The Best Condenser Mics - Studio: Small to Large Diaphragm

The Highest Rated Studio Condenser Mics

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The growth of communication technology developed exponentially after the invention of the condenser microphone over a century ago. From its initial purpose of converting audio signals to electrical signals came new uses with the development of recording equipment. Without these parallel developments, recording would not exist as it is now.

These days, there are hundreds of different kinds of microphones by a multitude of manufacturers. There are different circuits, capsule sizes, frequency responses and so on. Whether you're a first-time buyer or a studio vet, it can still get confusing when there's just so many mics to choose from.

In this April 2021 edition of The Best Condenser Mics, we aim to help you choose the ideal condenser mic for your studio setup.

If you're looking for handheld condensers you'll find them in our Live Vocal Mics Guide, and for budget options see The Best Condenser Mics Under $100.

The Best Condenser Mics

Author & Contributors

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

An audio engineer of nearly 20 years who specializes in rock and metal recordings, he also plays guitar and produces original music for his band and other content creators.

Best Condenser Mics Under $200 - Large Diaphragm

Audio-Technica AT2035

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 1850+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$149
Audio-Technica AT2035 Large-Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Large-Diaphragm Condenser Mic Under $200 along with the sE Electronics X1 S Vocal Pack.

Thanks to its large large diaphragm design, the Audio-Technica AT2035 works well with most sound sources, including vocals and acoustic guitars.

Its versatility is expanded further with its relatively high SPL handling at 148dB Max SPL, along with its built-in 10dB pad and Low-frequency roll-off (80Hz, 12dB/octave) switch.

Positioning is a bit limited with its cardioid polar pattern, but on the flip side, this helps minimize background noise, which makes this mic viable for studio recording use.

It comes with a sturdy metal chassis along with bundled accessories that include a shock mount and storage pouch.

Specifications:

  • Type: Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 20 to 20,000 Hz
  • Impedance: 120 ohms
  • Max SPL: 148 dB
  • Applications: Great for recording vocals and acoustic instruments.
  • Power Requirements: 11V to 52V DC, 3.8 mA typical

Pros

Market response to the Audio-Technica AT2035 is overwhelmingly positive, with most commendations focusing on its quality to price ratio. It is often described as a great steal, with its sound clarity and solid build being getting a lot of mentions. Many are also pleased with its aesthetics and size.

Cons

There are a few complaints about the quality of the bundled accessories, and as expected, there are some who are not too happy with how it subtly colors the sound.

Overall

All in all, the Audio-Technica AT2035 is a good all around condenser mice that will make a good addition to home studios.

Audio-Technica AT2035 Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

Audio-Technica AT2035 frequency response chart

Blue Spark SL

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 175+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$200
Blue Spark SL Large-Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

The Blue Spark SL is the successor to the original Blue Spark; prioritizing detail and transparency,

Blue spec'ed the Spark SL with a custom JFET design to ensure the capsule's backplate is evenly charged for best pickup.

Class-A circuitry ensures transparency and low noise.

Rounding out the main specifications are a 100hz filter and a -20dB pad for added versatility.

Specifications:

  • Type: Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz
  • Impedance:50 ohms
  • Max SPL: 136 dB SPL
  • Applications: Recording vocals, acoustic instruments
  • Power Requirements: +48V

Pros

Crisp, clear, transparent, and other similar words best describe the Spark SL according to many users. Many were impressed with how much detail the mic pics up. Acoustic guitar sounds particularly good with a sheen not usually found in other mics at this price. Female voices get treated to the same sparkle without any annoying harshness.

Cons

Others felt that in order to maximize the potential of the mic, it needs to be used in a well-treated room as it picks up details you might not want to pick up such as chair squeaks, excess room reverberation and the like.

Overall

Want a crisp sounding condenser microphone for your voice or acoustic guitar? The Spark SL delivers in more ways than one with its excellent clarity and detail.

Blue Spark SL Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

Blue Spark SL  frequency response chart

Best Condenser Mics Under $200 - Small Diaphragm

Slate Digital VMS ML-2

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$149
Slate Digital VMS ML-2 Small-Diaphragm Modeling Microphone

Slate Digital describes their VMS (Virtual Microphone System) as: "...a hybrid system that utilizes an extremely transparent condenser microphone, a sonically-neutral preamp, and state-of-the-art digital processing suite that recreates the tone of classic microphones and preamps."

While most of the specifications are still kept under wraps, the VMS line pushes forward with Slate Digital's second offering: The ML-2.

The ML-2 is a transparent condenser microphone with a linear frequency response and serves as a platform for the modelling software.

While the design is a condenser mic, it has a switch to attenuate the signal for use with higher SPL situations like drums along with the software's dynamic mic models.

Specifications:

  • Type: Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: Varies per model
  • Impedance: Varies per model
  • Max SPL: No data
  • Applications: Recording vocals, percussions, drums and acoustic instruments
  • Power Requirements: +48V

Pros

Versatility is the number 1 pro. Different mics fit into mixes in different ways and having the option to choose different mic models opened up a wide variety of applications for a lot of users.

Cons

Many disliked that it requires an iLok to function with the software. To use the modelling, you need to insert the software into each track or apply it on the way in.

Overall

The ML-2 is a winner if you're looking for one mic to rule them all. The software is easy enough to use but may consume significantly more resources the more instances you have it on. The iLok functionality may be a turn off for some.

Best Condenser Mics Under $300 - Large Diaphragm

At publication time we had a 3-way tie for the highest rated in this section which included the Audio-Technica AT4040, Warm Audio WA-47Jr and Miktek MK300 each having a Gearank Rating of 94.

sE Electronics X1 S Vocal Pack

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$210
sE Electronics X1 S Vocal Pack

At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Large-Diaphragm Condenser Mic Under $200 (the price increased after this edition was first published) along with the Audio-Technica AT2035.

The sE Electronics X1 S Vocal pack is an all-in-one combination including a shockmount and a pop filter. This makes it great for people looking for their first mic and want other essentials packaged in.

The X1 S mic itself is made with a custom capsule made in-house by sE Electronics.

A transparent transformerless circuit results in a clean sounding microphone that can handle many different sound sources with ease.

It has a relatively high maximum SPL with low cut filters at 80hz and 160hz making it suitable for louder voices and instruments.

Specifications:

  • Type: Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz to 20kHz
  • Impedance: 125 ohms
  • Max SPL:160dB SPL (with pads)
  • Applications: Recording vocals, percussions, drums and acoustic instruments
  • Power Requirements: +48V

Pros

Many users were impressed with the X1 S's price to performance ratio. Aside from the additional items included in the pack, the mic was noted to strike a balance between transparency and harmonic richness. This combination coupled with the loud SPL handling made it a great mic for users with startup project studios/home studios.

Cons

The mic itself was noted to be slightly heavy and tilts less sturdy mic stands. This can be solved by using a Mic Stand that can handle heavier mics.

Overall

Looking to buy your first mic and want it to be great for all-purpose use? Get the sE Electronics X1 S Vocal pack.

sE Electronics X1 S Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

sE Electronics X1 S frequency response chart

Audio-Technica AT4040

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 500+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$299
Audio-Technica AT4040

The Audio-Technica AT4040 was first released in 2001 and was met with widespread acclaim for its great value to performance ratio.

The AT4040 sports an externally biased large, gold-sputtered diaphragm capsule.

What was really impressive for a mic at this price point was the AT4040's noise floor. And now, 2 decades later, the AT4040 is still one of the most quiet (with regards to self noise) microphones in the market.

Specifications:

  • Type: Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz to 20kHz
  • Impedance: 100 ohms
  • Max SPL: 145dB (155dB w/10dB Pad)
  • Applications: Recording vocals, percussion, acoustic and electric instruments
  • Power Requirements: +48V

Pros

Seasoned engineers have mentioned the low noise floor and transient response to be one of the AT4040's strong points. Having great transient response means having more impact on percussive sounds and more detail in singing and speaking. Spoken word, rap and voice overs benefit greatly from the detail of the AT4040.

Cons

Some might call the mic smooth and the transient response gives it detail, but others found that the high frequency extension lacking.

Overall

The AT4040 has been around for nearly 2 decades and during that time, countless engineers, singers, voice over artists, rappers and the like have embraced the mics great transient response, low noise floor and detail.

Audio-Technica AT4040 Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

Audio-Technica AT4040 frequency response chart

Warm Audio WA-47Jr

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 175+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$299
Warm Audio WA-47Jr Large-Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

The WA-47jr is Warm Audio's recreation of the "47" style microphone with FET circuitry rather than the tube circuit found on its bigger brother, the WA-47.

The original "47 FET" was just as popular as the tube version, with countless records being made with it.

The WA-47jr uses the same 47 style capsule as the more expensive WA-47. The custom capsule paired with discrete circuitry design gives the WA-47jr a vintage vibe similar to its namesake original.

Despite the high specifications, Warm Audio managed to keep the price within reach of everyday musicians, producers and songwriters.

Specifications:

  • Type: FET Transformerless Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid, Figure-8, Omidirectional
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz to 20kHz
  • Impedance:100 ohms
  • Max SPL: 147dB SPL, 157dB with pad
  • Applications: Recording vocals, percussions, drums and acoustic instruments
  • Power Requirements: +48V

Pros

One reviewer notably called it a "Swiss Army knife" Large diaphragm condenser with vintage warmth. Others note the wide-open sound of the mic especially when used with overheads as a room mic. For vocals, female vocals are mentioned to take on a sweet character with very few harsh frequencies. Male voices, particularly baritones, result in a rich low end.

Cons

While it may sound similar, those looking to get a U47Fet on a budget were slightly disappointed to find it doesn't sound exactly like the original.

Overall

If you're looking to expand your mic catalog with a vintage sounding all-rounder, the Warm Audio WA-47jr is right up your alley.

Warm Audio WA-47Jr Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

Warm Audio WA-47Jr cardioid frequency response chart
Warm Audio WA-47Jr figure-8 frequency response chart
Warm Audio WA-47Jr omni frequency response chart

Miktek MK300

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 20+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$299
Miktek MK300 Large-diaphragm Condenser Microphone

Miktek probably isn't the first name that pops into your head when you think of microphones. However its founder, Michael Ketchell, has been producing audio products since the 90s.

The Miktek MK300 features custom developed capsules and circuitry.

The capsule has dual 1-inch diaphragms made using 5-micron Mylar with a 0.4-micron layer of evaporated gold.

In-house designed transformers and meticulously selected components matched to strict tolerances round out each one of these Made in Nashville microphones.

Specifications:

  • Type: Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz to 20kHz
  • Impedance: 150 ohms
  • Max SPL: 127dB
  • Applications: Recording vocals, percussions, drums, acoustic and electric instruments
  • Power Requirements: +48V

Pros

Many users were surprised to find that the MK300 was a mic that performs well above its price range. Several users praised the crystal clear high end and open sounding midrange that complements acoustic guitars particularly well for both solo and full band mixes. The vintage styled sweet high end was also praised from people accustomed to modern sounding mics with highs that tend to sound brittle and sibilant.

Cons

Others who preferred modern sounding mics felt that the roundness of the high frequencies didn't fit with their production style.

Overall

If you're looking for a vintage sounding mic with modern, almost boutique level components, the Miktek MK300 shouldn't be ignored.

Miktek MK300 Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

Miktek MK300 frequency response chart

Best Condenser Mic Under $300 - Small Diaphragm

Audio-Technica ATM450

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 90+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$279
Audio-Technica ATM450 Cardioid Condenser Instrument Microphone

With its side address design and compact profile, the Audio-Technica ATM450 is easy to position to work with various instruments and other sound sources.

And since it can handle high SPL, it can work well with most instruments, from quieter acoustic guitars to loud drums, cymbals or even guitar amplifiers.

Additionally, the ATM450 comes with a 80Hz hi-pass filter, and switchable 10dB pad, both of which make the mic even more useful to meet the many different needs of recording studios and stages.

Specifications:

  • Type: Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 40Hz to 18kHz
  • Impedance: 200 Ohms
  • Maximum SPL: 152 dB
  • Applications: Acoustic Instruments, drums, percussion, guitar amps, overhead and more
  • Power Requirements: 48V

Pros

A lot of good words are being passed around for the Audio-Technica ATM450, many commending it for working well with drums, particularly the snare and cymbals, on top of the familiar home studio instruments like acoustic guitars and electric guitar amplifiers. There are also a lot of positive reports coming from banjo, ukulele, percussionists and other musicians who are satisfied with the mic's performance. Being compact is also a plus for many users, who describe it as very portable and easy to store away when not in use.

Cons

Not many complaints to write about, other a few who wish that the price was a bit lower, or that it was bundled with a few more accessories and extras.

Overall

If you're looking for a nicely priced condenser microphone for instruments, then check out the Audio-Technica ATM450.

Audio-Technica ATM450 Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

Audio-Technica ATM450 frequency response chart

Best Condenser Mics Under $500 - Large Diaphragm

Rode NT2-A

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 1300+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$399
Rode NT2A Large-diaphragm Multi-Pattern Condenser Microphone

Thanks to their reputation for premium sound quality, Rode remains a strong contender in the microphone market. The NT2-A is a great example of why they are sought after, with its combination quality and versatility, both of which ultimately result in great sounding recordings.

Speaking of versatility, the Rode NT2-A comes with switchable pickup patterns, which lets you switch between the familiar cardioid to omnidirection and finally to a figure 8 settings. This feature works in conjunction with its switchable high-pass filter and variable attenuation control, allowing the mic to handle louder sound sources and reduce background signals.

Included in each Rode NT2-A package is a shockmount and cable, along with a tutorial DVD and dust cover.

Specifications:

  • Type: Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Omni, Cardioid & Figure 8
  • Frequency Response: 20 to 20,000 Hz
  • Impedance: 200 ohms
  • Maximum SPL: 147 dB
  • Applications: Acoustic instruments, guitar amps
  • Power Requirements: 48V phantom power

Pros

Thanks to its innate versatility, value for money is easily the Rode NT2A's main selling point. There are many vocalists and producers who report positive experiences with the mic, mostly in the studio, but there are also many reports of the mic working well outside / on location.

Cons

One obvious downside of this mic is its bulky size, which can be annoying to setup and store. There are also some who caution that the weight of this mic requires a stand with a good counterweight to ensure that balance is not off. As expected, not everyone was happy with how the mic tends to color the sound.

Overall

The Rode NT2-A is an easy pick if you're looking for a versatile large diaphragm condenser microphone.

Rode NT2-A Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

Rode NT2-A frequency response chart

Aston Microphones Spirit

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 375+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$450
Aston Microphones Spirit Large-diaphragm Condenser Microphone

The Aston Microphones Spirit is a unique looking condenser mic with high-end boutique level component selection and tweaking at a moderately affordable price.

It looks similar to Aston's single pattern Origin. Beyond appearances, the Spirit features selectable Omni, Cardioid or Figure-of-Eight polar patterns.

While there are dozens of similar, multi-pattern condenser mics at this price range, Aston Microphones are hand built in the UK.

Specifications:

  • Type: Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid, Omni, Figure-8
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz (±3dB)
  • Impedance: No Data
  • Max SPL: 138dB
  • Applications: Recording vocals, percussions, drums and acoustic instruments
  • Power Requirements: +48V

Pros

Users sat that the Spirit is an excellent vocal mic. It straddles the line between transparency and some lift on the high end to give it a bit more sheen. Many users noted that they didn't need much processing to get their vocal recordings to fit in a mix.

Cons

The sound signature, while excellent, may not complement some voices; particularly sibilant ones.

Overall

Want a hand-built boutique class microphone with a pleasing sound signature with just the right balance of transparency versus color? The Aston Microphones Spirit is a versatile and amazing sounding choice that's tough to fault.

Aston Microphones Spirit Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

Aston Microphones Spirit cardioid frequency response chart
Aston Microphones Spirit figure 8 frequency response chart
Aston Microphones Spirit omni frequency response chart

sE Electronics T2

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 20+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$530
sE Electronics T2 Multi-pattern Large-diaphragm Condenser Microphone

At publication time this was the Highest Rated Large-Diaphragm Condenser Mic between $300 and $500.

NB: The street price went up from $499 to $530 after this Edition was published.

The sE Electronics T2 was designed with transients in mind. To achieve great transient capture and diaphragm resolution, the T2 employs a titanium sputtered capsule for capturing not only percussive sounds but nuanced vocals and acoustic performances as well.

Transient handling benefits sound sources that have impact like percussion, drum shells as well as vocals like rap, spoken word, voice overs and dynamic singing styles. Loud sound sources, particularly drums, are able to be recorded distortion-free thanks to the T2's -10 and -20 db pads.

Specifications:

  • Type: Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid, Supercardioid, Omni, Figure-8
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz to 20kHz
  • Impedance: 50 ohms
  • Max SPL: 122dB
  • Applications: Recording vocals, percussions, drums and acoustic instruments
  • Power Requirements: +48V

Pros

While many purchased the T2 as a drum mic, some were quick to discover that it does equally well with acoustic guitars and vocals. Strumming and picking on acoustic guitars gets a dose of clarity that most mics struggle with. On spoken and sung phrases, nuances from fast runs get accurately reproduced as reported by a engineers that love the mic.

Cons

None that we could find that weren't a matter of preference. Since the T2 has a very specific function, it might not be the best "only mic" in your studio.

Overall

The T2 does its best as an instrument mic but is equally adept at capturing rap, spoken word and voice overs with the same level of articulation.

sE Electronics T2 Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

sE Electronics T2 frequency response chart

Best Condenser Mics Under $500 - Small Diaphragm

Shure SM81

97
GEARANK

97 out of 100. Incorporating 350+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$349
Shure SM81 Small Diaphragm Cardioid Condenser Microphone

At the heart of this mic is a small diaphragm condenser that adds tube-like coloration to the sound, which better captures sonic nuances that most listeners appreciate.

The capsule is also lighter than many of its competitors, resulting in better background and handling noise rejection, even more so when enabling its built-in -10db Pad. On top of this, the SM81 comes with a low cut filter that allows it to better capture the nuances of virtually any sound source, from vocals, to acoustic guitars to loud guitar amplifier cabinets.

The usual downside of small diaphragm mics is its lack of frequency response, but this doesn't seem to be very noticeable with the SM81, with its frequency response of 20Hz-20kHz. Reviews are consistent in saying that the SM81 gives you more sound quality per dollar than similarly priced microphones.

And coming from Shure, you can be assured of reliability and consistency without having to shell out too much dough.

It's really hard to find fault with it, especially for acoustic guitars, other than its natural limitation of not having the same low frequency emphasis as many large diaphragm mics.

Specifications:

  • Type: Condenser
  • Polar Pattern:
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz to 20kHz
  • Impedance: 150 Ohms
  • Maximum SPL: 136dB (146db with Pad)
  • Applications: Live vocals, acoustic instruments, guitar amps
  • Power Requirements: 48V

Pros

With its very high market rating, there are simply too many positive sentiments to fit into this guide, but these positive responses usually have a common denominator - they are impressed with its overall sound and build quality. While most of the high ratings are due to how good the mic is at capturing acoustic instruments, it is also recommended often for its versatility, with reports of it working well with many different instruments and sound sources.

Cons

Unsurprisingly, given its very high Gearank rating, there are simply no noteworthy complaints to worry about.

Overall

With its incredibly high rating and Shure's reputation, do yourself a favor and get the Shure SM81 if you're looking for good condenser mics in the sub $500 price range.

Shure SM81 Frequency Response Chart:

Shure SM81 frequency response chart

Shure SM81 Polar Pattern Chart:

Shure SM81 polar pattern chart

Best Condenser Mics Under $1000 - Large Diaphragm

At publication time we had a 5-way tie for the highest rated in this section which included the Lauten Audio LA-320, Neumann TLM 102, Warm Audio WA-251, Shure KSM42/SG and Warm Audio WA-47 each having a Gearank Rating of 97.

Lauten Audio LA-320

97
GEARANK

97 out of 100. Incorporating 70+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$600
Lauten Audio LA-320 Large-diaphragm Tube Condenser Microphone

Lauten Audio is a fairly new company. Instead of focusing on chasing vintage sounds, their approach is to craft original, great sounding microphones for the modern studio.

The LA-320 is a Tube Condenser microphone with added features like high and low pass filter switches.

It includes a custom power supply and shockmount in a sturdy carrying case.

Specifications:

  • Type: Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz - 20kHz
  • Impedance: 200 Ohms
  • Max SPL: 130dB SPL
  • Applications: Recording vocals, electric and acoustic instruments
  • Power Requirements: Custom power supply (Switchable 100v to 240v compatible range)

Pros

Users praise the fact that they can get a good tube condenser microphone at this price range. The LA-320 also gets a lot of love for the smooth top end that gets a bit of a sparkle thanks to a little tube saturation.

Cons

The low cut switch can thin out the tonality too much. Some users didn't like the lack of portability due to the use of a power supply, however many tube mics have this feature.

Overall

If you're not chasing a particular microphone sound but want a great quality tube microphone that imbues your tracks with harmonic sheen, the LA-320 is a great mid-priced offering and may be your gateway drug to expanding your mic cabinet with more.

Lauten Audio LA-320 Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

Lauten Audio LA-320  frequency response chart

Neumann TLM 102

97
GEARANK

97 out of 100. Incorporating 475+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$699
Neumann TLM102 Studio Microphone with Standmount

Neumann is often associated with microphones that cost up to $8000.

The TLM 102 was developed as an affordable offering from the legendary microphone brand. It was designed to accentuate the 8kHz to 12kHz for voices, making vocals sound crisp and clear while maintaining just the right amount to avoid sibilance and harshness.

A transformerless output stage ensures transparency and clarity with great low frequency extension.

Like its more expensive siblings, the TLM 102 is also Made in Germany.

Specifications:

  • Type: Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz to 20kHz
  • Impedance: 50 ohms
  • Max SPL: 144 dB
  • Applications: Recording vocals, acoustic instruments, brass, and percussion
  • Power Requirements: +48V

Pros

The TLM 102 gets a lot of praise for how it handles vocals with clarity and finesse. Usually, vocal mics that have an accentuated treble response tend to get sibilant or harsh. The TLM 102 is reported to have all the clarity available without any harshness that is common with cheaper condenser microphones. On acoustic guitar, the high frequency focus brings out strums with more detail, enabling tracks to settle in well even in dense mixes.

Cons

Despite being hailed as an "affordable" Neumann, many found that the price is the sole barrier to entry. Others found the high frequency extension thins out already light female voices.

Overall

The TLM 102 gets you the Neumann house sound in a relatively affordable package compared to their flagships. Get it if you need a premium sounding mic for vocals and acoustic guitar that can handle an odd percussion track here and there should you need it.

Neumann TLM 102 Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

Neumann TLM 102 frequency response chart

Warm Audio WA-251

97
GEARANK

97 out of 100. Incorporating 70+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$799
Warm Audio WA-251 Tube Condenser Microphone

Warm Audio is known for their vintage-modern reproductions of legendary gear. The WA-251 is Warm Audio's take on the ELA M 251E tube condenser microphone.

While not an accurate reissue, Warm Audio took the time to study vintage examples to better understand the tone, circuitry and overall vibe the 251's were known for.

The custom designed WA-12-B-60V capsule is an all brass capsule with a 24k gold sputtered 6 micron, NOS PET film (mylar) diaphragm.

The transformer is by CineMag USA.

Specifications:

  • Type: Tube Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid, Omnidirectional, Figure-8
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz
  • Impedance: 200 Ohms
  • Max SPL: 132dB SPL
  • Applications: Recording vocals, percussions, drums and acoustic instruments
  • Power Requirements:Warm Audio External Power Supply (included)

Pros

With vintage and reissues often exceeding the $9000 mark, users were happy to have access to something close to these examples with the WA-251. Even engineers that owned the originals note that while the WA-251 sounds different, it captures the vibe and the sweetness that comes from the originals very well. Some vintage examples sound great on their own but don't mix well with modern music; owners of these vintage examples mentioned that the WA-251 fits modern mixes better while still retaining the rich midrange harmonic the original units are known for.

Cons

Some users mentioned the shock mount included with the mic felt cheap compared to the unit itself. Others that have the originals felt the WA-251 still lacking compared to them.

Overall

While in the upper level of price range for most people, the WA-251 gets you close to the vintage vibe of mics costing nearly 10 times more.

Warm Audio WA-251 Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

Warm Audio WA-251 cardioid frequency response chart
Warm Audio WA-251 figure-8 frequency response chart
Warm Audio WA-251 omni frequency response chart

Shure KSM42/SG

97
GEARANK

97 out of 100. Incorporating 20+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$799
Shure KSM42 Large-diaphragm Condenser Microphone

Having a large "sweet spot" is usually reserved for studio equipment like monitor speakers. Mics also have a "sweet spot" with regards to the proximity effect. speak too close or too far, the frequency response, particularly the low end changes drastically.

The Shure KSM42 (The SG designation refers to the included shockmount and pop filter) is a mic designed to have a large sweet spot.

Whether you're up against the mic delivering a fiery take or further away to record singing while playing guitar, the Shure KSM42 retains a relatively consistent frequency response.

Specifications:

  • Type: Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 60Hz-20kHz
  • Impedance: 147 ohms
  • Max SPL: 139dB
  • Applications: Recording vocals (singing and spoken), acoustic instruments
  • Power Requirements: +48V

Pros

Many users that do vocal work like singing, voice overs and audiobooks found the KSM42's consistent sweet spot one of its best features. Recording long format speech requires a consistent tone, especially for voice overs and dubbing. The KSM42 excels in these aspects which is why it has earned a cult following among these users.

Cons

The mic tends to run a little hot to the preamp so gain adjustment may be needed to not overdrive your preamps.

Overall

If your primary focus is capturing speech and voice-over work, or if you prefer a mic that stays consistent with singers that move around the mic a lot, the KSM42 is a great choice.

Shure KSM42/SG Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

Shure KSM42/SG frequency response chart

Warm Audio WA-47

97
GEARANK

97 out of 100. Incorporating 175+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$899
Warm Audio WA-47 Large-Diaphragm Tube Condenser Microphone

Warm Audio's flagship offering, the WA-47 is the company's take on the legendary U47 Microphone.

With the originals and reissues going for upwards of $8000, the WA-47 aims to bring sweet tube microphone tone within the reach of every audio engineer.

Since the componentry of the originals are no longer in production, the WA-47 was tweaked with modern components to sound as close to the originals as possible. This includes Warm Audio's own painstakingly recreated version of the original capsule.

Specifications:

  • Type: Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid, Figure-8, Omni (6 additional mixed patterns)
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz to 20kHz
  • Impedance: 200 Ohms
  • Max SPL: 140dB SPL )
  • Applications: Recording vocals and acoustic instruments
  • Power Requirements: Warm Audio External Power Supply (included)

Pros

The first thing that users notice is the build quality. There is no doubt that the WA-47 is a premium mic. Compared to the price of the inspiration, the WA-47 is relatively affordable as many users have come to appreciate. Paired with a good preamp, the sound from the WA-47 was noted to sound already good as-is and required very little post-processing. A characteristic inherent with the U47 is having a rounded high end without being dull, which the WA-47 is able to replicate adequately.

Cons

Some users received their mics with broken/malfunctioning tubes. To ensure proper handling or returns, only purchase from reputable sellers.

Overall

Bringing expensive microphone sounds to all is what Warm Audio is about. The WA-47 delivers with its vintage warmth and clarity, and great build quality.

Warm Audio WA-47 Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

Warm Audio WA-47 frequency response chart

Best Condenser Mics Under $1000 - Small Diaphragm

Neumann KM 184

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$829
Neumann KM 184 Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

The Neumann KM 184 is a transformerless, small diaphragm condenser mic.

The design helps eliminate off-axis coloration for a more consistent frequency response.

Neumann refers to the mic as "universal" because of the high max SPL which allows usage with loud sound sources.

Specifications:

  • Type: Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz
  • Impedance: 50 ohms
  • Max SPL: 138dB
  • Applications: Recording vocals, percussions, drums and acoustic instruments
  • Power Requirements: +48V

Pros

Users say it is an excellent mic for acoustic guitar. It also pairs well with "Blackface" Fender amps and gives a rich, full-ranged but balanced sound. Many owners also use a matched pair as overheads with great results. Stereo pairs give great natural imaging for binaural recordings.

Cons

No negatives were consistently reported by users.

Overall

The KM 184 is an essential microphone for any mic collection. Its great imaging and consistency allows for great stereo recordings with minimal phase issues.

Neumann KM 184 Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

Neumann KM 184 frequency response chart

Things to Consider When Buying A Professional Condenser Microphone

  • Diaphragm Size

    Diaphragm size refers to the mass of a mic's diaphragm which vibrates in response to sound. This vibration translates sound waves into electrical signals. As such, the mass of the diaphragm determines important mic specifications like sound pressure level handling, dynamic range, sensitivity, and more. The general rule is that larger diaphragms capture more detail but are not good at handling high sound pressure levels. Smaller diaphragms are usually not as good as their larger counterparts when it comes to sonic quality, but they can withstand loud sound sources like cymbals, drums, guitar amps and more. Condenser mics usually fall under three diaphragm size categories - Small, Medium and Large.

  • Polar Pattern

    This describes the area where the mic actually listens to sound. Cardioid is the most popular polar pattern because it is good at blocking the back side of the mic for reducing background noise and feedback. There are even variations of cardioid like Supercarioid and Hypercardioid with narrower areas of sound absorption. Other popular polar patterns include omnidirectional (absorbs sound from all directions), figure 8 (absorbs sound from the back and front while rejecting the sides) and shotgun (tighter and longer front absorption). Since condenser mics are used to record different types of instruments and sound sources, some manufacturers equip them with switchable polar patterns. If you're not familiar with polar patterns then you can see charts and further information here.

  • Frequency Response

    Frequency response is usually represented in the form of a chart that describes the manner by which microphones emphasize and de-emphasize frequencies. For condenser mics, a flat response is ideal, but it may not always be the case depending on musical style, sound source and preference. This is not a strict rule but ordinarily, mics which emphasize the highs can compensate for vocals or instruments that have a warm or dull timbre, while trebly instruments and vocals work well with mics that have a smoother, warmer top end to manage sibilance. .

  • Proximity Effect

    Some manufacturers provide proximity effect data for their microphones via an extra line in the frequency response chart. This shows the low frequency emphasis that happens as the sound source gets closer to the mic, this is especially obvious with cardioid dynamic mics, and can also be noticeable with most condenser mics. This increase of volume in bass frequencies is sometimes used to good effect, but it can also be problematic in certain situations.

  • Phantom Power

    Since condenser mics use electricity to capture sound they require a power source. Most condenser mics run on phantom power (usually provided by a mixing console or audio interface) while there are some that can run on batteries. If you'll be working with gear that doesn't have phantom power, you'll need to invest in a mic preamp with phantom power capability.

  • Max SPL

    This parameter is an important consideration, especially if you're planning on using the mic to capture loud sound sources like guitar amplifiers or drums. The higher the MAX SPL the better, just note that some high SPL mics may compromise audio signal quality.

  • Pop Filter

    Pop filters are screens that are usually positioned between the singer and the mic to prevent air from hitting the mic diaphragm directly. They are sometimes bundled with condenser mics, but they are also very cheap to acquire in case you bought one with no pop filter included.

  • Stereo Recording

    What's better than having a single condenser mic... get a matched pair and record in stereo, as many professionals actually do. Stereo recording is usually employed to add space and realism to any sound source, this is the reason why some manufacturers release matched condenser mics that are designed to work in stereo. While you can use two regular condenser mics to capture in stereo, slight differences between unmatched microphones often result in unwanted audio artifacts and phase issues.

  • Versatility

    Versatile mics allow you to save money by doing the jobs of multiple dedicated mics. Just don't expect them to have the same quality as specialized mics. Features to look out for include switchable attenuation pads, switchable polar patterns and built-in filters (high-pass or low-pass) and built-in attenuation pads. As always, there will be slight compromises to the sound because of the capsule or circuitry design.

Best Condenser Microphone Selection Methodology

The first edition was published in 2018 and the current edition was published on April 16, 2021.

We examined short-lists of 59 Large Diaphragm and 25 Medium to Small Diaphragm condenser mics which included over 19,300 related reviews and ratings, including the latest ones from owners and experts. The Gearank Algorithm processed this data to generate our rating scores out of 100 to reflect market sentiment for each mic. We then used the scores to pick out the best large and small diaphragm (we included medium in the small section) condenser mics in popular price ranges. For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.

About the Author and Contributors

Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide's production - click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.

Lead Author & Researcher

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

An audio engineer of nearly 20 years who specializes in rock and metal recordings, he also plays guitar and produces original music for his band and other content creators.

Aside from endlessly window shopping and watching hours of gear reviews for leisure, he enjoys playing competitive FPS games, MMORPGs and caring for his 5 cats. He is primarily influenced by guitarists like Kurt Ballou and Paul Gilbert. His favorite pieces of gear are his Ibanez RG550RFR, Orange Brent Hinds Terror amplifier and EQD Acapulco Gold fuzz.

Contributors

Alexander Briones: Supplemental writing.
Jason Horton: Editing and Illustrating.

Media

Main/Top Image: Created by Gearank.com using photographs of the Neumann KM 184, Shure KSM42/SG and Shure SM81.

The individual product images, frequency response charts and polar pattern charts were sourced from their respective manufacturers' websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation.

Comments

We have done that an

We have done that and published a Gearank Rating which you can see here.

Note that the rating was calculated last year before the price dropped from $58 to $35.

Also note that this guide doesn't include microphones under $100 - to see our recommendations in that price range please go to our other guide: The Best Condenser Mics Under $100 - XLR & USB.