Best Condenser Microphone: Which One To Pick?
Alright, so you have made the decision to pick a condenser microphone. What now? How to find the best condenser microphone without breaking the bank? We’ve all been there, don’t worry.
It’s not quite as simple as picking something like a table for your living room, but it’s not hard.
Few notes here to help you decide if this list is good for you:
1) You are on the budget.
In this list, I won’t cover any expensive out-of-this-world quality mics for a simple reason. Most people won’t be able to drop a $1000+ or even $300+ on a condenser microphone in the beginning.
Even if you have this kind of money, it doesn’t make sense to buy something just because it’s expensive because it “must be better”. It’s a learning curve and it’s always good to start small.
2) You have little experience in the music industry and with condenser microphones.
I won’t get into the small details as the list is meant more for people who are just starting out, rather than professionals.
Even simple microphones-related terms such as “large diaphragm”, “pressure-gradient transduser“, “cardiod pickup pattern”, etc. can freak someone out.
If I go even deeper, most beginners will just close the tab. Therefore, I try to simplify things here!
3) You have already decided that condenser microphone is the best suit for your needs (see my article about the best microphones to record vocals).
Alright, this should be it. Let’s get to the list.
1) Behringer B-1
If you’ve read my guide on how to build an affordable music studio, you know that this condenser microphone is one of my favorites, if not the most favorite. There are a few reasons for this.
First, it’s one of the best bangs for the buck on the market. This 1″ gold-sputtered dual-diaphragm mic is made for outstanding audio quality recording.
Behringer official website says that you can use it for any application. I have to disagree with this. In my opinion, it’s the best for vocals. If recording drums, especially snare, it will give you some sort of feedback.
Not a big deal to some, but if I was a drummer I would want as little feedback as possible. Again, for you to decide.
It has the cardioid pickup pattern, just like most condenser microphones at this price range.
What’s a Cardioid Pattern?
When you hear “cardioid”, think “heart-shaped“. This is like the rule of thumb. The mic rejects sounds coming from the back and partially rejects the ones from the side, so the recording is less muddy.
Some cardioid patterns tend to be smaller than others, but it’s rarely a small heart. It’s almost like a semi-circle in most cases!
This particular pattern is great for vocals, as it maintains a certain level of isolating when recording, so there is less noise.
The drawback would be the drop of sensitivity to higher frequencies once the sound waves move further off-axis (look at the graph again).
Okay, hopefully, we figured this out!
Behringer B-1 (Continue)
This mic also has the pressure-gradient transducer with the dual-diaphragm capsule. This means that besides the active diaphragm on the front, there is a passive one in the back.
It serves as an additional component to block the lower frequencies, which make your recording incredibly muddy.
The frequency response is pretty impressive for a budget condenser microphone, from 20 Hz to 20 kHz.
You also get a switchable -10 dB attenuator so you can capture the louder, high-volume signals without introducing a lot of distortion, as well as a low-cut filter to reduce noises caused by floor rumble, loud processor, etc.
It need an XLR cable and a power supply, so make sure you purchase an interface as well.
Behringer B-1 is also quite durable for a condenser mic with its nickel plated brass body.
Oh yeah, another cool thing is that it comes with a shock mount, windscreen, and a case to carry the mic.
Nothing insane, but a very decent bang for the buck for sure.
*More About Behringer B-1.
Alright, let’s move one.
2) Samson C01U Pro
I don’t think I’ve talked about Samson in any single section of the guide yet. Founded in 1980, they’ve been specializing in microphones since day one.
Since then they’ve expanded into making mixers, amplifiers, and signal processors. However, their microphones’ quality stayed on of their top priorities.
And their budget line top product Samson C01U Pro is the proof.
The diaphragm is 19 mm (a little under one inch), which is not bad at all. Don’t think bigger is always better.
This particular condenser microphone wasn’t designed specifically for music production, but it works great when recording vocals.
The frequency response is from 20 Hz to 18 kHz, which is not as wide as the previous mic, but still really good.
C01U Pro has a hypercardioid pickup pattern, which means even less sensitivity on the sides at 150-160 and 200-210 degrees, as opposed to right behind the microphone (see the picture below).
The perk of Samson C01U Pro is its hassle-free plug-and-play operation. It doesn’t have an XLR port, but a simple USB. Therefore, plug it into your computer and you are good to go.
If you buy an adapter, feel free to use Samson with your iPhone, iPad, or a camera.
It comes with a mini tripod stand, which is handy if you do YouTube or make podcasts. You also get a swivel mount for your microphone.
Overall, Samson C01U Pro is a great microphone for the beginners. Especially those, who don’t have their studio set up yet.
*More About Samson C01U Pro.
3) Audio-Technica AT2020
I talked about Audio-Technica a lot in the article about the best headphones for beginners.
The company proved many times to be reliable and reputable. The product coming from AT tend to be the leaders in the music industry markets.
Therefore, I just can’t post this list without a single Audio-Technica microphone. And it’s not just my respect for the company, Audio-Technica AT2020 is definitely worth mentioning.
It’s one of the most popular budget microphones in the world, and for a reason.
As all the mics on the list, it’s affordable. People use it for multiple purposes, not just in the music production. You may find that your favorite YouTubers, twitch streamers, etc. are using it as well.
While they don’t really care about specs as much, we want to dive in a little deeper.
It has a cardioid polar pattern, so the volume of the sounds from the sides and the rear is reduced. Therefore, you get a more focused, isolated sound when recording.
The dynamic range is quite wide, from 20 Hz to 20 kHz.
It is an XLR condenser microphone, so you will need a power supply of 48V. Not a big deal when you have an interface, as 99% of them provide the power supply.
It doesn’t have any switches, so no roll-offs or dB pads, unfortunately.
Audio-Technica AT2020 also comes with a threaded stand mount, threaded adapter, and a pouch. Nothing like a hard case, but it’s something, right?
*More About Audio-Technica AT2020.
4) AKG P220
Comparing to the rest on the list, AKG P220 is probably the most robust out of all of them. Its durability, however, is not just a blessing, but also a curse. Why do you think that’s the case?
Well, it’s actually very simple. This bad boy is a little heavier than the rest. Therefore, when looking for a mic stand, you may have to go for a more expensive option. This will offer you increased stability.
Other than this little drawback, it’s just a very durable and reliable condenser microphone. I wouldn’t even call it a drawback, more like a unique feature.
Another feature to debate about AKG’s simple settings. Just like the Behringer B-1, it’s the bass frequencies roll off and the -20 dB signal cutoff. However, it’s also a good thing, especially for the beginners.
For example, imagine yourself buying a $600 MIDI keyboards with tens of knobs, a bunch of presets and features. Instead of actually making music, you spend hours and hours trying to comprehend what all these things are for.
Same goes for the condenser microphones. Especially when you are just starting out, the simpler the better, trust me!
The frequency response is 20 Hz to 20 kHz.
AKG P220 has the cardioid pickup pattern. I’ve heard some people complaining how it picks up the frequencies from the rear more than it should. So that’s a minor inconvenience.
It’s also known to be able to record almost everything. From vocals and acoustic guitar, I’ve seen people using it for drums also!
Even though not as good as a dynamic microphone when it comes to recording the drums, I am still impressed by how versatile it actually is.
On the top of everything, it comes with a metal case and a shock mount, so that’s a couple things out of the way!
*More About AKG P220.
5) MXL 990
This little condenser mic may not look very appealing, mostly due to its unique design. It’s a little shorter in height and larger in diameter.
In my opinion, it just looks very funny. However, don’t let this trick you into thinking badly about MXL 990.
Out of all of them on the list, it probably has the richest tone. One of the richest tones in the budget condenser microphones’ world actually.
I have a friend who decided to buy this bad boy as her first ever condenser microphone, and she was thrilled.
It sounded so different from the dynamic Shure SM57 that she had used for her live shows. Don’t get me wrong, I love Shure more than I love my mother (not true), but the difference of the recordings was incredible.
I mean this makes sense. Condenser microphones are a lot more sensitive, especially the ones that need the power supply. The amount of post-processing time decreased a little.
And in the fast-paced world we live in, even a bit of time saved without quality being compromised is a win for everybody.
The response is 30 Hz to 20 kHz. It has no switches, so you will have to EQ your vocals’/instruments’ recordings in your DAW (digital audio software) later.
This condenser mic does require a phantom power source, so think about getting a preamp or an interface. And an XLR cable of course.
MXL 990 also comes with a nice little case and a shock mount.
Even though some people complain about the cheap build, I do disagree. Look, in the budget microphones’ world, you can’t get the $3000 mic quality for a price tag of $100 or less, you feel me?
When someone complains that it will only last them a few years before it breaks, I get a little mad. People just try to justify the fact that they would rather spend $100+ at a bar, than buying a must-have hardware for their studio.
*More About MXL 990.
6) Neumann U 87 Ai (Look At The Price Tag)
Okay, so I decided to prove my point about budget condenser mic quality. Look at this bad boy, looking pretty slick, don’t you think so?
It also comes with a wooden case, which will make you look very rich.
Neumann U 87 Ai is definitely considered one of the best microphones in the music industry. And why wouldn’t it be?
Insane pressure-gradient transducers with double membrane capsule, three patterns of recording, as opposed to just the cardioid pattern.
You know what, it will take a really long time, a few paragraphs at least, to describe even a fraction of why you must have this ultimate condenser microphone.
And the quality of both the built and the sound are outstanding. It will take you a long time to find a better alternative.
However, there is one little thing I forgot to mention.
Unless you have an actual profitable studio in downtown Toronto and a bunch of artists who can’t wait to give you their money so you can record them, you won’t be able to afford it.
And don’t get me wrong, I am not poor-shaming anyone. Just take a look for yourself here.
That’s a very decent stack of paper that you have to put on the table to walk away with a mic like that.
Conclusion: Best Condenser Microphone
There are tens of budget (and nonbudget) condenser microphones out there. It’s possible that there are some new brands that I haven’t heard of, which make great quality microphones for even cheaper than the ones on the list.
The microphones I reviewed here for you are the ones I am confident in because they’ve proven to be reliable over many years.
The most important thing to remember is that building a music studio is not easy, as there are so many elements. Moreover, there are so many choices and factors for each of the elements.
Personally, I found microphones to be one the most confusing pieces of equipment, but it’s all good!