It is moved closer to the back plate as sound reaches it to create the current. How a Condenser Mic Diaphragm Works – From: MediaCollege
This type of construction can have some implications.
- To operate, the battery and tubes must have 48 volts of Phantom Power
- Too high SPL’s can cause distortion in the diaphragm’s sensitivity.
- They can be used in almost any application, including recording amplifiers. As long as the volume is controlled, they are great.
A dynamic microphone is best for louder sounds. A condenser microphone can be loud enough to work, but you should use a sound pressure level (SPL) monitor in order to ensure you are not damaging the diaphragm. This inexpensive tool is essential for studio engineers. Typical Digital Level Meter
Let’s not forget about damaging your mic.
How to Care for the Best Condenser Microphone
This is a simple task.
Humidity First, make sure the humidity in the room is not too high. This is not an issue in most climate controlled homes or buildings.
Moisture It’s also a good idea to use a pop filter when you record vocals with your condenser microphone. Because the grills allow moisture to pass through, most people will accidentally spit while they sing or rap. You don’t want small globules or bits of food or saliva landing on your diaphragm.
Sound Pressure The pop filters will help you control your mic distance and volume. The closer the mic is to the sound source, the higher the sound pressure.
There is a chance that your mic could be permanently damaged if you place your mouth directly on the grill, as you do with handheld dynamic microphones. Each mic has its own safe maximum SPL rating. You should know which one you have and make sure to check it with an SPL meter every now and again.
Phantom Power: Phantom powers must be used when recording using a condenser. This can be obtained from your preamplifier, mixer, or audio interface.
Before plugging in or unplugging your mic cable, it is vital that the phantom power switch or button be turned to the off position. Although it doesn’t happen often, you may experience a surge in voltage that exceeds what the mic can handle. This can cause damage to the microphone, diaphragm, and tube.
Dust: Last, if your mic is not being used, you can place a bag or other decorative item over it. Dust can settle on your shock mount, mic stand, or cable. However, it is not necessary to place dust on the diaphragm. It can cause damage to the frequency response that it is capable of providing and could even lead to its dissolution.
What else do you need for home studio recording?
If you are new to the recording business, you should know that your mic’s XLR cables cannot be converted to a small 1/8th-inch stereo input and fed to your sound card.
For condenser microphones, 48 volts Phantom power is required. A preamplifier is also required to increase the mic-level signal to a usable line-level signal, without increasing the noise floor.
You will need an digital-to-analog converter (ADC), to convert the electrical signal into a binary format that your computer and recording software may use.
But don’t panic!
An audio interface is a piece of hardware that contains all of these components. These come in a variety of sizes and shapes, and they are the first piece that studios use before adding other pieces.
These interfaces are wired correctly and come with everything you need. They connect to your computer via USB or Firewire. This interface is easy to use, as you can’t live without it.
If you are looking for one, check out our Audio Interface Buyer Guide with reviews and write-ups at different budget ranges. If you don’t have the budget for a larger purchase, you can get a really cheap option to get you started. I would recommend starting with a good mic, and upgrading the rest as time goes by.
Recording Vocals & Mixing Tips
You’ll need to know how to make the most of your new microphone for those who are just starting out in the field. These are the best tips to help you prepare for when your mic arrives by mail.
You can read them later if you are unable to. Every piece of audio requires post processing. These tips will show you how to do it quickly and efficiently.
- Home Recording Vocals: Clear & Clean
- 14 Tips to Record & Mix Vocals – The Right Way…
- 13 Other Vocal Recording Tips
- Fundamental Audio Mixing Tips & Techniques
- Audio Mixing For Dummies
Mixing is essential to make any song, radio spot or movie audio sound as good as it can without mixing. Mixing is one of my favorite aspects of recording. These links will allow you to enjoy it with no frustration.
Now, let’s get to the fun part…
The Best Condenser Microphones
We’ll list them from the cheapest to the most expensive. But, we will also break them down into sections based upon total budget. This helps us keep things organized.
Note: Every image and text link takes you to Amazon.com, where you can read additional reviews and find technical details listings and make your purchase.
Although we cannot cover all mics, we can guarantee that they are universally acclaimed for their range. These options will allow you to rest assured that you have achieved the highest possible audio quality. It’s not a good idea to use mics that are lower in price.
It’s hard to imagine the abuse they received, especially with regard to the diaphragms. I advise against gambling with mics. Other gear is also possible. Mics… nah. Let’s start this party!
Best Condenser Mic For Home Studio under $200
You might be thinking, “But hey! I’ve seen mics as low at $30 at RadioShack!” These are toys. Many mics that look like a million dollars are available for less than $50. Do not fall for dumb marketing tricks.
This mic is my first recommendation at this price point. It is also the cheapest on the list. The rest will disappoint you and serve as a stepping stone to a future upgrade. You can keep the MXL990 with you, and use it to mic drums and other less prominent instruments while you upgrade to better preamps.
You can take my word for this. This is the best option if you want the most affordable but still capable of doing the job. The MXL990 is the first step to professional recording quality.
The mic will sound great to keep expectations realistic. The mic will sound better than your default video game headset or smart phone microphones. You can make it sound even better by adding mixing strategies such as equalization or compression. You can control your environment by using acoustic treatment and reflection filters.
It still comes with a shock mount, mic stand clip and a storage case. The frequency response of the unit is quite flat considering its price. It can range from 30 Hz up to 20 kHz. This is enough for vocals or almost any instrument.
It can handle a 130 dB maximum SPL, which makes it an excellent choice for many applications in the future.
For budget buyers, look no further…
This mic is a big step up in quality if you’re willing to wait. The Audio-Technica At2035 is a popular choice for musicians who record in a home studio. It’s affordable and has some very useful features.
If you are recording an instrument that is louder than it should be, you can simply flip the 10 dB pad switch and lower the volume so that you don’t clip or distort.
You can also use the 80 Hz high pass filter for applications like vocals. To keep low-frequency rumbles from the mic stand, bumps or air conditioner rumbles, this will gradually reduce the volume to below 80 Hz.
This package includes an XLR cable and shock mount. Many people prefer this mic to the more expensive options. This mic is an excellent starter mic and can last for many years. It will also grow with you as your signal chain improves.
CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON You get a step up in quality with lots of features
Best Condenser Mic For Vocals Below $300
This budget level brings you a significant improvement in results, beyond simply adding more features. These two options are the best and most popular in their class. They are in high demand and have been for a long time.
- LedgerNote Favorite
RODE NT1 – A
The A stands for anniversary and signifies that this model has been redesigned completely from scratch. I was a Rode NT1A user because of the Rode mics. A group of musicians I knew recorded an album at my home that was released internationally.
Only the vocals were synth-based and they matched every major label release that I have heard. I was stunned when they said they used an NT1A.
It doesn’t matter if you have a mic that is better than anyone else. It sounds great on vocals, guitar, and any other instrument that is based on higher frequencies.
The self-noise is very low. This is combined with the internal shock mount, and you will get a quiet recording.
Although the frequency response is fairly flat at the top, there are some boosts that add clarity and sparkle to the mic’s frequencies. It’s difficult to describe without using silly words such as “sparkle” or “clear water”.
It’s worth mentioning that the kit includes a shock mount and pop filter as well as an instructional DVD with mixing tips and other recording tips. This is my favorite of the lower half of the list.
This is how you get professional results at home
BLUE MICROPHONES BLUEBIR
Fair enough, a lot people are crazy about the Blue Microphones Bluebird. I believe it is a very capable alternative to the NT1A. It’s not something I have personally tried so I can only relay what others have shared.
Blue is Blue’s bread-and- butter, and this mic is it. Condensers are a topic that is always brought up in discussions. It is distinguished by its high quality and cool 1950s design.
The mic’s flat frequency response is what makes it a winner. This mic is ideal for recording every nuance and detail with true-to-life clarity.
It comes with a shock mount, pop filter and a case, just like most mics we have reviewed. Blue made special pop filters and wooden cases that attach directly to the capsule. This mic is a rare example of quality and presentation.
One thing I have read is that vocals can become a bit crispy and may need a de-esser. Rotating it slightly from your mouth, even by 10 degrees, will help you get off-axis. This will preserve the mic’s beautiful high-end on vocals, strings, and woodwinds.
CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON An elegant, high quality vocal option…
The Best Vocal Condenser Mics Under $700
This is where prices are at their lowest point before they start to rise exponentially with smaller quality gains. Even if the mic you are looking for is top-of-the-line, you can rest assured that you have great preamps, compressors and converters in a well-acoustically treated recording studio.
As vocals are the most popular, you’ll see that I continue to talk about them. However, these mics can record all sound sources perfectly at this range, including bass, flute, and electric amps. You can expect excellent results if you monitor your SPL levels.
- Favorite LedgerNote
This is my favorite mic. After my friends surprised me with the NT1A, I purchased the Rode NTK and decided to show them off. The game was “Who can produce the highest vocal quality?” I won.
I don’t know where to begin. I purchased this guy, and immediately was amazed at the quality of my preamps. I felt like I had found my spiritual home and could finally save for a standalone preamp.
This mic was amazing when I first ran it through the Avalon VT 737sp and FMR RNP. It just got better when I upgraded my converters.
The crystalline high end is what I love so much. This is not just for the vocal area, but also in the sparkle region of hi hats and cymbals. It’s a nice touch to vocals, male and female.
With magical results every time, I have recorded flutes, saxophones, oboes and saxophones as well as acoustic guitars, grand pianos, banjos, cellos and acoustic guitars. It has to do with Rode’s combination of tube and diaphragm. They will never change it. Amen.
This mic has actually paid for itself, as I mentioned in another post. Local bands have asked me to rent my studio so that they could use the mic for their albums. Once I beat my homies with NT1A, word of mouth spread quickly.
Because phantom power is just not enough, this baby has its own high-voltage supply. The mic, power supply and power supply cables, microphone cable, shock mount, shock mount and instructions booklets are all included in the case. This is not a joke. You can thank me later.
CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON After this one, I have literally not bought another mic.
NEUMANN TLM 102
Neumann mics are renowned for being top-of-the-line. If older models, such as the U47, were easily available, they would be listed below this one under the “Wow I could buy another car instead” section. They aren’t always available and you may only find them occasionally.
The Neumann 102 is a competitively priced option that still delivers the same amazing audio quality as its older brothers, but is priced so that everyone can enjoy the benefits. It doesn’t take too long for the market to become saturated. Now it’s time to let the rest of the world play. This is high-end gear at a reasonable price.
Their line-up is highly sought after for its transparent frequency response. There is a slight bump in the “vocal presence”, which is 5-6 kHz. This works well for most vocalists and allows you to cut through the mix without needing to boost in the area after the fact.
These mics and the NTK are incredible. If you are having trouble getting professional results with either one of these mics, you should upgrade your preamps or acoustic treatments. Both are equally capable and comparable to mics below, in my opinion.
Finally, a Neumann that the Rest of Us Can Afford…
Best Condenser Microphone-No Price Consideration
Sometimes, the money doesn’t really matter. Because a major artist is coming in next week, we are given a budget. These are the most expensive mics I’ve ever seen, and the most expensive I’ve ever seen.
These two last just past the point at which you begin to see diminishing returns on quality and increased costs. Even for home studios, they are still worthwhile.
The final is ridiculously expensive and is used by artists who value quality. Dr. Dre purchased one to use for 50 Cent during his peak popularity.
The C414XLII is a versatile mic that can be used to record many different instruments at different locations. It’s also a favorite for vocals. There are many people who swear by it. This is comparable to the other two, but it costs a little more to get access to all the options.
The picture shows that the mic comes with five pickup patterns. We’re not talking just about variations of the cardioid pattern. You can also make it omnidirectional or figure-eight. These are great for interviews and round-table conversations with two people. This bad boy is great for duet performances.
Another feature is the many levels of attenuation that you can use for gain staging. These pads prevent distortion from being recorded with loud sources. When working with sources such as vocals, it has three low-cut and a bass roll-off switch. This allows you to have the best signal possible and not need to resort to destructive equalization later.
Massive Pickup Pattern Versatility…
It was inevitable that a Shure microphone would be on this list. The Shure KSM32 is an upgraded version of the KSM27. It’s a popular choice for vocals and drum overheads. This mic is preferred by many male vocalists who have deep voices.
Non-bass people will find three levels of hi pass filtering that keep low frequency rumbles out. It is difficult to get a perfect recording due to the KSM32’s transparency and low self noise.
People will buy two of these stereo pairs even if they’re not matched, as they have so much transparency it doesn’t matter.
You can use the mesh without a pop filter, but you should keep it up. You don’t want to risk a great vocal performance on such an amazing mic.
CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON The perfect pick for any vocalist…
When it really mattered, I mentioned Dr. Dre’s mic that he used on 50 Cent. This is it. The Sony C-800G microphone is a great mic. You could also buy 10 mics of a world-class quality for the same price and mix them together, but you wouldn’t know the difference.
This is not a dig at mics. If you have heard recordings made with this mic, it is flawless. It is worth the time and effort required to achieve such a flat frequency response. It is necessary to push the limits of precision and time. Is that enough to make incremental improvements in quality? Nah. I will just EQ one decibel and be fine.
It was necessary for me to tell you because I want you to be informed about all options available to you. There are many situations where I could order multiple of these. There are chances that you will find yourself in one those places where you have the opportunity of a lifetime. Grab the opportunity to strike while it’s still hot.
It’s not hard to believe that this product is so expensive. You have to pay to be in the big leagues.
Dr. Dre’s go-to mic for vocals…
These are the Best Condenser Microphones
With our recommendations above, choosing the right condenser shouldn’t be a problem. However, there are some things we cannot do for you. You will have to follow our tips for mixing your recordings.
You are responsible for taking care of your microphone so that it lasts many decades.
You can be sure that any of the choices from our curated collection will satisfy your budget. And you can rest assured knowing that you are working with the finest condenser microphone.