Originally published on Dec. 20, 2015 and updated on .
Condenser microphones in the sub $100 price range have played a big role in simplifying the recording process and improving sound quality. Stiff market competition has upped the standards even more in recent times, resulting in versatile and good quality affordable condenser mics for home recording.
Here we present you with the best condenser microphones that you can get for under $100, featuring those that have proven themselves to be valuable additions to home studios and even stages, world over.
Firstly, we looked at popular condenser microphones in the sub $100 price range and selected those with high ratings for further analysis. To ensure that you can readily buy the mics presented in this guide we only considered those that are widely available from US-based retailers. Relevant review data were then gathered and fed to the Gearank algorithm, which gave us the scores that helped us produce the recommendations below. We have divided the list into two sections, the first of which features traditional XLR condenser mics, while the second section includes those with USB connectivity. For more information about our methods please read How Gearank Works.
What to Look for in a Condenser Mic
Diaphragm Size and Sound Pressure Handling
You'll find that condenser mics often come with large diaphragms, allowing them to capture more details and work well with different instruments. These are safe picks for most home studio recording applications. For high SPL (Sound Pressure Level) applications like miking drum kits, wind instruments, or guitar amplifiers, ones with smaller diaphragms should be considered. Generally, you want small diaphragm cardioid mics for high SPL applications because they can withstand loud volumes, but you have to consider that some details are lost. Large diaphragm mics reproduce more of the details, but they can sound muddy or even be damaged when used on loud sources
Polar Pattern and Background Noise Reduction
For single instrument and vocal recording, Cardioid pattern and its noise reduction capability is ideal. This pattern captures everything in front of the capsule and rejects background noise from the back and sides. On the other hand, Omnidirectional and Figure-8 patterns are useful for capturing multiple instruments and sound sources. This also means that background noise can seep in, so proper placement and the acoustics of the location you are using them should be considered. There are some budget microphones that come with polar pattern switching, allowing you to switch between Cardioid, OmniDirectional, Figure-8 and the other variations of these patterns. These versatile mics give you more value for your money, but because of the moving parts required, they may not be as reliable as specialized ones.
USB vs Non-USB
USB mics draw their power from your computer or tablet - this can sometimes cause problems if your device can't supply enough power (a common issue on the iPad) or it can result in your device's battery being drained - if this happens you'll need an additional powered USB hub. Non USB condenser mics take their electricity from phantom power - this is typically provided by your mixing desk or audio interface. In general USB mics are rated a little lower in terms of sonic quality than their non USB counterparts.
The Best XLR Condenser Microphones Under $100
These are condenser mics that utilize a traditional XLR connection. Because of the way condenser mics use capacitors, they require phantom power to operate, thankfully most modern preamps, mixing consoles and USB adapters now come with phantom power compatibility.
MXL 770 Cardioid Condenser Microphone
The MXL 770 is a straightforward studio quality workhorse mic that can be had at a very affordable price, and to most, this is the very thing that they need. This mic features a 6-micron, 20-mm gold sputtered diaphragm, and it has a frequency response of 30Hz-20kHz. It has a nice balanced sound that works great for just about anything, be it vocals or instruments, as long as the SPL does not exceed 137dB, and users can't recommend it enough. If you are looking for a reliable mic, and you don't want to spend your entire $100 budget on it, then get this one.
While some reviewers prefer the more expensive MXL 990 (which is also in this list), the MXL 770 bested it with higher ratings, and as it stands it topped all the other condenser mics in the sub $100 price range. Many reviewers speak of this mic dearly, specifically pointing to its quality, value for money, and how it is versatile enough to work with the usual instruments and sound sources that are used in home recording situations.
There were a few that were concerned with the mic's durability, and recommend careful handling when moving it around.
The market hails this as the best budget friendly condenser mic for a reason, so it goes without saying that we highly recommend it for home studio use.
Behringer B-1 Studio Condenser
Behringer's presence in the music gear market is undeniably strong, especially within the the entry level tier. This encompasses the sub $100 condenser mic market, with which the Behringer B-1 is doing quite well in terms of popularity and ratings. This large diaphragm microphone features a 1" gold-sputtered dual-diaphragm designed for improved transparency and fidelity - and many are raving that it the sonic quality of this mic is comparable to premium mics which are four times more expensive. This large diaphragm design works in conjunction with the cardioid polar pattern for added clarity and low-end. For applications that require less of the lower frequencies, Behringer equipped the B-1 with a switchable low-frequency roll-off switch, along with a -10 dB input attenuation for improved high SPL handling.
Most users were satisfied enough to write down how they were impressed by the Behringer B-1's clarity and reproduction, exceeding the expectations of many considering its affordable price tag. There were also many who reported using this mic for years without encountering any issues, which is quite an achievement.
There were a few who commented on the bundled shock mount, saying it tends to be flimsy. While others found the mic's gain to be harsher than what they're used to, requiring some adjustments when switching mics.
If you are looking for an affordable workhorse condenser mic that can take a beating, or if you're looking for a reliable backup, then get the Behringer B-1 Studio Condenser.
The AT2020 features a low-mass diaphragm that lets it handle high SPL (Sound Pressure Levels) better than many other condenser microphones. It also has a smaller 16mm-diameter black-electret capsule, which give it a subtly brighter sound, that complements certain applications like female vocals, closed-miked horns, small bodied acoustic guitars, drum kit overheads and more. Finally, the components are protected by a modern looking cast metal exterior that's easy to store and easy on the eyes.
Many owners are happy with the Audio-Technica AT2020's high 144dB SPL, and how it handles them without compromising much of the low-end and overall sonic quality. Many of its positive reviews agree that this mic is among the most solid and reliable that they've tried, allowing for worry free operation and the peace of mind that this one will not break too easily. There were a number of users who directly compared the analog sound of this mic to the popular dynamic mic Shure SM58, when used on vocals.
There were a few that complained about the headphone out feature, reporting that the sound level that comes out is lower than they expected. Some were not too fond with the subtly brighter sound, especially when the vocalist is not wary of proximity issues.
The Audio-Technica AT2020 is an ideal budget-friendly condenser mic for home studios that are expanding to capture loud sound sources. It is a great supplementary mic if you already have a large diaphragm condenser, and it can also be a good all-around mic if you are miking wind and percussive instruments.
MXL 990 Condenser Microphone
The MXL 990 Condenser Microphone has a 3/4" gold-sputtered diaphragm and a frequency response range of 30Hz-20kHz, designed to to retain high and low frequencies and keep the overall sound well balanced and transparent. This transparency allows it to work well with commonly recorded sound sources in home studio environments, including acoustic instruments and vocals. It is wrapped in a vintage inspired metal exterior that looks good and can take a beating, making it an inspiring mic to have in case you need the extra encouragement.
The MXL 990 is one of the most versatile cardioid pattern condenser microphones in this price bracket, and its quality is attested to by the amount of positive reviews that it continues to accumulate, even from experts.
As expected, some reported that it can't handle high SPL sources given its 133 Max SPL specification, but it will work just fine in normal studio conditions. There were also a few who noticed that the mic tends to capture ambient sounds, especially when not positioned properly.
The MXL 990 has the right balance of affordability, quality and adaptability, resulting in a well received and highly recommended condenser mic for the budget conscious or beginner.
The Samson C01 is another all-around cardioid pattern condenser microphone that continues to get rave reviews in the sub $100 market. It comes with a large capsule 19mm diaphragm design that makes it work great for vocals and acoustic instruments, while it also has a high SPL handling capability of over 140dB, excellently handling overhead drum mic duties. And more importantly, it does all this while retaining a very accessible price tag.
Ratings and reviews are consistently favorable, and after having used the C01 myself, I am one of the many that attest to its quality and reliability. Speaking of reliability, many have reported accidentally dropping this mic a number of times, and it still worked fine. A good number of reviewers also reported carrying this mic around without encountering any problems, describing it as a worry free solution for mobile recording needs.
Some have expressed concern on how the mic adds a bit more low-end, but we can't really expect a super transparent mic in this price range - plus, that extra low end works great for acoustic guitars and male vocals.
While I have since upgraded to the Samson C03u with its switchable multiple patterns and USB connectivity, the C01 is still a great affordable alternative that will be able to handle most if not all single instrument/vocal recording and live duties.
The Best USB Condenser Microphones Under $100
These are condenser mics that feature USB connectivity, which lets them draw power from your computer and at the same time stream captured audio for direct recording. As such these are designed primarily for straight to computer recording, and are ideal for musicians who are looking to setup a basic home studio. Note that USB condensers are modified to run on lower power, when compared to regular Condenser mics, as such subtle sonic quality difference is expected and this is reflected on the noticably lower ratings and reviews. Software issues also drag down the ratings of some of these mics, and at times they are not even be the fault of the mic. These days, software issues should not be much of a problem, unless you're using old hardware with outdated operating systems.
Audio-Technica ATR2500-USB Condenser Mic
The Audio-Technica ATR2500-USB is a straightforward large diaphragm condenser mic that gets things done without any complication, and more importantly, it does so at a favorable price point. It has a cardioid polar pattern, frequency response of 30Hz to 15kHz, and the analog to digital converter handles 16 bit quality with sample rates of either 44.1 kHZ or 48 kHZ, all of which are fed to your computer via USB. While nothing about its features are out of the ordinary, it gets the job done well, especially when considering the price.
The Audio-Technica ATR2500-USB Condenser Mic has gathered a good number of positive reviews, most of which comment that they got more than what they paid for. The mic's clarity and transparency were raved by many users, which include musicians, vocalists, podcasters and even Youtube content creators.
There were a few that reported having background noise issues, but it maybe related to environmental factors. Some users also cautioned users to handle the mic carefully, to get more use out of it.
This budget-friendly all-in-one USB mic is ideal for direct to computer home recording, check it out.
Samson C03U Multi-pattern USB condenser mic
The Samson C03U comes with impressive quality and multi-pattern versatility at a price point that's easily accessible. It captures audio at 16-bit resolution with up to 48kHz sampling rate and it comes with dual 19mm internal shockmounted diaphragms with neodymium elements for improved SPL handling. Adding even more value to this mic is the ability to switch between supercardioid, omnidirectional and bi-directional (figure-8) polar patterns, which make the C03U viable for single and multiple source capturing.
The quality is so good that there's even a biologist who reviewed this mic and mentioned that he used it to capture the sound of wild animals for analysis, and he continues to get good results from it. And it has become the favorite of many podcasters. I for one have been using a C03U to capture vocals and acoustic guitars for five years now and have nothing but compliments for it.
There was one who reported encountering driver issues after upgrading to Windows 10. There are a few that had to deal with ambient noise seeping into their recording, but it maybe due to the wrong pattern use.
If you're not sure what to get and you want to maximize your budget, then the is the safest pick, especially if you'll be recording different types of instruments.
CAD Audio U37 USB Condenser Microphone
The CAD Audio U37 USB is the most affordable of the lot that made it to our list, but for the price, it allows the same basic functionality of direct audio recording via USB cable. There's a nifty 10dB overload-protection switch and a nifty bass-reduction switch that allows for handling high SPL sources. The built-in pad can also be used to reduce room noise, which large diaphragm condensers are known to capture.
The CAD Audio U37 is the cheapest mic in this list, yet surprisingly, it scores better than some of its more expensive competition. The overall sentiment is that it exceeds expectations, especially considering its price. Reviewers appreciate its warm sounds that you normally would only find on more expensive units, with smooth and extended frequency response that works well for singing and speech applications as well as for miking acoustic instruments.
Some reviewers warned that this mic has a plastic exterior, so it does not feel as sturdy as its more expensive counterparts. But they attest that it can get the job done even on the road, with proper handling. A few users also complained about latency issues.
The U37 does what it is intended to do quite well, and it does so without much compatibility complications. If your budget is limited and you're looking for a crowd favorite then get the CAD Audio U37.
Blue Microphones Snowball
It may seem like a toy at first glance, but the Blue Microphones Snowball is a true condenser microphone designed for desktop recording. It has a frequency response of 40Hz to 18kHz making it viable for podcasting and vocal recording. The -10dB pad allows it to handle louder sources like musical instruments, expanding the use of the mic into music recording territory. The mic also features two pickup patterns for further flexibility. Finally, this mic is bundled with PreSonus Studio One Artist software, which allows for out-of-the-box recording and production.
Most of the many positive reviews that the Blue Microphones Snowball received are from podcasters and vocalists, many of which were impressed with the resulting sound quality. There were also some musicians, specifically those who use acoustic instruments, who found the mic to be just right for their needs. Being easy to setup and use were also commonly mentioned. Having been made for desktop use, a big number of users have found its literally oddball form factor to be surprisingly effective, commending it for its stability and ergonomics.
There were a few users who found the bundled tripod stand to be flimsy, but assured that the mic itself can take a beating. Some found that you need to get real close to the mic to get the best results, which can be awkward given the mic's shape and position on the desk.
If you're a total beginner, and you're looking for an all-in-one mic for you to up the quality of your audio recordings, then you should check out the Blue Microphones Snowball.