Best Condenser Mic For Vocals - On a Budget
MICROPHONES EVERYBODY! You know what, I really think that this subject is a bit overrated. I mean, yeah, microphones are super big deal of course, but today there are so many good ones, that it almost doesn’t matter which microphone to use as long as it is the right type of microphone for the current task.
Hey everybody, Avi here. I’m a music producer and sound engineer for more than 15 years.
In this post, I’ll write everything I know about condenser microphones that is actually important, and I’m also going to give you my list of the Best Condenser Microphones For Vocals.
The microphones on this list are considered to be affordable and not on the hyper expensive scale. I believe that above a certain price threshold the money is way above the value. But I’ll have another post about the very expensive elite microphones.
A Little History
The first condenser microphone was built in the early 1920’s. This microphone was huge in size and it’s goal was to pick up and record an entire orchestra. Condenser microphones use a vibrating diaphragm as a capacitor plate that converts acoustic movements to electrical information via preamplifier. This information is then transformed back to an acoustic information that we can hear via speakers.
Types Of Condenser Microphones & 48v Phantom Power
Condenser microphones are usually divided into two groups, small diaphragm and large diaphragm.
The small diaphragm microphones have a single pickup pattern that’s usually used for recording high frequency sources by nature, like acoustic guitars, hi-hats, percussions, etc.
The large diaphragm microphones come with larger variety of pick up patterns,
like cardioid directional, Omni directional, figure eight, and such.
The more popular one out of the two is the large diaphragm type condensers, and these are the ones we are talking about here.
Condenser microphones are electronic by nature, so they require either internal or external power to operate. Of course, most preamps these days come with a 48v phantom power for condenser microphones, so no problem there.
Pros & Cons Of A Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone
I will start with the cons first. So a condenser microphone is very delicate because of the way it’s built. Usually you need to handle them with care. Most of the time, you won’t find large diaphragm condenser microphone on the stage because of it’s high sensitivity. Not only it is highly sensitive to humidity and temperature changes, it will also pick up the entire acoustic information on the stage and all around it in a great radius. This means a lot of unwanted noises on the channel, less control over the signal, and mostly feedback, as it is picking up it’s own signal coming from the monitors and PA speakers. So a large diaphragm condenser microphone does not belong on the stage in most cases.
On the other side, the recording studio is the natural home of the large diaphragm condenser microphone. An acoustic treated and isolated studio is the best environment for a condenser microphone, this is where it shines. Because of it’s very high sensitivity, the microphone picks up a beautiful range of frequencies on the human hearing spectrum and beyond. This works amazing with high frequency content sources and full range sources in general. Drums and cymbals, acoustic guitars, vocals, and pretty much any source you want to record in the studio.
Best Condenser Mic For Vocals
Here is my list: These are microphones that I’m personally using and have first-hand experience with them.
Neuman TLM 103
This is the first affordable, large condenser microphone made by Neuman. It is considered to be a work horse and it surely is. If I needed a “do it all” microphone on a budget, this would be the one, although I wouldn’t recommend using it with the wrong preamps. In my personal experience, it is very sensitive to different preamps and can sound harsh and even cheap when connected to the wrong preamp. Usually it is onboard preamps that you can find on cheap audio interfaces. In this case, the preamp will be the weak link and will determine the quality of the whole signal chain.
However, when paired with a good preamp, the TLM 103 truly shines!
It is amazingly capable of picking every type of instrument, vocal, drums, or percussions, and it does it in the most beautiful and professional manner.
So how is the TLM 103 as a vocal mic? I’m glad you asked. It is simply amazing just as expected from a company like Neuman. The TLM feels right at home in home production studios and in the professional studio environment. Some even use it for recording instruments on stage in live concerts. But what the 103 does best is picking up vocals, and especially female vocals. It adds a special bright magic to all the female vocalists I’ve ever recorded. After you’re done with the recording session and start with the mixing, the TLM 103 handles high and low boosts, compression, and other post recording processes like a real champ.
Audio Technica AT2035
I know, this one is not even in the right price range, it is cheap and too affordable, yes, but listen to me, guys. It is a brilliant condenser microphone that will not disappoint even the top productions in town. I always say that I don’t care about how much things cost, that I care only about their performance, and the Audio Technica AT2035 is a great example for that.
For years, I was using this microphone as a second microphone for all kinds of sessions.
It is truly amazing on male vocals, and again, breathtaking on female vocals. I actually had a female vocalist who preferred it over other much more expensive condenser microphones from different and much bigger companies.
One of the coolest things about this microphone is that it is not as finicky as the more expensive ones. It will sound good with any preamp. I used to record a lot of sources with the AT2035 going to the Apogee Duet 1 preamp and got a few of my best acoustic guitars of all time. I also love it on saxophone, amps, and of course vocals.
It gives me a lot of yummy details, punchy and clear midrange, soft highs, and very nice lows. Of course, it is not a Neuman u87, and you should not expect it to be, but when working with a limited budget, look no further than the Audio Tecnicha AT2035. It will last for years in and will always sound like it just got out of the box.
And if you’re looking for a cheaper version of this mic, please check out it’s little brother, the AT2020 which comes in a USB version also.
I first heard about the original SM27 from a friend at his studio. I think it was one of the first condenser microphones made by Shure. And, since I already LOVE Shure’s dynamic microphones, I had to give this baby a try. Listen, guys, it is a very special microphone with a very special sound. I can only give you my personal take on it, and you can decide whether it’s right or not for you. So after hearing so many condensers, cheap and not so cheap, and even “very not so cheap” I think the SM27,LC, next generation, sounds amazing for vocals. It has this soft character in it’s overall sound. It’s a bit hard to describe but I’ll try. Have you ever listened to a snare drum with a thin blanket over it? It becomes a little more soft-sounding. This is exactly what I experience with this microphone but without the drop in high frequencies. Harsh vocals suddenly become softer and round. I felt like it has that dynamic Shure signature sound. I hope you know what I’m trying to say here.
I loved the SM27-LC on acoustic guitars very much. It is one of the hardest sources to pick up, and this Shure beast does it great, too easily. With great presence, clear highs, and clear midrange, everything you record with it gets punchy, and cuts through a mix with ease. But I like it the most on male vocals.
Especially vocals that do not have a lot of mid,range and highs. It suddenly gives them the power they were missing, but in a very natural way. No need for EQ, just a low cut filter and you’re good to go. This is a really sweet microphone. You also need to check out the Shure KSM44. It is much more expensive, and I assume it will get it’s own review very soon.
I always liked AKG microphones but never owned them. The c214 is my first AKG.
This microphone reminded me of the older AKG’s like c3000 and such. They always sounded round and bassy to me but their highs weren’t that smooth. With the AKG c214, it’s almost the same, only the highs are more buttery smooth, and the overall sound is more accurate. This microphone handles high and low boosts in a beautiful way, which I can’t say that of a lot of condenser microphones in this price range.
The c214 is an amazing vocal condenser microphone, and it easily can be picked over all of the microphones in my list on certain vocals, especially deep male vocals. It has a very controlled low range to my ear, and it compliments deep voices. I also like it very much on acoustic and classic guitars. The c214 is very much an affordable version of the classic 414, although the 414 is more of a darker microphone. Unlike the 414, the c214 only has one pick up pattern, cardioid polar pattern. Most recording applications need only the cardioid pattern, especially vocals. So, it’s the perfect budget solution for those who like AKG’s sonic world. The c214 will also give you 414’s tone on drums. It is particularly amazing on snares. So I think the AKG c214 is a great compliment to any other microphone. It is a studio work horse and at this price, it’s a no brainer.
The AT4040 is not a new microphone and is definitely my favorite Audio Technica condenser microphone. There is one word that describes this microphone the best, and it’s “Natural”. It is a very natural sounding microphone, which means, it’s great for absolutely everything. It doesn’t have hyped up high frequencies like some of the others on this list, it is not too punchy in the mid-range and fairly balanced in the low range. Maybe we can call it “Flat”. Almost boring, but this is where the fun begins. The AT4040 will sound very good on literately every vocalist.
It will pick up acoustic guitars in a very natural way and would also be very happy to accept your ״over the top״ EQ boosts. It is great on guitar amps, and especially clean electric guitar sounds. I also recorded an upright piano with it as well as brass instruments.
It is a sweet microphone, without a doubt. It doesn’t have a lot of features and options, quite the same as the AKG c412, except the little low cut switch, which is very usable in cases of proximity effect.
Best Condenser Mic For Vocals
That’s about it for this post, guys. I may add more microphones in the future.
Thank you for reading.