Sitting at your workstation, listening to the vocals coming at you all muddied up and lacking sonic clarity, you wonder how in heaven’s name you are supposed to clean this up and make it sound right in the mix.
You’re all set for your podcast, hoping to build a following with your words. You plug in your microphone and start speaking, only to realize what you’re hearing on your headphones
wouldn’t make you listen to you. So how can you expect anyone else to?
These are excerpts from the nightmares of a mixing engineer and a podcaster.
Microphones are fundamental when audio needs to be taken into a computer, broadcast or amplified, whether it is a professional or amateur situation. When we talk about condenser microphones, we mean those more sensitive than regular dynamic microphones. They are commonly used in studios (both recording and broadcast). Recently, however, you can find handheld condenser microphones used for live applications.
Choosing the best condenser microphone is something largely dependent on the intended use. If you want to use a condenser microphone on a live stage, you will need to choose one designed for live use. You could theoretically use any condenser microphone, but most are not optimized for those conditions. For live stage work, opt for a handheld option.
When you plug your microphone into your audio mixer
or interface (depending on what you are using), you want to hear a clear representation of the signal sent into the microphone. This is what is called a flat frequency response and is something to take note of. Note these kinds of microphones are not suitable for sound sources with very high sound pressure levels (SPLs). Dynamic microphones are best suited to these scenarios.
So, what exactly should one be considering when purchasing a condenser microphone? There are just some basic things to look out for. The most important thing to look at is the polar pattern. There are three basic polar patterns, each ideal for different uses. These are: cardioid, bi-directional (figure eight) and omnidirectional (simply called “Omni”). A cardioid patterned microphone will record directly in front, a bi-directional microphone will pick up from the front and the back while the omnidirectional microphone take in all round. Which you choose will be dependent on your needs. However, if you don’t already know what you need, then you likely just need a cardioid patterned one. This will comfortably handle most basic microphone needs.
Next you should look at how it is powered. If you are a podcaster or vlogger, you will need a USB powered one unless you route your microphone input through an interface of preamp with phantom power, in which case you can go for the phantom powered ones.
The use of microphones is highly subjective, so it’s essential to try out as many as possible to decide what’s best for you in the situation you want to use it. We will look at the basics to steer you to the best quality choices. With a condenser microphone that meets these basic requirements and is connected with a good audio cable
to the interface or computer, you are sure to have an improved audio output.
Condenser microphones have a very wide range as far as price is concerned. There are condenser microphones that cost in the thousands and there are those that cost less than $100. Needless to say, the cost of a microphone will usually be an indication of its quality. We will not be considering the extremely expensive ones here. We will only be focusing on condenser microphones that can help you achieve good quality without costing you an arm and a leg. Anyone considering a microphone costing four figures likely already knows what they need.
Some of the features affecting price include: multiple polar patterns, switchable attenuating pad, included extras like shock mounts, pop filters, desktop stands etc. The brand name can also have an impact.
From our research, we found you can get a good condenser microphone for between $70 and $250. We are talking about those that will give you good value for money and not cheap condenser microphones not worthy of your time.
Condenser microphones are highly specialized equipment with very subjective applications. Each person decides how best to use any microphone to achieve what they set out to. However, there are a few tips that will help anyone new to the world of condenser microphones pick something that will serve them well as they improve their knowledge and skill base.
Here are key things to look for:
- Polar pattern(s) – cardioid, bi-directional (figure 8), omni or multiple patterns
- Attenuator – for cutting input gain at source when recording sound sources with high SPL
- High pass filter – for cutting off low frequency rumbles that may come from the environment
- Form factor – handheld, side address
- Vocal or instrument – some mics are more suitable for one than the other
- Diaphragm size – small or large diaphragm
- Power source – phantom powered or USB powered
- Sound pressure level – How much direct sound intensity can it handle
- Build – how solidly built it is
- Brand – who made it? What’s the brand’s integrity?
- included extras – pop filters, shock mounts, Desktop stands etc.
Remember that these are merely guides to help you choose.
Construction and Design
When choosing a condenser microphone, you must know exactly what you want to use it for so you can choose correctly. A condenser microphone can have a small or large diaphragm. Small diaphragms offer a more focused sound image and are mostly used as instrument microphones (this is subject to personal preference). The large diaphragm microphones are the more popular ones because they are mostly used for vocals. If you want to record vocals or broadcast audio, then choose a cardioid, side address condenser microphone (they are large diaphragm microphones).
If you are a podcaster and will be plugging the microphone straight into your laptop, then be sure to pick a USB powered model. If you pick a phantom powered model, you will need to first plug it into an interface or preamp with phantom power.
Microphone usage is a very specialized skill that can only be honed by practice. If you want to get a condenser microphone for a home studio, try to get one with switchable multi-polar patterns and an attenuator. This will give you one microphone that can be used for different applications while also giving you an opportunity to practice with the different polar patterns.
If you will be recording in a space that’s not fully sound proof, where external noise can get through, you will need a high pass filter (bass roll off) on the microphone to help cut off the low frequencies that can muddle up your recording.
Performance and Ease of Use
Everyone has a different approach, style and philosophy. Having said that, there are some things that will make using your condenser microphone easier. Some of these have already been listed. They include: power source, multiple polar patterns (for easy switching between polar patterns without changing microphones) and easy to access attenuator pad (to easily cut the input gain when recording sounds with very high SPL). Apart from these, extras like pop filters, shock mounts, carrying and storing cases, desktops stands and pouches can make the use and care of your condenser microphone easier.
Look through the features of the condenser microphones you are considering to ensure they include the features important to you.
The right condenser microphone raises the sonic integrity of your audio. Now you’ve gone through our buying guide, you should know the features most important to you. Let’s take a look at some individual products so you can pick the one best suited to your requirements.
Now you’ve read our reviews, we hope things are clearer than they were at first. You have the information you need to choose the condenser microphone just right for you. Start right away! Purchase your condenser microphone and let the improved sound quality thrill you and your audience.