Choosing the best condenser microphone is possibly the most important decision you will make during your process before you actually start recording music. Although other aspects are important, the microphones you choose are crucial to the overall sound and the finished outcome of your music. This article reviews the best condenser microphones available in 2020, so you can pick the right one for your studio.
Before we begin: what is a condenser mic?
A condenser microphone is typically the kind of microphone that is used in a studio to record mainly vocals and sometimes instruments. Condenser mics require some type of power (in volts) to be sent to the capsule in order for it to operate, unlike dynamic microphones. This is because condenser microphones use a capacitor to convert sound waves into electrical energy.
Condenser microphones are extremely sensitive and pick up a large amount of nuances from their source of audio and that is why they are typically the top choice when it comes to recording vocals in a studio setting.
Here are the best condenser microphones 2020:
- Lauten Audio LA-320
- Rode NT2-A
- Blue Yeti Pro
- Neumann U 87 Ai
- AKG C414 XLII
- Blue Bluebird SL
- Audio-Technica AT2020USB+
- Shure SM86
- Aston Origin
- Slate Digital VMS ML-1
1. Lauten Audio LA-320
Professional large diaphragm condenser microphone
Lauten Audio’s LA-320 tube condenser mic provides a pleasurable entry into the world of condenser mics and higher quality recordings. The LA-320 has a 1-inch gold spattered capsule reminiscent of classic German mics and a dual triode vacuum tube, which gives you the classic tube sound you may be familiar with from listening to older records.
The LA-320’s transformer is vintage inspired for a more balanced output. The microphone has a cardioid pick up pattern and uses an XLR connection, which requires phantom power. It is best used for budding engineers and home recordings, making it an ideal microphone for bedroom producers who want very high quality without taking too big a chunk out of a wallet.
The LA-320 has a very wide frequency response range of 20 Hz – 20 kHz. This large frequency range combined with the vintage inspired transformer and a tube produce a warm, smooth tone with clear highs and rich lows. Selectable and independent 120 Hz low cut and 12 kHz high cut filters reduce boomy lows and low end rumble and tame any harsh high frequencies.
Other distinct features of this microphone include a 5-pin XLR PSU connection to microphone as opposed to the usual standard 3-pin XLR. Included with the microphone is a spider shock mount and hard case with a 5-pin XLR cable, as well as a dedicated power supply with various selectable voltages.
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The Lauten Audio LA-320 mic is a great piece of gear to use if you are an intermediate producer or vocalist. It gives a good introduction into more expensive costing and sounding microphones without forcing you to go straight into picking something super expensive.
I recommend it to any producers who record in their bedroom or in an area that is not soundproofed because of the low and high cut filters built into the microphone.
2. Rode NT2-A
Best condenser microphone under $500
The Rode NT2-A is the second, newest NT2 model from Rode and it happens to be one of my favorite condenser microphones. It stands up against many more expensive industry standard mics (Neumann, for example) and has even been the winner in blind tests when put up against such microphones.
The NT2-A has a metal body and an internal shock mount in a gold sputtered capsule to prevent handling noise. The microphone is known for having extremely low self noise which makes it extremely useful for catching little nuances in its audio source. It uses an XLR connection and phantom power in order to operate.
It is best used for vocals and instruments as it is very sensitive and reproduces audio very clearly and precisely. It has multiple pattern types including omnidirectional, cardioid, and figure 8, making it versatile and ideal for different vocal uses as well as instrument uses.
The NT2-A has a frequency response range of 20 Hz – 20 kHz. Its overall tone is smooth, rich and full bodied. I would consider it to sound very natural. Some people say it is a bit brighter than they like, but in my opinion it does not sound overly harsh or tinny at all. I make modern R&B music, so that extra bit of brightness and air stylistically fits the genre.
As for other features, there is a pad attenuation button if you need to knock down the output signal a few decibels, and there is also a low cut filter to get rid of any rumble, handling noise, or feedback from the electromagnetic field.
|Image credit: Rode Check Price on Amazon||
If you want a flat, accurate, clear, and natural sounding recording, use the NT2-A. It is extremely versatile, bright, and provides great clarity and does not get rid of any detail in the audio while recording.
It easily stands up against the Neumann U 87 microphone and many other more expensive microphones, so if you want a very high quality microphone without having to lose too much money, I recommend it to any vocalist, producer, and musician regardless of skill.
3. Blue Yeti Pro
Best USB condenser microphone
The Blue Yeti Pro condenser microphone is actually the very first microphone I got when I started incorporating vocals and live recorded instruments into my productions. At the time, I did not have an audio interface, so I opted to get it, because it works through both XLR and USB.
The Yeti Pro is a small diaphragm condenser microphone that comes with a table stand and can be used with a shock mount or other stands. It comes with 3 custom capsules, allowing you to use multiple pick up pattern types.
It has a cutting edge AD converter chip with a separate analog circuit path to reduce latency while recording and keep the digital reproduction of your audio source clear and crisp.
Like I mentioned above, the Yeti Pro gives the option to use either XLR or USB connections. When using the USB connection you do not need phantom power, but it is required when using the XLR connection.
It is best used for podcasting, recording voice overs, vocals, and instruments. It has figure 8, cardioid, omni, and stereo pick up pattern types which make it extremely versatile when recording and performing in a studio setting.
It has an incredibly wide frequency response range of 15 Hz – 22 kHz, leaving enough room to pick up plenty of bass as well as air in vocals. Due to the capsule design, the Blue Yeti Pro has four times the clarity found on CDs. The capsule design delivers a rich tone with detailed sound.
From my experience using it, the Yeti Pro can sound a bit thin in the high frequency range and can also be a bit tinny when recording guitars or female vocals, but that can easily be remedied with an EQ. It is an incredibly sensitive mic, so I would not recommend you use it in a room that is not soundproofed.
|Image credit: Blue Check Price on Amazon||
The Blue Yeti Pro is a great starter microphone if you do not have an audio interface or do not want to use one, so I recommend it for beginners. It records at a very high sample rate and captures a lot of details because of how sensitive it is.
I think it would be best used in small studios for midrange heavy instruments and vocals because of its sensitivity and proclivity for being thin sounding.
4. Neumann U 87 Ai
A top-rated condenser microphone
Neumann is an industry standard brand and the U 87 Ai is one of the most world renowned microphones among producers and artists. It has been one of the most used microphones in many professional recording studios around the world for the past 50 years and continues to be an industry standard.
The U 87 Ai is built with a 1-inch dual large diaphragm pressure gradient transducer and a vacuum tube with transformer balanced output. It uses an XLR connection which requires phantom power through a sound board or audio interface.
It is best used for studio recording as it has extremely low self noise and a very balanced frequency response. It sounds great with any vocals or instruments and has a very solid bass response.
The pick up pattern types of the U 87 Ai are cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure 8, making it ideal for different styles and methods of recording. It has a frequency response range of 20 Hz – 20 kHz.
The U 87 Ai is known for providing clarity of sound with ruler flat midrange and a gentle presence boost. It has a classic tone that exerts charisma while remaining flat and balanced, giving recordings a larger than life feel and being instantly recognizable.
A signal attenuation pad button and a low cut filter button on the microphone provide a decibel cut and get rid of any rumble and handling noise during recording.
|Image credit: Neumann Check Price on Amazon||
Being the industry’s gold standard microphone, I absolutely recommend the U 87 Ai to anyone for any purpose. Although it is ridiculously expensive, it is definitely worth it to have such a high-quality condenser mic that provides such versatility. A studio is not complete without a Neumann U 87 Ai.
5. AKG C414 XLII
Best condenser microphone under $1000
The AKG C414 XLII is a more modern microphone that shares similarities in presence boost and spatial reproduction with the famed AKG C12 microphone from 1953. The C414 XLII is a multi-pattern condenser that emulates the classic C12 sound.
It has a peak hold LED that warns users of even the shortest overload peaks, and a button for attenuation that provides three pad attenuation levels for close up recording or high output sources. The microphone requires phantom power, because it has an XLR connection, so you will need a sound board or audio interface to get it to work.
The C414 XLII is best used for vocals, piano, strings, horns, woodwinds, and is ideal for classical music or drum ambience miking. It has nine polar pattern types including omni, cardioid, wide cardioid, hypercardioid, and figure 8, plus four intermediate settings, that let you dial in the best in between pattern to suit your recording needs and environment.
It has a wide frequency response range of 20 Hz – 20 kHz. Overall it has a warm, classic tone that make vocals sound smooth and rich. It has a slight presence boost and spatial reproduction capability that makes vocals and solo instruments stand out, so if you have denser mixes with a lot of instruments, this mic is ideal for making your vocals or instruments shine through without adding more muddiness.
Additional features include three bass cut off filters for reducing wind noise, isolating and reducing stage vibration and rumble from handling, or reducing the proximity effect.
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If you like to use multiple patterns and want a lot of flexibility and versatility when recording, the AKG C414 XLII is the ideal microphone for you. While it’s on the more expensive end of the spectrum, it is well worth the money because of how versatile it is.
It sounds very similar to the AKG C12 which is a very popular microphone and because of the sound quality and the tone you get out of this thing, you are getting a great value for only a fraction of the cost. I recommend it to any professional producer, musician, or singer.
6. Blue Bluebird SL
Best condenser microphone under $300
Another great microphone from Blue, the Bluebird SL is one of their most popular, best-selling models and was made to be as versatile as possible. The Bluebird SL is made from metal and has a pressure gradient transducer and a gold sputtered diaphragm in the capsule.
It comes with a wooden storage container and custom shock mount to protect your audio signal from low end rumble and handling noise. It uses an XLR connection, which means that it will require phantom power, so make sure you have a sound board, audio interface, or phantom power supply to power the microphone.
It is best used for vocals, acoustic and electric guitar, piano, and drums and has a cardioid polar pick up pattern type. The Bluebird SL has a frequency response range of 20 Hz – 20 kHz, making it plenty wide for a number of instruments and different vocalists with different timbre and tone.
The overall tone of this microphone can be described as modern and clear with superior resonance at higher frequencies. The frequencies in the higher range are very clear and crisp, the mods are smooth and the lows are very rich. Overall it is a very balanced microphone, thanks to the sculpted rear backplate design. I find it to be a microphone that has incredible accuracy and picks up details with ease.
The Bluebird SL also has a 100 Hz high pass filter and a -20 dB pad button to manage low frequency interference and high output audio sources like drums and guitar amp cabinets.
|Image credit: Blue Check Price on Amazon||
The Bluebird SL by Blue is all you will need for recording great sounding vocals and instruments alike. With its clear tone and precise audio reproduction, it is a great choice for producers and artists of any skill level, and many people say it even rivals the Rode NT2-A. I might actually get one of these myself.
7. Audio-Technica AT2020USB+
Top-quality budget mic
Audio-Technica offers the option of an AT2020 with a USB connection or an XLR connection. In this review we’re going to focus on the USB model. The AT2020USB+ is another solid USB capable condenser microphone if you don’t want to buy a Blue Yeti Pro or another similar USB-powered condenser microphone.
The AT2020USB+ is constructed with a rugged, metal build with a low mass diaphragm. It has a headphone jack, a mix control knob, and comes with a pivoting tripod desk stand, although it does work with any normal microphone stand.
The AT2020USB+ microphone does not require phantom power as it plugs directly into your computer with a USB cable and is powered from there. It has a cardioid pick up pattern and is best used for field recordings, vocals, podcasts and home studio use.
I’d say it is good-quality mic, but not so good that it would be used in a bigger, more professional studio. Like the Blue Yeti Pro, it has a frequency response range of 20 Hz – 20 kHz.
Its overall tone is clear and natural great detail and studio quality articulation. Guitar sounds balanced and natural no matter where the mic is positioned and vocals sound full and bright. Unlike the Blue Yeti Pro, the AT2020USB+ condenser doesn’t sound tinny and always sounds full and rich.
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The Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ is an ideal choice for beginner producers, vocalists, and instrumentalists who are starting out in the studio, as well as people who like to make podcasts and do voice overs. Although it has a few design flaws (that really are just nit picky), overall the mic is fantastic quality for the price and stands up against more expensive mics like the Blue Yeti Pro and other Audio-Technica models.
8. Shure SM86
Best condenser mic under $200
Shure is very well known for its dynamic vocal and instrument mics, but the company also has some incredible handheld condensers great for performing and studio use. The Shure SM86 is one of these vocal microphones.
The design of this microphone is 100% optimized for vocals. The SM86 has a rugged, metal build with a built in three point shock mount and two stage pop filter, ensuring that absolutely no handling noise will be an issue while recording or performing, and any plosives will be taken care of without having to use an external pop filter.
The SM86 has a cardioid polar pattern and uses an XLR connection which requires phantom power, but it doesn’t require much, which means that you can use it with more inexpensive sound boards and audio interfaces if you don’t have something super powerful or expensive.
The microphone’s frequency response ranges from 50 Hz – 18 kHz, which is a wide enough range to be bright and a bit airy while keeping the fullness from the low frequencies. There is a boost in the 2 KHz – 5 kHz range which adds some clarity and presence to vocals in mixes that may otherwise be dense or muddy. Overall it has a clear, robust sound with smooth bass.
Because it’s rugged and has built in features like the pop filter and shock mount, it is more ideal for performing live, but you will be pleased to know that the SM86 also works great in a studio setting. It is comfortable enough to use in any environment picks up audio sources up to 18 inches away from the head of the microphone while still keeping a great amount of quality.
|Image credit: Shure Check Price on Amazon||
If you need a condenser microphone that can be used on stage, try the SM86. Although it can’t be used wirelessly, it is flexible and tough and sounds really good. You will find that the SM86 also pairs nicely with stage monitors or in-ear monitors.
I recommend it for use on stage or in the studio if you prefer to record while holding the microphone as opposed to standing in front of one mounted from the ceiling or elsewhere.
9. Aston Origin
Top-end condenser microphone
The Origin condenser mic by Aston Microphones is a global best seller, somewhat of a cornerstone for the company. Used by famed vocalists like Kylie Minogue and Noel Gallagher, the Origin is a simple, but well engineered piece of gear.
The Origin is built with a stainless steel mesh knit capsule with direct to stand mic mounting. The capsule is also gold evaporated with transformer-less circuitry. It has a cardioid polar pattern and uses an XLR connection which requires phantom power from the power source of your choosing.
It is perfect for both budding singers and seasoned industry pros, and I believe the price tag also reflects that. You can comfortably use the Origin for both vocals and instruments and get an amazing quality recording out of it whether you’ve recorded live guitar cabinets, drums, or a vocalist.
The frequency response of the Origin ranges from 20 Hz – 20 kHz. It has an ultra smooth and pure sound, rich with detail and sounds completely natural on recordings. It does not add harmonics or leave you wanting to EQ the heck out of your recordings. It is very accurate when it comes to sound replication and doesn’t add any harshness or take anything out of the recording either.
The Aston Origin comes with a built in shock mount system and an internal pop filter to manage plosives and noise from handling and vibrations from other instruments. There is also a low cut filter at 80 Hz to take care of any interference from the electromagnetic field or outside noise.
|Image credit: Aston Microphones Check Price on Amazon||
The Aston Origin condenser mic is ideal for any producer, musician, or singer of any skill level. With it being an affordable yet high quality mic, it is a good option for beginners that do not want to upgrade for a while as they improve, as the microphone is already fantastic quality and even stands up against some Neumann microphones. Producers will especially like this microphone due to its extremely flat response and very accurate sound reproduction.
10. Slate Digital VMS ML-1
Greatest value condenser microphone for the price
The Slate Digital VMS ML-1 suite is something not many companies have ventured into doing. The Slate Digital VMS is a virtual microphone system that uses one microphone, the ML-1, and emulates different tones of both classic and modern microphones and preamps through a virtual software.
It is a hybrid system that features an extremely transparent condenser mic and a digital processing suite as well as a neutral preamp (the Slate Digital VMS One).
The ML-1 microphone from Slate Digital is a large diaphragm condenser with a shock mounted, gold sputtered, six micron capsule with a FET circuit path. It has a cardioid polar pattern type and uses an XLR connection which requires phantom power.
The virtual suite comes with the Classic Tubes module, featuring eight classic tube mics, as well as both a British preamp module and a German tube preamp module. The Slate Digital website allows you to purchase additional expansion packs of microphones to use with the software.
None of these microphone or preamp modules add any latency to your recordings or performances, so as long as you pair the software suite and microphone with an audio interface that has little or no latency, you shouldn’t have any latency issues at all.
Due to its frequency response range of 20 Hz – 20 kHz, the ML-1 has a very sonically flat and blank canvas response, making it ideal for the virtual modeling software. It is best used for vocals, but can certainly be used for plenty of instruments as well.
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I absolutely cannot recommend this microphone suite enough. With one microphone, you’re getting tens and potentially hundreds of classic microphone models. It is such a great value for a very small fraction of the actual cost of buying the hardware versions of all the microphones featured in the software and its expansion packs.
If you want to have a huge arsenal of professional, high-quality microphones (both condensers and dynamics) without dropping thousands of dollars on the hardware versions, definitely get this microphone suite.
There are plenty of condenser microphone reviews out there, this list is just one of many. Take your time to read about and research the different condenser mics available for purchase and see what they offer in comparison to other models. The top 10 condenser mics will vary depending on what list you read, but there are definitely a few that will be on every list regardless.
Jordan is a music producer, content creator, writer, and session musician. He has been producing music and engineering live performances for over 7 years. He is an experienced guitarist and enjoys listening to and playing many different genres of music.