The 10 Best Condenser Microphones

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This wiki has been updated 31 times since it was first published in March of 2015. Even the best musicians and voice-over talents sound even better when they perform with, or are recorded through, a high-quality condenser microphone. Our selections include choices particularly suited for voices or instruments, and designed for use in the booth or on stage. We've ranked them by their tonal quality, durability, and versatility. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.

1. Blue Microphones Blueberry Cardioid

2. Shure SM81-LC Cardioid

3. Neumann U 87 AI

Editor's Notes

April 24, 2019:

We saw a bit of movement between the two Newman models on our previous list, as the U87 stepped up to the number three spot on the strength of its classic sound profile, while the TLM 103 actually dropped out of the first spot and fell all the way to number five. Now, this is still a phenomenal microphone, but for the money there are four stronger candidates out there that deserved those top spots, and in a big shift since our last ranking, the Blue Blueberry has topped the list. There's just something about the way it handles vocals and guitars, particularly acoustics, that makes them really jump out of the mix, especially if you have the privilege to track directly to 1/2-inch tape instead of a digital interface.

Elsewhere, the JZ Black Hole has had a minor upgrade from the BH1 to the BH2, and the new model seems in most ways to be a replica of the old, save for the fact that it's lost the ability to switch among cardiod, omni, and figure 8 polar patterns and now only offers the cardiod option. The company might argue that a dedicated design allows them to focus R&D on perfecting its cardiod sound, but the jury on that is still out, so it slips a spot to number six.

4. AKG Pro Audio C414 XLII

5. Neumann TLM 103

6. JZ Black Hole Series BH-2

7. AKG C451B Pro Audio

8. Rode K2 Variable Pattern

9. Cad E70 Modular Dual-Capsule

10. Audio-Technica Hypercardioid AT4053B

How Condenser Microphones Work

The capacitors are made of a plate of metal facing a very thin gold foil.

If you have ever been in a recording booth, you have likely used a condenser microphone. Condenser microphones are preferred in the studio, mainly for their frequency response, which is the ability to pick up a wide range of noises and keep them intact in a recording. Sound engineers choose to use condenser microphones because they are extremely sensitive.

The sensitivity of condenser microphones comes from the way they function. Condenser microphones use capacitors to create sound. The capacitors are made of a plate of metal facing a very thin gold foil. These two are so close together they are practically touching. As the vibrations from a voice or instrument enter the microphone, they bounce back and forth between the two plates, and are turned into an electric signal.

To be heard, the signal from condenser microphones needs a boost of power, created through the use of phantom power. In the early days of condenser microphones, every microphone had to have its own dedicated power box. If you had six singers in the studio at once, chances are you were tripping over someone’s power box.

Over the years, microphone manufacturers sought to eliminate the problem, coming up with different ways to get power to the microphones without lugging power boxes around. Power from studio preamplifiers or mixing desks is the industry standard now.

Creative engineers have continued to explore other methods to achieve the phantom power as well. Some additional ways include the use of a battery to send the signal and computer power via a USB cable. Many microphones still use a dedicated power box though. One way or another, the signal from a condenser mic gets a power boost to create a strong signal. This strong signal can now be transferred through wires and translated back into that crisp sound coming out of your speakers.

Who Uses Condenser Microphones?

If you only use your microphone when you play video games or talk to people online through chat rooms, a condenser mic might be overdoing it, but anyone who needs a consistent high quality sound can benefit from using one. Voice-over actors enjoy condenser microphones for their ability to capture all the depth and range of the speaking voice, even when whispering. Other types of microphones can’t match the vocal range produced with a condenser microphone.

Voice-over actors enjoy condenser microphones for their ability to capture all the depth and range of the speaking voice, even when whispering.

This same range and vocal quality make condenser microphones a great choice for singers as well. Condenser microphones can pick up those breathy nuances that other microphones miss. Instrumentalists can enjoy listening to the crisp, clear sounds made by condenser microphones, as they require very little gain to create a rich sound.

People who create audio blogs or podcasts have also come to value the realistic sound that comes from using a condenser microphone. Anyone trying to break into the world of audiobook creation may like condenser microphones for their transparency and depth; a clear voice can really bring out the drama of a well-told story.

Choosing The Best Condenser Microphone

Picking the best condenser microphone for you will vary based on your needs. There are microphones made for every use. Think about in what type of applications you will be using your mic the most. If you do a lot of traveling and recording on the road, you may want to consider a more durable condenser microphone that can bounce around in the back of your car. When your band is trying to hit it big on a budget, you may want to pick a USB condenser microphone. They are powered through your computer, and do not require any additional hardware to work. But if you are the next Pavarotti, and have a dedicated studio for your vocal practice, you don’t have to factor in these things. For you, a high quality XLR condenser microphone with a dedicated power supply is an easy choice.

They are very inexpensive and will save you hours of editing time.

One thing to consider is that condenser microphones are very sensitive. If you can hear the birds chirping outside - so can your microphone. That car driving down the street? Yup, it picked that up too. If you are working in a space that is not soundproofed, you may want to consider a unidirectional microphone. These microphones will reduce the amount of noise being picked up from anywhere but the front of the microphone.

This sensitivity also means you will automatically notice all the noises your mouth makes. Lip smacks from having a dry mouth, the hiss from saying the letters S, T, or C, and the pop sounds from saying the letter P, will all be easily picked up from a good condenser microphone. You can prevent this by buying a pop filter. They are very inexpensive and will save you hours of editing time.

Daniel Imperiale
Last updated by Daniel Imperiale

Daniel Imperiale holds a bachelor’s degree in writing, and proudly fled his graduate program in poetry to pursue a quiet life at a remote Alaskan fishery. After returning to the contiguous states, he took up a position as an editor and photographer of the prestigious geek culture magazine “Unwinnable” before turning his attention to the field of health and wellness. In recent years, he has worked extensively in film and music production, making him something of a know-it-all when it comes to camera equipment, musical instruments, recording devices, and other audio-visual hardware. Daniel’s recent obsessions include horology (making him a pro when it comes to all things timekeeping) and Uranium mining and enrichment (which hasn’t proven useful just yet).

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