Which microphone is the best for me? How do I choose which microphone to buy? These are a few common questions we’ve been getting for a while now, and to help we’ve decided to compile the ultimate list of all types of mics out there and who they’re best suited for. We’ll also provide our best picks for each of the different mic types to give you our recommendations. Before we delve into the types and picks however, let’s try to constrain our search and eliminate some of the factors that we feel are important depending on each reader today.
Table of Contents
Let’s get into some technical mic terms you may see thrown around when different microphones are explained by different brands. It will also help you narrow down the search of what mic will be best for you and how to achieve the sound you’re craving.
- Sensitivity: The electrical response at the microphone’s output to a given acoustic input. It is measured using open-circuit output voltage (the output a mic will deliver with a particular sound pressure level). A mic with higher sensitivity doesn’t necessarily mean it is better. Different mics for different applications call for different amounts of sensitivity (is that broad enough for you?). For example, condenser mics have higher sensitivity than others (especially compared to dynamic mics) because it’s helpful in lower sound-pressure level applications, like recording vocals and acoustic instruments. Dynamic mics on the other hand with low sensitivity are great for higher sound-pressure level applications to avoid distortion.
- Sound Pressure Level (SPL): This indicates the highest amount of sound pressure a microphone’s electronic internal build can withstand before distortion begins to ocurr. Some mics even have an attenuation switch which helps increase the volume a mic can handle before it begins to distort. Others do not, so if you’re looking for a mic that can basically handle loud noises (think louder vocals, high-pitched and strong drums such as snares, etc.), look for those types and particular mics that have a higher SPL.
Frequency response: Microphones will be different in ways they respond to the different levels of frequencies. Their “range” (or “response”) is what constitutes which levels they can pick up between. Some may boost certain frequencies (like high treble notes) while others reduce (taking away the lower frequencies for clearer upper-range sound). Some don’t even alter the response (making them “flat” to give us an extremely accurate recording). It all depends on the microphone and what that mic is specialized for. If you’re unsure, looking for a “flat mic” is always best since you’ll get no embellishments and an accurate sound of what you’re trying to get down. The photo provided on the right gives us an example of two different frequency ranges. Notice the top can go a bit lower as well as higher before the bottom drops off for each.
- Transient response: This describes the mics ability to respond to short duration, high level peaks (think of hand claps, snare hits, etc.). For example, condenser mics provide fast and accurate transient responses due to the low weight of the diaphragm. Dynamic mics on the other hand are a bit more heavy (and rugged) to give us less of a transient response since it takes longer for the sound wave to reach the diaphragm and collect that higher peak level sound. There are pros and cons to both.
- Dynamic range: The difference in the maximum sound pressure level to “noise floor” a mic can withstand.
- Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR): The ratio of a reference signal to the noise level of the output of the microphone. In other words, the measurement of how much sound you desire to be present in your recording as opposed to any unwanted noise or sound.
- Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): The percentage of the level of distortion on the signal’s out for a given pure tone signal’s input. It essentially compares the input and output audio signals. This is important because once you see the THD increase past a certain threshold, the “accuracy” of the sound will start to compromise, such as with unwanted frequencies, although many people claim that THD is not perceived by most human ears. It’s still a term you’ll see thrown around in a lot of electronics that involve audio.
The microphone polar pattern describes the sensitivity of sound a particular microphone has proportionate to the angle which the sound arrives. It is essentially “how” a mic can “hear” sound from the many different directions that are in front of it (or behind and the side for some) using a 360 circular foundation as the basis for measurement. You can see what we mean in the photo below. Here are the most popular types of polar patterns you’ll see throw around during your mic search.
- Cardioid: This pattern has the most sensitivity at the front of the microphone and least sensitivity at the back-end. They isolate unwanted sound and are a lot more resistant to feedback than other patterns out there, particularly omnidirectional, however supercardioid (up next) is definitely most resistant of the bunch. Cardioid mics are superb in live performances to allow some of that rear sound in (like monitors), but also studio recordings for various uses (vocals, drums, guitars, etc.).
- Supercardiod: These patterns have a very narrow pickup as opposed to cardioids. They also reject even more unwanted sound than it’s little brother (hence the “super” in that name there), however they also have some more pickup right at the rear of the microphone. They’re best for when you need to capture a sound source in super loud environments and are by far the most resistant to feedback. Just make sure what you’re recording is pointed at directly. They’re frequently used in lectures, workshops, conferences, as well as instruments like cellos, mandolins and violins.
- Hypercardioid: Also known as “Unidirectional”, these are a bit more similar to supercardioid mics, but are even more fine-tuned to the sensitivity in front, even less at the sides, but also have slightly more pick up directly behind. Most common uses of this pattern is in shotgun microphones since they’re great for pointing at sources but from larger distances than it’s two predecessors.
- Omnidirectional: As opposed to cardioids and supercardoids focusing on the front of the pattern, these microphones pick up sound and have sensitivity equally in all angles and all directions possible (the photo shows every space of that 360 circle shaded in). You won’t need to “aim” the mic (like you do with cardioids and supercardioids), so you can have some advantages there, but also be careful because this makes it susceptible to feedback, especially in front of PA speakers and what not. They’re used for grabbing sound in larger rooms, like orchestras and choirs.
- Bidirectional: Also known as “Figure-8 or Figure-of-Eight patterns”, these focus on sound sensitivity in the front as well as rear equally, while eliminating the sides (90 degrees). The lack of side pick-up is ideal for vocalists or instrumentalists at the side of each other on stage. They’re used for this in terms of application, and you’ll see all ribbon microphones have this pattern.
There’s always some extra gear you can grab to make (or mandatory to even start using your) microphone get going. Keep this in mind not only for your budget but foreseeing when and where you’ll need to use this additional gear. Some questions we like to ask our readers include, “Do you already have your software?” “How about a stand to hold it?” Where will you be placing this mic?”, etc. The most popular types include the following:
- Mic preamps
- Audio interfaces
- Phantom power supplies
- Mic stands
- Shock mounts
- Pop filters
- Carrying cases
- Recording, chat, and broadcast software
- Computer and other musical gear
The following is each and every microphone type available today explained in detail. We’ll also provide you with some of our favorite guides we’ve written, how each of the mics work, recommended use for each, and of course, our #1 preferred picks for each category. If we didn’t highlight a specific type you were interested in or need a different recommendation, feel free to let us know in the comments!
Condenser microphones (also known as capacitor mics by some) are considered the “go-to” of recording mics in studios and one of the most popular types in the world today. They’re preferred for studio use for not only their versatility in recording uses of various types regarding voices and instruments, but also their build and longevity, heightened sensitivity to sounds, ability to deliver a high volume of output, large frequency response, and wide transient responses to pick up all of the sound waves you’re intending on capturing as well as the actual “speed” of it all. This helps with sound isolation as well as the accuracy and clarity (an essential for studios, right?) of the sound source you’re intending on capturing.
Technically speaking, the actual “condenser capsule” (hence the name) that’s built into these things is quite intricate. The design of these microphones also make them relatively lighter as compared to some of their counterparts (although they definitely aren’t the lightest of this bunch, depending which condenser type you grab), which is due to the overall construction consisting of two plates in close proximity to the inner diaphragm. Once you have some sound waves coming in to hit this particular diaphragm, it’ll begin to move back and forth and ultimately change the actual distance of these two plates from each other. The diaphragm is what receives the sound waves and distributes them outward to capture the sound. At the end of the day, this converted sound into electrical signal is what gives us our recording. A bit technical here, but we hope that overview helps. On top of it all, many condensers can differ in their size of diaphragm (which we list in a few below) to help customize the sound and feel depending on your applications.
It should also be noted that condenser microphones require an external source of power, since this capsule signal we spoke of is extremely sensitive and cannot be connected to other pieces of equipment. The output voltage is very high, which calls for some help in terms of the external power game, typically from items such as a sound board or audio interface, as we had explained previously known as “phantom power”. We’re talking traditional studio-grade, XLR connected condenser microphones (not UBS mics which we’ll highlight later on, which actually are powered by your computer).
Condenser microphones are easily accessible and can be purchased at various costs. They’re huge. There’s pretty much at least a few condenser mics in each price point you can think of. However, as with most items in the world, the higher the investment, the better the product, which is important to keep in mind when considering your purchase. Recommended uses of condenser microphones include vocals of all types (singing, rapping, etc.), acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, pianos, and various percussion (can you tell they’re versatile?).
If we had to pick just one condenser microphone as a recommendation? We’d go with the amazing, highly reputable and very well-constructed Rode NTK.
Building on that knowledge of condenser microphones and the sound quality that they emit, you then have to start thinking about the particular sound you are looking to capture, and explained previously, that typically comes down to one essential component — the size of the diaphragm. Large diaphragm condenser mics are a lot more popular than it’s counterpart. Actually, most condenser mics you’ll see around the net or in music equipment stores are technically a “large diaphragm condenser”. Even the previously pictured and chosen model for the broader term “condenser microphone” is a “large”.
As mentioned earlier, the diaphragm in any condenser (or capacitor) mic resides at the center of the microphone and uses the vibrations of the sound output to work in congruence with its back-plate, thus creating a larger sound that is typically needed in studio recordings. When you’re talking about a large diaphragm model, you’re looking at a type of microphone that is able to pick up on all of the acoustics and frequencies of vocals and instruments to deliver a deeper quality of sound. Large diaphragm microphones can pick up on all the various vocals and instruments at a high frequency that makes them easy to mix and refine later in post-production for that “bigger picture” sound, making them an adaptable all-purpose microphone. Don’t get us wrong — at times, and although quite more rare, a small diaphragm is actually better in certain applications (which we’ll explain next). However, you most likely want a condenser mic with a large diaphragm.
If you want some numbers to understand it a little better, “large” diaphragms entail a capsule that measures 1″ or more, while “small” diaphragms at 1/2″ or less, most of the time. The biggest advantage (or really, use) of having a “large” diaphragm as opposed to a “small” diaphragm is lower self-noise and higher sensitivity for a more clear and accurate recording (vocals, definitely). The frequency range is also a bit narrower than small diaphragms, which backs up our vocal claim since we aren’t as concerned with the human voice’s range as compared to other versatile and broad frequency instruments. We’d go with its counterpart, listed below, if you’re recording louder instruments, such as drums.
Our favorite large diaphragm mic, and although quite expensive is the luxurious, crystal clear and warm Neumann TLM 105.
To repeat, bigger isn’t necessarily “better”. There’s a reason why small diaphragm condenser mics exist. My mom has always been a big fan of jazz music, so it’s something I grew up listening to quite frequently. I got used to the relaxing-paced rhythms, the various solos to make one instrument stand out from the others, and the diverse levels of piano and forte volumes to deliver a certain impact. However, the biggest impact in jazz comes from those notes that are sometimes so high or so minute that you have strain to hear them. The tap of a hi-top on a drum, the blare from a trumpet, or a high note that only a saxophone can make. It’s in cases like these where a small diaphragm microphone becomes essential.
These particular condenser mics are typically super skinny and slim like a “pencil” (some actually call them “pencil mics”) used to merely describe the entire build altogether. They operate on the end, meaning you speak or point your source at the tip (large diaphragms are typically side-address, meaning they’re faced upwards and you do the same to the side of the entire capsule).
Small diaphragms differ from their counterpart in the most obvious way — their center diaphragm is smaller in size. However, it’s because of that size difference that they are able to deliver those momentary notes. These microphones are highly responsive in the sounds that they pick up on, and because they are both smaller in size and in weight, they are easy to set up and arrange around the instrumentals they are designed to capture. These features make this type of microphone a highly valued asset in home recording studios, and are considered one of the best microphones in their category. They’re excellent for use with the needs of a generally smaller microphone for positioning versatility, higher sound pressure level, lower sensitivity, wider frequency range, higher dynamic range, and lower sensitivity — think acoustic guitars, drum overheads (many use two or more for drum sets altogether), brass, and percussion.
Our pick for the best small diaphragm mic has to be the Shure KSM 137 when it comes to overall build and quality.
As we steer away from the few types of condenser microphones out there, let’s talk about another one of the most popular types of mics out there in the world with a little different spin on capturing sound — the dynamic microphone. These are the most versatile microphone solutions in the world (hence the word dynamic), especially if you’re one to rock a stage or two when it comes to sound needs.
To overview the tech specs, the dynamic microphone’s internal build includes a super thin diaphragm that’s attached to a coil of very fine wire. This particular coil is actually suspended in a field of magnetism and once sound hits the diaphragm, it begins to vibrate to create a super small current of electricity. This electrical signal produced by that suspended coil is then given voltage by a transformer that’s also inside of the dynamic mic, and lastly sent to that output jack for us to broadcast into the world (this is actually the same internal build and technology passive speakers use). Since there aren’t many moving parts in there aside from the coil (people actually call them “moving coil mics” here and there), you get a more general-purpose, across-the-board and broad microphone with a more rugged build than condensers.
For those of you who tend to have accidents when dealing with your technology (hence their popular use for performances), these microphones are designed with the klutz in mind (just in case, at least). The more compact and sturdy internal build also gives us some freedom in terms of rugged and rough handling. They’re also ideal for performance purposes due to this as well as moisture resistance and the fact they don’t necessarily need power from an external source (simple to use — just plug it into your speaker and off you go, you can however use phantom power if you wish). The polar pick-up pattern is also ideal for stages because it’ll only be capturing what’s pointed right at it, as opposed to some other patterns that grab all directions (including the audience).
They aren’t necessarily as sensitive or accurate as condensers; however, for many this isn’t a complete must, especially if performing live, keeping them in the dynamic mic direction (you can sacrifice accuracy for durability and versatility). And although we’ll always see the condenser vs. dynamic mic debate until the end of time, the recommended uses of dynamic microphones are again for those who need to use this for more than one or two applications or with the need for sturdiness in their hands, such as for performers, public, speakers, karaoke, interviews, or really, anything that has to do with “live sound”. We’ve also seen them used for brass and lastly drums, specifically heads with high sound pressure levels (SPL) — kick drums, snares, closed-miked drums, or even amplifiers and guitar cabs. There are definitely a few models out there that many use to record with; however, to keep it simple, we’ll stick to live uses with dynamics.
Our favorite dynamic microphone is by far the ever-popular, beloved, and cherished Shure SM-57, although we’ll probably get heavily debated on this one (which is fine, we’re all ears). There are a lot of great models out there.
Shop for Ribbon Mics | Video Demo
While this next microphone lies underneath the category of a dynamic microphone (technically), its overall output of sound and design are comparable to that of a condenser microphone which can be a bit confusing for some. Even though we’re now into the less common types of microphones out there, and in particularly this type since some may call it “old school”, it continues to have some popularity with a lot of vocalists and brass instrumentalists out there. It looks a bit vintage, doesn’t it? Of course it does — they were most popular type of microphone in the 1950’s!
Known as the ribbon microphone, this device operates off of a similar design to a dynamic mic, only instead of having a coil connected to the diaphragm there is a ribbon made of metal. Using a ribbon design allows these mics to be more sensitive in the frequency they are creating, permitting them to have a sound comparable to that of a small diaphragm condenser mic. Like a dynamic microphone, they do require “phantom power” in order to have an operational capacity, but they are far more durable in their design, and have many parts that are inexpensive to purchase if a replacement is needed. Even with their lack of accessibility and relatively low-cost, ribbon mics are known to produce high quality sound, making it one of the best mics for recordings and even some stage-use (although many of the ribbon mics figure-8 pickup pattern will be hard to work with and position for a band performing live, and if you used it for a vocalist it would also be positioned to pickup some of the noise of the audience which is difficult).
Shop for USB Mics | Demo Video
There are few things I never leave my house without — wallet, phone, keys, and most of the time, my laptop. In today’s world, a laptop, tablet or computer eventually becomes another extension of who you are, as it has become so necessary for most jobs and activities to have one accessible. That’s what makes a USB microphone such a convenient and ever-growing popular choice — take a USB cable, connect it to both your computer and your microphone, and away you go (plug-and-play with no source of phantom power — it uses your computer to do that). Yes, this can be used if you are in need of a portable recording studio, but this type of microphone is best suited for other avenues, such as podcasts, voice-overs, and even interviews. If you do choose to use this for recording music and sounds, it’s best to keep in mind that this type of microphone works best for vocals and acoustic instruments, such as a guitar, a piano, or vocals. A comparable microphone to others included on this list, a USB microphone is great for an on-the-go lifestyle, but not a pro studio by all means.
This particular “type of microphone” is listed relatively high since it’s becoming extremely popular among the more consumer-based mic users; however, a lot of home studios are starting to use USB microphones due to their budget-friendly price points as well as growing quality as technology evolves. We’ve listed it due to the popularity and to give you some insight into why you may see this term thrown around here and there when you’re searching through stores and websites for a mic. Most USB mics technical “type” is condenser, using an internal build with the slightly larger diaphragm and capacitor mechanism we had explained previously. The biggest determinant of what this type is is the way it is connected — USB cable, plug-and-play, right out of the box.
As stated previously, these are recommended for more non-studio use, such as podcasting, Skype calls, gaming, group chats, voice-overs, or really, anything you can think of when it comes to needing a computer microphone that doesn’t involve recording music (unless you’re a home studio and are going to record vocals or perhaps, although not highly recommended, piano or acoustic guitar). What’s great about USB mics is that they’re starting to come in all shapes and sizes. For one, the picture we have up there looks like a traditional mic (almost like a ribbon mic, right?) whereas many others come in compact sizes for those who travel and need an easy and small audio source solution.
Our favorite USB microphone of all time however is the Blue Yeti.
Have you ever attended a public speaking event, sermon, lecture, or even watched a TED talk and seen a panelist struggling with a microphone? The answer is probably no, since most people who are giving presentations need to focus on their material and not on a microphone that they have to carry everywhere they go. This is where a clip-on mic, lapel mic, and most commonly known as a Lavalier microphone, helps to provide a hands-free option for recording and sound projection. Using designs similar to that of a condenser microphone, a lavalier can attach to a collar or pocket, and connects to a transmitter pack that connect directly onto the user as a power source.
Internally, these mics technically boost a lot of high frequencies (a peak of about 6dB at around 6 to 8 kHz has been studied to be the best for chest-mounted mics so you don’t lose clarity). They have super small electret capsules with a FET transistor that makes them ideal for those higher frequencies and small sizes. In terms of connectivity, you have a few choices. For one, you can grab a wireless lav mic that syncs up to a receiver away from the speaker. You later sync the audio captured by the recorder with the video in post-production. Next, you can have a wired lav mic straight to the device you’re recording with (such as DSLR camera or portable audio recorder). Lastly, you can have a wired lav mic that doesn’t stem all the way to back stage or another individual recording it all — there are clip-on receivers that’ll usually go on the speaker’s belt that records the audio for later use.
Lav mics are best for stage performances, such as theater, performances where vocals and dance are combined, lectures, and other public speaking events to help to project high-frequency sounds for an audience to hear. We’ve also seen them used around interviews, especially in a studio, as well as news broadcasting (as they go right in the speaker’s coat or collar — look closely and you’ll see that small lav mic snuggled in there).
Our pick for the best lavalier mic ended up being the Rode smartLav+, although there are some cheaper alternatives out there if it doesn’t fit your budget.
Would it surprise you if we told you that some people are starting to make music with their phones, iPads, and other smart devices out there? As apps continue to become more advanced and smart devices internal builds providing us with better overall speed to handle more processes at once, it shouldn’t sound too far-fetched now. We’re starting to see a big trend is smart device microphones for quite a few reasons, and the main factor in our opinion is because those little built-in microphones are flat-out bad. When we say bad, we don’t mean just for music, either — many are beginning to purchase these nifty, and rather high quality, small condenser (most are, at least) microphones to up the ante on their smart device audio quality for normal calls, work meetings, recording podcasts or voice memos, and more.
What’s also cool about these is the fact that some even come with an app that you can use to sync it with. With the app, and although it varies who it’s with, you can tweak certain EQ settings like gain, reverb and more. As we said earlier, many have a condenser build since most are using this thing to record (more specifically vocals and voices, but guitar can work, too). Other uses we’ve seen for a smart device mic include recording performances, band practices, lectures at school, workshops, and more.
It’s only been a few years since these started to really take off, but since then we’ve noticed many become intrigued at grabbing one of these for their phones or other smart devices. They work, as you can see in the photo on the bottom, by plugging the mic straight into your device (for iOS, the lightning connector) and viola — you now have better quality for whatever use it may be. Lucky for us, the cost is pretty affordable and the size is versatile to carry with us in our pockets or in back pack if we aren’t using it.
One of our favorites, if you’re using an iPad or iPhone, is the Shure MV88.
The geek that I am, I love to watch panels for Comic Con and learn information about my favorite movies from interviews of those who were personally involved. With these types of interviews, you always see that the people who are talking are seated with a microphone placed directly in front of them. If they’re not speaking in the immediate vicinity of the microphone, you really can’t hear what they are saying, which is the entire design of a shotgun microphone. Its name comes from the design of the mic since it looks similar to the barrel of a shotgun, simple as that. Aside from interviews, we’ve seen shotgun mics best used for video camera audio and others in the video category. As long as the vocals of the person are directed to the microphone, a shotgun mic is able to send out a beam of frequency that concentrates in on its subject to emit or record its sound. Remember that hypercardioid pattern we explained? This is it. Knowing that, shotgun microphones are great at projecting the sound of someone who plans to stay in one place without movement, making it one of the best mics for this category, although a rather fine-tuned application.
These are considered to be “highly directional”, meaning that it’s going to pin-point and record exactly (or as best as it can) what it’s pointing at. This can give us some excellent use for those who need a very high amount of concentration to avoid any side noise from getting into the recording. It does this using the specific polar pattern and slim design — the highest gain in this particular pattern is specifically at 0 degrees, which means it’ll start to decrease as other sound comes at it from different angles, helping us keep our fine concentration of recording.
Common uses for shotgun mics include talks and speeches at meetings, lectures and conferences, interviews, video camera mounting, and more — really, any use you can think of where you’re only concerned with what is exactly in front of that little diaphragm it has, especially at a distance.
Our favorite shotgun microphone recommendation would have to be the Rode Video Mic GO.
We’re almost at the end of our microphone type list, and as we continue on down, we get into the rarer mics you may have never heard of before. If you are in need a microphone that can record at normal and high frequencies for a cost-effective price, then a boundary mic might be just the ticket. These mics are a type of condenser mics that need a surface to rest on. They’re different in that you don’t need to hold them or make sure the speaker is directly near them to pick up on the vocals. Instead, you could have a group of people within a room and the microphone will pick up on all of the sounds within that boundary (hence the name). You can even think of it as like a game of racquetball — the mic can sit on any surface within a room and, like a ball in racquetball, it picks up on anything that reverberates off the other surfaces.
This type of mic is best for conference rooms or interviews, but it can be placed on higher frequency instruments (pianos, for example) to record their sound efficiently. We’ve also seen them used in sports for some sound effect picks up on larger surfaces, like courts or hockey boards (body check sounds!). The internal build consists of a small diaphragm condenser capsule mountain in housing to direct its pickup to whatever surface it is parallel to. This “parallel setup” allows the mic to pick up whatever hits the surface it is mounted to.
Most commonly however is being able to record an entire room at once, and their size especially comes in handy since they be mounted on ceilings or walls. If you do end up using it for something like a live music performance (of a soloist, typically, and of a small stature), it can help prevent phase interference to make it sound more natural with a flatter frequency response.
Our pick for a boundary microphone is the famous Audio-Technica PRO 44.
The name of this microphone should give you a clear image of what it looks like — a mic shaped like a cylindrical tube. But what’s the point? Aside from their rarity and slight out-dated build of the mic, for one, these are good at picking up various ranges of tones, considering at heart they’re a condenser mic. However, as opposed to a traditional condenser mic, they have a few key differences and still give us reasons to not only list this at the end of microphone type guide but also recommend it to a few readers, depending on their exact needs.
Tube mics over solid-state is always a debate, and unfortunately to not be as clear as you may want, it really “depends” on what you’re looking for (in regards to sound, that is). The main difference being that instead of a transistor (typically FET with solid-state mics) being used to accomplish and pre-amplify sound, there’s a valve (or “tube”) inside of that mic to do so. The subjective difference and why people think it’s worth grabbing a tube mic over others is their “warmth”, addition of “coloration”, and stronger signal. Some tube mics are able to get a great sound, particularly with vocals, being able to dial a large amount of tube saturation without sacrificing the signal and it becoming too noisy.
With that being said, they are considered to be best for vocal recordings, rather than using them to capture the sound of types of instruments. Many will use a tube mic only on the vocals and combine it with another mic provided on this list to customize the vocals and instrumentals for an overall warm and richer sound. Tube mics come in various sizes and prices, providing a strong diversity in choice. Although they’re continuing to be quite rare today and some say not to waste your time, check out the sounds for yourself and see if your ear can tell a difference — it may help you decide that much quicker.
One of the famous tube mics is the Avantone CV-12.