10 Best Condenser Microphones – The Optimal Way Of Recording Sound

top condenser microphones

While dynamic microphones are the go to choice for stage work, recording music requires a bit more finesse. The main piece of gear used for this application are condenser microphones. Today ware going to show you some of the absolute best condensers on the market. We will include both the high end and budget models. Later, we will go into what condenser mics are, and how they can help you record music in a way that yields great results. By the time you are done reading this guide, you should have all the info necessary to make an educated decision.

Top 10 Condenser Microphones

ImageMicrophones / RatingSummaryCheck Price
+ - Avantone Pro CV-12 Avantone Pro CV-12

Total of 4.92/5  

One of the most authentic tube microphones you can get right now.

+ - Aston Microphones Spirit Aston Microphones Spirit

Total of 4.88/5  

An unusual but ultimately impressive condenser mic offering plenty of great performance.

+ - AKG Pro Audio C214 AKG Pro Audio C214

Total of 4.80/5  

A true legend and the microphone of choice for many professional producers.

+ - Sterling Audio ST59 Sterling Audio ST59

Total of 4.65/5  

Easily one of the most interesting models available in this market segment

+ - Aston Microphones Origin Aston Microphones Origin

Total of 4.55/5  

Rugged and refined at the same time, Origin packs offers impressive performance.

+ - Shure SM-27 Shure SM-27

Total of 4.55/5  

Easily one of the most reliable all purpose condenser microphones currently available.

+ - AKG P420 AKG P420

Total of 4.28/5  

A workhorse that brings clarity and versatility at a really great price.

+ - Audio-Technica AT2035 Audio-Technica AT2035

Total of 4.22/5  

A worthy successor of a legendary microphone that packs even more versatility.

+ - Behringer B-1 Behringer B-1

Total of 4.13/5  

Extremely versatile and capable option that is great for elaborate studio builds.

+ - Audio-Technica AT2020 Audio-Technica AT2020

Total of 4.05/5  

A very solid performer that defines the budget segment of the market

Avantone Pro CV-12

Avantone Pro CV-12

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When it comes to higher end microphones which can still be had on a budget, Avantone Pro CV-12 is a the first thing that comes to mind. Not only is it one of the most detailed condensers out there, but it also packs so much versatility. It all starts with premium hardware components which open up the dynamic range as well as the sensitivity to a point where you can be very precise with your work. Most importantly, it's a tube condenser with plenty of potential. This mic has been used by many professionals, including some of the most popular pop starts today. Avantone delivers these with a dedicated power supply as well as a shock mount and other accessories.

Aston Microphones Spirit

Aston Microphones Spirit

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In a market full of uniform microphones, Aston Spirit comes across as something raw, rugged and completely different. This microphone can be somewhat deceptive. On a first glance, it looks like a custom job with its metallic finish and rustic cage around the grille. However, the hardware inside tells a completely different story. With Aston Microphones Spirit, you are getting access to boutique tier components, all of which are optimized to deliver incredible performance. It offers a lot of maneuvering space when recording vocals, while instruments simply sound organic. On top of that, it's very versatile with multiple polar patterns as well as other features available. It might take some time to get used to it, but it's worth it.

AKG Pro Audio C214

AKG Pro Audio C214

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AKG's track record in condenser industry is borderline stellar. They saturate every market segment, from budget builds to elite microphones. AKG Pro Audio C214 tells what this brand is all about. This is one of the most well rounded condensers you can find at the moment. It is a large diaphragm unit that is capable of capturing even the smallest subtleties of voice and acoustic instruments. AKG has included all the necessary features as well as accessories to get your started out of the box. Compared to other models in its close price range, AKG Pro Audio C214 is just too hard to beat. This is partially the reason why it's found in so many professional studios around the world.

Sterling Audio ST59

Sterling Audio ST59

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Sterling Audio is one of those brands which have a flavor of their own. This is best seen in Sterling Audio's ST59. This microphone features so much performance, clarity and definition. However, it is best known for its smoothness. It adds plenty of warmth in the mid range, allowing your vocals to really pop up in the mix. Aside from delivering solid core performance, ST59 packs all the features you could want. This includes an attenuation pad, a polar pattern select switch, as well as the switchable filter. On its own, it's among the most aesthetically pleasing designs in its respective price range. Overall, it's a complete package with both the looks and the performance worthy of a professional studio.

Aston Microphones Origin

Aston Microphones Origin

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Aston Microphone's line of condensers includes another instant success. This time around we are taking about Aston Microphones Origin. Compared to the flagship model in the series, Origin lacks the polar pattern select switch, but if delivers everything else. You are looking at a very complex build with so many advanced solutions being applied. Origin features internal shock suspension, built in pop filter and so much more. Its performance is what makes it so successful on the market. You are essentially getting a perfect balance of clarity, definition and warmth in both vocals as well as acoustic instrument recordings. For the price it is going at right now, you will hardly find something more capable or refined for that matter.

Shure SM-27

Shure SM-27

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Shure's bread and butter are dynamic microphones and all kinds of hand held designs. With that said, this brand easily has enough know-how and experience to put together a reliable and capable studio condenser mic. Shure SM-27 is its name and it brings a very refined performance for the money. Unlike many of its direct competitors, SM-27 isn't trying to fill a specific niche. Instead, it is an awesome general purpose condenser with plenty of range to offer. It packs all the features you'd need and comes with a factory shock mount. If we had to choose one of its pros that defines the whole model, we would have to say it is its neutral output. It's transparency is amazing.

AKG P420

AKG P420

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Despite their colorful selection of condenser microphones, AKG P420 is by far one of the best models they have to offer. This may come as a surprise to some, considering that P420 belongs to the affordable segment. However, when you consider the performance, features and overall versatility it offers, our statement becomes reasonable. AKG P420 is revered as one of the most competitive general purpose, affordable condensers. It comes with three polar patterns, an attenuation pad and a low cut filter. Those are things you usually see in a much more expensive package. On top of that, its core performance makes it a perfect general purpose microphone worthy of professional environments. Considering how cheap it is, P420 is a bargain.

Audio-Technica AT2035

Audio-Technica AT2035

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Audio-Technica is one of the patron saints of budget crowd, and for a good reason. Their gear usually offers great value for the money, which also applies to their condenser microphones. Audio-Technica AT2035 is easily one of the best budget microphones you can get. Instead of trying to attract users with flashy features and design, Audio-Technica went straight for solid core performance. At the end of the day, core performance is all that really matters. On top of that, AT2035 comes complete with a pop filter, a decent XLR cable and a shock mount. In other words, you get everything you could possibly need to get started right away. Finding a decent budget condenser is made easy with Audio-Technica around.

Behringer B-1

Behringer B-1

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Large diaphragm condensers are something that is generally seen in the higher price ranges. For the most part, that is due to the complexity of this particular design. Behringer is one of the few brands which offer a large diaphragm package in the affordable segment of the market. The model in question goes by the name of Behringer B-1. The performance it offers is fairly refined considering its low price, that is for sure. On top of that, it packs all the standard features such as the built in attenuation and a low cut filter. Behringer ships B-1 with a shock mount included. Bang for the buck, you simply won't find a cheaper large diaphragm design that works this good.

Audio-Technica AT2020

Audio-Technica AT2020

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When you are shopping for budget condensers, you are often forced to make a compromise of some kind. However, there are exceptions. Audio-Technica AT2020 is one of them. This microphone shares the shame chassis as the rest of the AT2000 series, but is oriented toward budget users. Where AT2020 comes to shine is when you need a general purpose microphone capable of handling higher SPL values on a frequent basis. Great with vocals, this mic can take on a variety of acoustic instruments without reaching the limits of its capabilities. AT2020 comes with a mic stand mount and a protective bag. Overall, it is a simple condenser, but one that is more than good enough for small studios and beginners.

What Is A Condenser Microphone?

Most people, including amateur musicians are mostly exposed to dynamic microphones. These are found just about anywhere. From stages and venues, to various live broadcast environments. However, when it comes to actually recording music, condensers are the only choice. The main reason for this is the fact that condenser microphones are much more sensitive, offer more range and are generally capable of capturing even the smallest subtleties of human voice and acoustic instruments. Even though you will see them being used for live performance applications, they tend to be too complex and too fragile to really be practical for that use.

The core of a condenser mic is a diaphragm. In simple terms, it is a very light and thin membrane that sits very close to a metal plate. When you speak into a condenser microphone, that membrane captures the sound in form of vibrations, which are then translated into electrical signal. However, that is only the first step. In order to read that capture sound, the signal first needs to be boosted since it packs very little, if any current. To do this, condensers use an impedance converter. As a result, you need to feed the microphone with outside power. This is why most condenser microphones require phantom power in order to work.

This was a very simplified explanation of what a condenser mic is. The point you should take home is that condensers are fairly complicated and dependent on external power. In return, they offer more detailed sound.

What Types Of Condenser Mics Are there?

There are generally two types of condensers you can get. You have your small diaphragm models and the large diaphragm ones. Both of these categories bring certain benefits and address a niche purpose. For the most part, models in the $200 range, and those that cost around $300 will be mostly small diaphragm designs. Large diaphragm condensers appear in the latter price range, but really start showing up in the $500 segment of the market and above. Let’s address each of these in detail before we move on.

Small Diaphragm Condensers

We have already talked about how a diaphragm captures and translates sound into electrical signal. Since the key here is the actual membrane, you can deduce the results of changing the size of said membrane. Small diaphragms are fast and feature a wide dynamic range. You won’t capture as much detail, but you can absolutely count on a very wide frequency response range. For example, a small diaphragm design is something you would want to use to record a choir signing, or a numerous acoustic instruments being played at once.

From a perspective of a small recording studio, a small diaphragm model is a great choice to start with. It will be a good platform to sharpen your skills and learn how to live and work with a condenser microphone.

Large Diaphragm Condensers

Our previous paragraph might give you a hint at what large size diaphragms are good at. Having more surface area, these tend to be a bit slower. However, to say that a larger diaphragm can record lower frequencies than a small one would be factually wrong. The main benefit of a large diaphragm is the way they react to human voice. Where a smaller diaphragm is more clinical, a larger one tends to add warmth which used to be considered a flaw until very recently. These days, everyone is after that warmth, especially if you have a very expressive vocalist behind the mic.

In short, you could say that small diaphragm condensers are clinical, flat and capable of recording the sound of a person or instrument in its natural form. On the other hand, large diaphragms add warmth and rather specific coloration to the source sound.

Things To Consider When Choosing A Suitable Model

All technicalities aside, there is one trait that all condensers share. Every model out there is slightly different. even if they all had the same specs, each particular mic would still be unique in some way. You often hear vocalists talking about condensers that work well with their voice, and those that don’t. This is a very true phenomenon. Unfortunately, you can’t really know whether a mic will be compatible with the profile of your voice until you try it. That is something you should keep in mind.

What To Look?

Without going into specifics and nuances, there are several things you should look for when shopping for a microphone of this type. Naturally, your decision will depend on the application you have in mind for that mic, but most of these are going to be relevant none the less.

Frequency Response Range

The first thing you should research is the frequency response range of a given model. By frequency response range, we are talking about a microphone’s ability to capture sound ranging from low to high. Fortunately for us, most models available today cover a more or less the same range of frequencies. However, there are some which are a bit narrow in this regard. If you need a mic to record instruments, this could be an issue.

Maximum SPL

SPL, or Sound Pressure Level is a very useful metric that can tell you how well a microphone will react to various sources of sound. In all honesty, SPL is something we could talk about all day considering how complex of a matter it is. Instead, we will give you a definition that is relevant to microphones and their performance. SPL value indicates how much volume a microphone can take before it starts to distort. If you are recording vocals only, this is something you won’t have to worry about for the most part. However, if you are recording acoustic instruments, it is important that your microphone has the necessary SPL ratings to do so. Otherwise, you won’t get the desired results.

Features

Last but not the least, we have features. These include built in attenuation, various filters and polar patterns. Attenuation is very handy if you need to record loud acoustic instruments as it essentially increases the SPL handling capability of a microphone. Filters offer some versatility by cutting off specific frequencies, mostly those from the low end of the range. Lastly, we have polar patterns. Most budget condensers feature a cardioid pattern only, meaning that the sound is best capture when speaking to the front of the mic. Omni pattern or figure eight pattern expand that possible angle of attack, thus giving you more maneuvering space. Additional features are always welcome, but they tend to increase the cost of the microphone.

Conclusion

Condenser microphones are by far the most important piece of gear in any recording studio. The way they capture sound is something you simply won’t be able to achieve with standard dynamic mics. Models listed above are just some of the best condensers out there. We’ve chosen a variety from every price range, thus allowing everyone to find a decent unit regardless of their budget. As you start working with condensers, you’ll quickly find out that one is never enough. A condenser mic is a tool, and you will soon want to have a full tool box at your disposal.


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