The Best Condenser Mics - Studio: Small to Large Diaphragm

The Highest Rated Studio Condenser Mics

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After looking at so many comparison videos, reading through dozens of reviews for different condenser mics, you finally made it here. I know the feeling too well and it can get tedious to sift through literally thousands of statements, discussions, and reviews by enthusiasts and experts alike.

Whether it's your first mic or your latest in a large collection, choosing a condenser mic never gets any easier and the more you know about recording and recording gear, the harder it is to make decisions especially when it comes to investment pieces at the upper end of the price spectrum.

In this June 2022 Edition, we at Gearank make it easier for your to choose the best condenser mic for your studio. The recommendations in this guide are based on each mic's Gearank Rating except for my Author's Pick which is a mic that I use more frequently than the others.

If you want to check out microphones specifically for vocals, take a look at our Studio Mics For Vocals Guide. 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

I've been an audio engineer for 20 years specializing in rock and metal recordings, and also I play guitar and produce original music for my band and other content creators.

Best Condenser Mic Under $200 - Large Diaphragm

Audio-Technica AT2035

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 2750+ 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.

Cons

  • Not the most neutral mic
  • Accessories feel cheap
  • Single polar pattern limits versatility

Pros

  • Great all-rounder for various sources
  • No "cheap condenser" brittleness at the high end
  • Low Noise floor
  • Great background noise rejection

Thanks to its 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.

The diaphragm size is larger than its more affordable sibling, the AT2020.

The noise floor of -12db is better than many mics in this price range.

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

All in all, the Audio-Technica AT2035 is a good all around condenser mic that makes a useful contribution to home studios thanks to its tonality and low noise floor. Those looking for a more neutral mic may have to look elsewhere.

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

Hands On Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Podcastage Bandrew Scott 94/100
MusicRadar Chris Corfield 90/100
Home Brew Audio Ken Theriot 80/100
RecordingHacks Fernando Curiel 95/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Audio-Technica AT2035 Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts

Audio-Technica AT2035 frequency response chart

sE Electronics X1 S Vocal Pack

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 150+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$199
sE Electronics X1 S Vocal Pack
At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Large-Diaphragm Condenser Mic Under $200 along with the Audio-Technica AT2035.

Cons

  • Too heavy for some mic stands
  • Shockmount obscures the switches

Pros

  • Boutique-level capsule built along with their higher priced offerings
  • Neutral sounding midrange with a light sheen on the high frequencies
  • Great bundled accessories
  • Pad and Filter switches

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.

The X1 S strikes a balance between transparency and harmonic richness. This combination coupled with the loud SPL handling makes it a great mic for users with startup project studios / home studios.

Note that the mic itself is slightly heavy and tilts less sturdy mic stands. This can be solved by using a mic stand that can handle heavier mics.

So if you're looking to buy your first mic and want it to be great for all-purpose use, get the sE Electronics X1 S Vocal pack. It has a neutral sound signature that is more commonly heard on more expensive microphones. The pack also includes essential items you need for recording vocals.

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

Hands On Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
MusicTech Editor 90/100
Gearspace Arthur Stone 100/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

sE Electronics X1 S Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts

sE Electronics X1 S frequency response chart

Author's Pick

Here is a Large-Diaphragm condenser mic that I own that has a great, upfront sound with lots of detail. It might not be for everyone though. Read on to find out why.

Aston Microphones Origin

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 800+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$199
Aston Microphones Origin Large-diaphragm Condenser Microphone

Cons

  • Relatively high noise floor
  • Might be too thin for deeper voices
  • Direct mount limits mic positions

Pros

  • Very articulate midrange
  • Smooth high frequency
  • Great overall for rock and pop singing
  • Solidly built

Aston microphones are designed with the help of a panel of experts Aston calls the "Aston 33", referring to the original 33 members of the panel. They have now expanded to consulting with over 400 audio engineers for their product design. The Origin is a result of several selections made by this panel to decide the best sounding capsule.

The Orign has a very brutalist-like aesthetic with the unpainted body sporting a special "tumbled" finish achieved by letting the enclosure mix around a chamber with ceramic pellets. The waveform head is the undulating structure visible on the outside of the mic and protects the dual layer steel mesh that also serves as a pop filter.

Aston Microphones Origin - Bottom View

Inside the Origin is an internal shockmount for the capsule. This prevents the mic from picking up excess vibrations from mic stands and low frequency rumble from sound sources.

I can describe the sound of the Origin as "mid forward" with slightly less low frequencies than most mics (even without the 80hz filter). It is a very detail oriented mic that captures nuances that most mics at this price point smear or obscure.

The upper mid presence is rich and not harsh with a slight bump in the treble frequencies. I was afraid that sibilance would be an issue but thankfully, the Origin's smooth high frequencies took care of any that would have arisen my entire time using it.

With this forward sound signature, the Origin reminds me of another British-made audio device: Marshall Amplifiers. Like them, the Origin has an aggressive midrange that cuts through the mix with no effort with just enough warmth to keep it from sounding harsh or anemic. Vocals recorded on the Origin stand out in a mix with very little effort, making it perfect for busy rock or metal mixes.

On modern pop, the Origin makes a great lead vocal mic with more intimate sounds available thanks to how well it handles the proximity effect. If it becomes too much, the 80hz roll off switch does the trick.

One issue I found is that it's not the best for baritone/deep voiced individuals. The relaxed low end may be good for fitting vocals into a mix but it robs deeper vocals of authority and power. It's not a deal breaker but I would reach for a different mic when it comes to voice overs

For instruments, the mid-forward tone might be redundant for the aforementioned Marshall-type amplifiers. For Fender cleans however, the mid push and slightly more relaxed low frequencies give a nice, tight recording that's great for rhythm work.

This odd looking microphone has made its way into home studios around the world for its neutral sound signature with just the right amount of harmonic content to flatter most voices. It's an excellent vocal mic for nearly any sound source you can throw at it. Deeper voices might find that the low frequencies aren't as accentuated and thus, would make their voices sound a bit thinner. Nevertheless, the Origin is a great all-rounder that punches well above its price point.

Specifications

  • Type: Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 20 to 20,000 Hz
  • Max SPL: 127 dB
  • Applications: Lead vocals, electric guitar cabs, acoustic guitar, drum overheads/room mics
  • Power Requirements: 48v Phantom power

Hands On Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Gearank Raphael Pulgar 94/100
Sound on Sound Paul White 90/100
MusicRadar Robbie Stamp 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Aston Microphones Origin Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts:

Aston Microphones Origin frequency response chart

Best Condenser Mics Under $200 - Small Diaphragm

Slate Digital VMS ML-2

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 150+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$149
Slate Digital VMS ML-2 Small-Diaphragm Modeling Microphone
At publication time this was the Highest Rated Small-Diaphragm Condenser Mic Under $200.

Cons

  • Not a 1 to 1 replication of the originals
  • iLok was a deal breaker for many though Slate's transition to iLok Cloud lessened the mention of this as a con.

Pros

  • Versatile Mic and Software combo that allows a wide array of usage situations with the included models
  • Models both condenser and dynamic mics - the latter enabling use with high SPL sources like drums or guitar cabs
  • Excellent for use with different types of acoustic guitar
This is a modeling microphone and software package.

The ML-2 is a transparent condenser microphone with a linear frequency response and serves as a platform for its modelling software, the Virtual Microphone System or VMS. The ML-2 includes 18 mic models including classics like the Shure SM7b, Electro-Voice RE20 and even tube condensers like the Neumann U47.

The VMS software, according to founder Steven Slate in this video, the VMS employs not just

The SDC design doesn't limit it to SDC models; it has a switch to attenuate the signal for use with higher SPL situations, like drums, along with the software's dynamic mic models.

Versatility is the number 1 pro. Different mics fit into mixes in different ways and having the option to choose different mic models opens up a wide variety of applications for a lot of users. On acoustic guitar, the various models let you choose the best mic for the guitar (even in post!) without moving positions.

Note: You need to use iLok for the software to work. You can use iLok Cloud, foregoing the USB key.

One con of the system is that in order to use the modelling, you need to use Slate's "Virtual Mix Rack" plugin into each track with the accompanying model. This limits collaborative works because it requires collaborators to have the same models as you do. This can be resolved by bouncing the track but this negates the concept of flexibility that using the VMS system brings to the table.

Despite the aforementioned limitation, the ML-2 is a winner if you're looking for one mic to rule them all. Aside from having access to great reproductions of vintage microphones, being able to change your mics in post is one of the main reasons you should get this mic (or two if you theoretically want a stereo pair of Neumann U47 models).

Specifications

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

Hands On Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
YouTube Full Circle Music 100/100
YouTube In The Mix 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Best Condenser Mics Under $300 - Large Diaphragm

Lewitt LCT 440 Pure

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 600+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$269
Lewitt LCT 440 Pure Large-Diaphragm Condenser Microphone
At publication time this was the Highest Rated Large-Diaphragm Condenser Mic Under $300.

Cons

  • Cardioid only
  • Can get sibilant

Pros

  • Great neutral midrange with a silky smooth high end usually only heard on ultra-expensive microphones
  • High quality bundled accessories
  • Low self-noise makes it great for recording quiet sources and room tone
  • Excellent for pop vocals, acoustic guitar or anything where detail and brightness are desired

Lewitt Audio was founded by Roman Perschon out of a desire to make innovative products that don't just rehash older designs from audio yesteryear. The LCT range is their take on the Large Diaphragm condenser design and includes cutting edge systems like the 1040 Tube Condenser.

The demand for a more affordable, project studio oriented product saw the release of the LCT 440 Pure. A distillation of their design philosophy into only the most essential pieces. The 440 Pure is a cardioid only LDC with no other features. On paper, this might not sound like much to offer, but the mic comes in an attractive package of both a shock mount, and 2 pop filters (foam and metal mesh).

It definitely sounds different from other mics in its class like the Aston Origin and Rode NT1. With so many glowing reviews for it, I was surprised that no one has made the comparison to top-tier, very expensive microphones yet.

It has a neutral midrange with a sweet, airy high end that you can only get from classics like the Telefunken ELA M 251e and the Sony C800g (with some examples of the 251e having slightly more harmonically rich low mids vs the c800g). I have been fortunate enough to record audio with these mics and I can easily say the 440 Pure shares the same "pop vocal" sheen that the aforementioned mics offer. What it lacks compared to these mics is the subtle harmonic content that gives a feeling of "compression" on specific frequency ranges.

Lewitt LCT 440 Pure
The microphone's design is bears a fleeting resemblance to those of Austrian mic manufacturer AKG. It's worth noting that Lewitt Audio was formed by an alumni of AKG, Roman Perschon.

I would love to pick Roman Perschon's brain about how they tweak the tonalities of their microphones someday because I feel it's no coincidence that the LCT 440 Pure sounds eerily similar to these sought after mics. Expect a longer format review in the future once I've gotten more mileage from it

One handy thing is that the pop filter is small enough to not obscure vision for singers or speakers reading from lyrics and scripts.

I should point out that some people the mic too sibilant; a trait it shares with the two expensive mics i keep mentioning. If you're looking for Neumann smoothness, look elsewhere as the LCT440 Pure has a very modern and airy sound designed to cut through in a modern pop mix.

Many people who have never worked with high end microphones like the Telefunken ELA M 251e and Sony c800g might not understand what makes the Lewitt LCT440 Pure's timbre and tonality so great. While it doesn't have the harmonically complex midrange of the 251e or the extreme high end detail of the Sony C800g, It fits well within their sound signature at a price most of us can afford.

If you're looking for an excellent pop vocal mic in this price range, the LCT 440 Pure definitely brings that big studio sound without the big studio price.

Specifications

  • Type: Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 20 to 20,000 Hz
  • Impedance: 110 ohms
  • Max SPL: 140 dB
  • Applications: Great all-rounder from vocals, acoustic guitar to drums
  • Power Requirements: 48 V ± 4 V

Hands On Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Sound on Sound Paul White 98/100
MusicTech Mike Hillier 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Lewitt LCT 440 Pure Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts

Lewitt LCT440 Pure frequency response chart

Rode NT1

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 2300+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$228
Rode NT1 Large-diaphragm Cardioid Condenser Microphone

Cons

  • Heavy shockmount (metal variant)
  • Cardioid only

Pros

  • Vintage sound signature reminiscent classic German microphones
  • Great build quality and durability
  • Low self-noise

Rode Microphones famously pitted this microphone against a Neumann U47 in this video. That prodded me to give it a shot to see if it can get me anywhere near the experience I had with working on tracks recorded with the seemingly magical, German-engineered U47

The Rode NT1 (Black) is one of the most commonly recommended condenser mics at this price. It's relatively simple: Cardioid-only, no other switches or pads. The mic itself is a departure from the NT1-A and has nothing in common (tonally at least) with the original NT1.

This version, released in 2017, aims more towards the vintage end of the spectrum with regards to tonality. My first impression of the mic was great. Depending on the package you get, some stores offer the Rycote Lyre-style shockmount with a paddle-like metal pop filter, while others carry a more traditional metal shockmount with elastic bands plus a fabric pop filter. Regardless of the paired accessories, the mic is the same in either. I had the one with the metal shockmount which was built solidly.

Moving onto the mic itself, the finish feels great to the touch. It has a high quality matte black finish with the logo, serial number and other details laser etched on the body. The edge terminated capsule is visible through the headbasket. The one on mine came slightly misaligned but it was only a matter of unscrewing the endcap and realigning the capsule and closing it. Not really a problem for me but it might be for some that are particular with how their products come out of the box.

Rode NT1 Laser Etched Serial
The Rode NT1 is made in Australia with high quality components and are housed inside a 6061 Aluminum enclosure with the details laser etched. (S/N blurred for privacy)

Plugging it in and firing up the phantom power, I got to do a preliminary mic test with the peaks hitting around -10dbfs. Consider the NT1's sound as more of a blank canvas rather than an already finished painting and things will suddenly fall into place. One feature to support this is the NT1's extremely low self-noise. This enables the use of heavy tone shaping without bringing up the mic's inherent noise floor (not counting environmental noise of course). Recording in a well-treated room and you will be rewarded with a recording that can take a lot of processing and still sound good.

On other aspects, handling noise was actually very minimal. The capsule is internally shockmounted with a Rycote cradle. I use the NT1 for streaming and voice overs and moving the mic around while I do so doesn't result in overbearing thumps and thuds.

With all this praise, I have to note that I have a few caveats with the kit. The shockmount is solidly built but very heavy. The fabric mesh pop filter is built into the shockmount and it adds to the weight. Unless you're using a straight mic stand, you will need a heavy duty boom mic arm to carry the weight of the mic kit.

It comes in cardioid only pickup pattern with no pads or filters. This limits its versatility especially with loud sound sources. The tonality is useful enough for most cases, however.

The Rode NT1 is a great mic for vintage tones without the vintage price. The bundled accessories make it great for startup studios and home producers.

Specifications

  • Type: Pressure Gradient Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 20 to 20,000 Hz
  • Impedance: 100 ohms
  • Max SPL: 132 dB
  • Applications: Great for recording vocals and acoustic instruments.
  • Power Requirements: P24v and P48v

Hands On Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Gearank Raphael Pulgar 95/100
Sound on Sound Paul White 90/100
MusicRadar Trevor Curwen 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Rode NT1 Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts

Rode NT1 frequency response chart

Best Condenser Mic Under $300 - Small Diaphragm

Audio-Technica ATM450

95
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$279
Audio-Technica ATM450 Cardioid Condenser Instrument Microphone
At publication time this was the Highest Rated Small-Diaphragm Condenser Mic Under $300.

Cons

  • Comes without accessories

Pros

  • Great all-around tonality
  • High SPL handling
  • Good transient response
  • Compact for easy mic positioning and storage

The Audio-Technica ATM450 is unique in the SDC category because of its side address design. Side address is usually reserved for LDCs and to have it in a compact, pencil mic format opens up a lot of possibilities in positioning especially around crowded drum kits.

The high SPL handling also allows for even closer mic positions on drums and amplifiers without worrying about clipping at the mic's componentry or capsule. 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.

Stringed instruments of all types also work very well with the ATM450, especially more percussive and rhythmic instruments like banjo and ukulele.

One downside of the form factor at this category is the compromise of traditional SDC mic positioning, especially for stereo setups where the angle of the two microphones is crucial to getting proper phase coherence.

If you're looking for a versatile SDC with a smaller form factor than most "pencil" mics, the ATM450 is the best choice for threading the needle through tricky drum setups. It's also a good enough all rounder to record stringed instruments.

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

Hands On Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
TapeOp Chris Garges 90/100
AudioTechnology Greg Walker 92/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Audio-Technica ATM450 Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts

Audio-Technica ATM450 frequency response chart

Best Condenser Mics Under $500 - Large Diaphragm

Lewitt LCT 441 Flex

94
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$399
Lewitt LCT 441 Flex Large-Diaphragm Condenser Microphone
At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Large-Diaphragm Condenser Mic between $300 and $500 along with:

Cons

  • No low cut and pad switches
  • Switching and electronics add potential points of failure

Pros

  • Versatile mic for a wide array of sound sources from vocals to drums to ambient recordings
  • Multiple Polar Patterns
  • High SPL handling
  • Low self-noise

In a market populated with so many multi-pattern condenser microphones, Lewitt not only chose to stand out with their "House Sound" for the LCT 441 Flex, I imagine their meeting room during their conceptualization for the 441 Flex to go something like..

"...What if we put EIGHT polar patterns in a tiny mic?" (cue applause)

Always keen on presenting themselves as a forward-thinking company, Lewitt did just that. The LCT 441 Flex features 8 Polar patterns: 5 regular patterns, and 3 reverse patterns where the pickup point is behind the mic; useful for miking up cabs while still being able to see the pattern indicator.

The mic itself is configured by using two buttons to select the patterns. The selected pattern lights up in front of the mic. Another feature is a clipping indicator on the logo: it lights up red to indicate clipping at the source. This is great for figuring out the ideal distance from a loud sound source that wont clip the internal circuitry of the mic.

Soundwise, the 441 shares a lot in common with the more affordable Lewitt LCT 440. I tested the 441 out versus the 440 and found little to no differences between them on the cardioid mode. On other modes however, the 441's tonal balance shifts depending on which pattern is selected. This is because more or less of the room / environment comes into play in the captured sound.

Although I ended up choosing the 440 for my studio for now, the 441 is still on my wishlist as a more versatile version of the 440. I grew to like the sound of the 440 enough to justify a purchase of the 441 for additional options during recording.

One con, while not really immediate to me, is that I fear that part failure might become an issue down the road especially with the switching system and lights on the microphone. Another con that is reflected by some of the user reviews for the 441 is the lack of a low cut switch and pad. Given the polar pattern versatility, having no pad and low cut seems to have put a limit on how well the mic would fit various sound sources.

If you want a microphone with a crisp, clear sound with multiple polar patterns for just about anything you can put in front of it, the Lewitt LCT441 Flex is an excellent microphone. From vocals, to electric guitar, to drums, the only limit to the 441 is extremely low-end heavy sound sources.

Specifications

  • Type: Condenser
  • Polar Patterns: Omni, cardioid, wide cardioid, super cardioid, figure-8, reverse cardioid, reverse wide cardioid, and reverse super cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 20 to 20,000 Hz
  • Impedance: 54 ohms
  • Max SPL: 144 dB
  • Applications: Vocals, acoustic and electric guitar, drums, room mic'ing, ambient recordings
  • Power Requirements:48 V +/- 4 V

Hands On Highlight

Website Source *Rating Value
Sound on Sound Paul White 92/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Lewitt LCT 441 Flex Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts

Lewitt LCT 441 Flex - Cardioid Frequency Response and Polar Pattern Charts

Rode NT2-A

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 1600+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$379
Rode NT2A Large-diaphragm Multi-Pattern Condenser Microphone
At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Large-Diaphragm Condenser Mic between $300 and $500 along with:

Cons

  • Too heavy for cheap mic stands

Pros

  • A Smoother, more refined NT1-A
  • Multiple Polar Patterns for versatility
  • Able to handle loud sound sources thanks to its pad and HPF

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.

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 great experiences with the mic, mostly in the studio, but there are also some reports of the mic working well outside / on location.

The mic's -7dBa and 157dB max SPL allow it to perform well for even the loudest of drums and guitar amplifiers. The tone is slightly more neutral than the NT1-A but having a bit more sheen than the NT1.

One obvious downside of this mic is its bulky size, which can be annoying to setup and store. Note that the weight of this mic requires a stand with a good counterweight to ensure that balance is not off.

Versatility is the name of the game when it comes to the Rode NT2-A. But it doesn't stop there; the NT2-A is perfect for those looking for something in between the bright NT1-A and the darker NT1 with just a hint of upper frequency clarity to go along with it.

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

Hands On Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
AudioTechnology Simon Leadley 98/100
YouTube Podcastage 98/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

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 475+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$329
Aston Microphones Spirit Large-diaphragm Condenser Microphone
At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Large-Diaphragm Condenser Mic between $300 and $500 along with:

Cons

  • Breaths and mouth sounds tend to be overemphasized
  • Sibilance can be an issue for lighter, airy vocals

Pros

  • Flat but harmonically rich midrange with a slight lift in the treble frequencies make recordings easy to mix in
  • Very detailed captures
  • Multiple patterns and pad enable great versatility
  • Boutique quality and tone at an affordable price

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. The development process involved having the UK's best audio engineers provide feedback until the mic satisfied a majority of them.

It straddles the line between transparency and some lift on the high end to give it a bit more sheen. It shares some harmonic complexity in the midrange as more expensive Austrian microphones. The additional switching options make it a versatile mic for instruments as well.

The sound signature, while excellent, may not complement some voices; particularly sibilant ones. Breaths are also slightly more exaggerated because of the added detail and frequency emphasis.

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.

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

Hands On Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Sound On Sound Paul White 95/100
MusicRadar Robbie Stamp 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

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

Best Condenser Mics Under $500 - Small Diaphragm

Shure SM81

98
GEARANK

98 out of 100. Incorporating 425+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$399
Shure SM81 Small Diaphragm Cardioid Condenser Microphone
At publication time this was the Highest Rated Small-Diaphragm Condenser Mic Under $500.

Cons

  • Needs slightly more gain than other SDC's

Pros

  • Flattering for acoustic instruments and drums
  • Great, natural tonality for almost any sound source
  • Plays well with many types of preamps

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 that, 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 amp 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.

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.

Although it has very few cons, one thing to note however, is that it might need a little more preamp gain.

With its incredibly high ratings 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. It finds use with many instruments from acoustic guitar to drum overheads to orchestral recordings.

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

Hands On Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Everything Audio Network John Gatski 90/100
Tweakheadz Lab Editor 96/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Shure SM81 Polar Pattern Chart:

Shure SM81 polar pattern chart

Shure SM81 Frequency Response Chart:

Shure SM81 frequency response chart

Best Condenser Mics Under $1000 - Large Diaphragm

Neumann TLM 102

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 550+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$729
Neumann TLM102 Studio Microphone with Standmount

Cons

  • Doesn't exactly sound like vintage Neumanns
  • Can be too airy for whispery female vocals
  • Cardioid only

Pros

  • Great clarity and detail
  • Excellent transient response
  • Great for a wide variety or sources
  • Small size won't obscure vision for reading lyrics/scripts

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.

Usually, vocal mics that have an accentuated treble response tend to get sibilant or harsh. The TLM 102 has all the clarity available without any harshness that is common with cheaper condensers.

On acoustic guitar, the high frequency focus brings out strums with more detail, enabling tracks to settle in well even in dense mixes.

The TLM 102 gets you a modern take on 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.

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

Hands On Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Sound On Sound Paul White 94/100
RecordingHacks Paul Stamler 94/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

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 100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$849
Warm Audio WA-251 Tube Condenser Microphone
At publication time this was the Highest Rated Large-Diaphragm Condenser Mic Under $1000.

Cons

  • Doesn't sound exactly like the originals
  • Build quality and accessories felt cheap

Pros

  • Great vibe and sweet tone on a variety of voices
  • Fits in modern mixes better than some vintage originals
  • High quality componentry

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; a favorite of artists like Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Adam Levine and more.

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.

Some vintage examples sound great on their own but don't mix well with modern music; I don't own an original but owners of these vintage examples have mentioned that the WA-251 fits modern mixes better while still retaining the rich midrange harmonic the original units are known for.

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. Its harmonically rich midrange and sweet tonality make it great for modern pop vocal recordings and acoustic guitars. Try it as an overhead mic as well!

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)

Hands On Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
ProTools Expert James Ivey 94/100
MusicTech John Pickford 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

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

Best Condenser Mics Under $1000 - Small Diaphragm

Neumann KM 184

94
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$849
Neumann KM 184 Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

Cons

  • None aside from the fact that a stereo pair will be out of budget for most

Pros

  • Natural sounding SDC with great directionality and high max SPL
  • Stereo pairs easily matched because of tight production tolerances from Neumann
  • Great for stereo recording acoustic guitars and drums

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.

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.

Stereo pairs give great natural imaging for binaural recordings. Stereo recordings of room mics also had a sense of detail and upper frequency sheen versus using an LDC. This can be advantageous for kits with dark sounding cymbal sets.

The KM 184 is an essential microphone for any mic collection thanks to its natural and transparent tonality. Its great imaging and consistency allows for great stereo recordings with minimal phase issues. It works best as a stereo pair however, acquiring two may be out of reach for the more frugal among us.

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

Hands On Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Gearspace jnorman 100/100
Frary Guitar Peter Kun Frary 98/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

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 better withstand loud sound sources like cymbals, drums and guitar amps. Condenser mics usually fall under three diaphragm size categories - Small, Medium and Large with Small and Large being the two most common.

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 June 17, 2022.

After surveying major USA based music gear retailers, we placed 63 Large Diaphragm and 26 Medium to Small Diaphragm condenser mics on our short-list for rating analysis. We then collected ratings, reviews, forum discussions and other feedback about each mic which we then processed with the Gearank Algorithm to produce Gearank Rating scores out of 100 for each of them. Over 29,200 sources were processed during this procedure. We used the resulting Gearank Ratings to select from the highest rated options to further analyse and recommend. 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

I've been an audio engineer for 20 years specializing in rock and metal recordings, and also I play guitar and produce original music for my band and other content creators.

Some of the recording gear I use in my studio includes the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20, Focusrite Scarlett Solo, Samson QH4 Headphone Amp and Cloudlifter CL-1. My mics include Aston Origin, Aston Element, Shure SM57, Rode NT1, Rode PodMic, MXL V67G and more as mentioned above.

Contributors

Jason Horton: Editing and Illustrating.

Media

Main/Top Image: Created by Gearank.com using photographs of the Neumann KM 184, Rode NT2-A 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.