When it comes to recording vocals and instruments, nothing beats the detail of a large diaphragm condenser microphone! If you’re looking for the best condenser microphone for recording, we’re here to help!
A condenser microphone is a mic that requires phantom power. Its larger diaphragm requires extra power to capture sound, and that power can be provided by your recording interface or mixer.
The larger, powered diaphragm means the microphone will be more sensitive, capturing more detailed recordings.
Typically, you’ll want to use dynamic (non-condenser) microphones for louder, less” detailed” sources like snare drums and cranked guitar amps, and use condenser mics on things like vocals, acoustic guitars, and drum overheads/room mics.
If you’re in the market for a new condenser mic for recording, there are lots of things to consider! What are you going to be recording? Vocals? Drums? Guitars? How much is your budget? Are you looking for a condenser mic under $500, or do you have unlimited money to spend? There’s lots to consider when buying a condenser mic, so let’s get into some options and see what’s best for you and your recording setup!
Our Top 3 Condenser Mics for Recording
The Neumann U 87 is our top pick for the best condenser mic for recording at any budget. This microphone can be found at practically every recording studio, and for good reason. It's a warm and well balanced microphone that sounds great on almost any source. The U 87 is the Swiss Army Knife of recording microphones; from acoustic guitar and pianos, to drum overheads, to lead vocals, it can do it all.
Coming in at under $1,000, the Lauten Audio LA-320 is our pick for the best combination of value and quality. The LA-320 is a tube mic, offering a different flavor of tone than the other mics on this list. It sounds especially great on vocals, but it can be used on any source that you want to stand out in your mix. This mic punches well above its weight for the price and stands up to mics in the $1,000+ price range.
The Slate VMS makes the list due to its included modeling software! The VMS tech allows you to model several different microphones in the Virtual Mix Rack plugin, meaning you can record first, then select your mic later. However, the mic sounds good on its own, so I've sometimes used it without the mic modeling software. This is a great pick for someone who loves tech, or loves having a dearth of options available to them at all times!
Any of these mics are an awesome choice for your recording setup! You can’t go wrong with any of the picks in our top three. Let’s take a deep dive into why these are our top picks, and then we’ll offer up some honorable mentions and budget buys to consider!
Our Favorite Condenser Mic for Recording: Neumann U87
Known for its warm and well balanced tone, the Neumann U 87 is an absolute classic. There’s a reason the U 87 is in almost every commercial studio on earth, and has been featured on hit after hit. Its three polar patterns allow you to use it as a direct mic, as a mic to record two sources opposite from each other at once, or as an ambient room mic. It’s amazing sound and flexibility make it many engineer’s desert island mic, and its build quality leaves nothing to be desired.
Whether you’re planning on opening a commercial studio or building a home studio, or looking to upgrade from your budget mic, the Neumann U 87 is an amazing choice. You really can’t go wrong with this classic studio microphone!
Our Favorite Condenser Mic Under $1,000: Lauten Audio LA-320
- The LA-320’s onboard sound-shaping eliminates the need for mic swaps and wasted time. Choose between the warmth of a classic tube microphone and the clarity of a modern tube microphone at the flip of a switch.
- The LA-320 isn’t flat – it sounds like music.
- The LA-320 is hand-soldered with high-resolution, low-distortion polypropylene capacitors and resistors, a dual triode vacuum tube, and a vintage-inspired output transformer. The resulting sound is crisp, clear, and full without the high noise floor and delicacy of vintage microphones.
- Each LA-320 is lovingly designed and built to last a lifetime by the Lauten Audio family.
The Lauten Audio LA-320 has become my go-to mic for vocals and acoustic guitars, and that’s for a good reason. The LA-320 is a tube mic, meaning it offers a more interesting harmonic flavor compared to the other mics on this list. Recordings I’ve captured with the LA-320 have more flair and character than any other mic on this list, with an “already mixed” vibe that you don’t get with other mics.
The LA-320 sounds and feels as good as mics that are twice the price. For under $1,000, it’s got a surprisingly premium build quality, a low noise floor (especially for a tube mic), and high and low frequency cuts for tone shaping. You can’t go wrong with this great sounding, feature rich microphone.
Most Versatile Condenser Mic: Slate ML-1 Condenser Mic (Slate VMS)
The Slate ML-1 is a flexible option for recording vocals and instruments, and the included VMS software lets you digitally emulate tons of different microphones! The emulations sound great, and the mic itself captures amazingly transparent recordings.
When I first heard of the ML-1, I was skeptical of the digital microphone modeling technology. However, once I got my hands on the Slate VMS system, I became a believer. I really have to hand it to the Slate team; they knocked this mic and software bundle out of the park.
If you’re looking to spend under $800 on a condenser microphone, you can’t go wrong with the Slate ML-1 and VMS system!
Check out this mic shootout to see how the Slate VMS system captures the tone of the mics they’re emulating. It’s really amazing how well the modeling captures the sound of the original mics! Considering the Slate VMS comes in at a fraction of the price of even one of the mics they’re emulating, and it even sounds good on its own without any mic emulation applied, it’s totally worth adding to your arsenal!
My favorite applications for the Slate ML-1 are recording vocals, acoustic guitars, and drum overheads. I personally own two of the Slate ML-1, meaning I can record stereo guitars or drum overheads with ease. Do yourself a favor and check out the Slate Virtual Microphone System for yourself!
So now that you’ve got a feel for our top three, let’s take a look at some more recording condenser mic options you can consider!
Best Pick Under $500: Aston Microphones Spirit
The Aston Microphones Spirit is our pick for the best condenser microphone under $500! The mic has a sleek design, and comes with a built in shock mount and pop filter. That means all you need to do is screw it on to your mic stand and you’re ready to record!
The Spirit has a selectable -10 and -20 decibel pad, making it suitable for recording loud sound sources, as well as a low-cut switch. Combined with the 3 polar patterns (cardioid, omni, and figure 8), this mic offers lots of options for recording various sources. The Aston Spirit is built in the United Kingdom, and the build quality of these mics is exceptional, especially when you consider the price.
The Aston Microphones Spirit is a totally serviceable piece of gear, and you should have no problem making great recordings with this microphone! If you’re looking to get started recording vocalists, rappers, and singer songwriters, this is a great option for you!
Best Condenser Microphone Under $100: Audio-Technica AT2020
Coming in at just under $100, the Audio-Technica AT2020 has secured its place as the best condenser microphone in its price bracket. My band in high school had an AT2020, and we used it for making demos before going into the studio.
When purchasing this mic, it’s important to be realistic about what you’re getting. The AT2020 is a solid pick for making demos and scratch tracks, and it’s also a good choice for video content creators who want to upgrade from their camera’s built-in microphone. Even Audio-Technica’s product listing says “ideal for project/home studios,” so just know that you’re not getting their top of the line vocal mic.
You probably want to save up for a higher quality mic if you’re looking to record music projects for other people. However, this is a solid pick for your first condenser microphone, so if you’re a student or someone just looking to dip your toes in the recording waters, the AT2020 is a decent choice. Audio-Technica is a reputable brand, and this entry-level offering is a usable mic!
Honorable Mention: Neumann TLM-103
The Neumann TLM-103 is our pick for the most transparent condenser microphone! This mic is transformerless, meaning the sound of your source will be recorded with as much accuracy as possible. This article explains transformers in depth, but to sum it up, when you cut transformers out of your microphone’s electronics, you’ll get less coloration in the sound.
This might sound like a good (or bad) thing, but like most things in audio, color is a tool! Sometimes, you’ll want to use a mic with a lot of color (like the tube LA-320 above). Other times, you’ll want a mic like the TLM-103 that doesn’t add much color to the sound.
I personally find this useful when capturing sources that sound amazing on their own. I use it for drum overheads, saxophones, string instruments like violin and cello, or any other source that I want to capture the sound in the room. If I am recording an orchestra, the TLM-103 is my first choice.
That’s really where this mic shines: capturing great sounding performances in great sounding rooms. The lack of color does mean that sometimes it feels a little flat and lifeless when recording vocals, especially compared to other mics that have more of an effect on the tone. But, if you’re after the truest and most accurate recordings, the TLM-103 is a great choice. It’s also a lightweight and compact microphone, making it easy to travel with and mount in hard to reach places!
Condenser Mic Buyers Guide: Finding the Best Condenser Microphone for you!
If you’re looking for a new condenser microphone, consider these factors when making your decision.
Price: What’s your budget for a condenser microphone?
While you may be able to find cheap condenser microphones online, I would suggest starting with a budget of over $300 for your first condenser mic! If you aren’t able to spend that much on a microphone, I’d suggest looking into dynamic microphone options. A high-end dynamic microphone is going to offer better sound than the most cheaply built condenser. Considering a dynamic mic is a simpler type of microphone, you may be better off recording with something you can find laying around, like a Shure SM57 than an extremely cheap, $45 condenser mic. Also, if your room is not treated at all, your condenser microphone will pick up more background reflections, so take a look at our home studio acoustics guide to make sure your room is sounding ace!
If you’re really on a tight budget, we’ve put together a list of our best budget microphones, which you can read here.
While there are infinite options for condenser mics and almost every level of budget, you can make great quality recordings with mics in the $400-800 price range. Don’t feel like you must spring for the $5,000 gold plated option to be successful in music. As with any product, there is a point of diminishing returns when you get to a certain price point.
Buying a $400 condenser mic can be a good choice, even if you plan on upgrading later, because having more mics in your mic locker isn’t a bad thing. If you decide to buy a nicer mic later on, you can still use your older mics depending on the application. Unless you’re planning on only recording one track at a time forever, you’ll often find yourself using multiple mics at once, whether it’s to record a guitarist and singer at the same time, or micing up a full drum set.
Application: What are you using your condenser mic for?
All of these condenser mics are meant to be used in studio applications. However, the genres you record, the instruments you typically record, and your main use cases will play a part in your decision. If you’re often recording on the go, I’d suggest going with one of the FET (non-tube) options, since you can use them without an external power supply. However, if you primarily record vocals in a vocal booth, you can leave your LA-320 plugged in, allowing you to get great vocal sounds quickly.
One important characteristic of condenser microphones is their ability to have different polar patterns. A polar pattern describes the sensitivity and directionality of a microphone in picking up sound from different angles. Here are some commonly encountered polar patterns in condenser microphones:
- Omnidirectional: In an omnidirectional polar pattern, the microphone picks up sound equally from all directions. It is not sensitive to the angle or position of the sound source, capturing sound from all around the microphone capsule. This pattern is useful in situations where you want to capture ambient sound or when recording multiple sound sources in a room.
- Cardioid: The cardioid polar pattern is heart-shaped and is most sensitive to sound coming from the front of the microphone. It rejects sound from the rear and sides to varying degrees, creating a focused pickup pattern. This pattern is commonly used in studio recording, live performances, and broadcasting, as it allows the microphone to capture sound from the desired source while minimizing background noise.
- Supercardioid and Hypercardioid: These polar patterns are variations of the cardioid pattern with narrower pickup angles and more sensitivity to sound from the front. They offer increased directionality and greater rejection of sound from the sides and rear, making them suitable for applications where more precise focus is required. These patterns are commonly used in stage performances, conferences, and situations where the microphone needs to isolate the main sound source from surrounding noise.
- Figure-8 (Bidirectional): In a figure-8 polar pattern, the microphone is equally sensitive to sound coming from the front and rear while rejecting sound from the sides. The pickup pattern resembles the number “8” or a figure of two cones facing each other. This pattern is often used for capturing sound from two opposite sources, such as two vocalists or a musical instrument and its reflection from a room boundary.
Durability and portability:
By their very nature, condenser microphones are more delicate and need to be handled with care. They are also designed to be used in the recording studio, so durability is not a huge factor when selecting a mic for the studio. Realistically, you’re going to keep the mic in the case or mounted on a stand 99% of the time.
If you’re looking for a mic that you can throw in your backpack for mobile podcasting, something like the AT2020 becomes a solid choice, since it’s not going to break the bank if you need to replace it. However, all of these mics will stand up to typical studio use. You should be really careful not to drop your condenser mics, and to keep them on good quality mic stands, so they’ll last a lifetime of use!
Now that you’ve considered all of the options, you should be equipped to pick the condenser microphone that suits your budget and needs!
Top 6 Best Condenser Microphones for Recording
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