When it comes to recording top quality vocals of a song, there are different factors that determine the outcome of the process other than the beautiful voice of the singer. The recording environment, the engineer behind the production console and the quality of the instruments of recording all contribute immensely. The type and quality of microphone being used, in particular, goes a long way in determining the quality of recordings you can obtain anywhere.
In professional recording studios as well as in home studios, condenser microphones are considered the best for recording vocals. This is due to several properties that we will discuss here before considering the best condenser microphones on the market currently.
Condenser and Dynamic Microphones
Before we delve further into the qualities of condenser microphones that can influence the quality of your recording, it is important that we clarify the difference between the popular types of microphones. The major difference between condenser and dynamic microphones is the mechanism they employ in energy conversion. Both types of microphones convert sound waves into electrical energy; this is how amplification and recording are achieved.
In dynamic microphones, a magnet is used to create a magnetic field where movement of a wire coil attached to a thin, vibrating metallic diaphragm brings about the conversion of energy from sound wave to electrical current. In condenser microphone, however, the diaphragm is in front of a rigid, charged backplate that is responsible for converting the sound wave to electrical current that can be amplified as a digital sound.
Why Condenser Microphones are considered the best for Recording
It is important to state here that both condenser and dynamic microphones can be used for recording but condensers are rated better than dynamics for quality recording. One of the reasons for this is because by their design, condenser microphones are very sensitive. Advanced level of sensitivity makes it possible for this type of microphone to pick every nuance of the singer’s voice and produce detailed, quality vocals.
In addition to higher level of sensitivity, balanced frequency range is another reason you should use condenser microphones. Condenser microphones can be Small Diaphragm Condenser (SDC) or Large Diaphragm Condenser (LDC). Each type has its advantages as well as disadvantages. The LCDs higher field of sensitivity, for instance, may become an issue when there is too much background noise in the recording environment.
In a nutshell, condenser microphones are favored for recording because they are more sensitive and produce more amplified sound than dynamic microphones. They need less gain also, and have defined high-end. On the mixing console, they do not need much gain in order to bring the audio output to the useable, line level.
Condenser Microphone Buyer’s Guide
If you have finally decided to buy a condenser microphone for recording vocals, you will be surprised at the number of available options you will have to choose from. It can actually give you selection headache if you want to pick a single mic or two. There are lots of manufacturers and there are even lots of different models from one manufacturer. Unless you are very conversant with condenser microphone specs and what to look for, choosing the right one can be very tough. Even when you know so much about condenser microphones, browsing through the internet to consider the spec of different models and different brands can be extremely challenging and that is why we are here.
We have performed the bulk of the research to determine the best condenser microphones on the market that you can use for recording vocals and we will review the top ten products here. Before we do that, we will also discuss the important considerations you will make before picking any of the products in the list.
Factors to consider in picking Condenser microphone for recording vocals
To make the important decision of choosing the best condenser microphones for recording, here are the most important factors you need to consider:
Just like headphones have frequency range they are able to produce sounds, microphones have frequency range they are able to pick up sound. This is quite essential in sound recording if you want to capture the vocals in details.
To record top quality vocals in professional or home studios, you need a condenser microphone that can actually pick up the lows, mids, and highs of vocals and process them equally without any part of the spectrum gaining additional boost or getting left behind. Such microphones have response graph that are almost flat. Most microphones offer frequency response of around 20 Hz – 20 kHz. Use this as a yardstick while considering the right condenser microphone to buy.
Sound Pressure Level (SPL)
The sound pressure level of a microphone describes the highest level of volume of input sound the microphone can pick up without the signal getting distorted. It indicate how far the microphone can handle high-volume sounds without the sound losing its quality.
While this factor may not give you serious concern if you are recording normal songs, it can be a factor to consider if there are chances that you will record aggressive and brutal vocals. Those that are interested in setting up home studios may not consider the sound pressure level of the mic they are buying but professional studio owners should consider it. It is always better to have a versatile microphone in terms of SPL.
There are some advanced microphones that offer adjustment for sensitivity and maximum SPL. Such microphones can be used on different occasions to record all sorts of sounds. If you want to use your microphone strictly for recording vocals, there is usually no need to worry much about adjustment of SPL.
Simply put, the polar pattern of a condenser microphone is the sensitivity at which it hears sound from different angles. This is very important in recording as sounds spread through the air in an even fashion. A microphone that picks up sound from different directions (Omni-directional) can be helpful when you are recording vocals from different people at a time (a choir for instance).
For recording of an individual vocalist, it will be better to use microphones that capture sounds coming from a single direction. This type of microphones are called cardioid microphones and they are often able to block sounds from secondary sources. Cardioid condenser microphones will pick the sounds that are coming from the front and reject others coming from other directions. There are bi-directional microphones too that pick sounds from the front and the back. Cardioid condenser microphones are always better but you may need the other types depending on the nature of your recording.
You also need to consider connectivity options when you are considering to buy a condenser microphone for recording vocals. You need to consider the instruments you own already to see if the mic you intend to buy will be compatible. USB microphones are becoming quite popular these days, so you may not have an issue with connectivity once the other specs are great. The USB microphones are powered by your computer without the need for external power source.
Traditional XLR connectivity is also a popular choice. In fact, most professional condenser microphones are XLR microphones. If you are opting for this type, you need to know that you will need some external power source outside your computer since they require phantom power. Some will come with external power source while some others will not. This means you may have to factor it into your overall cost.
You need some accessories in order to use your condenser microphones. A pop filter, for instance, is essential for vocal recording. This windscreen that is placed between the microphone and the vocal source ensures that the unwanted air that may hit the microphone as the vocalist pronounce certain sounds and syllables are filtered out. With this particular accessory, your recording will be better and mixing can be a lot easier.
There are other accessories that you need to consider when buying a condenser microphone. Audio interface for phantom power, mic stands, shock mounts, and others may be included in a package. Check your personal need and whatever accessory that is included in the condenser microphone before buying any item.
It is also important that you consider the manufacturer of any particular microphone before spending money to get it. You need to buy products from recognized and trustworthy manufacturers. This does not mean that you can’t get a good condenser microphone from a less-known brand but you just need to be careful who you are buying from and the quality and durability of their products.
Top 10 Best Condenser Microphones
1. Rode NT1-A
This has ranked among the best recording microphones of all times for a while. It features a large 1” (25mm) capsule with gold plated diaphragm and offers a wide dynamic range. Being a cardio polar pattern condenser microphone, this is the sort of microphone you can depend on for clarity in vocal recording. It also has high SPL capability like what you will obtain in the most-expensive microphones on the market. With a 5dBA self-noise level, this is among the quietest microphones on the market. The frequency range is the standard 20 Hz – 20 kHz.
The Rode NT1-A Cardioid Condenser Microphone has become an industry standard recording equipment. Coming from a top industry player like Node, it is also a dependable brand. It is sturdily built and will serve for years once it is properly cared for. The new microphone actually comes with 10 year warranty. Another important reason to consider this top-quality condenser microphone is the fact that it is affordable. This particular package actually comes with everything you need for vocal recording including studio grade pop shield, shock mount, premium microphone cable, dust cover, and instructional DVD with recording tips. A black tripod base microphone floor stand is also included.
2. Blue Yeti
This is a truly versatile condenser microphone that guarantees quality recording even as it is infinitely flexible. The microphone features tri-capsule array: three condenser capsules that can capture any kind of sound source. It also features multiple pattern selection: you can choose between cardioid, bi-directional, omnidirectional, and stereo recording. The USB microphone is also compatible with Mac and PC, it is a plug n’ play microphone that is ideal for all sorts of recording. It can also be used for podcasting, voiceover, interviews and conference calls. The frequency response is the standard 20 Hz – 20 kHz.
There are several other properties that make the Blue Yeti USB microphone a wonderful condenser microphone for recording. The max SPL of 120dB (THD: 0.5% 1 kHz) is just another impressive thing to consider. The innovative design also makes recording easy. With real-time control for headphone volume, pattern selection, instant mute and microphone gain, using the USB mic is a breeze.
A top-rated professional condenser microphone, this is one of the most advanced microphones in the list. In terms of design and construction, it is one of the most dependable condenser microphones you can find. It has a modern scratch-resistant finish, a dent-resistant metal grille and a gold-plated XLR-type output. It also features an integrated capsule suspension that reduces mechanical noise and resonance. The frequency response is the standard 20 Hz – 20 kHz.
The AKG C214 Professional Large-Diaphragm Condenser Microphone offers a switchable 20dB attenuation pad with 143dB dynamic range that allows for recording loud vocal sources up to 156 dB SPL. This means that the microphone can be used for recording all sorts of vocals. It will offer beautifully detailed sonic recording of lead vocals and solo instruments too. This item also comes as a valuable package with carrying case, windscreen, and shock mount.
Shure is an iconic brand and every product from them can make a statement in your studio. It brings the ‘A’ game into the condenser mic space; the Class A preamplifier circuitry eliminates cross-over distortion for improved linearity across the full frequency range. It features 15dB attenuation switch that can conveniently handle extremely high sound pressure level (SPL). It also features high output level and very low self-noise, thanks to the in-built shock mount. The frequency response is the standard 20 Hz – 20 kHz.
The Shure KSM32 is a cardioid polar pattern microphone; it rejects background sounds for clear vocal recording. The switchable low-frequency filter provides greater flexibility to reduce background noise or to counteract proximity effect. As one of the cleanest and warmest condenser microphones for recording vocals, this is a bargain product at the price it sells.
This is probably the cheapest quality condenser mic you can get in the market that will give you top-quality sonic recording. The small diaphragm condenser microphone will be the right choice for you if you are on a tight budget but want something that can still let you record quality vocals. There is no need to worry about the durability of this mic as it is well-built with all-metal construction that can actually take a punch. It offers the standard frequency response of 20 Hz – 20 kHz.
Though a budget condenser microphone like this is best suited for recording vocals, this microphone can be used to record few other instruments. Even though the MXL 770 Professional Studio Condenser Microphone is really cheap, there are still deals that offer more value. This particular package comes with a carrying case, a shock mount, a tripod mic stand, a pop filter, and an XLR microphone cable.
This is a professional-grade condenser microphone that can be used for a variety of recording purposes. It can be used for home recording, studio projects, and even for recording live performances. The large diaphragm guarantees smooth, natural sound and low noise. The microphone is capable of handling high Sound Pressure Level (SPL) with ease thanks to the switchable 80Hz high-pass filter and 10dB pad. The frequency response is the standard 20 Hz – 20 kHz found on most recording microphones.
The AT2035 large diaphragm condenser microphone features cardioid polar pattern. This ensures that background noise and sounds from sides and rare are ignored while the major input sound from the front is isolated for quality recording of vocals. Coming from a recognized manufacturer, you can trust the AT2035 to be durable. It has a rugged construction and Audio-Technica provides exceptional level of consistency from model to model. In addition to the condenser mic in the package, you will also get XLR cable, a pop filter, and a microfiber cleaning cloth.
This is a premium professional-grade condenser microphone that will give you all you need and more. Though it is a little expensive when compared to most items listed here, it will be a valuable investment when you have it in your studio. It can also be used in home studios as well as during concerts to record vocals and instruments. The C414 XLII vocal condenser microphone offers as much as nine polar patterns for the perfect sonic capture. The Audio Frequency Bandwidth for this mic is the standard 20 Hz – 20 kHz.
AKG microphones has been used by musicians for decades and this is among the best recording condenser microphones from the trusted brand. It features three attenuation levels (-6/-12/-18dB) for close-up recording on high output sources of up to 158dB SPL. Even though you can set it up in different patterns, it is quite easy to use. You will get other accessories with the microphone including pop filter, carrying case, windscreen, and a spider-type shock mount.
Neumann microphones are well-known premium brand that sets the pace for others to follow. The TLM 102 MT mic defines a new generation of these world-class microphones. There are so many premium microphone in the TLM series but we believe this can be the best option for you if you are interested in a top quality condenser microphone for recording vocals. The frequency range is the standard 20 Hz – 20 kHz.
With the TLM 102, you should always expect world-class recording. The newly developed large diaphragm capsule clocks a maximum sound pressure level of 144 dB, which means you can record all sorts of vocals and other instruments. It is a cardioid LDC so you can expect it to isolate only the sound from the vocal source and ignore noise from other directions in the recording environment. This microphone is ideal for home and professional studio use. It may seem like an expensive option but it is actually affordable when compared to other Neumann quality microphones. It comes with only stand mount so you will have to buy other needed accessories separately.
This is another studio condenser microphone that can capture every nuance and deliver amazing recording experience in all types of studio. Audio-Technica products are often top-notch and this is part of the 40 series, a premium line of condenser microphones that are specially made for the most critical acoustic requirements of professional recording. They are ideal for all kinds of vocal recording and can also be used for live sound and broadcast. The frequency range of this mic is 20 Hz to 18 kHz but the switchable 80Hz hi-pass filter and a -10dB pad ensures that your recording is smooth, natural and awesome.
The AT4050 offers three switchable polar patterns; omnidirectional, figure-of-eight, and cardioid. This means you can achieve quality recording in different recording environments, depending on what exactly you want. A maximum input sound level of 149dB SPL means you can record all sorts of vocals and other instruments too.
10. Rode NT2A
This is a professional large diaphragm multi-pattern condenser microphone that you can get for a bargain price. The frequency and transient response of this mic is ideal for the everyday recording needs of a professional studio engineer. It offers ultra-low noise and internal capsule shock mounting to make recording a lot easier. The frequency response is the standard 20 Hz – 20 kHz.
The Rode NT2A offers three-position pick-up patterns including omnidirectional, figure-of-eight, and cardioid. It also features a high-pass filter of flat, 40 Hz, and 80Hz, as well as Pad of 0dB, -5dB, and -10dB. It is truly a versatile microphone that will make vocal recording fun. The valuable package comes with an SM6 shock mount, dust cover, microphone cable, and downloadable instructional video.
Different microphones can be used for recording but condenser microphones are the real deal for recording vocals. There are lots of these wonderful mics in the market that it can be hard to make a decision about which of them to buy. What you have above is a selection of the very best ones as well as a complete guide on how you can make the right decision regarding the one to purchase. There are links to buy these products directly from Amazon, consider your options carefully and order with confidence.