How to choose your first condenser microphone? No stress Guide

Hi, I am Maslin JE, a music producer, and a keyboardist. If you are someone who is looking into a condenser microphone for music production, you are in the right place. I am going to guide you on the nuances that have to be considered while making a purchase that is valuable and that is gonna last for 2 to 3 years.

condenser microphone

If you are a singer, songwriter, musician looking to buy a new condenser microphone, you are in the right place. I will walk you through each step of this process while helping you make a choice rather than pushing my recommendation.

Here is how we are going to do this,
I will walk you through 8 essential steps that are needed to be analyzed while you are looking for a condenser microphone. This guide is going to be simple, it’s not going to tell you hey if you have this type of voice pick this microphone or that microphone. Getting that out of the way

Let’s get started.

8 things to look for when buying a condenser microphone 

1.budget
2.mic pick up type
3.mic frequency response
4.power configuration
5.sensitivity
6.signal to noise ratio
7.design
8.build quality

Before we start I want to address some quick questions you might have.

What is a condenser microphone?

A condenser microphone is similar to a normal microphone, but it’s more sensitive. It records each and every single dynamic performance of your vocals with absolute clarity. Condenser microphones are usually used in music production studios. condenser microphones require a phantom power of +48v to records vocals and performances.

What’s the difference between dynamic and condenser microphone?

The simple difference is that the sensitivity of the microphone. Let me give you an example.

If you keep a dynamic and condenser microphone at 10 feet distance from you, the condenser microphone will pick it up properly then the dynamic microphone. Dynamic microphones are robust in terms of build quality and can take a hit or two I’d you drop them. Condenser microphones should be handled with care.

I am a singer who performs and also I record at home. Which microphone should I get first?

You should definetly get a good high quality dynamic microphone. The reason is that, you can use it for both on stage and off stage recordings. But if you buy a condenser microphone first it’s not going to benefit you on stage. It will pick up all the noises that are around you.

Will there be a dramatic increase in quality as the price of the microphone increases?

Yes and No. There is a significant increase in quality as you move up the ladder from 100$ microphone to 1000$ microphone. But the difference between a 1000$ microphone to a 10000$ microphone is just infinitesimal. So be wise when you choose a microphone. In this guide, I will walk you through the nuances to be noted and calculated properly before you take your wallet.

BUDGET

The budget is something we all are afraid of when we are ready to buy something. We always have this constant fear like, does this go over my budget? , will I be able to pay for this? I was on the same spot as well. Before  I talk you through how to select your budget. I want to ask two questions that will change the way you will look at purchasing your first studio condenser microphone for music production.

Where are you in your music production or music journey?

Is music your hobby or a business?

Answer these questions first in your heart truthfully. If you are early in your career and if you are just beginning please don’t throw all the money you have right now. Start small you can always upgrade later. If you are starting this journey of being a singer or producing music as a business. I would ask you to invest as much as you have but don’t take debt, Pay in cash.

I know that there are people who take their hobbies so seriously but when you are starting, you have a long way to go, a lot of things to learn as well. So make sure you invest small and go big when you start to see returns.

The budget of a proper condenser microphone starts around 100$ and goes on even above 5000$.

100$ condenser microphone:
                   There are a lot of microphones that start at 100$ from various companies. 100$ microphones are not bad at all. They provide decent quality audio to get you off the ground.

I would advise any part-time singers or music producers and even Hobbisyts to start with a 100$ microphone.

The quote ” You get what you pay for” Is so true in terms of music production gear.

1000$ microphone

There are some sweet microphones in the range of 1000$. The quality and crispness you get from them, a 100$ microphone can’t stand against it. When you are serious about your singing career you can go for this microphone. If you own a studio, I will push you to get a microphone on this range. It’s going to be your prized possession.

MIC pickup types

music condenser microphone

What is a microphone pick up?

It’s nothing but how the microphone records your sound based on your position. In other words, it’s the response of the microphone based on your position and its capabilities.

Different microphones have various patterns. Each of them has different usage. There is six or seven pick up types. But for a condenser microphone, you don’t need those. You just need to know about the following three types of pickups and which one you will need.

Still confused about pickup of a microphone?

Hey, it’s simple, it’s just the direction from which a microphone pick-up the signal.

Let’s talk about each pickup type and its advantages and where they can be used.
So the main pickup types you should be looking into are

Omnidirectional
Cardioid
Bidirectional

Omni-directional


     Omnidirectional microphones record audio from every direction. Their pickup range is like 360° around the microphone. This brings us to a major con that is, it’s the noisiest microphone among all the others. This is mostly used to record samples, room environments and usually, it’s used for capturing audio in press conferences.

Cardioid


Just as the name says it’s a cardioid shaped pattern around the microphone. It records sounds in that pattern. It’s made for weddings and documentary recordings. Regarding background noise, this microphone might not add noise but it totally depends on the environment if it’s not controlled you are in trouble.

Bi-directional

Bi-directional microphones pick up audio from both front and back. The audio is recorded in both direction makes it useful for radio work. Its mostly used in podcasts nowadays. Some of the microphones in this bi-directional range Specifications are considered to be best for podcasting and talk shows.

Microphone frequency response

This is nothing but the range of frequency that the microphone is able to record. Usually, do the responses range from 30hz to 20khz. Some microphones have less frequency response because of two reasons

  • They are cheap and the product is meant for beginners
  • if they are meant for a specific type of recording work.

Do you really have to care about the frequency response of a condenser microphone?

Yes. You do have to consider it because you choose a microphone with less of a response then you will find harshness and lack of clarity in those ranges. If you really know this let me give you an example.

If you listen to a recorded call you might find that it almost sounds robotic, it’s because the lower frequencies between 20 to 1500Hz are cut off and the higher frequencies above 15khz are also cut off.

If you are someone looking for a perfect recording with top-notch clarity, Check the frequency response range first.
People look at the different things
when they buy a product but if you are going to buy something of real value look at the most defining characteristics of the product.

Can I use low frequency response microphone for recording samples?

Yes . You absolutely can but the problem is that while you are doing this you will find out that your samples are of not the quality as the other people in the industry are selling.

What is a frequency response graph?

A frequency response graph will show you exactly how the microphone reacts to each frequency and how much it is sensitive to each frequency in the complete spectrum.

Power Configuration

This is a whole other world to be analyzed bit by bit and piece by piece. If you know a little about condenser microphone for music production you would know that these Microphones require external power to run and it’s called as Phantom power

What is phantom power?

When a condenser microphone records a signal it’s weak, in order to boost that power is required, for this reason, we use phantom power. If you are into music production you can find audio interfaces with a button called phantom power.

BTW, check out my guide on how to choose your first audio interface?.

There are two kinds of power configuration in a condenser microphone.,

battery-powered
external powered
USB powered

Battery-powered
These are microphones that are a bit bulky but will ask you to put batteries in them like AA or AAA type batteries. They are good for beginners and hobbyists. They are not suitable for people who are serious about their crafts cause these are unstable. The chances of them failing are so high.

External powered
These are the high-quality condenser microphones that are to be powered externally through an audio interface. It requires +48V and its provided by the audio interface. You can check out it in my article about audio interfaces. Am I plugging it again.. Lol.

USB powered
These are condenser microphones that connect to a laptop directly rather than connecting to an audio interface. These are beginners friendly and the price too starts around 100$.

Microphone sensitivity

This is hardly spoken when people are trying to buy a new microphone. Mostly neglected number as well. Usually, it mentioned like this,

-32 dB re 1 Volt/Pascal +/- 2 dB @ 1kHz
25 mV @ 94 dB SPL) +/- 2 dB @ 1kHz

What does this even mean?

Dont worry, I gotchu here I will explain which numbers to look at here.

Look at the first number alone .

The lower it is the more sensitive the microphone is and will need higher phantom power. The higher it is the less sensitive it is and will require less phantom power or so-called pre amp.

If this seems so needy to you, skip this if you consider all the other 7 points you will have a pretty good microphone in your hands.

Signal to noise ratio

Wow, this hits to the heart. There is so much negativity out there that when you think about these words like a signal to noise ratio. It’s just bringing the reality in front of my face.

Anyways let’s get back to the topic.

Signal to noise ratio is nothing but the amount of pure signal perceived when compared to the noise that is perceived while the audio signal is being recorded 
This plays a huge role in the clarity of a microphone 

The more the signal to noise ratio is the better clarity and quality of the audio you will get, if it’s in reverse then you will get the lowest quality with that microphone.

Let’s move on to the next one,

Design

If you are like me you would want your music production studio to look Aesthetically pleasing as possible. If my music production gear is black, I want my microphone in black.

Always look at the designs, the reason why I have put this at the end is that you might have narrowed down all your choices so far. Now it’s time to decide.

I also wanna talk about something that I found out about these microphones. Please don’t but the bundle packages they will serve you no good. I have tested all the microphones that come in bundles and it will show that it’s providing a ton of value but it isn’t. Please stay away from it.

Buying a 100$ microphone is more valuable than buying a 150$ bundle. It’s a marketing tactic used by music gear companies. If you care about quality stay away from it, if you are starting your career with a low budget absolutely go for it.

Build quality

Finally, this should be the first screening factor but I kept it last because, if you are reading this you are just starting your career in music production or something related to it.

A perfectly built robust microphone can handle two to three hits here and there, which is supposed to happen along the way.

So always keep an eye on build quality

My Recommendations

AKG P120 Condenser Microphone

home condenser microphone

AKG P120 Specifications:

  • This is General-purpose condenser microphone for an absolute beginner
  • 2/3-Inch cardioid capsule delivers beautifully-balanced response with excellent transients
  • Switchable 20 dB pre-attenuation – usable in sound fields as high as 155 dB which actually a good thing
  • The switchable bass-cut filter eliminates noise and boominess, which is very new in the industry.
  • Rugged die-cast housing and dent-resistant stainless steel grille screen
  • they have used a new True Condenser capsule technology
  • it has amazing Gold-plated 3-pin XLR-type outputs
check out its  price at zzsounds

(they allow you to try out gear and if you are not satisfied you can return within 30 days)

MXL 770

  • Multipurpose condenser microphone for all occasions
  • amazing Low-frequency roll-off to reduce unwanted rumble
  • one of the mics with Warm sound with extra clarity at the top end
  • it comes with a Low noise FET preamp with a balanced, transformerless output that just screams quality
  • its really really good for vocals, pianos, and strings
Frequency Response:30Hz – 20kHz
Polar pattern:Cardioid
Sensitivity:15mV/Pa
Output Impedance:150 ohms
Pre-Attenuation Switch:0 dB, -10 dB
High Pass Filter:6 dB/octave @ 150Hz
Equivalent noise:20 dB (A-weighted IEC 268-4)
S/N Ratio:74 dB (Ref. 1 Pa A-weighted)
Max SPL for .5% THD:137 dB
Power Requirements:48V phantom power (+/- 4V)
specifications from MXL 770 WEBSITE
check out its price at  zzsounds

(they allow you to try out gear and if you are not satisfied you can return within 30 days)

Audio Technica AT2020

  • Its very Ideal for project/home-studio and its a robust microphone as well.
  • High SPL handling and wide dynamic range provide unmatched versatility
  • Custom-engineered low-mass diaphragm provides extended frequency response and superior transient response
  • Cardioid polar pattern reduces pickup of sounds from the sides and rear, improving isolation of the desired sound source
  • Pivoting, threaded stand mount attaches securely for easy and precise placement of the microphone
Polar PatternCardioid
Frequency Response20-20,000 Hz
Open Circuit Sensitivity-37 dB (14.1 mV) re 1V at 1 Pa
Maximum Input Sound Level144 dB SPL, 1 kHz at 1% T.H.D.
Noise20 dB SPL
Dynamic Range124 dB, 1 kHz at Max SPL
Signal-to-Noise Ratio74 dB, 1 kHz at 1 Pa
Phantom Power Requirements48V DC, 2 mA typical
check its price in zzsounds

(they allow you to try out gear and if you are not satisfied you can return within 30 days)

Neat King Bee

  • Polar Pattern:Cardioid
  • Diaphragm Size:24mm
  • Frequency Response:20Hz-20kHz
  • Max SPL:145 dB
  • Output Impedance:50 ohms
  • Signal to Noise Ratio:79dB (A weighted)
  • Self Noise:9.5dB (A weighted)
  • Color:Black/Yellow
  • Connector: XLRM
check its price in zzsounds

(they allow you to try out gear and if you are not satisfied you can return within 30 days)

look at sanjayC video as well for in-depth comparisons

Conclution:

It doesn’t matter which microphone you choose.the only thing that matters is your journey of music production. Putting in the hustle and hard-work will give you more satisfaction than having a fancy gear.

here are some pointers for picking your condenser microphone

  • 1,stay true to your budget
  • 2.Don’t wander because something looks sleek.
  • 3.Make sure it provides enough value.

Check my article on How to produce music at home? and how much music producers make? if you are beginner it would give you some insights on these topics.

here is my article on how to choose your first midi keyboard as well.

If you are starting in music production here are my two golden mantras

Take it one day at a time, guys !!

have a good day