A condenser microphone is a type of audio transducer that converts sound waves into electrical signals. The most popular types are the large diaphragm condenser microphones, which are used by musicians and vocalists performing in live venues and recording studios for vocals and other acoustic instruments.
How do you know what the best condenser microphone is? That’s where we come in! Let us help you find the right one for your situation with our guide to choosing the best microphone for your needs.
Do You Need A Condenser Mic To Use?
We recommend that you don’t mistakenly think one type of microphone is better than the other. All mics, whether they are condenser, dynamic, large-diaphragm, or small-diaphragm, will affect the sound of your music to some degree. This trait can seem unattractive, but it can open up huge creative possibilities.
Think about the sound you want to create and consider a microphone as an instrument that can help you achieve it. Different microphones and applications will produce different results. Different results are not necessarily better or worse.
This is why professional studios have so many condenser mics available and why artists, producers, and engineers prefer specific models to reproduce their unique sounds. This helps us to understand the vast array of best condenser mics available and narrow down our choices to the one or two that best suit our sonic goals.
Some condenser mics that have been around for decades enjoy almost mythical status due to their many years of brilliant recordings.
Many of us might have to sell an organ (antique Hammond, newish kidney!). You may need to sell an organ to pay the high price, but don’t worry – many models and brands will support your needs.
We’ll be covering some basics of physics to help you get the information you need to buy the best condenser mic for you. It’ll all be over in no time!
Condenser microphones rely on capacitance to produce an electrical signal. The mic’s business end acts as one conductor plate and the other as a backplate.
The distance between the diaphragm and the backplate will change as sounds vibrate, causing a variation in the electrical charge or capacitance. The resulting capacitance change is converted into an electrical signal fed to your amp, desk, or audio interface.
This design has a unique feature: the diaphragm can have thinness that allows it to vibrate more freely and faster than other types of mics. The best condenser mics have a comprehensive, almost colorless frequency response range that allows them to reproduce sounds accurately.
They can pick up sounds that are higher in the frequency response range than dynamic range, which is why they are so helpful. Condensers are used to create acoustic guitars as well as hi-hats and recording vocals.
These capacitor plates must have a charge to function effectively. This is usually supplied by either an onboard battery or +48V Phantom Power from your desk or interface.
Condenser mics have a higher output than dynamic microphones, so they don’t require as much gain at their preamps to produce a helpful signal. Cranked preamps can create noise, so it can be a huge advantage to work at low-cut levels.
Relevant Post: What Is A Condenser Microphone? Top Full Guide 2021
Different polar patterns can determine the direction of a microphone, but they also have different frequency-response, which results in different sounds.
The cardioid pattern microphones can pick up a specific sound pattern, making them ideal for isolating singers or instruments being masked up.
Omni-directional microphones pick up sound from everywhere, but their character and tone are more open, natural, and less nasal than those made by cardioid pickup patterns. The proximity effect, a low-cut frequency boost that occurs when close to miking, is less common in cardioid Omnidirectional.
Although it may seem logical to use a cardioid pickup pattern for miking up vocalists, it is better to use an Omni in well-treated rooms where reflections are minimized. You could use a home studio or even a spare bedroom with carefully placed blankets and duvets.
Some of the best condenser mics, like the AKG C414 XLII, have switchable polar-pattern that include cardioid, Omni, and the less-used but still-useful bi-directional figure-8.
There are three types of condenser diaphragms available: small-diaphragm, medium, and large-diaphragm condenser mic. Large-diaphragm mics like the Aston Spirit are almost always side-addressed, meaning you can perform to their side. The diaphragm size increases in noise performance, so large-diaphragm microphones often have impressively low self-noise figures.
These mics are very popular for recording vocals as they have a subtle high-frequency boost – presence – and a roll-off at the top end. The cardioid pickup patterns can also take on Omni characteristics at the low end, giving them a rich, open sound that suits most vocalists. Be aware that presence-boost can make vocals sound harsher or more aggressive.
The frequency response of small-diaphragm condensers like the Neumann KM 184 is much flatter, making them more adept at picking up every detail at all the sound-pressure-level.
These diaphragm condensers are popular for miking classical instruments, such as guitars, hi-hats, woodwinds, and even some classical instruments. Because they are end-addressed, it makes them easy to aim and place.
Condensers with medium-diaphragm sit somewhere in between.
Tube or FET?
A condenser microphone’s active circuitry will be either based on 1940s FET technology or 1900s tube technology. Tubes provide a rich, harmonic sound, while FET produces a more clear, cleaner sound.
Some condenser mics feature a Passive Attenuation Device (PAD). This can be used to prevent loud sounds from overloading the microphone’s active circuitry, causing distortion.
Condenser Microphone Application
Here are some trusted methods to use mics. Don’t let tradition limit you. Experiment to discover your sound! A cheap mic in a well-treated space will always sound better than an expensive microphone in a poorly controlled room.
Multiple condenser microphones for an acoustic piano use a giant diaphragm and a small diaphragm for the low strings. Try different placements.
Acoustic guitar: A small-diaphragm cardioid pickup pattern mic is positioned at the 12th fret.
Strings: A small diaphragm condenser can be used for any instrument of the violin family.
Drums: Hi-hat small-diaphragm cone condenser, overhead multiple small-diaphragm cone condensers. Condensers are often used on toms or snares. However, the kick drum is typically dynamic-mic territory. Experiment!
Vocals: Use a large-diaphragm condenser microphone. However, try to match the mic with the talent. Pop shields can protect even the most expensive condenser microphones from sibilances and plosives. You can also keep your prized purchase from being gumming up by saliva.
Top Best Condenser Microphones 2021
The microphone design has not changed much over the decades. Models introduced 30-40 years ago, 40-years ago, and 50 years ago are still popular. Engineers of the past century seem to have it right. Well, not quite…
The AT5040 represents a rare breakthrough in mic design. Mics with large diaphragms have higher sensitivity and less noise but a limited high-frequency response. Mic designers discovered that a 1-inch diaphragm is the best for vocals and other applications.
While it is common to see small-diaphragm microphones in action, it is rare to see any with a diaphragm greater than one inch. Audio-Technica’s big-minded engineers came up with a solution to the capsule-size problem.
A four-part rectangular grid was created that provides more than twice as much surface area as a traditional 1-inch diaphragm.
The four parts work together to overcome the limitations of the one large diaphragm. This large-diaphragm mic produces a very open, transparent, and neutral sound that can be used for vocals and percussion, and acoustic guitar. The sound responds well to EQ, as you would expect.
Although the AT5040 mic has a high- price, it is hushed, sounds excellent, and was built entirely by hand. It is a thing of beauty.
- Innovative design
- Beautifully made
- Natural, open sound
- Reassuringly affordable price
- Requires careful positioning
Lewitt LCT 940
The Lewitt LCT940 is an excellent choice if you like the idea of creating sound with a microphone or being able instantly to dial in a proper tone. You want the warmth and purity of a tube mic while still having the simplicity of a FET mic. The LCT allows you to have both with the twist of a dial. You can also blend them.
The LCT 940 combines two high-quality mics into one. Lewitt offers a reasonably-sized combination PSU/remote-control unit to help you access its many features.
To choose between tube circuitry and FET, turn the dial on the left. Omni, broad cardioid super-cardioid, or figure-8, twist the right-hand dial to select nine polar-pattern. There are also four intermediate polar-pattern.
The mic can pick up loud sounds with pad settings ranging from -6dB to a significant -18dB. The low-cut filter works from 40Hz up to 300Hz, well into the lower middle range.
All these cut-lower filler features make the LCT 940 versatile home studio equipment. The LCT 940 is a versatile instrument that can accurately represent a sound source or enhance it creatively. Although the price range may be high, it is an excellent value for money.
- There are endless possibilities for sound shaping
- Easy to dial in the perfect sound
- Solid construction
- This is not the most affordable price option.
AKG’s valiant effort to recreate the sound of the iconic C12 mic in the 1950s with the AKG C414 XLII is AKG’s brave attempt. The frequency curve is slightly higher above 3kHz than its sibling, the C414 BXLS. This gives it a more airy top end.
Its nine switchable polar-pattern are the main feature. This is a nod to the original C12. Five base pickup patterns are available: omnidirectional and wide cardioid pattern; cardioid, hyper-cardioid, figure-8, and cardioid.
However, these can be combined for sonic experimentation. Three low-cut filters can be used, including -6dB, 12dB, and -18dB attenuation settings.
The C414 XLII’s comprehensive feature set allows it to tackle almost any task. It’s a C12-soundalike and can handle vocals well, but it can also handle strings, horns, and woodwind. The build quality of AKG C414 XLII is superb.
- Nine polar patterns are available in a variety of styles
- Presence booster for the ‘C12’ sound
- Build quality
Slate Digital VMS
You will indeed need a good collection of mics to equip your studio. This is a significant expense for many people. However, before you get discouraged, consider whether modeling technology could help you realize your dreams.
Slate’s approach to this technology is those home studios are provided with an entire system, including mic, preamp, and plug-in. This ensures the integrity of the audio signal. The result should be more similar to the original mics.
The system mic from the manufacturer, the ML-1 FET, promises a flat, clear frequency response. The bundled preamp is also neutral and pristine. It’s the perfect blank canvas.
The included mic models loaded into Slate’s Virtual Mix Rack software transform this transparent signal into a digital audio file. These models include the FG-47 (Neumann’s iconic U 47), FG-800G (Sony’s C-800G), FG-251(Telefunken’s ELA M 251), and FG-67 (Neumann’s U 67). The VMS also includes two software preamps: the FG-73, Neve 1073, and the FG-76, based on Telefunken’s V76.
We can explore a whole new world by switching between mic models. They are entirely in line with our expectations and very distinctive. It’s an attractive package with so many options.
- Classic mics sound great!
- More versatile than one mic
- There is no high-pass filter in analog chains
Neumann KM 184
Mics that enhance the vocals of vocalists by adding warmth to their low-end or top-end sound are a favorite choice. Because they add a little sonic fairy dust to the sound, large-diaphragm condensers do the job.
When it comes to copying instruments, the audience expects to hear authentic renditions of the source. Because these best condenser mics have a flat frequency response, small-diaphragm condenser mics produce a transparent sound. Because of their small size, they are easy to place and visually not intrusive.
The Neumann KM 184 small-diaphragm condenser is well-respected, particularly for miking overhead drums. It is often purchased in pairs or sets for surround-sound or stereo applications.
This is also famous for piano, acoustic guitars, woodwind, brass, and violin. Although small-diaphragm condensers can be used for vocals, they can only be used where authenticity is essential.
- Transparent, faithful sound
- Low impedance allows for long cable runs
- It doesn’t flatter vocals
Neumann TLM 102
Neumann is often associated with microphones that can cost as high as $8000.
The TLM 102 microphone was created to be an affordable option. It is designed to enhance the 8kHz-12kHz range of vocals, making vocals crisp and clear. However, it does not have harshness or sibilance.
Transparent and clear output stages are possible thanks to the transformerless design. This stage also allows for excellent low-frequency extension.
The TLM 102, like its more expensive sibling, is also Made In Germany.
The Neumann House sound is available in a more affordable package than their flagships with the TLM 102. It is an excellent mic for vocals and can even handle percussion tracks if necessary
- Great for recording flute, vocals, room acoustics
- The detachable capsule can be changed as needed.
- High price
Aston Microphones Spirit
Although the Aston Spirit doesn’t offer any new or innovative features, it stays true to Aston’s original vision of creating instruments of high quality that have a price range above their mid-range prices. It’s also made in Britain with pride.
The Spirit shares a strong aesthetic with its sibling, the Origin. They stand out in a competitive market with their unique, wave-shaped, sprung mesh protections and solid stainless steel casings. The Spirit Black Bundle also includes a black-textured version. This bundle comes with a shock-mount and pop filter.
Three polar-pattern can be switched: Omni, cardioid, and figure-8. You can also choose between -10dB or -20dB attenuation and an 80Hz low cut filter. The instrument is excellent for vocals or acoustic guitar. It has a pleasant mid-range, a high peak, and an agreeable brightness.
It has a meager proximity response, which makes close-miking vocals in cardioid pickup pattern modes easy. Thanks to its switchable polar patterns, it can be used as a room mic or distant miking role.
The Spirit Black Bundle is more expensive, but it’s still a great value.
- Great value
- Superb sound
- Strong build quality
- Standard does not include a shock mount or pop filter.
Sennheiser e 965
Sennheiser created e 965 for stage use. It is rare. This isn’t the ideal place for large-diaphragm condenser mics. They prefer to be protected by a shock-mount and a large pop shield. Sennheiser has accomplished a remarkable feat with the best condenser microphones. They are susceptible to noise handling.
For various reasons, dynamic mics are king on stage, but mainly because they are robust. They cannot match the frequency response of the best condenser mics, so those listening to talented singers with a wide dynamic range may be disappointed.
Thee 965 transmits all nuances with remarkable detail. You can switch between super-cardioid and cardioid polar patterns to eliminate unwanted sounds. There’s also a low-cut filter that omits rumble and a pop filter that handles plosives.
This cardioid condenser could be the right microphone for you if you want to make sure your audience hears every word.
- Performs live with performance vocals
- Built-in a pop filter( high-pass filter or low-pass filter)
- Excellent at handling noise rejection
- Studio use has many options.
Rode is a strong competitor in the microphone market due to its reputation for high-quality sound quality. With its combination of quality and versatility, the NT2-A is a shining example of why they are so popular.
The Rode NT2-A has a switchable polar pattern that allows you to switch between cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure 8 settings. This feature is combined with the variable attenuation control and switchable high pass filter, this high pass filter allows the mic to handle louder sounds and reduce background noises.
Each Rode NT2-A package includes a shock-mount, cable, and a tutorial DVD.
If you are looking for a versatile large-diaphragm condenser mic, the Rode NT2-A will be your best choice.
- It has a clear and crisp tone that is ideal for the digital recording studio.
- This mic has multiple switchable polar patterns (cardioid Omnidirectional, figure 8), which allows you to get many different tones.
- Amazing value for money
- It is not as good as a mic costing $1000+.
- Pop filters are not included with the mic.
Rode claims its recently redesigned NT1 cardioid pickup pattern condenser is the quietest, one-inch cardioid. It has a self-noise of just 4.5dBA. It was quiet and flexible enough to mic many sources.
The sleek, minimalist design and dark-grey color scheme make it look super-cool. However, the minimal form factor doesn’t have any switches for a pad or bass roll-off. This is not surprising considering the price.
The NT1 offers exceptional performance. Vocals sound crisp and clear with a lot of warmth in the low end. There is also no problem with the mid-range.
The top end has beautiful airy clarity. The NT1’s silky top end makes it easy to record acoustic guitars or hand-held drums. The NT1 is an excellent drum for overhead use or as a keyboard accompaniment.
It is not recommended for close-miking loud drums or guitar cabs. However, the pad is a good option for all other studio applications. The NT1 is an excellent value because it comes with a suspension shockmount and a pop shield.
- Excellent value
- Very quiet
- No cut filter or pad
To provide a high-frequency response, cardioid condenser microphones rely heavily on their fragile diaphragms. They sound amazing until they are dropped, kicked, soaked in beer, or left out in the rain. Many people spend their lives in a safe place, such as a studio.
The Shure SM27 is a much more rugged beast. It would have arms and be tattooed with old-school anchors and hearts. If it had friends, it would look and speak like Jason Statham. Shure’s whole SM range, including SM27, was designed to withstand the punishment of live performance.
It would seem that the SM27’s sonic characteristics might be compromised. However, it has a neutral frequency response and low self-noise.
This makes it ideal for reproducing natural, faithful renditions of light sound sources like acoustic guitars, strings, cymbals, and woodwind.
It’s also great for creating screamers or guitar cabs with its -15dB pad. The SM27 is a versatile instrument that can be used on stage or in the studio.
- Construction with a rugged finish
- Faithful reproduction
- A good feature set
- Integrated pop shield
Studio-only users will not appreciate the ruggedness of this material.
Warm Audio WA-251
Warm Audio is one of the best condenser mics for its vintage-modern reproductions legendary gear. Warm Audio’s version of the ELA M251E tube mic is the WA-251.
Warm Audio did not reissue the exact model but took the time to examine vintage models better to understand the tone, circuitry, and overall feel that the 251’s were renowned for.
The WA-12-B-60V capsule, a custom-designed capsule made of brass, has a 6 micron, 24k gold sputtered PET film (mylar) diaphragm.
CineMag USA is the manufacturer of the transformer.
The WA-251 is priced at the top end of the price spectrum for most people. However, it gives you the vintage feel of mics that cost nearly ten times as much.
- Unique tone – This mic sounds fantastic in the studio and live environment and for vocals and percussion instruments.
- Outstanding build quality
- It does not include a case.
- Price varies depending on the type of finish you choose, with black and gold being more expensive than silver.
sE Electronics X1 S
This was the Equal Highest Rated Large-Diaphragm Condenser Mic Under $200 at the time of publication (the price was increased after the first edition was published).
The sE Electronics X1 S Vocal Pack is an all-in-one combination that includes a shockmount and a pop filter. It is ideal for those looking to purchase their first mic and other necessities.
The X1S mic is equipped with a capsule custom-made by sE Electronics.
Transparent transformerless circuits result in a mic that is clear and can handle multiple sound sources easily.
It can handle louder voice-overs and instruments and has a high maximum SPL.
You are looking to purchase your first microphone and want it to work well for everyday use? The sE Electronics X1 Vocal Pack is the best choice.
- Microphone with low noise and high sensitivities
- Great for recording vocals and acoustic instruments
- The mic is an excellent value for money.
- It is not as sound.
- Pop filter not included
This device can be used to record vocalists. It sounds great and blends well with the mix. It should last a long time.
This cardioid condenser can record voice-overs without using filters thanks to its low noise floor of 13 dB. This makes it much easier to add background music to the voice-over when making an audio mix. This polar pattern of the cardioid is ideal for recording voices.
- High-quality diaphragm.
- Circuitry with low noise.
- High-quality iron provides a durable build.
- The kit includes a 3/8 to 5/8 inch adapter; a foam wind cover; a shockmount; an aluminum case; a zippered leather bag to transport the device safely.
- Sound carefully tuned.
Blue Spark SL
The Blue Spark SL, the successor to the original Blue Spark, is focused on transparency and detail.
The Spark SL was blue spec’ed with a custom JFET to ensure that the capsule’s backplate receives the best charge.
Class-A circuitry guarantees transparency and low noise.
The main specifications include a 100hz filter as well as a -20dB pad to provide additional versatility.
A cardioid condenser mic that sounds crisp for your voice and acoustic guitar is what you are looking for. With its exceptional clarity and detail, the Spark SL is a versatile mic used for voice or acoustic guitar.
- Even at low volumes, the sound is unmistakable.
- Four different capsules are available to capture the highest quality.
- It does not include a pop filter or other extras.
This was the Equal Highest Rated Large Diaphragm Condenser Mic under $200 at the time of publication. It also included the SE Electronics X1 Vocal Pack.
The Audio-Technica AT2035 is compatible with all sound sources thanks to its large, large-diaphragm design.
Its high SPL handling further enhances the device’s versatility, 148dB Max, and built-in 10dB pad.
The mic’s cardioid polar pattern makes positioning difficult, but Audio-Technica AT2035 is beneficial for studio recording.
It includes a robust metal chassis and bundled accessories such as a shock mount or storage pouch. It comes with a shockmount & pouch, has an 80Hz high-pass filter, and a -10dB pad.
The Audio-Technica AT2035 mouse is an excellent addition to any home recording studio.
- Most commendations focus on its price to quality ratio.
- The AT2035 is often referred to as a great deal due to its sound clarity and solid construction.
- Its size and aesthetic appeal are appreciated by many.
- Some are unhappy with the quality of the accessories bundled together, while others are less satisfied with how Audio-Technica AT2035 colors the sound.
Audio-Technica AT2020 mic is modestly priced (around $100) but has excellent performance characteristics.
Audio-Technica AT2020 is ideal for Recording projects that have a small budget or at home.
- Handling of high SPL.
- Wide dynamic range.
- Cardioid pickup pattern.
- A custom-engineered, low mass diaphragm will provide extended frequency response.
- Superior transient response
- A phantom power source is required, as this is a common requirement when using an XLR cable.
- Audio-Technica AT2020 does not include a shockmount
- It does not include a windscreen.
- It does not include an XLR cable.
Neumann TLM 103
Neumann is a well-known name in the best condenser mics. However, the incredible sonic quality of its products is often matched by astronomical price. The manufacturer has introduced various Neumann TLM-branded models that are more affordable over the years, including the Neumann TLM 103 and Neumann TLM 102, and more.
The Neumann TLM 103 mic was initially intended for home studios but has since been adopted by many professionals. How does the mic compare to a Neumann TLM?
It works very well. Neumann describes the TLM 103 as a cheaper version of the venerable U 87 Ai studio mic, one of the most beloved in the world. The TLM 103’s capsule design is based on the U 87 Ai, but instead of three polar patterns, it has a fixed cardioid pickup pattern.
The mics have a similar sonic profile. However, the TLM 103 offers a slightly more considerable presence boost at frequencies above 5kHz. This gives the mic a bit more clarity.
This mic is not only a great vocal mic, but it also has a filter, pad, and switchable pickup patterns. You won’t regret it if you use it with acoustic guitars or drum overheads, piano, classical string, and lightly driven electric guitar cabs.
The TLM 103 will be dismissed by some as a budget Neumann. However, if you don’t require the extra features of U 87 Ai, then ignore them and save yourself a lot.
- A Neumann is Cheap
- It doesn’t sound expensive
- Close to the U 87 Ai performance
- Set of basic features
This condenser is priced at around $80. It features a beautiful gold mesh and an olive green body.
Although the outside looks great, it is not very well made. This mic module’s build is weak and prone to breaking. It is often criticized for not working well after the initial setup. You have to accept that there is no warranty. It is almost impossible to return it, so you could be out about $80 if it fails.
- Low cost
- The output of a solid-state preamp balanced transformer
- Audio sensitivity of 130dB
- The single-to noise ratio is 74dB
- Lightweight at 0.67 lbs. (3,3 kg).
- You should purchase the optional accessory MXL57 shock mount (not included).
- XLR cable not included
- Chinese manufacturers have terrible customer service.
- There is no warranty.
Is A Condenser Mic Better For Vocals?
Condenser mics are good for capturing vocals and high frequencies, as well as studio applications. These best condenser mics have thin diaphragms, which make them more sensitive than other types of mics, so they’re also used to pick up delicate sounds like flute or piano music.
The best condenser mics need phantom power from an external source because their signal is too weak without it, but there’s no battery necessary (unlike dynamic mics).
Why Is A Condenser Mic The Best?
Low-mass diaphragms allow condenser microphones to capture sound waves than dynamic mics more accurately.
Condenser mics also offer higher sensitivity and lower noise levels, which is ideal for recording loud sounds like drums or vocals with a high sibilance (hissing).
Which MIC Is Better, Condenser Or Dynamic?
Applications. Condenser microphones are suitable for most studio applications, including voice acting and field recording. They are more sensitive than dynamic microphones, with a flatter response suited to capturing detailed audio in either application.
What does a condenser microphone need to work?
A condenser mic works on an electrostatic principle, using two charged metal plates to help generate sound. When a sound wave hits the diaphragm, the distance between these two plates changes, producing a change in one electrical characteristic called capacitance.
Can You Use A Condenser Mic Live?
Condenser microphones are the most commonly found type of mic in recording home studios. These mics, which can be seen as a thin diaphragm stretched over metal plates called backplates and held close to each other by springs or rubber bands, have been used for live sound environments.
If you’re looking for the best microphones available, there are a few things to consider. Your budget and how much space you have will be significant factors in your decision-making process, but equally important is which type of mic fits what kind of application.
Condenser mics are typically used for capturing high frequencies like vocals or acoustic instruments because they can pick up more detail than other types of microphones.
It’s also the preferred choice for studio applications where accuracy is critical and versatility (e.g., recording drums).
The condenser mic market has changed considerably over recent years with technological advancements, making them both affordable and reliable enough that even beginners can get started without breaking the bank! Hooke Audio hopes our guide helped you choose the suitable condenser mic.
Last update on 2021-09-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API