Microphones are a critical part of getting sound into your computer system for recording - audio or video, for podcasts, broadcast or simply amplifying the voice for public address. When it comes to situations where more precision and sensitivity is required, you no longer just talk about microphones in general but specific kinds like the condenser microphone. The condenser microphone is the preferred type of microphone in most studios because it offers a wider frequency response and also has the precision to reproduce the speed of a sound from the sound source (transient response). There are so many different condenser microphones from different brands on offer in the market today. Choosing one that will suit your purpose can be a very daunting task. To help you make the process of choosing easier, we have put together this list with some words of advice that will hopefully help you understand the exact type of condenser microphone you need.
Before we proceed with the guide, we will offer you some of our picks. Consider this a cheat list that you can quickly use. Our pick includes: best overall condenser microphone, best large diaphragm condenser microphone, best budget condenser microphone, best condenser microphone for vocals and best USB condenser microphone. On this list, you can find something that will get you started quickly.
For anyone who has been dreaming of enjoying the best of tube sound in today's condenser microphone, the Rode NTK Tube Condenser Microphone is the way to go. This is an all-round fantastic microphone that will shine on vocals and instruments. If you could only have one condenser microphone, this should be your choice especially given its price. It offers great value when compared to other microphones that come close to it in quality. With its large 1-inch capsule and gold plated diaphragm, ultra-low noise, Class A valve circuitry and impressive dynamic range, your highs, mids and lows will come out warm and silky smooth.
It is built to last with an internal capsule that is shock mounted, a mesh head made of heat treated steel, a long lasting satin nickel finish and a solid case for storing and securely moving it around. It comes with its own specially designed power supply and a 30 foot cable so you are not in any way restricted.
For the price the Rode NTK Tube Condenser Microphone is offered at, it is a great steal and a microphone that any studio in the world will be proud to own. There you have it - our pick for the best overall condenser microphone.
The name Neumann is one that many audio enthusiasts dream of having represented in their gear rack. If there was ever a brand that has stamped its name as an authority in the microphone industry, it is Neumann. However, with a lot of its microphones costing way more than many can afford, a lot of audio engineers were resigned to admiring them on catalogs. With the Neumann TLM 102, more people can now stop dreaming of a Neumann condenser microphone and own one.
The Neumann TLM 102 is a large diaphragm microphone that is perfect for the studio. This compactly designed and attractive condenser microphone gives you a taste of the legendary Neumann sound. With the ability to handle SPL (sound pressure levels) of about 144 dB, you can use this microphone to record loud sound sources like drums, percussions and very loud amps. That said, you can also use it to record more quiet sound sources like vocals, soft instruments and more. This is possible thanks to its impressively fast transient response. Additionally, it has a little boost just above the 6kHz mark which gives vocals more presence, allowing them stand out in your mix.
It is built for quiet recording with its capsule protected with a suspension system that reduces noise that can usually arise from handling or structural vibrations, this is aside from the shock mount included for the microphone. It also has a pop screen right behind the grille which stands as a filtering shield against plosives when recording vocals.
The stuff of legends is now affordably available in the Neumann TLM 102 and it is our pick for best large diaphragm condenser microphone.
We cannot in all sincerity present a list that does not have an option for the very budget conscious. We are aware that many get into recording with not much more than a strong desire. For those in this category, our pick for the best budget condenser microphone - the Audio-Technica AT2020 at just about $100 offers a very budget friendly entry into the world of condenser microphones.
There is a tendency to assume that because a product costs far less than others that it somehow must really be inferior. Well, this is not so. The Audio-Technica AT2020 is a versatile condenser microphone which has a wide frequency response and a maximum SPL handling of 144 dB so you can use it on vocals and instruments with great results. You will get crisp, clear vocals with this be it male or female and also get great recordings of a wide range of instruments.
With no frills, bells or whistles, the Audio-Technica AT2020 delivers pure quality where it matters. It's almost unbelievable that a microphone that can deliver such quality will go for such a ridiculous amount. This is just an amazing entry point into recording, making it perfect for the home studio owner.
4. Rode NT1A
Yeah, we know recording is not all about vocals but without vocals, most recordings will not be complete. Every sound engineer is always on the lookout for a condenser microphone that brings the best out in vocals. For the aspiring producer and sound engineer, we are giving you our pick of the best condenser microphone for vocals - the Rode NT1A.
The Rode NT1A is one condenser microphone that many homes and project studios have come to rely on to deliver awesome vocals. Well, that's not to say that it only records vocals, it does record instruments wonderfully too but if you want vocals that stand out, it provides that little extra heave that sends the vocals over into the realm of awesomeness. No wonder it was the winner of the Electronic Musician 2004 Editor's Choice Award.
Armed with a 1-inch capsule that is shock mounted, a high signal to noise ratio with a self-noise of just 5 dB, it's little wonder that it is popularly regarded as one of the world's most quiet studio microphones. Being this quiet, your vocals will have no extraneous noise coloring it.
It has a wide frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz so it is pretty versatile. Its maximum sound pressure level handling is 137dB so it is capable of handling loud sound sources.
Since we are focusing on vocals, the package comes with everything a singer needs to record in the studio. These include a pop filter, shock mount, 20 feet microphone cable, dust cover and a DVD that contains tips for recording.
So there you have it. Hurry and get your Rode NT1A today and begin to enjoy amazing vocals.
Did we forget our growing crowd of podcasters, vloggers, YouTube artists and more? Of course not. We know that many of these users prefer the plug and play ease that USB offers, so anything that does not come with a USB connection immediately becomes a hard sell. To you our recorders on-the-go, we present the Blue 1967 Yeti Pro, our pick for the best USB condenser microphone.
Now, there is a lot to this microphone. Starting from its design, it's presented as a microphone that will comfortably sit on your desktop (and it will). However, you can also use it with a microphone stand as it is fitted with a mic stand mount that makes this possible.
Check this out, it comes with four switchable pick up patterns. These include stereo, cardioid, omni and bi-directional. These offer so many options. As a podcaster, select the cardioid pattern when you are talking alone. When doing an interview, switch to the bidirectional mode and it will record from both the front and the back, allowing your interviewee sit across from you and talk into the other side of the microphone. Okay, you do not want to talk but want to record a live band performing, choose either the omni mode to capture a feel of the ambience of the place or choose the stereo mode to get a stereo imaging of the performance.
The is the first microphone in the world to combine 24-bit/192 kHz digital recording resolution with an XLR output which is analog. Recording has never been easier with this USB condenser microphone. It's plug and play all the way and it offers easy latency free monitoring via a headphone output. Want to find out more about this microphone, go get one and get ready to be blown away.
Why Do I Need a Condenser Microphone?
Well, if you really and truly want to achieve a higher quality of audio recording of either vocals or instruments, then you certainly have to consider getting some condenser microphones. Yeah, dynamic microphones are great for mic’ing high SPL sound sources but condenser microphones will give you more precision over a wider frequency range.
With condenser microphones, you will achieve crisper and clearer vocals. Your instrument recording will shine true in the mix and your overall audio production and reproduction will be more sonically pleasing. To tell you the truth, you cannot convince anyone that you are serious about quality audio production if you do not own a couple of condenser microphones.
How Do I Choose a Condenser Microphone?
Truth be said, the choice of a condenser microphone is one of the most subjective topics there is. As a ground rule though, the first thing you need to consider before choosing a condenser microphone is whether it is going to be one of many or a lone warrior in the field.
If you are looking for just one condenser microphone that will be used for practically any recordings you will be doing, then you might need to look for one that has multi-functionalities like multiple polar patterns, attenuating pad for when you are recording louder sound sources, a really wide frequency response to enable you properly capture a wide frequency range and of course a high SPL handling.
On the other hand, if you are choosing a condenser microphone that will be one of many, then you will want to ask yourself what particular use you want that particular microphone for. If you need a microphone that will be used mostly for recording vocals then you certainly will have to choose accordingly.
Should you however want a microphone that will primarily be used for recording instruments, then you will need to decide what instruments you want to record with it. The microphone you will need for recording an acoustic guitar, violin, piano and other instruments with mid to high frequencies may not be the same you will want to use on low frequency instruments like trombones, tubas, kick, bass cabinets etc.
While every microphone can and will capture any and every sound, some microphones will not capture some frequencies properly because of their frequency response limitations. Others may not have the capacity to handle the SPL leading to distorted recordings.
For best results, microphones should be matched to specific tasks. If however you are just starting or are on a very tight budget and can only afford one condenser microphone, then consider getting the Audio-Technica AT2020 and if you can spend more then surely go for the Rode NTK.
Most condenser microphones are designed to be shock mounted because of their sensitivity to the slightest noise. The few that are designed to be handheld or clipped-on like the lavalier are meant for live stage use. Condenser microphones can be side address or end address. Which should you choose?
Most professionals choose side address condenser microphones for vocal recording and end address condenser microphones for instrument recording. This is not really a rule, it’s just what you are likely to find in most places. Actually, most side address condenser microphones have large diaphragms while most end address condenser microphones have small diaphragms.
You may want to read on to understand the difference between a small diaphragm condenser microphone and a large diaphragm condenser microphone.
Small or Large Diaphragm
Without going into the technicalities around why one microphone is called a large diaphragm condenser microphone and another a small diaphragm microphone, we will look at a few differences and best uses each can be put to so you can easily decide which you want in any situation.
Typically, condenser microphones that are called large diaphragm are usually bigger than those called small diaphragm. In the same vein (as stated above), the large diaphragm types usually have a side address form factor while the small diaphragm types are mostly end address.
Technically speaking, large diaphragm has a better signal to noise ratio than the small diaphragm. On the flip side, the small diaphragm has the ability to capture sound waves more precisely, has a pick up pattern that is consistent and also has a frequency response that is pretty high. That's that for technical speak.
Practically speaking, the large diaphragm is loved for vocal recordings. Because its pick up pattern is not constant, it helps in canceling the proximity effect that would have usually occurred as a result of the singer moving while singing. It maintains the smoothness of the low frequency even with slight movements.
In addition to adding richness to vocals, giving them a warmth and robustness that singers love, large diaphragms also give solo instruments a richness and vibrancy that makes the instrument really full and permeating.
Now for the small diaphragm, this is the one you turn to when you want to record vocals without any coloring or embellishment. It excels at capturing sound in its most minute details. Because most singers really prefer to have the richness and fullness that the large diaphragm offers, the small diaphragm is mostly used for mic’ing instruments like the piano, acoustic guitar, drum overheads (cymbals and hats), choral overheads etc.
Remember that it is for the engineer to determine what sound s/he wants to achieve and then choose the type of condenser microphone that will best achieve this. There is no good or bad, just what’s appropriate for the specific task
XLR or USB?
Most condenser microphones come with XLR connections. With the upsurge in podcasters, vloggers and people recording on the fly with the laptops, manufacturers started making those that have USB connection.
Obviously, the type of connection you will choose will depend on the use you want to put it to. If you want a condenser microphone for your studio, then you certainly have to go for the regular XLR connection as that is the professional audio connection.
For computer nerds and others who want to record on the fly with their laptops without other external audio interfaces, your best bet is a USB condenser microphone.
Like we stated at the beginning of this review and guide, the choice of a condenser microphone is a very subjective one. The best way to eventually know which microphones are best for you is by using and trying them out. This is one situation where experience indeed is the best teacher. Rather than spend forever looking for the best condenser microphone (there’s no such thing), pick one that appeals the most to you and start using it. The more you use each one, the more you will learn to identify the characters and sounds of different microphones and then be able to choose condenser microphones for specific uses. Take the plunge and get started with your recording. Happy recording!
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