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Best Condenser Microphones

Updated August 2018
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 58 Models Considered
  • 41 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 168 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best condenser microphones

    Last Updated August 2018

    When it comes to high-quality recording, a condenser microphone is an invaluable – and sometimes the only – tool you need other than your computer.

    A condenser microphone has to meet your recording needs, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune for an expensive model. Many affordable condenser mics provide great quality and are easy to use. On the other hand, just because a microphone is designed for professionals doesn’t mean it isn’t a good choice for you, too.

    Different microphones record in different ways. Some are better for solo performances, while others do a great job of capturing several voices or sounds. Not all condenser mics come with the same equipment out of the box, which is another factor to consider.

    At BestReviews, we strive to provide comprehensive information so you can make informed purchases. This shopping guide will help you find the best condenser microphone for your home or studio. If you’re ready to buy a condenser microphone, look at our top picks in the matrix above.

    When singing or speaking, adjust your distance from the microphone so that you’re closer when speaking or singing softly and farther away when speaking or singing loudly.

    Why buy a condenser microphone?

    Condenser microphones capture sound with a thin metal diaphragm parallel to a metal plate. When sound waves hit the diaphragm, it vibrates, changing its distance to the metal plate. This alters the capacitance, which creates the electrical signal that a computer records.

    For decades, condenser microphones have been the obvious choice in the recording studio, but what sets condenser microphones apart from dynamic microphones?

    Condenser microphones

    • More sensitive due to a flatter frequency response (respond well to wider range of frequencies

    • Record all sound (not so great in a cafe, but ideal in studio)

    • More natural sound in controlled settings (home or recording studio)

    • Require power source

    • More expensive
       

    Dynamic microphones

    • Lower-quality audio

    • Better for picking up sound you want in noisy places

    • Often don’t require power source

    • Less expensive

    Live vocal quality

    The Shure BETA 87A is designed for live vocal performances, sound reinforcement, in-house recording, and broadcasting. Touring professionals find it to be a durable, rugged product that lasts a long time. When a touring performer replaces a Shure, it’s often because it was lost or stolen, not because the technology gave out. This speaks volumes about the Shure's quality.

    Condenser microphone features to consider

    Before you buy a condenser microphone, you should know what features you don’t need to pay extra for and what features you absolutely need. That depends on what you’re recording and how (and where) you plan on using your microphone.

    Large or small diaphragm

    As you may have guessed, large diaphragm condenser microphones are identified by their large diameter diaphragms. This results in a very different sound from small diaphragm condenser microphones, though neither is better than the other.

    • Large diaphragm microphones tend to capture a richer, fuller sound, making them a common choice for vocalists or solo musicians.

    • Small diaphragm microphones capture an accurate, more detailed sound.

    Output

    How does your microphone output audio?

    • XLR is the common professional choice, and XLR adapters can be purchased for a 3.5mm or USB connection.

    • USB condenser microphones are becoming increasingly popular due to their ease of use. Since a USB connection powers the microphone, you don’t have to worry about a power source, and you can record straight to an audio program on your computer.

    • Mini (3.5mm) microphones tend to produce lower-quality audio and require a power source. Combined, these factors make them less popular than USB or XLR microphones.

    Computer and drivers

    If you plan on recording directly to your computer, you should make sure your computer is compatible with the microphone and that you have the proper drivers.

    Noise figure

    Because condenser microphones require a power source, there is an electrical current running through wires inside the microphone. The current generates a small amount of noise (“self-noise”) that can be picked up by the microphone. The self-noise is measured in A-weighted decibels (dB-A), and most microphones fall between 9 and 19 dB-A. In this case, a lower noise figure is better, but it often comes with a higher price tag.

    An audio interface is a tool that improves the quality of your microphone, provides power, connects to your computer, and sometimes connects more than one microphone.

    Maximum SPL

    Maximum sound pressure level (SPL) is the highest decibel level that a microphone can record without a drop in sound quality. Many condenser microphones record up to 120 dB or higher. Consider what type of recording you intend to do. If you just need a microphone for a spoken-word podcast, max SPL shouldn’t be too much of a consideration for you. However, if you plan to record drums, make sure that your microphone can handle higher-decibel sounds.

    Frequency response range

    While it’s important for a microphone to pick up a wide range of frequencies, what you should really look for is how “flat” a microphone’s frequency response curve is. A flat frequency response indicates that the microphone is equally sensitive to high- and low-frequency sounds. This is a good choice for capturing instruments to produce a natural sound. If you only plan to record vocals, you might want a microphone that’s more sensitive to different frequencies. Most microphone manufacturers indicate whether the frequency response range is appropriate for vocals.

    Pop filter

    Directional microphones, usually the choice for vocals, are susceptible to “pops,” a noise that results from sounds like “P” and “B,” which can hit the diaphragm with a lot of force. Some microphones include a pop filter, a ring with a thin layer of mesh, to prevent this effect. If a pop filter isn’t included, it doesn’t cost much to buy one, and it’s an accessory that can save you a lot of trouble.

    If you don’t have a pop filter, a windscreen is an affordable alternative. This foam covering slides over the microphone to protect it from spit, dust, and loud noises that could damage the diaphragm.

    Directional or omnidirectional

    As you can imagine, neither type is superior to the other – each serves its own purpose.

    • Directional (or cardioid) microphones have sensitivity patterns that pick up sound from one or sometimes two directions. These microphones excel at blocking out sound from other directions and so are ideal for vocal recording.

    • Omnidirectional microphones pick up sound equally from all directions. These microphones are great for recording several instruments at once.

    Stand

    Not all microphones include a stand, an accessory you’ll likely want because holding a microphone can produce unwanted noise. There are several different types of stands.

    • Shock mount: For reducing unwanted vibrations, a shock mount is a good choice if you’re recording vocals.

    • Tripod boom: If you need to adjust the height of your microphone, a mic boom is a great tool. This is standard for recording instruments.

    • Tripod stand: This is a good option for general use or if you plan on recording vocals standing up.

    • Desktop: These stands are the norm for recording podcasts, since they place the microphone at a comfortable height when the speaker is sitting at a desk.

    • Overhead: This is the most expensive stand type. It gives a range of positions and is most commonly used in recording studios.

    Durability

    Due to the delicate design and the thin diaphragm, condenser microphones tend to be fairly fragile. Humidity (often saliva) inside the microphone can do serious damage, as can a bad fall. However, if treated properly and stored safely, a condenser microphone has no real life expectancy and should last for years.

    EXPERT TIP

    If you need to record on the go, look for a microphone with a carrying case. USB microphones make a good option for recording on the go because they don’t require a power source.


    Tips

    • Choose your recording space well. A room with bare walls is likely to produce an unwanted echoing effect. Furniture and bookshelves can help produce a more natural sound.

    • Keep your pop filter a few inches from the mic. The effectiveness of a pop filter is increased when it’s three or four inches from the microphone.

    • Use headphones while you record. Sure, you can hear yourself or your instrument okay, but without headphones, you won’t hear what you’re recording until it’s too late. Headphones are a great way to fix problems as they occur.

    • Consider purchasing a preamplifier. A preamp is a tool that increases the power and volume of your microphone for better recording quality. Preamps range in price from $30 to $250.

    Affordable and versatile

    The Blue Yeti USB mic is a top seller. Its popularity is due in large part to its outstanding sound quality. Owners can choose among four recording modes: stereo (left and right channels are used for realistic sound), cardioid (great for podcasts, vocals, and any other recording where the performer stands directly in front of the mic), omnidirectional (sound input is pulled equally from all directions), and bidirectional (ideal for solo instrumentals; sound input is captured from the front and rear of the mic). With so many choices, it's quite easy to achieve the finished product you want no matter what you're recording.

    Condenser microphone prices

    Condenser microphones vary greatly in price, depending on brand, size, and features. You can expect to spend anywhere from $9 to $1,200 or more.

    • Inexpensive

    For a simple condenser microphone that’s easy to use, you can pay as little as $9 or as much as $50. Even at this price, you can find a microphone with a decent number of features like a headphone jack or pop filter.

    • Mid-range

    You’ll find many high-quality microphones in the $50 to $250 range.

    • Expensive

    For professional-quality microphones like those used in recording studios, you will pay from $250 to $1,200 or more.

    Without quality speakers, you won’t know if your recordings sound the way you want them to. A good pair of studio monitor speakers is a worthwhile investment.

    FAQ

    Q. What type of microphone do I need for recording multiple voices?

    A. Bidirectional microphones are designed to pick up sound from the front and back, making them a good choice for recording two voices. Otherwise, your best option is having multiple microphones, one for each voice.

    Q. How should I store my microphone when it’s not in use?

    A. If your microphone is in a safe place away from young children or animals, it can be left out, but a dust cover will prevent particles from collecting inside the microphone. If you don’t plan on using your microphone for a long time, you should store it in a hard case if you have one.

    Q. Can condenser microphones be used onstage or during a performance?

    A. Not without picking up a lot of extra sound (like the crowd). If you’re on stage, a dynamic microphone is the best option because it blocks out extra noise. In addition, dynamic microphones are usually more durable than condenser microphones and are better built for life on the road.

    The team that worked on this review
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      Bob
      Writer
    • Bronwyn
      Bronwyn
      Editor
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Melissa
      Melissa
      Senior Editor
    • Peter
      Peter
      Writer