A condenser microphone is a must-have piece of equipment if you work in the music field, record audio or put together podcasts. This type of microphone tends to be more sensitive than standard microphones and will pick up every sound around it, no matter how small. Using a filter can help eliminate some of the background noises. However, starting with a completely silent room is essentials since a studio condenser microphone is so sensitive it is capable of picking up small nuances and tones that other microphones can’t. Condenser microphone models include the Shure SM27 Multi-Purpose Microphone, the Avantone CV-12 and the Rode M5.
Condenser Microphones: What to Look For
While all condenser microphones work the same way, there are a few key points to look for when purchasing one. The microphone’s mount is important, as it determines how much extra noise and vibration it picks up while recording. The accessibility of filters is also a key consideration, as filters help minimize extra sounds while speaking directly into the microphone. Power consumption is another vital factor. Some condenser microphones require more power than a simple USB port can supply.
There are two different condenser microphone mounts to consider. The first is a standard hard mount. This type connects directly to both the microphone and the stand, but can pick up vibrations from the floors and microphone stand itself. Alternatively, some microphones come with a shock mount, which cradles the microphone between a set of bands that stabilize it and prevent it from picking up vibrations.
Pop Filters & Windscreens
Because of the sensitive nature of condenser microphones, they can pick up external noises easily. Nearby environmental sounds, such as air conditioners, fans and computers, can be picked up and recorded, even if it’s not loud enough for you to hear yourself. Pop filters help remove these sounds. A good filter can also help keep your vocals in check by preventing loud “s” and “p” sounds. Windscreens also perform the same function but fit over the studio microphones instead of clamping to the microphone or stand.
Some studio condenser microphones require only minimal power and you can use them with just a standard USB port. Others, however, need more power than a USB port can supply. These require either an external power source or an audio interface. The advantage of using an audio interface with a high-quality microphone is the ability to fine-tune the sound and levels before they make it to the recording device or computer.
Polar Patterns & Proximity Effect
Certain types of condenser microphones exhibit different patterns that alter the way the sound records. Polar patterns determine the direction in which the microphone picks up the most sound. An omni-directional microphone picks up sounds from all around, with equal sensitivity. A bi-directional mic is sensitive at the front and rear, but sounds from the sides are ignored. Cardioid microphones pick up sound mainly at the front, partially to the sides, and ignore sounds coming from the rear. A multi-polar pattern mic allows you to switch between directional sensitivity patterns, which increases versatility.
The term proximity effect refers to an increase in the low-frequency response, or bass, when a sound comes from a source very close to the microphone. Essentially, it's a distortion caused by the use of ports to create directional polar patterns. Because of this, omni-directional mics are not affected by any proximity effect.
Regardless of the specific condenser microphone you’re looking for, there are a number of models and types available. Knowing what features you need can help you narrow down your choices to select the right microphone for your needs.
The AKG C214 large diaphragm condenser microphone is a cost-effective option that still produces quality sound. It is useful for recording solo instruments and lead vocals, both on a stage and in the studio. To use this microphone, though, you need either an audio interface capable of producing 48V phantom power or a separate power supply.
This condenser microphone has a single 1-inch capsule with integrated suspension that reduces mechanical noise and gives you a cleaner sound. Since it is has 20 MV/Pa sensitivity, however, it still picks up environmental noises easily, even if you can’t hear them yourself. To get a purer sound, you need to isolate the microphone as much as possible. Pop filters also help eliminate extra sounds and attach to the stand or microphone itself.
The C214 has an all-metal die-cast body that is both shock and scratch resistant, so it can withstand the rigors of daily use both in the studio and on the road. Since the studio microphone features thin metal mesh, though, it is prone to denting and bending with handling.
This condenser microphone’s switchable 20-decibel attenuator and bass-cut filter reduce proximity effect, which provides a richer tone without adding excess mid-range and bass tones, making it a suitable model for close-up recording.
The AKG C214 condenser microphone has a cardioid polar pattern that helps eliminate extra background noise by focusing only on the sounds coming from in front and partially from the sides of the microphone. It attempts to reject noise that comes from the sides and rear. However, it doesn’t completely eliminate the sound, so you still need to ensure that your recording space is as quiet as possible when setting up the microphone.
It uses a balanced XLR output with standard 3-pin male audio cable connector to attach to the audio interface. The studio condenser microphone doesn’t come with this cable, so you need to purchase it separately if you don’t already have one.
If you need a well-balanced studio condenser microphone, the AKG C214 is a good choice. It does not offer selectable polar pattern, though, which limits its versatility. The high sensitivity level means that you need to purchase a pop filter and provide isolation for the mic. However, the enhanced sensitivity picks up subtle nuances for a full, rich sound.
The Audio-Technica AT2050 multi-pattern condenser microphone allows you to get studio quality sound at home with its configurable polar patterns and wide frequency response range. However, this microphone is only capable of mono sound, so don’t expect to produce a stereo image with it unless you use an interface that allows you to introduce stereo channels into the audio mix.
This studio condenser microphone is configurable to use three different polar patterns, which helps eliminate environmental noise and produce richer sounds. The omni-directional pattern is useful for recording groups of people or an entire room. However, because it picks up sound from all directions, it is sometimes difficult to isolate voices and reduce background noise. The cardioid setting helps with its ability to pick up sound directly in front of the microphone, while attempting to ignore any noises from the sides or rear. A figure-eight pattern setting picks up sound from in front and behind the microphone, yet ignores noise from the sides.
Audio-Technica’s AT2050 condenser microphone requires 48-volt phantom power, so you can’t use it directly with a computer or recording device. In order to power the microphone, you need either a dedicated phantom power supply or an audio interface. While this means extra expense, it allows for higher microphone sensitivity and higher range of sound and tone. Using an audio interface with the microphone also allows for sound customization like volume, stereo output and gain between the microphone and recording software.
At 14.5 ounces the AT2050 condenser microphone is lightweight, although using it on a boom stand requires balance to prevent it from tipping forward. It can be mounted to both boom and vertical microphone stands, and uses either a standard mount or shock mount. Using a standard microphone mount sometimes introduces vibration into the recording mix, as vibrations and sounds travel from the floor, through the stand and into the microphone itself. Using a shock mount, which cradles the microphone between a set of heavy-duty bands, helps with this by isolating it from the stand.
The Audio-Technica AT2050 studio mic comes with an R5 style carrying case that keeps the microphone safe when not in use. However, it can be tiring to pack and unpack it all the time rather than leaving it set up and ready for use.
If you’re looking for a lower-end studio condenser microphone that produces studio-quality sound, the Audio-Technica AT2050 is a good choice. Because of its high-power needs, though, you need a separate power supply or interface to power it.
The Avantone CV-12 condenser microphone is a rugged professional microphone that provides high-quality performance at a fraction of the cost of other models. It is aesthetically pleasing with its Cabernet wine-red finish and polished trim and grill accents. This finish isn’t scratch-proof, though, so you should have care when handling this studio microphone to keep it looking nice.
This studio condenser microphone has nine separate configurable polar patterns that help eliminate background noise from the recording environment. Depending on the type of recording environment, and the direction in which the vocals and other recordable audio is coming from, the polar pattern can be changed to filter out unwanted sound. For standard audio recording you can use the cardioid setting, as it attempts to pick up your voice from directly in front of the microphone, while rejecting sounds it determines as coming from the rear and sides.
Avantone’s microphone has dual gold sputtered mylar capsules that add style to the device. However, the thin headgrille is easy to dent if you’re not careful, so keeping it in its storage case when not in use is essential to ensure that it remains in good shape.
The CV-12 condenser microphone by Avantone has its own dedicated PS-12 power supply, so a phantom power interface isn’t required to make it work. The power supply switches between 115 and 230 volts, so it is usable in most locations, so long as an electrical outlet is readily available.
At 1.8 pounds, this studio mic is a bit heavy, so take care when using it on a boom stand. Positioning the stand properly, with the odd foot forward toward the microphone, helps prevent it from tipping over under the weight of the CV-12.
It comes with a custom retro-style shock mount that helps isolate the studio mic and prevent the CV-12 from picking up vibration and sound from the floor and stand. The aluminum storage case holds not only the shock mount and microphone in its own separate wooden box, but also the power supply and a standard 3-pin audio patch cable.
The Avantone CV-12 condenser microphone is a good choice for a recording device with a small form factor and large feature set. While the overall size is small, it’s a heavy microphone, which gets tiring if you’re holding it rather than using a stand.
Blue Microphones Review
The Blue Snowball iCE USB condenser microphone adds high-quality audio to both recording and communication applications. Because it is a desktop microphone, it doesn’t require fancy stands or an audio interface to function. However, it does lack the tonal range of standard condenser microphones.
Blue’s Snowball iCE is plug and play capable and is compatible with both Mac and PC computers. It doesn’t require any driver installation, although recording software is required in order to use this USB microphone properly. This can add additional expense to your recording setup.
With a cardioid polar pattern, the Blue Snowball iCE condenser microphone provides clear audio and attempts to ignore sounds from the rear. This means, though, that as it sits on the desk it may pick up vibrations and sounds from your computer, so isolating the microphone is essential if you want clean, pure sound.
Since the Blue Snowball iCE produces its own phantom power, you don’t need an extra power supply or audio interface to use it. A standard computer USB port supplies the power, which the condenser microphone up-converts. This enables you to use the microphone anywhere with your computer without having to lug around extra equipment. Without the addition of an audio interface, however, you’re limited to just straight sound input without the ability to pre-mix your audio.
This studio microphone is compatible with Windows XP home and professional editions, Windows 7 and 8, as well as Mac OSX 10.4.6 and higher. It is USB 1.0 compatible, so it even works on older computers. The Snowball iCE only requires 64MB of RAM as well, so you don’t need an expensive PC to use it.
While this microphone comes with its own desktop stand, it is flimsy. Since the USB condenser microphone itself weighs 1.5 pounds, the small plastic tripod stand leans unless you carefully position the microphone. Trying to adjust the microphone forward can result in it toppling. However, you can use it on a standard microphone stand by removing the original tripod.
The Blue Snowball iCE condenser microphone is an ideal choice if you want to record podcasts or home audio without needing extra equipment. However, you can't premix your audio. Plus, because it's backward-compatible with USB 1.0, you don't need the latest computer to use it.
As a cardioid condenser microphone, the CAD GXL2200BP provides clean and pure sound by focusing on the audio coming from the front of the microphone while attempting to reject any sound that reaches it from the sides or rear with its cardioid configuration. Since it’s unable to isolate the audio completely because of the way sound waves work, you still need to eliminate as much environmental noise as possible. This means turning off fans and air conditioners, as well as any extra electronic equipment that you don’t need running while you record.
The CAD GXL2200BP condenser microphone uses a proprietary power supply rather than USB or phantom power. While this means that a mixer or an audio interface isn’t actually necessary to operate the microphone, using one is still a good way to premix your audio and fine-tune the sound settings before it reaches the recording device or software.
This studio condenser microphone uses a thin conductive membrane to produce sound by applying a high voltage to the membrane stretched close to an internal plate, which causes the membrane to vibrate. These vibrations record as sound. This also means that any other sort of vibration, from walking on the floor or bumping the microphone stand, is harder to isolate.
To help solve this problem, the CAD GXL2200BP includes a custom shock mount that cradles the condenser microphone between a set of elastic bands. This isolates the microphone from the stand and prevents it from picking up extra vibration and sound. While you can still use a standard studio mic mount, this results in a less pure audio recording.
With this microphone, you can purchase a standard round pop filter. This filter can clip to the microphone stand and, when positioned properly in front of the studio microphone, helps to keep strong “p” and “s” sounds from your voice from being so pronounced. However, it’s easy to bump the pop filter with your face while recording, which results in extra sounds being introduced into the audio stream.
If you’re looking for a mid-level studio condenser microphone for home recording projects, the CAD GXL2200BP is a good choice. However, it doesn’t include features such as selectable polar patterns and sensitivity levels. However, this model produces clear, rich tones from sounds that enter through the front of the mic while blocking sounds from the sides.
MXL 990 Review
The MXL 990 condenser microphone uses a fixed cardioid polar pattern to create clean audio signals with a minimum of background noise. Because of the way the cardioid pattern works, the microphone primarily picks up sounds from in front. The sides of a cardioid mic are less sensitive than the front, so fewer sounds are recorded from the sides, while the back is ignored altogether. This isn’t flawless, though, as sound waves travel and bounce.
Eliminating environmental noise like air conditioners, fans and unnecessary electronic equipment helps as the 990 condenser microphone’s 15mv/Pa sensitivity means that it picks up the smallest of sounds, even if you can’t hear them with your own ears. Using a pop filter and proper positioning also helps.
The 900 series studio microphone by MXL require 48V phantom power and cannot use a standard USB port. To power this microphone, you need either a mixer or an audio interface to supply the required phantom power. As an added benefit, the audio interface allows you to fine-tune and premix your sound settings before the audio reaches the recording device or software.
This condenser microphone comes in a vintage body style with a bronze champagne finish, giving it a classic look that will fit in with any recording studio decor. It also means, however, that it picks up smudges and fingerprints, so ensuring that your hands are clean before handling it ensures that it stays looking nice.
MXL’s 990 series studio condenser microphone ships with a plastic carrying case, fitted with custom foam inserts, that holds the microphone and mounts. While it comes with both a standard and shock mount that fits boom and vertical microphone stands, using the standard mount gives no audio isolation. This results in vibrations from the floor and stand itself in the audio stream. Using the shock mount instead eliminates this noise as it isolates the microphone from the stand.
This condenser microphone weighs 1.2 pounds, so is heavy to carry during a performance. When using it on a boom stand, the legs should be positioned with the odd leg facing toward the microphone, as otherwise it may try to tip forward under the microphone’s weight.
The MXL 990 is a good choice for a studio or general purpose studio microphone with its high sensitivity levels and cardioid polar pattern. However, it does require phantom power, so you need a mixer or interface to use it.
MXL V87 Review
The MXL V87 low-noise condenser microphone is a device designed with critical recording in mind. It features transformer-balanced output and an FET preamp, which offers a high-tone quality-rich sound range. It requires phantom power, however, so you need an audio interface or phantom power source to use it.
This studio condenser microphone has a 32 millimeter capsule size and fits on most standard microphone stands, including boom stands. The MXL V87 weighs 1.1 pounds, however, so the microphone stand needs to be stable with a heavy base to prevent it from tipping during use.
The pressure gradient of this large diaphragm microphone makes it sensitive to differences in pressure on each side of the microphone. This means that, although both sides are exposed to the atmosphere, it can pick up traveling sound waves. This potentially results in the studio mic picking up and recording extra background noise. While a good pop filter or windscreen can help minimize this, you need to ensure that the recording environment is as silent as possible. Even sounds you can’t hear with your own ears can be picked up by this microphone, so turning off everything that isn’t essential is important.
The MXL V87 low-noise condenser microphone is a cardioid microphone that hears what’s going on in front of it, while attempting to reject any sound from the sides or rear. This type of microphone is named cardioid because the sound pattern resembles a heart. The ability to reject sounds from the rear of the microphone makes this type of studio mic useful in situations where multiple recording devices are used. However, because of its proximity effect, any sound near the mic can result in an increased bass response.
MXL’s V87 condenser microphone has a nickel-plated metal finish that gives a pleasing aesthetic in your studio or podcasting setup. However, it is susceptible to smudges and fingerprints if you have to readjust or hold the microphone. A microfiber cloth can help keep the finish looking shiny though.
The MXL V87 is a good condenser microphone with its high-quality sound recording capabilities. Because of its cardioid-shaped diaphragm, however, environmental sounds are an issue unless they’re eliminated. You also need an external power source or audio interface to use this model, as it requires 48-volt phantom power.
The Neumann M 149 Tube condenser microphone’s nine polar patterns offers a variety of choices when it comes to recording situations. No matter what type of room you’re recording in, selecting the proper polar pattern ensures good sound quality. Trial and error may be necessary to determine which pattern best suits your particular room, however, as each pattern records audio differently. A slide switch on the front of the studio microphone chooses the directional patterns, while a similar switch on the rear lets you fine-tune the cut-off frequency with a seven-step high-pass filter.
This microphone condenser capsule is inside the headgrille, mounted elastically, which helps eliminate structure noise and vibration from the floor or bumping the microphone stand. While helpful, this feature does not replace a traditional shock mount, so for the best results, a separate shock mount is necessary. Additionally, the cone-shaped capsule disperses sound that’s reflected from the upper half of the microphone to prevent interference from the audio that comes directly into its center. External sound is still an issue, though, as things such as fans, electronic equipment and air conditioners can be picked up by the studio mic and recorded. Ensuring that the recording environment is completely silent helps ensure crisp and clean audio.
The M 149 Tube condenser microphone by Neumann gets its power from a specially designed power supply unit that feeds through an 8-core cable into mains power. Because of this, you need to make sure that wherever you plan to use it has ready access to a properly grounded electrical outlet. It uses a standard 3-pin XLR for output, which is included with the microphone set. Also included is a dust cover and an aluminum carrying case.
Neumann’s condenser microphone filter helps control the audio input when at close range, which alters the microphone’s proximity effect. This provides a cleaner sound as well and lowers the amount of bass and mid-range.
Whether you’re looking for a studio condenser microphone for use in a studio or a live performance, the Neumann M 149 Tube is a good option. The nine different polar patterns are a great way to ensure proper sound recording, although the non-standard power supply means you need access to a nearby outlet. The included filter provides clean, crisp audio and the headgrille reduces structure and vibration noise.
The Rode M5 is a studio condenser microphone with a pencil-style body that offers low noise recording and enhanced electronics. The body is completely metal and is coated with a proprietary ceramic that gives the microphone a matte black finish. While this provides a sleek appearance, it is prone to scratches and smudges, so periodic cleaning is required.
This mic includes a half-inch capsule with a gold-plated membrane to produce quality sound. The cardioid polar pattern of this condenser microphone mainly picks up audio from in front, although some noise is also pulled in from the sides. The sides are less sensitive to sound, and the rear is ignored completely. The included windshield filter helps even more by eliminating extra background noise and keeping it out of the audio stream.
With a small form factor, this condenser microphone measures only about 4 inches high, less than an inch wide and less than an inch deep. It is also lightweight so you can carry it around wherever you need it. The M5 comes with two identical studio microphones for recording multiple voices. If you use a protective case, it needs to be big enough to contain both.
The Rode M5’s twin studio mics are a matched pair and work in tandem to ensure that there isn’t more than a 1 decibel of sensitivity variance between them. This helps create a stereo audio mix and lets you position the individual microphones in separate areas of the room to get a rich, full sound. It also doubles the chance of picking up environmental noise, though, so making sure the recording space is completely silent is crucial.
This studio mic set is a good choice for use in both the studio and for live stage performances. You can use each microphone individually or as part of a stereo array, which allows you to isolate different areas for recording. Each area needs to be silent, however, so that the microphones don’t pick up extra sound.
The M5 requires phantom power to operate, although it is compatible with either 24V or 48V power sources. To power these Rode condenser microphones, you need a mixer or an audio interface to supply the phantom power, which adds extra cost to your studio equipment budget.
This mic is a good choice for a studio-quality condenser microphone. However, the extra cost of the interface increases your outlay. Small and light, these mics are easy to transport, and because they are twinned they work in tandem.
The Shure SM27 multi-purpose condenser microphone’s cardioid pattern is a good way to get quality sound in your studio without having to purchase a lot of expensive equipment. You need a proper source of power for this microphone, though, as a standard USB port doesn’t supply enough.
Shure’s SM27 condenser microphone uses off-axis rejection with its cardioid polar pattern to help eliminate external environmental sounds from behind and to the sides of the microphone. However, because of the sensitivity of studio condenser microphones, you need to ensure that the recording environment is completely silent to avoid picking up those background noises that your own ears don't detect.
Phantom power is supplied to the Shure SM27 large diaphragm condenser microphone by either a special power supply or an audio interface, which adds extra expense to your studio equipment budget. Using an audio interface has added benefits, though, as it allows you to modify the sounds being picked up by the microphone before the signal reaches the recording software.
The SM27 condenser microphone by Shure is constructed of durable metal with separate mesh layers that help reduce wind and breathing noises. While this usually eliminates some of the external noises, a good pop filter or a microphone cover helps to minimize background sounds and white noise even further. The microphone also includes a 3-position, switchable, low-frequency filter to reduce more unwanted environmental noise.
Because of its flat, neutral frequency response, the Shure SM27 condenser microphone is suitable for both stage and studio use. Since the cardioid polar pattern filters out sounds from behind the microphone, positioning it away from an audience or equipment is essential.
The low-mass mylar diaphragm enables this studio mic to pick up subtle tonal inflections and audio ranges that ensure a rich sound recording. This also means that the dynamic range of your vocals should be fine-tuned in the software or interface to produce superior sound.
The Shure SM27 is a good option for a mid-range condenser microphone for both studio and stage use. It does require phantom power, though, so you need a separate power supply or audio interface in order to use it. The presence of multiple mesh layers helps to provide improved sound clarity, filtering out inadvertent breathing or wind noises.