Incorporating live elements in an original track is an essential tool to make your creations feel more lively. Indeed, a soothing vocal, an organic clap or fuzzing soundscape is a great way to transform your track into something you never expected. This possibility should never be underestimated. Because it is this additional external element that could really make your music shine out of from the banal majority of tracks out there. In that aspect, uniqueness is also an important factor to consider when selecting your microphone. Different microphones are meant to be used for contrasting reasons.
In this article, we will focus on the condenser microphone which is the most appropriate for studio recordings. The way we processed for selecting the best condenser microphones on the market was to analyze the main characteristics of the given microphones. By answering the following questions (which we hope will inform you), our purpose is to make you understand which features matters when you decide to add this fascinating and truly necessary asset to your studio setup (see article: music studio equipment).
Table of content
A Condenser Microphone Guide
Aspects to consider
In our opinion, the 3 most important aspects when choosing a condenser
1. Purpose of recording: Condenser microphones provide a more natural, detailed sound and are therefore the better choice for acoustic instruments such as guitars, brass, and overheads with drums or delicate voices. Especially in studios, a more natural sound reproduction is wanted. Therefore, condenser microphones are more suitable for recording applications. If a condenser microphone is your first choice, remember that your audio interface must be able to supply phantom power to the microphone or you need to buy a condenser microphone that uses batteries to supply the condenser element power.
2. The environment of use: the environment greatly influences the use you will make of a microphone. In this case, you should make sure that you record in a silent environment, and probably in a treated room to avoid any undesired reverberations.
3. Type of sound: Depending on the use of the microphone and the environment it is used in, a flat or tailored frequency response may be the better choice. A microphone with a tailored frequency response cuts through the mix without the need to adjust the mixer. If it is desired to reproduce a sound source without changing or coloring, a flat frequency response is the better choice. In studios, you will mostly find microphones with a flat frequency response.
Type of diaghragm
A smaller diaphragm will capture a more accurate recording. The higher directional sensitivity of a larger diaphragm tends to impart a warmer signal that is more suited and flattering to the human voice.
Sensitivity: Sensitivity & SPL (sound pressure level):
Scientifically this is a measure of how efficiently a microphone converts sound pressure changes to control voltage or electrical signals. This corresponds to the maximum loudness of a microphone. How much dynamic range or level can the microphone cope with? This is the difference between the maximum sound pressure level and the noise floor or in basic terms the range of usable volume without distortion at a high level or noise at low level. Dynamic mics are generally much better at dealing with loud source material than the condenser or ribbon variety. (Source)
Reviews | 7 Best Condenser Microphones
Pros & Cons
The Audio AT2020 XLR microphone is a true condenser microphone manufactured by Audio Technica. This cardioid pattern microphone brings sound-quality to the next level by including high-resolution audio and tremendous connectivity options. It features an A/D converter with 24-bit/96 KHz which delivers cutting-edge performances. Both USB and lighting cables make connectivity between your microphone and other devices smooth. Audio-Technica has included many accessories in the box. Amongst them, a pivoting stand mount, a soft protective pouch, a USB cable and a lightning cable. Nevertheless, it doesn’t come with a microphone cable.
Pertaining to sound, it features a wide and clear frequency response between 20Hz and 20,000 Hz. The small diaphragm does not equal to less bass. The sound coming out from this microphone is actually very warm, displaying a balanced lower mid-range warmth that suits most singers, combines this with a very subtle presence peak that adds adequate air and clarity. With an impedance of about 100 Ohms and a maximum SPL of 144dBSPL, the recording of loud sounds shouldn’t be a problem.
Overall this is a professional microphone, with a high-quality audio which could really benefit a specialized audio interface and pop filter to accompany it. We didn’t like the fact that this microphone doesn’t come with any additional switches. For example, switches for pads or filters. Lastly, it is important to note that it requires 4/48 Volts of phantom power to work. Therefore, it won’t work with anything else except full phantom power.
Pros & Cons
This model features high end design with a matte grayish blue finish. What makes the microphone so special is its capsule. It’s an edge terminated design that came from really the original C12.Difficult to manufacture, because of its incredibly edge-cutting technology, the latter still proves to be very rewarding in the studio. A one-inch diaphragm surface unimpeded by any kind of termination can be found at the center of the capsule. Thanks to that features you’ll feel the detail and the nuances. What makes it remarkable is its versatility whether it’s on overhead, on a piano or for any kind of vocal. All recordings sound simply terrific. One disadvantage might be that this microphone is a fixed cardioid (only one pattern to work with).
Nonetheless, tweaking is extensive with a switchable 20dB attenuation pad and a switchable bass-cut filter. They allow respectively to record loud sources of up 156 db SPL and permit close-up recording with almost no proximity effect. The C214 captures sound is a combination of the legendary C414 dual capsule system and the patented AKG Back-Plate technology, resulting in an outstanding performance. It features the same sound quality as the C414XLII for lead vocals and solo instruments. A H85 Universal Shock Mount and a Metal Carrying Case are also included with this microphone.
Pros & Cons
The NT-USB is not only ideal for recording but also for podcasting and voice-over, making it very versatile. It is fully compatible with all mainstream recording applications on both Windows and Mac OS based computers using for instance Rod Rec but also GarageBand. We are impressed by the simplicity of the microphone as you’ll only need to plug the mic into your laptop or Ipad with a USB cable. A removable pop filter that is integrated prevents the microphone from being overloaded by unnecessary sounds.
Furthermore, a side address with a cardioid pickup pattern means it will perform best closely to a source. The NT-USB comes with many accessories: a pop shield, tripod desk stand, ring mount, storage pouch and finally a 6m (20 foot) USB cable. This mic is heavier compared to its competitors. It features a 3.5 stereo headphone jack for zero latency monitoring which allows you to monitor the microphone input in real time, along with dials to adjust the monitoring level and mix between the computer audio and the microphone input.
Pros & Cons
Just as the Rode NT-USB USB condenser microphone, the Audio Technica ART2500 USB mic works for home studio recording, field recording, and voiceover use. The setup is very easy and accessible. All you need to do is plug your mic right into your computer’s USB port. It is compatible with all mainstream recording applications on both Windows and Mac OS based computers. Composed of a large diaphragm side-address condenser, the microphone offers a quality analog-to-digital converter for high fidelity.
Furthermore, its low mass diaphragm provides excellent frequency response (30 to 15,000 Hz). The cardioid polar pattern has the capability to reduce pickup of unwanted sounds from the sides and rear. The microphone offers up to 48 Khz recording and a 24-bit analog to digital conversion, which are honorable compared to its low price. The mic comes with many accessories: a threaded stand mount which can be attached to the supplied tripod, a tripod desk stand with folding legs and mini USB cable. It also features a durable metal construction giving the microphone a logically long life span.
Pros & Cons
Apogee has been a leader in audio equipment since decades. With their MiC 96K, the award-winning American manufacturer has delivered once again a quality product. In terms of connectivity, this USB microphone can be directly connected to your IPad, Iphone, Mac or Windows 10 computer making it a very versatile device. Sound-wise, Apogee has managed to create a microphone that provides a crystal clear sound. This relatively small device with a resistant all metal construction can be taken anywhere to record any sound. Moreover this studio quality cardioid condenser microphone has been designed specifically for vocal and acoustic instrument recording purposes.
The MiC 96K doesn’t require any setup, you can plug it into your computer and instantly start recording sounds. We were surprised about how well the different elements were captured in our recordings. Acoustic instruments like guitars and pianos stand out well and vocal recordings are bright and crisp without being shallow. The microphone offers up to 96 Khz recording and a 24-bit analog to digital conversion, which are industry standards of high quality. The preamp can be regulated with up to 40 dB of gain. It is worth mentioning that in the box, you get the MIC 96K, an iOS lightning cable, a mac usb cable, a desktop tripod stand, a microphone stand adapter and a quick start guide. We would recommend this product for the purpose of music recording.
Pros & Cons
Today, the MXL 990 is considered as being one of the industry’s most valuable microphones. Framed as a high-quality condenser microphone, the MXL 990 is equipped with FET preamp and a large cardioid diaphragm which provides for great sound quality in digital and analog recordings. First of all, you should be aware that this microphone requires a phantom power* to function (audio interface). Therefore, if you try to plug it directly into your computer, it won’t be able to record any sound. The MXL 990 provides a superior build quality with a resistant champagne all metal construction, just like the Apogee MiC 96k. If a microphone shock mount is provided in the box, you shouldn’t really count on it for absorbing shocks flawlessly. It is a standard plastic microphone mount.
In terms of sound quality, this microphone offers an appreciable frequency response (30 Hz – 20 kHz). With any recorded elements, it will make your vocals sound crisp and acoustic elements sound clean. Even though they might sound a little “thin” at times. The frequency response, although it covers the whole frequency spectrum lacks a little bit of presence in the higher frequencies. The MXL 990 is precisely good at eliminating any background noise that could jeopardize your whole recording. Nonetheless, the sensitivity of this microphone is high and the output impedance is not less than 200 ohms.
Pros & Cons
We believe that this model is a great quality condenser microphone. Comparing it to the MXL 990, the MXL 770 microphone has the same great quality manufacturing. Just like the MXL 990, the MXL 770 offers a high-quality low noise FET preamp and a transformerless balanced output for a high dynamic range with a little amount of generated noise. Also phantom powered, the MXL 770 comes with a shock mount which is meant to reduce mechanical vibrations. Furthermore, this product includes a low-frequency roll-off in order to reduce unwanted bass frequencies. We really appreciated the warm sound of this product whilst it retains extra clarity at the top end.
In fact, that is almost why we single-handedly would pick this one over the MXL 990. Managing to offer a present low-end whilst retaining sharp highs makes it perfect for recording elements such as vocals, pianos or even strings. The quality of the diagram and the fact that this type of microphone is a pressure gradient condenser microphone probably contributes to a superior sound quality. Other than that, the microphone’s polar pattern is a cardioid type, its sensitivity is 15 mV/PA and its output impedance is 150 ohms, slightly less than the MXL 990. Finally, in our opinion, the 0/-10 dB switch you get on the back of this microphone can be really useful if you get to record high sounds which might lead to distortion.
Extra Considerations: Condenser Microphones
What is a polar pattern?
If you have done research related to microphones, you must have come across this word quite often. The polar pattern of a microphone corresponds to how well the microphone hears sound from different directions. When recording vocals, the most commonly used microphone is the cardioid microphone. Notably, this is the most sensitive microphone.
It is also worth mentioning that its sensitivity gradually reducing from the front towards the back. Whilst these microphones are best suited for vocals, they are most prone to the proximity effect (the vocals experience a strong increase in bass). Therefore, the vocalist must try to maintain an equal distance from the microphone during the performance. The term cardioid is used because when its pick-up pattern is drawn on a graph, it takes the form of a heart shape. Other microphone types include: omni directional, bi-directional.
Why is Frequency Response Important?
The frequency response is the “output level or sensitivity of a microphone over its operating range from lowest to highest frequencies”.
There are 2 specific types:
Flat frequency response: All audible frequencies (20 Hz – 20 kHz) have the same output level. This is most suitable for applications where the sound source has to be reproduced without changing or coloring the original sound, e.g. for recording
Tailored frequency response: A tailored response is usually designed to enhance a sound source in a particular application. For instance, a microphone may have a peak in the 2 – 8 kHz range to increase intelligibility for live vocals.
An example of a Microphone’s frequency response.
Our list of microphones comprises the 8 best condenser microphones on the market according to our opinion. As we said in our introduction, we tried to incorporate all the desires of the modern-day musician who wants to record his voice, acoustic instruments or even wonky sounds. In our opinion , the AKG C214 offers the best value of all the microphones on this list. Sound quality is simply better with this one.
It is worth mentioning that it all depends on what sound characteristics you are looking for. Some microphones lack bass, others accentuate the higher frequencies. In the end, it all boils down to personal preferences and what type of sound you would be able to get more used to when you record the sounds you need. If you are interested in our review about the best microphones under (click here’s the link).