13 Best Condenser Mics for 2022
Updated: October 07,2022
Condenser mics are the gold standard of the professional recording studio. They’re becoming increasingly popular among home users as well. We’ve taken the hard work out of finding the best condenser mic by hunting down 13 standout models, each excelling in slightly different areas. Overall, we looked at:
- Sound quality
- Recording style
- Build quality
- Included extras
Whether you’re after the best budget microphone or want something more luxurious, our reviews and guides will help you find a good match.
1. Neumann U 87 Ai Set Z
117dB to 127dB
The most expensive and best-performing microphone we’ve reviewed is the Neumann U 87 Ai Set Z. This dual capsule condenser has class-leading audio clarity and gives you regular cardioid, figure-8, and omni polar patterns. It is ideal for any studio setup or recording purpose.
2. Rode NT1-A
The Rode NT1 is an affordable and well-built stainless-steel option. A high-performing cardioid condenser microphone that lets you get as loud as 137dB without distortion and excels at singing vocals and regular speaking recording. A shock mount is also included to prevent vibration and knocks. Overall, one of the best solutions at this price point.
3. Audio-Technica AT2035
Value for money
Low cut and pad switches
One of the best budget microphones on the market, the AT2035 gives you wide diaphragm functionality for an affordable price. It has surprisingly even performance across vocals and instruments and handles loud and hard bass sound like mics three times its price. This Audio Technica condenser mic can be picked up for under $200 online.
4. MXL 990
30Hz to 20kHz
20dB to 130dB
A high-quality durable metal build shapes this affordable $150 or less cardioid condenser microphone with a gold-sputtered six-micron diaphragm. It provides balanced sound at the high and low end and is a good all-round entry-level microphone for those on a budget. It’s good for solo in-studio singers and all voice-related production when speaking head-on into the mic.
5. Neumann TLM 102
Up to 144dB
A more affordable entry from condenser mic pioneers Neumann comes the TLM 102. It can be found between $500 and $700. This small, stubby, wide diaphragm design is brilliant for both vocals and recording instruments. It allows your sessions to get considerably loud before any distortion sets in. It’s suitable for almost any studio purpose but particularly excels at singing, talk radio, and podcasting.
6. Rode NTK
Sound pressure level
Cardioid pickup pattern
At $500 the large microphone diaphragm, Rode NTK is perfect for recording multi-person sessions, thanks to a particularly wide cardioid polar pickup pattern. It also has the ability to support the loudest input of any condenser mic on our list. If you and a bandmate want to record something heavy together, this is the mic for you.
7. Audio-Technica AT2020
Value for money
At less than $150, Audio-Technica continues to offer condenser microphone price ranges to suit those on a budget. This model can handle a sound pressure level of 144dB, making it ideal for loud vocal and musical recording The added foam-padded carrying case keeps the already weighty and durable metal mic safe and secure.
8. Blue Yeti
Cardioid, omni, bidirectional
Popular among podcasters and gamers, the Blue Yeti offers multiple-polar pickup patterns to suit any studio or host setup. It is also one of the few good condenser microphones that only requires USB power. You can pick it up for just $129.99 MSRP, with the USB cable and a desk mount included. It’s one of the easiest and best mics for voiceovers.
9. AKG Pro Audio C414 XLII
Different polar-pickup patterns
High-quality gold mesh
3 pad and low-cut options
One of the high-end condenser microphone solutions, the AKG Pro Audio C414 XLII is among the most versatile options at this price point. It allows multiple polar pickup patterns that suit everything from group recording sessions to two-way interviews. You can also add pad and apply ‘low cut’ to the bass.
10. Shure SM81-LC
Designed for recording instruments
Sound pressure level
Mic stand clip
The Shure SM81-LC is a small diaphragm condenser mic designed primarily to record instrumentals in a shotgun directional or from-above boom mic method. It comes with two low-cut filters to keep bass from distorting and naturally allows you to get really loud with your sessions. At $500 it is currently the industry standard for affordable SDCs.
11. MXL 770 Cardioid Condenser Microphone
Less than $70
Balanced and clear
At less than $100, the MXL 770 is an absolute steal, performing and looking as good as mics at ten times its price. The large diaphragm single cardioid microphone provides even bass and clear sound at high frequencies, making it good for vocals and certain instruments. It lets you push the loudness/sound pressure to 137dB SPL.
12. Samson C02 Pencil Condenser Microphone Pair
Dual-mics expand pickup
Music and vocals recording
A unique dual set of affordable small-diaphragm mics with a super-cardioid polar pattern for pinpointing sound in less than perfect studios and rooms. These are ideal for both vocals and instruments, in shotgun and boom (from above) style setups. They come with shock-mounted clips to prevent vibration.
13. Sony C-100
Up to 50Khz
Mount and sock filter
The modern high-end condenser mic solution has to be the stylish $1,400 Sony C-100. It records audio in high-resolution and supports cardioid, two-way, and omnidirectional polar patterns. This premium built device is suitable for almost any studio or recording scenario; from singing to instrumentals, to multi-man podcasts and conferences.
Best Condenser Mics for 2022
- •Neumann U 87 Ai Set Z – Best condenser microphone
- •Rode NT1-A – Best condenser mic under $500
- •Audio-Technica AT2035 – Best budget microphone with wide microphone diaphragm
- •MXL 990 – Best vocal microphone and instrumental recording under $150
- •Neumann TLM 102 – Best, overall mid-priced cardioid mic
- •Rode NTK – Best microphones for recording extra loud sessions
- •Audio-Technica AT2020 – Best mic for recording vocals on a budget
- •Blue Yeti – Best podcast microphones
- •AKG Pro Audio C414 XLII – Best choir mic and group recording sessions
- •Shure SM81-LC – Best for instrumentals in microphone recording studio
- •MXL 770 Cardioid Condenser Microphone – Best microphone under $100
- •Samson C02 Pencil Condenser Microphone Pair – Best microphone for recording vocals and instruments on a budget
- •Sony C-100 – Best mics for recording hi-res audio
What Is a Condenser Microphone?
A condenser microphone is a type of mic designed for enclosed spaces – traditionally studios and now more than often home offices, home audio studios, podcast setups, gaming rooms, etc.
They are built with a microphone condenser capsule inside, which is essentially a capacitor (two metal plates close together). These are electronically charged and often gold-sputtered mylar or a metal foil is used to make the conduction between the two easier.
The sound waves bounce onto these plates causing them to vibrate and which is converted into an electrical signal.
Now instead of trying to get the flux capacitor to take us back to the future, it actually produces little power at all by itself. That’s why even the cheaper condenser mics need power from a good USB port.
The best condenser mic options need further external power, which is commonly called phantom power or just a mic box. These are small, hold in your hand-sized power supplies that you can pick up for as little as $50.
Technicalities aside, condenser mics are more precise and pick up the sound wave more accurately. They are better suited to indoor studios creating a high-quality production not outdoor performances or recording large numbers of people or events at a distance. That’s why they’re also excellent upgrades for those that use cheap mics at home – whether that be for gaming, podcasting, streaming, doing voice-overs, or just chatting to friends on Skype or VoIP.
The other important benefit of condenser mics is that they’re designed to capture high frequencies and are ideal for vocals. Not just talking, but also singing and the frequencies emitted by acoustic guitars, drum overheads, other percussions, and pianos.
That’s not to say they can’t handle the bass, as many large-diaphragm condenser mics are wider and designed specifically to handle the low end better, with extra features to prevent distortion.
They can be used as a microphone for recording or live broadcasts.
Types of Microphones for Recording
There are several different types of mics and styles depending on what you want to and the environment you will be recording in. Here’s a quick rundown:
A large-diaphragm condenser microphone is simply that – a mic with a wider internal capsule and therefore an overall wider appearance. These are more common because they have the ability to provide all-round performance if implemented correctly. They excel at picking up the low-end or bass without distortion and handling a louder sound pressure for recording instruments and loud singing.
They also excel at capturing vocals, giving the proverbial ‘sweetness boost’ and somewhat isolating a voice to give it more power and presence. LDCs were the first type of condenser microphone and thus also described as making your recording sound like a record or that it’s a recording mic.
They have lower ‘self-noise’ which means less feedback, distortion, or hum being picked up from the device itself.
Singers often prefer a large diaphragm simply because they are easier to focus on and have a classic charm. They are also popular among talk radio and podcasting.
Small diaphragm condenser
Technically speaking, although they are less popular, SDCs are the more modern and technologically advanced form of a condenser mic. As the name suggests they have smaller internals and are designed to be long, thin, and cylindrical in shape.
They have the ability to accurately pick up higher frequencies, which is better in some singing and instrumental scenarios and are more pinpointed in their pickup pattern. This means if positioned correctly, the quality is better and the sound your recording is more isolated from the outer environment, especially at a distance and pointed like a ‘shotgun’.
They are commonly used directed straight at instruments or as boom mics above drums and percussive sounds.
Although they are not that popular for vocals, they are still good for solos or as boom mics in rooms and makeshift studios that don’t have good soundproofing.
Their functionality increases when used in pairs and/or in stereo recording situations.
A gold-sputtered condenser mic is usually a mid to high-end mic that uses gold within the capsule for better conduction, higher-quality sound, and more resistance to loud sound. Although there is no set rule, these types of mic will also often use gold mesh on the outside to reference their inner gold mylar.
Promoting the gold is a more recent marketing tactic as most high-end mics from pioneers like Neumann and any AKG microphone always used gold.
Cheaper condensers will commonly use metal foil for the conduction, which causes the vibration of the metal plates and aids capture of the soundwaves.
What is a cardioid microphone? All condenser mics have a ‘polar pickup pattern’ – the invisible field beyond the mic that is able to effectively capture sound in good quality. Traditionally this pattern was called cardioid, and this remains a common option among high-end and cheaper condenser microphones.
Essentially what this means is sound is picked up directly in front of the mic with a heart-shaped field. As long as you or your instrument are positioned relatively centered, your sound will be picked up perfectly.
This pattern also allows for good isolation of the intended sound while canceling out what’s going on in different directions, such as far to the side or behind the mic.
Super-cardioid takes the same principle but broadens the field so you can be a bit further back from the mic and a bit further to the side. This helps if you’re capturing multiple sound sources at the same time, such as two vocalists or a vocalist and an instrument. The catch is there’s slightly less isolation.
On the flip side, there are sometimes narrow cardioid options that are even more pinpointed and isolated, making them ideal for focusing on a specific instrument or a close-up vocalist.
This is more akin to what you would find in a small diaphragm condenser.
A more modern invention is the multi-polar pattern feature that allows you to switch between different sound pickup patterns depending on what you’re intending to record. This usually includes cardioid and/or super-cardioid as explained above.
You can get:
- Omnidirectional: This allows you to pick up sound from every single direction, allowing you to walk around the mic, capture multiple people in the room, and the ambient sound recording of a room. The downside is, if there’s any sound in the vicinity you don’t want to pick up, your only option is to remove it in post-production.
An omnidirectional condenser microphone is also good for picking up choirs, business conferences, and multi-man podcasts with a single or couple of mics.
- Two-Way / Figure of 8: This flips the normal cardioid pattern to the other side of the mic so you can have two people facing each other. This is ideal for closeup duets and interviews where you only have one mic. It’s still quite effective and canceling unwanted noise to the sides of the mic.
A modern version of the condenser mic intended to be used on computers and laptops, the USB condenser draws all the power it needs through the USB port. These are more common among podcasters, gamers, and YouTubers, than recording artists or the traditional studio environment.
You can certainly get good quality USB condensers and they’re always a step up from a cheap generic PC mic. However, the quality is typically lower than that of a traditional condenser mic that requires a microphone box for additional power.
This is often called phantom power and requires an XLR cable that connects the mic to a small, relatively inexpensive box. Some modern mics come with both to allow for easy computer use along with studio-quality power and functionality.
Although we didn’t include any in our reviews there is also a mic design specifically for choirs and large events that can be hung from above, such as the Audio-Technica U853 condenser hanging mic.
Compressor mics are not really a type of mic. It’s a feature that allows you to level the dynamic range of the audio signal so that there is less variance between the loudest portions and the quietest parts – an on the fly form of normalization. This is typically accomplished in-studio or via your computer, though some mics may have an option to do it from the hardware itself when the microphone records.
How To Choose the Best Condenser Mic
Choosing the best condenser mic is an individual decision that takes a number of considerations. Before parting with your cash, you need to look at the following:
All of the mics we’ve reviewed meet a high standard of quality but there is still some variance between price points. These can be split into three main ranges:
- Budget mics below $150 and some below $100
- mid-range in the multiple hundreds
- high-end, being anything over $1,000.
First, consider what your budget can accommodate and begin your search from there.
If you’re looking outside our list be sure to look for specs or user reviews on the build quality of the microphone. Is it made from metal or plastic, is it heavy and well put together or light and cheap? Does it use a gold sputtered capsule, metal foil, or unknown? Is it a well-known brand or something with little online presence?
How you’ll use it
The mic that will best suit you is also dependent on how you’ll be using it. Is it just you? Then you don’t need to pay extra for multiple polar patterns – a regular cardioid will suffice. Are you recording vocals and instruments, or mainly podcasts, voice-overs, gaming, and chatting? If the latter, you get away sounding excellent with a cheaper option.
Loudness and Sound Intensity
If it is for recording music, are you going loud and harsh or soft and acoustic? For this, you need to check the frequency bandwidth and the sound pressure level (SPL) limit.
Do you want a standard solution or something with pad and low-cut switches? What about easy polar pattern switching, volume controls, or LED status lights? Do you want direct USB computer compatibility or do you have a studio that can accommodate this already?
Do you require and does the product come with a mic stand mount, shock absorber, pop filter, windsock, carrying case, cabling, and other extras?
Look and Vibe
If others are going to see your mic in person or on camera, the look and vibe it gives off can also be an important consideration. Condenser mics tend to have a similar vibe and if you really want to stand out, you’ll want to look for something distinctively vintage-like Blue Baby Bottle microphones or something vibrant in the gamer sphere.
Ultimately, our reviews cover all areas you may require, but there are other models that nearly made our list – the Bluebird mic, Blue Spark mic, among others that you might wish to check out.
No matter if you’re looking for the best budget microphone or the highest quality available, our above reviews and guides will help you find the best condenser mic for you. This encompasses everything from vocal recording microphones for singers, options for recording instruments, or a good voice-over microphone for radio, podcast, and video content.
Whatever your requirements, your best fit is waiting among our reviews!
Does a condenser mic make you sound better?
If all you have been used to is a cheap mic or cheap headset then, a condenser mic will absolutely make you sound better. Generally speaking, they use more advanced technology, premium parts, and are the staple of the recording studio – be that for musical artists or radio hosts.
Internet-based content producers are increasingly turning to USB and fully-fledged phantom-powered condenser mics to improve the quality of their podcasts, YouTube videos, streaming, etc.
Without getting too technical, condenser mics make you sound better by pinpointing and isolating your vocals (or other sounds), providing a clearer and more accurate result. This reduces or eliminates distortion altogether while canceling out any background noise.
A high-quality microphone will handle loud sounds much better than cheaper mics. It will either come with inbuilt pop filters or external socks or attachable screens to further prevent any cracking with sharp sounds or words.
They also handle higher frequencies in vocals and instruments better than any other mic.
When considering sounding better, it’s important to differentiate between the quality, clarity, and accuracy of a recording and how ‘good’ you sound. In other words, condenser mics do not employ any technology that will make a bad singer or talker sound any better than they do naturally. It will just record them more accurately.
There may be a slight boost in bass or a ‘sweetness boost’, thanks to isolation and amplification, but you cannot sound better than you do naturally in person. You’re just being recorded clearly.
However, the best condenser mic solutions put you in the position to use post-production effects like bass-boost, equalizer, pitch & tempo, etc. to legitimately improve the sound of your natural voice - the initial recording will be such high quality.
Can I use a condenser mic live?
While condenser mics originated in recording studios for musical artists they can absolutely be used live with great results. Actually, they are popular throughout the live radio industry for decades with much success among radio hosts and in-studio performers. What makes them good for recording also makes them good for live broadcasts and performances. This now also extends to live podcasting and streaming online as well.
However, when it comes to live music settings on a stage, condenser mics have not been the go-to solution. Their purpose is to pinpoint and isolate within a small soundproofed studio, not amplify to a live audience.
That scenario has typically been reserved for the ‘dynamic microphone’, which has a light diaphragm that changes in response to the sound pressure and movement of active live performances. They are also built to be hand-held and portable rather than affixed to a stand or desk.
In a dynamic setup, the sound is captured in a magnetic field before being electronically converted. They tend to have higher sound pressure levels due to the nature of loud stage performances. They are not necessarily better quality, just more functional for the live environment.
Dynamic mics also have lower impedance so there’s no signal degradation as sound can travel through hundreds of feet of wiring before reaching the amplifier and speaker process.
Nonetheless, condenser mics are increasingly being used as stage mics as they too can produce low impedance and have cardioid polar patterns. The latter suit solo artists who only want their vocals to be picked up.
Which type of mic you choose might also depend on your singing style or music genre. Dynamic mics are known for giving a warmer, thicker sound that works better on a loud stage with a loud singer. A quieter, more complex vocalist with an acoustic guitar can benefit from the high-frequency and detail supported by a good cardioid condenser mic.
Of course, a full-on professional stage performance can benefit from multi-mic setups involving both condenser and dynamic mics, each focused on different vocalists and instruments involved in the show.
Are USB condenser mics good?
Yes, a USB condenser mic is an excellent quality standalone recording and live mic for certain purposes.
Like all products, there are good USB condenser options and cheap USB condenser ones. The important thing to understand is that USB condenser mics are designed to easily ‘plug and play’ with your computer without the need for another power supply.
This generally makes them less powerful than traditional condenser options (and therefore lower in quality) because your USB port cannot provide the same voltage as a phantom box.
However, that doesn’t matter if you’re using the mic on your home PC or makeshift studio setup and aren’t looking to record professional-sounding singing vocals and music.
For podcasting, voiceovers, gaming, live streaming, audio chatting, etc, USB condenser mics sound excellent and in many cases are what the pros use.
When it comes to recording vocals or musical instruments, excellent becomes okay, and you are better off with a traditional condenser mic that hooks up to a power supply via XLR cable. Some come with USB and XLR connector support so you can have all the benefits of plug-and-play while having an extra power source to boost mic performance.
How do I choose a condenser microphone?
Choosing a condenser mic is all about your requirements. As mentioned previously, you need to consider whether you will just be speaking or recording musical vocals and instruments.
Also, think about:
- Whether the mic is just for one person and needs a simple cardioid polar pattern or you’ll be recording multiple people with one mic.
- Do you need to hook it up to your PC or is it ok to use an XLR and phantom-powered?
- What your budget can support. Are you looking for the best budget microphone from less than $100, or the mid-hundreds, up to the high-end $1,000+ range?
Read our reviews and guides for further insight on how to choose the best condenser mic for you.
Is a dynamic or condenser mic better for vocals?
Broadly, a good condenser mic is better for vocals, especially in a studio setting. They’re clearer, have a better frequency bandwidth, and are well isolated.
However, a dynamic mic is better in a lot of vocal scenarios during live stage performances thanks to its high-pressure level (loudness support), and lower impedance for long wiring setups.
Which condenser microphone is best?
If budget is not your concern our top pick for the overall best condenser mic goes to condenser mic pioneers Neumann, and their high-end U 87 Ai Set Z. This is closely followed by the more modern Sony C-100. Both will cost over $1,000 and offer superior sound quality and multiple polar patterns for different recording scenarios.
If you’re looking for the best value for money, it’s a toss-up between the Rode NT1-A and the Neumann TLM 102.
If you require a small-diaphragm condenser, the best option is the Shure SM81-LC at $500, followed by the more affordable pair of Samson C02 Pencils.
A qualified journalist and longtime web content writer, Keelan has a passion for exploring information and learning new things. If he's not writing or pushing his own brands, you'll find him watching pro wrestling or trying not to rant about politics online.
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