As we continue to survey the best types of microphones of all shapes and sizes, grabbing the best condenser microphone will give you a highly sought out device, especially when it comes to attaining supreme recording quality of many different instruments (including your own voice, of course). Condenser mics are able to follow sound waves of all frequencies more accurately in contrast to other popular types of mics. Therefore, their sound is more natural, transparent and clear in result. The best condenser microphones generally have a broader frequency response, hotter output, and a faster transient response than others, so today we found the 10 best to help your recording endeavors.
Sensitivity is a special characteristic of the condenser mic and this is the reason they are most often used in professional and home recording studio scenarios. They give the best results for vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, kick drum, toms, snare drums, overheads, grand piano, upright piano, electric bass, upright bass, brass, woodwinds and string instruments. As compared to dynamic microphones, these are not considered good for live sound or concert gatherings, so be sure to read that shopping guide instead if that was your intended application, or read our condenser vs. dynamic microphones article if you need some more information.
Choosing the best condenser mic for you
- Price range – There’s definitely a noticeable range when it comes to the best microphones in general, let alone condensers, so when attempting to find the best for you, your overall budget will come in to play. The higher you go in price, the better quality you’ll be coming in contact with. However, there is a threshold when it comes to microphone quality (especially if you’re in a home recording studio, a middle price-point condenser mic will suffice), otherwise the higher you go the more professional sounding your tunes will be.
- Connectivity – With USB microphones becoming more popular, keep in mind which type of connectivity you’ll be wanting. The main choices are either the traditional XLR or USB. If you grab an XLR microphone (which most of the popular and professional condenser mics have), you’ll need some external power source aside from your computer since they require phantom power. Some come with an external power supply, while others don’t (you may have to buy one separately, so factor that into your budget as well). USB mics on the other hand are powered by your computer only and do not require an external source (although some use it anyway).
- Intended application – Are you recording strictly vocals? Acoustics? Strings? Amplified electric guitar? When it comes to your intended use, condenser mics can ultimately record everything and anything you want to transfer onto your computer or mixer. However, keep in what Sound Pressure Level (SPL) each mic allows if you’re planning on either recording something super loud in volume (aka higher pressure) or screaming\louder vocals. Many prefer ribbon microphones or small-diaphragm condensers for higher SPL (they also have a bit of a different feel than condensers). However, there are some solid condenser mics in here with nice SPL handling that we’ve included, too. Others have gone the tube microphone route for a different type of sound — although subjective-sounding to say the least, mic enthusiasts state they’re a little warmer and brighter than traditional condenser mics. Either way, this is getting a bit more detail-oriented, and any condenser mic should be fine for most applications, especially in a home recording studio.
- Additional accessories? Audio interfaces (for phantom power and additional inputs for other instruments), mic stands, shock mounts, windscreen and more — keep this in mind if you still need to buy them when factoring your budget. Some of these mics even come in combo packages that may be better for your personal needs.
The top 10 best condenser microphones
The Rode NT1-A is the condenser microphone that has become an exclusive industry standard as it delivers warmth as well as a dynamic range, not to mention it’s quite affordable as compared to others within its class. This has been considered the best condenser microphone for quite some time now as it features a super clear sound with a high SPL (sound pressure level) capability, a warm feel to the recordings as well as a sturdy build that will last you quite a long time if you take proper care of it. When it comes to brand trust, Rode is one of the leaders when it comes to recording gear, especially microphones (another one of their models is listed below as well). The NT1-A is one of the quietest studio microphones among its competition with a 5 dBA self-noise level and this excellent feature of the mic makes it ideal for recording vocals, guitars and percussion. The item has a large one inch capsule with a gold-plated diaphragm and is the preferred choice of many professional, semi-pro and home vocal recorders.
Up next, we have an appearance by M-Audio and this one is another relatively budget-friendly condenser mic to take a look at. Let your recordings breathe new life from the M-Audio Nova, a large capsule condenser microphone. The Nova has been listed by many as the best condenser microphone that ensures clear recordings that are faithful to the original source as well as free from unwanted coloration of the sounds and distortion. This condenser mic is able to mix low-noise Class A electronics with an evaporated gold diaphragm over 1 inch in diameter. It has excellent features for reliability and protection in the form of a solid brass body and capsule if you can keep it in a safe place when you’re not using it and the item is not too heavy with a weight of only 2 pounds. The M-Audio Nova comes with a hard mount and a soft case as well, so you’re covered in a few additional accessories if you needed them. It won’t break your wallet as compared to some other condenser mics out there, however if you do want a bit higher quality mic, keep reading down the list.
Blue Microphones Yeti
The Blue Yeti is by far the best condenser microphone with USB connectivity that is in fact capable of capturing audio in more than 16 bit/48 kHz resolution. This microphone has more positive reviews than we can count and it provides the user a variety of selectable polar patterns in order to generate flexibility in recording. This microphone also comes with an integrated headphone amp along with some gain control on the actual unit itself. You’re also getting an instant mute function right on the face of the device. The best thing about the Yeti mic is that it is compatible with both Mac and Windows and includes a USB cable so you can use it right out of the box. The microphone can also be folded down to carry as well as for storage or stand up on its own (if you’re placing it on a desk that is). It also made into our best podcasting mics guide because of its versatility for a super long list of recommended applications. It’s pretty affordable, too.
If we had to choose the best microphone in the world and your budget was a bit higher than the previously listed models, the Rode NTK is one that stands out from the rest. We’re starting to get into the middle price-point of condenser mics here but the quality is unmatched by many. The NTK is stated by many to be designed to provide warmth with incredible detail in the studio. With its cardioid polar pattern, it is considered the best condenser microphone for a number of single instrument recording situations. The item includes a hand-selected twin triode 6922 valve as well as audiophile grade components. The build is also that of a tank so it will last you numerous years if you take care of it. It is featured with low noise, an ultra-wide range and stunning tube warmth — the quality is really what makes this stand out. It’s a nice balance between a clear and concise sound with some vintage quality as well. It is a perfect tool for vocals, drum overheads, acoustic instruments, pianos and more. They also have the Rode NT-USB if you wanted the USB route instead.
AKG Pro C214
The AKG Pro C214 is a great professional large diaphragm condenser mic which is especially designed as a great cost-effective substitute to the high-end C414 family. AKG Pro is one of our favorite brands when it comes to mics. The C214 provides the user an exclusive 1” capsule on the integrated suspension in order to reduce conventional mechanical noise. It offers a switchable 20 dB attenuation pad that provides the facility for recording loud sources up to 156 dB SPL. The body is also a bit wider in terms of field of recording, which is great for picking up more of what’s in front of it. It also possesses a switchable bass-cut filter that is quite helpful for close-up recordings without any proximity effect. It’s recommended not only for vocals but most instruments you’ll need to isolate in a recording environment. It’s a bit cheaper than the NTK so if you wanted a middle price-point condenser mic but the previous model was too expensive, double-check the price of this and it fits within your range, it’s well worth it.
When it comes to top-of-the-line condenser microphones that are starting to hit within the higher price-points, any Neumann model you come about will fit the build. Now we’re starting to get into the beasts of the mic realm and this one isn’t a joke. The Neumann TLM-102 is a very high quality cardioid pattern, large diaphragm condenser mic that has the ability to withstand very high sound pressure levels. Paired up with its clear and crispy sound and high SPL rating, the capsule of this microphone allows the excellent recording of drums, amplifiers, percussion and many other loud sound sources. It’ll pick up your vocals very well too, but this is also geared towards those with louder voices\instruments. The TLM-102 has a very quick transient response due to which it can brilliantly record the lower volume sounds efficiently. The user can make a great vocal presence as well as a clearly defined bass range. It’s almost priced at a grand for a reason, but if you can afford this one, you’ll be easily hitting the near-professional level of music and sound recording.
As we saw their extremely popular USB condenser mic Yeti make an appearance earlier, here’s Blue’s most popular traditional condenser mic in the market (and highly rated at that). This brand has really tied in quality sound along with versatile circuitry, allowing the user to get excellent recordings with true-to-original frequencies. With its nice orange body and excellent chrome accents, the Blue Spark makes is quickly recognizable if you’re into aesthetics (we love how it looks super-vintage). It has a solid large diaphragm condenser capsule with a proprietary preamp built-in that allows excellent sound (you’ll still need an audio interface or phantom power supply). This condenser mic also has a ‘focus button’ through which the user can switch to a more up-front sound to its full-range response, which really depends on how you’re going to use it. We love this one and the reviews don’t lie, not to mention it’s priced at a pretty budget-friendly tag.
Sterling Audio ST55
The Sterling Audio ST55, a FET condenser microphone (compared to many others out there being ‘tube’), has stood the test of time since it came out nearly a decade ago. If you’re looking for a mic with user reviews that back up its longevity, check this one out. It comes with a huge capsule along with a sleek and thin 3-micron evaporated gold Mylar diaphragm. This condenser mic has been built with a unique process that is used to allow high frequencies as well as improved details. Moreover, it extends the depth on both instrument and vocal recordings. The recorder can enjoy a smooth and warm sound through FET Class-A electronics which is argued by many to be preferred with condenser mics because of the circuit quality. The ST55 mic employs a number of advanced technologies separating their large diaphragm condenser microphone from the rest of the pack (its ‘Desk Resonator system’ is a different advancement in the field of mic technology). Check this one out if you want a sturdy, dependable condenser mic that’s within the lower-end of the middle price-point.
This is the latest and best USB microphone that consistently rivals the previously listed Yeti. It can be plugged directly into the USB port of your computer so that the user can go seamlessly with their favorite recording software and not need an external source of power. The Audio-Technica AT2020USB is considered perfect for recording in a home studio and you’re looking to keep it strictly digital. It is also very helpful in podcasting, field recording and voice-over use. This exclusive condenser mic is designed on the base of Auto-Technica’s AT2020 cardioid condenser mic. This microphone features a low-mass diaphragm for extended frequency response as well as superior transient response. Its featured with low self-noise. There’s also an AT2020 version that connects via the traditional XLR, so if you were in need of an A-T model with a similar build but wanted to use an audio interface instead, check that one. We’d also consider this one budget-friendly since it’s pretty low in the price-point category of condensers. Although we always recommend traditional condensers without USB connection, for home-studios this will suffice. Grab it if the Yeti was too expensive for you.
Last but not least, we have one of the cheapest mics out there that’s worth keeping mind when shopping. The MXL 770 is a perfect mix of a solid construction, great sound quality and budget-friendly price tag to help for those looking to save some money and aren’t planning on building a super professional studio. The MXL 770 has solid bass, an upfront high-end and a multipurpose small diaphragm capsule. It is also very supportive for vocals, strings and pianos. The sound is warm with surprisingly great clarity at the top-end. It’s a great solution for those looking for a budget-friendly studio condenser microphone that won’t break their wallets yet still provide some great quality for their recordings. It isn’t necessarily listed last, but found its way down here since it’s a bit cheap and the quality isn’t on par with most higher-priced models, but still a great solution nonetheless.