What is a Condenser Microphone?

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Which condenser microphone is the best?

Recording studios have long relied on condenser microphones to deliver optimal sonic clarity and detail when recording voiceovers, singers, or musical instruments. Today, condenser microphones are also used by musicians and podcasters who record at home. Our top pick, the Audio-Technica AT4040 Cardioid Condenser Microphonecombines high-quality performance with an affordable price, making it a popular choice for professionals and hobbyists alike.

What to know before buying a condenser microphone

A condenser microphone is designed to pick up detailed sound in a studio environment where the audio can be tightly controlled. Condenser mics require a power source, but most audio interfaces and recording mixers can provide that power through the same cable that carries sound from the mic. While dynamic mics are often hand-held, condenser mics typically require a microphone stand.

Diaphragm size

Condenser mics are described as having small or large diaphragms. A large diaphragm, as the name suggests, captures massive sound, capturing the depth of low frequencies, making it ideal for the human voice. The fatter sound is particularly pleasing to most ears due to its warm, natural tones. Small-diaphragm mics pick up high frequencies, transients, and airier tones better, like those of drums, woodwinds, acoustic guitars, and other stringed instruments.

polar pattern

What do you want your microphone to pick up – just the sound right in front of it, or the whole area around you? Visualize the area around the microphone where it is able to pick up sound, and that is its directionality. An omnidirectional pattern is designed to pick up sound from all around the microphone, making it ideal for capturing room ambience as well as multiple instruments or vocals. Cardioid-pattern microphones are designed to pick up sound from the front and sides of the mic while minimizing sound detected from behind (this roughly heart-shaped area gives this polar pattern its name). It is also the most common model in consumer microphones. Other fleece models are designed specifically for professional use.

Dynamic range

The dynamic range of the microphone describes its ability to pick up quiet sounds as well as accommodate louder sounds without distortion. Condenser mics are generally more sensitive than dynamic mics, which means they are better able to pick up softer sounds, but can also be overloaded or even damaged by higher volume sounds such as a electric guitar amplifier or snare drum.

What to Look for in a Quality Condenser Microphone

Intended use

If you intend to use your condenser microphone to record in-person interviews, vocals for music, or live orchestrations, you’ll need a large-diaphragm microphone with an omnidirectional pattern. To record individual instruments, especially those with delicate tones and sensitive transients, choose a small-diaphragm microphone with a unidirectional polar pattern. Check manufacturer stats and information to find the right one for your audio needs.

Power source

Since condenser microphones require external power, it’s important to know if a microphone is powered by phantom power or a power supply. Phantom power is the process of supplying DC power through a preamp or mixer using a three-pin XLR cable. This is the most common power source for modern microphones, but vintage tube microphones often require external power.

Accessory kit

Many manufacturers offer a complete accessory kit with their microphones. These kits may include useful items such as a small shock-absorbing mic stand, pop filter, XLR cable, and dust cover.

How much you can expect to spend on a condenser microphone

Prices for condenser microphones start around $100. Most mid-range condenser mics cost between $200 and $900, while high-fidelity professional mics can cost $1,000 and more.

Condenser Microphone FAQs

Are condenser mics durable?

A. A disadvantage of condenser microphones is their fragility compared to dynamic microphones. For this reason, they are primarily used for studio recording rather than live performance.

Can you plug a condenser microphone into your computer?

A. Many modern condenser microphones are designed expressly to be connected directly to your computer via a USB cable. A traditional studio condenser microphone with XLR output can connect to your computer via a audio interface designed for recording.

What is the best condenser microphone to buy?

Superior Condenser Microphone

Audio-Technica AT4040 Cardioid Condenser Microphone

What do you want to know: With its superior performance and sonic consistency, the AT4040 is a studio-grade mic available at a price the consumer can afford.

What you will love: Low noise, wide dynamic range, and the ability to handle high sound pressure levels make this highly rated mic exceptionally versatile.

What you should consider: Some engineers report irregularities in its high frequency response.

Or buy: Sold by Amazon

Top condenser microphone for the money

Rode NT-USB Cardioid Condenser Microphone

Rode NT-USB Cardioid Condenser Microphone

What do you want to know: The NT-USB is one of the highest rated USB microphones, especially considering its price, and it comes with a full accessory kit including pop filter and USB cable.

What you will love: The built-in headphone jack offers zero-latency direct monitoring as well as internal gain adjustment.

What you should consider: The plastic boom stand is not as stable as a metal stand.

Or buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Rode NT1KIT Cardioid Condenser Microphone

Rode NT1KIT Cardioid Condenser Microphone

What do you want to know: With this bundle you get both a high quality mic with exceptional clarity and a full accessory kit so you can start recording right away.

What you will love: Its low self-noise, sonic purity and extended neutral frequency response make the NT1 ideal for any application.

What you should consider: The NT1 has few faults other than its fragility.

Or buy: Sold by Amazon

Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ Cardioid Condenser Studio USB Microphone

Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ Cardioid Condenser Studio USB Microphone

What do you want to know: For a very reasonable price, this mic offers plug-and-play ease of use and crisp, clear sound.

What you will love: With its rugged construction and extended, smooth frequency response, this mic is a great starting point for budding vocalists and podcasters.

What you should consider: You’ll probably want to replace the included tripod desktop mic stand.

Or buy: Sold by Amazon

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Matt Fleming written for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their buying decisions, saving them time and money.

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