Professional performance from a company with an outstanding reputation. Unbeatable sound quality ratings.
No USB connectivity. Primarily for vocals.
Four pick-up settings enhance control and artistic freedom.
Heavier mic (3.5 pounds). Some controls look "flimsy," although they hold up well.
Inexpensive and portable. Cardioid and omni pick-up patterns.
Occasional latency problems.
Great for speaking voice and guitar.
Background noise sometimes filters into recordings.
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 product list above.
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?
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
Better for picking up sound you want in noisy places
Often don’t require power source
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You’ll find many high-quality microphones in the $50 to $250 range.
For professional-quality microphones like those used in recording studios, you will pay from $250 to $1,200 or more.
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.
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