At some point in your development as a musician, you will probably start to think about microphones. No matter if you are a singer, or play any kind of instrument, microphones are definitely some of the most important parts of your gear.
Whether you need a mic for live performance or for your home studio, there are probably some questions that bother you. You’ve heard of different types of microphones and various criteria for classification. Therefore, you probably wonder which one would work best for you.
Considering that, as a beginner, your budget is probably tight, I will stick not just to affordable options in this article, but also to those models that are versatile enough to serve you in any situation. Versatility is where condenser mics really shine, as they are good for both live performance and studio, and work great with both vocals and instruments.
Before I list some of the best budget condenser mics, let’s say a few words about the types and main characteristics of these products that are indispensable tools of every musician.
Types of Microphones
Dynamic microphones are absolute favorites when it comes to live performance. The working principle is quite simple, as there is a conductor within a magnetic field, which generates an audio signal. A diaphragm is usually very light and responds in accordance with the sound pressure. Such layout provides excellent resistance to all sound pressure levels, as well as very high frequencies. In practice, this means excellent reliability. They are usually cheaper than condenser mics and work great with instruments like basses and electric guitars, as well as with most percussion instruments. Unfortunately, they won’t provide you with the level of dynamics that are typical for condenser microphones, for example. That’s the main reason why people avoid to use them in studio sessions.
Old-school things are pretty popular in all areas of life today, so it’s no wonder that ribbon microphones are in high demand again, after decades of stagnation. These are first commercially successful types of mics in the world and the main thing that characterizes them is that vintage, airy sound. In the past, the main issue of these mics was reliability, as the design is a little bit complicated. However, modern ribbon mics are much better in this aspect. They are now sturdier and more reliable. However, vintage sonic characteristics make them a little bit single-sided, not something that can compare with condenser mics in terms of versatility. Another issue is that these mics don’t stand the wind and other outside noise very well, so the studio is definitely their zone of comfort.
We finally came to condenser microphones, which are the subject of this article. The base design of these mics is rather simple. There is a stretched conductive diaphragm, which is placed pretty close to a metal disk, which creates a kind of a capacitor. The biggest drawback of such design is that power supply is needed, either from a mixer or phantom power.
Dynamics, accuracy and overall sound quality is the main advantage over dynamic mics. Therefore, you can use them successfully in any kind of situation. Of course, they come with various design solutions, so a specific model suits better to the studio or live performance, vocals or instruments etc.
No matter the specific design characteristics, condenser mics are by far the best choice for beginners, due to their unmatched versatility. You can use them successfully in all situations, for home studio, live performances, vocals, instruments, voice recordings etc.
Types Of Condenser Microphones
Before you start considering different condenser mic models, it is important to understand some of the specs that you’ll probably find in description of each product. Some of the things that could bother you are polar patterns, diaphragm sizes, frequency response etc.
Every microphone has a so-called field of sensitivity, polar pattern. These patterns have a huge impact on the overall sound characteristics and people usually classify them by the shape. Some of the most common types are cardioid, supercardioid, omnidirectional, figure-8 etc. Also, many mics come with so-called multiple patterns.
Most microphones feature cardioid pattern and that is for a good reason. These mics are oriented to the front of them, which means they won’t pick almost any noise from the side. Such a design is beneficial in so many ways. First of all, it works great in situations when multiple mics are applied, for example, when recording drums. Also, they won’t capture almost any room ambiance, which is always highly appreciated in recording sessions. When it comes to live performances, this is great because of ambient noise, but also because it cuts feedback. On the other side, the main downside of this design is a very high bass response, which means that a little bit of mixing would be required.
Supercardioid mics are even more direct than cardioid microphones. The sensitivity area is narrower, so the focus is on the sound that comes directly from the front. On the other side, the sound that comes for both sides is almost completely rejected. There are also, hypercardioid mics, which go even more extreme. The main downside of these mics is back sound rejection, which isn’t that great. Therefore, they not the best solution for live performances, as there is usually a lot of noise that comes from the back side (monitors, for example).
As its name says, omnidirectional mic captures sound from all sides. Due to a circular pattern shape, the area of sensitivity is not directed, so the noise is captured from all sides equally. This is not the most popular pattern for an obvious reason, as microphones with this design can’t reject side and back noise, and are also vulnerable to feedback. On the other side, they provide more natural sound, which works great for acoustic instruments. These are great for multiple instruments and vocals and could work great for live sessions too, as long as the noise level is kept down.
It’s not hard to conclude that this patter has a shape of number 8. Such design is actually quite interesting, as these mics capture sounds from the front and back, while rejecting sound from the side. This is great if you want to capture two or more instruments. However, figure-8 definitely isn’t the most popular choice.
These usually cost a little bit more than single-pattern mics, but advantages are obvious. With these, you can change polar patterns, which will give you far more possibilities in terms of sound characteristics. Depending on the mic design, you can change the polar pattern in two ways. Many mics come with two or more replaceable heads. On the other side, modern mics allow you to change patterns by just flicking the switch. Of course, the latter is more convenient, but both designs work great.
Another thing you should consider when choosing the best budget condenser mic is diaphragm size. This is the part of a microphone that captures the sound. Logically, its size has a critical impact on sonic characteristics. We can classify them in three groups – small diaphragm, large diaphragm, and medium diaphragm microphones.
Small Diaphragm Mics
Also known as pencil mics, these are characterized by a pretty thin, pen-like shape. They are compact and lightweight, but also stiffer. All these things make them more capable of handling with high sound pressure and high frequencies. These are the areas where small diaphragm mics really shine. The main drawback is less sensitivity compared to larger mics. Work great for various kinds of instruments, like drums (hi-hats and cymbals), acoustic guitar and other instruments that produce a lot of overtones.
Large Diaphragm Mics
Due to a much bigger diaphragm, these mics are far more sensitive than small diaphragm mics. They can capture pretty much anything, which makes them perfect studio tools. Many of these come with two or more patterns, which is an obvious benefit that makes them super-versatile. Of course, it can’t stand sound pressure and high frequencies like small diaphragm mics and that is the main drawback. Vocals, guitars and many other instruments will sound great with these microphones.
Medium Diaphragm Mics
Without any doubt, this is the best budget condenser mic type when it comes to size. In order to be versatile, you need to take a bit from both worlds and that is exactly what a typical medium diaphragm mic does. It stands between small and large diaphragm mics, which makes it far more versatile, usable in any situation.
Solid State or Tube
Naturally, solid-state mics are far more popular these days. Their design is rather simple and includes typical components like diodes and transistors, along with integrated circuits. Such design makes these microphones sturdy, super-reliable and extremely durable.
On the other side, tube mics rely on ancient condenser technology. This makes them less reliable and less practical for live performances, because of overheating, potential breaks etc. Also, these mics aren’t cheap, as many parts are handmade. On the other side, the sound is superior and that is the main reason why we still use this old technology. The sound is warmer, with much better dynamics. Simply said, these mics have a richer sound than solid state microphones.
If you are a beginner, I would always recommend a solid-state mic, due to obvious practical advantages.
The advance of computer and other modern technologies has brought a lot of novelties in the recording process in the past few decades. Among them, USB microphones are some of the most important. Considering that most of us don’t need professional studio sound quality, recording directly to your computer’s sound card is by far the most convenient way. Today’s market is full of USB mics, in various price ranges. A great thing is that most of them are compatible with iOS and Android platforms, which means you can also record via smartphone, iPad and other portable devices.
If quick, convenient and effortless home recording is your main concern, then you know where to look for best budget condenser mics.
Which Are the Most Typical Applications of Condenser Microphones?
As you can see, condenser mics can vary in many ways. Each type works best in a certain situation. Therefore, here are some of the most common applications of condenser microphones:
Drums are by far the most complicated instrument to record. A typical drum set consists of various parts and each percussion is characterized by unique sonic character. To make things even worse, each one is pretty loud. Therefore, drum recording usually requires the use of different types of microphones.
Fortunately for you, some common rules already exist and include a combination of different condenser mics, along with a couple of dynamic microphones. A general rule is that dynamic mics are used for snare and bass drum, while the rest of the set works best with condenser mics.
As I’ve already mentioned, the best choice for instruments that deliver a lot of sound pressure and high frequencies are usually small diaphragm mics. Of course, a condenser mic is a natural choice in this case, with a cardioid pattern. Also, don’t be afraid to experiment with different mic positions.
When it comes to electric guitar, it’s a matter of preference. Still, a large diaphragm cardioid condenser mic seems like a pretty safe pick. You can also experiment with different polar patterns, it usually turns out pretty good.
Due to a huge tonal range, the best way to mic piano is to use a couple of condenser mics. A large diaphragm goes for the lows, while a small diaphragm works best for the highs. Still, it a couple of large diaphragm mics would also work just fine.
In this case, any kind of condenser mic would do just fine. Still, more experienced players like to use old-school ribbon mics as well, as they work great for warm jazzy sound.
Things with violins, cellos and other string instruments are pretty much the same as with brass instruments. Any kind of condenser would work great, but ribbon mics sound amazing as well.
When it comes to vocals, there is no straight answer, as it’s all a matter of personal preference. Still, if you’re buying your first mic, my advice would be to pick something versatile. In most cases, that would be some large diaphragm, cardioid condenser mic.
Best Budget Condenser Mics Under $100
1. Audio-Technica AT2020
For those who are in music for long enough, Audio-Technica is one of the first brands that come to mind when someone mentions microphones. This is a highly reputable manufacturer, which comes with products in a wide price range, including affordable ones. The AT2020 belongs to this group. It offers a good balance between price and quality, as it is a compact, durable and good-sounding mic. Speaking of the sound, the main feature that shapes its sound is a small 16mm diameter, which works perfectly with bright vocals and instruments, particularly small-size guitars and similar string instruments. It comes with a headphone feature so we could say this is a great budget-friendly studio tool.
- Solid construction, seems very durable
- Compact size
- Works well for both instruments and vocals
- Most users praise its reliability
- Too quiet of headphones
Not for singers who don’t like a bright sound
2. MXL Mics 770
Without any doubt, this is one of the best microphones in this category. Simply said, it looks and sounds much better than you would probably expect for this price tag. It is a pretty compact, small-diaphragm microphone, which would work great in every situation, no matter if you want to record vocals or instruments. Moreover, it could be a useful tool in live performances as well, as it is quite sturdy and reliable.
The key feature of this mic is a well-balanced tone. It responds in a pretty wide frequency range, which goes between 30Hz and 20kHz. I would say that this mic would be able to catch pretty much everything and to do it in a quite decent way.
- Delivers plenty of quality for the price
- Wide frequency range, works well for vocals and all kinds of instruments
- Deals with bass tones pretty well
- Looks nice
- Construction isn’t as solid as you would expect from such mic, so you have to be cautious during transport
3. MAONO AU-A04 USB Computer Cardioid Mic
Those who are looking for affordable mics would probably prefer something that can be quickly connected to a computer and there is no doubt that USB is by far the most convenient. Therefore, MAONO AU-A04 seems like a perfect for all those who want to make a quick recording, YouTube videos and similar things, but to get pretty decent quality.
The microphone is compatible with any kind of OS and it doesn’t require any driver installation. The package includes everything one starter needs, including a nice desk lamp-like stand for super convenient use. The sound by itself is quite good. Considering that it goes directly to the computer, bass tones actually sound very good.
- Super easy to use, just plug and play
- No drivers required
- The package includes everything you need
- Affordable price
- Some pieces in the package feature low quality
- You may find some troubles to fix the stand
4. Behringer B-1 Studio Condenser Microphone
Behringer is one of the best-known names in the industry of musical instruments. It covers such a wide range of various musical equipment and all products have one common thing. That would be affordable prices. This company focuses on customers with a tight budget and those who don’t want to spend too much money on their equipment. Among microphones, B-1 is one of the company’s best-known products.
This is a large-diaphragm mic, which in practice means you can use it for petty much everything. Its strongest point is very good clarity, but the durability is on a high level as well. To be honest, it delivers a little bit of everything, which makes it a perfect workhorse. For those who prefer higher-quality products, this could be a great backup mic.
- Great clarity
- Solid construction
- Reliable enough for live performances
- Plenty of quality for the money
- A little bit everything, but doesn’t impress in any aspect
- Can be tricky to mount sometimes
5. Behringer C-2 Studio Condenser Microphones
As I’ve just mentioned, engineers from this company are masters in designing cheap but very usable products. This one is a perfect example. The stereo recording has many benefits, but also one big drawback – it usually costs a lot of money. Except, if you look at what Behringer has to offer.
This couple of condenser microphones is very affordable, but also quite reliable to be used not just in the studio, but on live performances as well. As you can see, dimensions are pretty compact, which also means a rather small diaphragm. This is great for one thing – such design captures sounds in a pretty wide range. The clarity is good and you can record pretty much anything with these two. It works okay with vocals, but instruments are the zone of comfort. You can use them even for drums and other loud instruments.
- Super-affordable stereo recording
- Wide frequency range
- Decent clarity
- Works well with loud instruments
- Good build quality
- Not the best solution for vocals
- Won’t pick to much surround sound
6. Samson Meteor USB Mic
Another USB mic on the list that looks like a perfect desk tool. The first thing that you’ll notice about is a pretty interesting look, but there is much more. One of the things that I like most is a so-called “fold-back” leg design, which allows you to find a perfect position for recording.
A large diaphragm would work well in many situations, but users usually praise its quality for vocal recordings. Great clarity and a frequency range between 20Hz and 20kHz also allow quite decent instrument recordings. However, many users complained about too much noise that this microphone captures. All in all, a great tool for beginners in home recording.
- Works great for vocals
- Great clarity
- Durable and reliable, will work for a long time
- Great ergonomics
- Too much background noise
Best Budget Condenser Mics Under $200
1. Audio-Technica AT2035
If you want to spend a little bit more money and get very good quality products, my recommendation is to always stick to renowned brands. Therefore, Audio-Technica seems like a reasonable choice. This one, in particular, delivers pretty much everything you would expect from a decent microphone. The thing that I like most about it is that the company keeps everything simple, as there are no (un)necessary accessories. The package includes just mic and cable.
In terms of sound quality, you may look at it as on an upgrade of the AT2020. It features frequency response from 20Hz to 20kHz, which a quite typical range. It works great with all kinds of instruments, mainly because of an attenuation feature, which allows you to record at higher volume as well.
- Great clarity
- Works great with all kinds of instruments
- Solid construction, looks very durable
- No accessories included
- Sounds good, but won’t impress you – a typical workhorse
2. AKG Perception 220
Although primarily a vocal mic, it is actually a quite versatile tool, which can be useful for instrument recordings as well. One of the things that impressed me most is its sturdy construction. It looks like it can last for ages. When it comes to functionality, there is a couple of interesting features. One of them is a bass-cut filter, which deals pretty well with footfall noise. Also, you can count on switchable attenuation, which goes all away up to 155dB. Therefore, you can use this mic for various kinds of instruments as well. All in all, a mic that works well both in the studio and for live performances.
- Great sound for the price
- Deals with footfall noise pretty well
- Sturdy Construction
- Low noise
- Some user found it way too bright
3. Shure SM86
In this price range, versatility means to be average in all fields and sometimes, that is not enough. A product like this one is designed to be great in one thing, so keep that mind before you make a judgment on the price tag. The SM86’s main purpose is live performance. If you know something about mics, you probably think that something is wrong with the picture below. That’s because this one looks more like a dynamic microphone from the outside.
I believe that the main reason for such outside look is the company’s intention to make it clear that this is primarily a vocal microphone for live performances. I couldn’t agree more, as the SM86 is durable and super-reliable. On the other side, it doesn’t deliver too much refinement in its sound, something that would make it more usable in the studio.
All in all, things are pretty clear. This is a real foot soldier and it won’t let you down.
- Super reliable
- Durable construction
- Works great for vocals and instruments
- Deals with noise pretty well
- One-sided microphone
- Won’t sound great in a studio
4. AKG C1000 S
For younger generations – this is a legendary microphone. The famous thick stick has been around for decades and it is still one of the leaders among budget-friendly mics. For all these years, the base design hasn’t changed, but that doesn’t mean it uses the same tech solutions from the ‘80s. The company constantly updates this amazing product and these days, it is one of the most versatile affordable microphones around.
You can use this mic for pretty much everything. It is perfectly balanced so it would sound great for both male and female singers. When it comes to instruments, it can deal with all kinds of instruments, including drums and guitars. The secret probably lays in switchable polar patterns. You can change from cardioid to hypercardioid patterns, which makes C1000 S one of a kind in this price range.
- Extremely versatile
- Works on batteries
- Switchable polar patterns
- Excellent reputation
- Switching polar pattern is a little bit awkward
- Isn’t the best choice for outdoor performances
5. Audio-Technica PRO 37
Another well-known name in the industry. Unlike other mics on the list, this is an overhead mic. This means it is designed for instruments only. It is compact and light, but with durable construction. It can cover pretty much any instrument, from guitars and drums to brass instruments.
The overall sound quality is good. It is generally pretty clear, though can be little sandy in specific frequencies. All in all, an amazing value for the money.
- Covers all kinds of instruments
- Great clarity
- Wide frequency range
- Very durable and reliable
- Just for instruments
- Phantom power is necessary
6. Rode NT-USB
The fact is that most people look at USB mics as some cheap and low-quality products. However, there are plenty of high-quality products as well, with prices that can go up to hundreds of dollars. This one balances between price and quality pretty well.
Its main purpose is voice recordings and this is the field where it really shines. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t use it for music. Instruments or vocals, it will do just fine. It comes with several accessories and one of them is a pop-filter, which is a great tool if you want to suppress plosives.
- Good sound quality
- Compatible with Apple iPad
- Works great voice
- A bunch of nice accessories
- Primarily a voice mic
- Picks everything that’s happening around you
7. Samson C02
As I’ve already mentioned, stereo recording doesn’t necessarily need to be expensive. This is another quite affordable pair of condenser microphones that features decent quality. As you presume, these two silver pens are primarily designed for instruments. Of course, it can be used for stereo recordings, but can also be a great tool if you want to mic drums or other percussion instruments. The sound is amazingly clear and doesn’t deliver almost any ambiance.
The product includes a pair of these microphones, as well as a couple of accessories. For example, you can count on things like shock mounted mic clips and even a nice carrying case.
- Affordable price
- Amazing clarity
- Works great with drums and other percussions
- Carrying case included
- High frequencies sound distorted sometimes
Best Condenser Mics Under $500
1. AKG Pro Audio C214
We are now in the price range of professional microphones and things are here pretty clear. The starting point is to stick to most renowned brands and AKG is definitely one of them. This particular mic is one of the most popular models in its class and there are several good reasons for that. First of all, it delivers excellent build quality, combined with a pretty stylish look. Still, those technical features are far more important.
The core of this microphone is a dual cardioid capsule, which comes with a single diaphragm, a combination that doesn’t provide interchangeable polar patterns, but definitely provides an outstanding dynamic range. Also, there are extremely useful features like a switchable 20dB attenuator or bass-cut filter. To be honest, these are just some of the C214’s features that make it such amazing microphone, which works equally well for vocals and instruments.
- Amazing frequency range
- Spectacular clarity
- Bass-cut filter works well
- Excellent build quality
- On par with more expensive rivals in terms of overall quality
- Could sound too bright to some
2. Rode NT2A
Rode is another household name in the world of microphones and this is one of its most popular products. It is a condenser mic, designed primarily for studio recordings. The best words to describe its sound character would be a mix of classic and modern. The base design characteristics include an old-school dual diaphragm capsule, which is pretty large, in the manner of vintage mics. However, everything is boosted up with modern tech solutions, so besides classic sound, it also delivers impressive clarity, as well as amazing durability and reliability.
Some of the best things about this mic are multiple patterns, attenuation and filter control switches, which make it not just versatile, but also easy and convenient to use. This is not a common feature in this price range and seems like a clear advantage over the competition. Also, various accessories are included, like shockmount, cable, dust cover, and tutorial DVD. All in all, an amazing balance between price and quality.
- Amazing value for the money
- Convenient pattern, attenuation and filter control switches
- Although primarily a studio mic, it also works great for live performances
- Bulky and heavy
- The quality of accessories could be better
3. CAD Audio Equitek E100S
This mic stands out from the crowd in many ways. Of course, there is a great vintage look, but the most interesting thing about it is that we are talking about a supercardioid microphone, which delivers super-warm vintage tone, which works great for both vocals and instrument. The main reason for such a warm tone is a large diaphragm nickel plated capsule. Another important thing about this mic is that it is very resistant to back and side noise, so everything remains pretty quiet.
The main drawback of E100S doesn’t have anything with the design and tech solutions, but rather in quality inconsistency, as the quality control in the factory isn’t at the level it should be.
- Beautiful warm vintage sound
- Fancy old-school aesthetics
- Impressive low self-noise
- Inconsistent quality
- High price tag
4. MXL V67i
The MXL V67i looks and sounds spectacular. Visually, it comes with a great vintage combination of green body and gold-plated grill. Besides great overall quality, the thing that makes this mic great is that you actually have a 2-in-1 product, as there are two capsules at 1.23” in diameter so you can choose two completely opposite sound characters. You can choose between warm and bright tone, though both of them deliver genuine vintage sonic characteristics.
Such design characteristics are combined with modern technology, so you can also count on amazing reliability and durability. The mic is primarily a vocal microphone but will work well for guitars as well.
- Two amazing sonic options
- Sound vintage but it is also very reliable
- Bass roll-off and attenuator work great
- Attractive look
- Can be noisy sometimes
- Sensitive to humidity
5. Avantone Pro CV-12
Seems pretty legal to say that nothing beats the tube sound, especially if we are talking about quality products like this one. The Avantone Pro CV-12 comes with a nice-looking aluminum body, which looks quite durable. Still, the best thing about this mic is placed inside the housing. Of course, we are talking about the hi-end 6072A Russian-made tube, as well as a twin gold-sputtered Mylar capsules. Such combination ensures genuine vintage tube sound but also makes this mic pretty versatile. You won’t go wrong with this one, no matter if you need it for vocals or any kind of instrument.
The overall quality of this mic is great, but another impressive thing about it is that a fine number of accessories is included as well. Some of them are a wooden box to store and protect the mic, shock mount clip, a power supply and a sturdy padded aluminum carrying case.
- Quite affordable for a tube mic
- Exceptional sound quality
- Sturdy construction
- Stylish look
- Potential RF interference issues
- Mic switches look a little bit fragile
6. Shure KSM32
If you look at the specs of the Shure KSM32, everything looks so basic. A single diaphragm, fixed pattern, a cardioid condenser microphone is something that you can find for a much lower price tag, but you will hardly find something that sounds and works so great.
Visually, this is a typical Shure mic, with a rather simplistic design. On the inside, things are also quite simple, but there is a couple of useful additional features, such as 15 dB attenuation switch, which helps a lot in dealing extremely high sound pressure levels. The main sonic characteristic is brightness, so the mic works best with higher frequencies. Still, keep in mind that highs could sound a little bit frizzy. All in all, a great solution for studio recordings, though it works just fine in live performances.
- Clear and well-balanced sonic characteristics
- Works great for both vocals and instruments
- Solid and durable
- Highs don’t sound so smooth
- High price tag
As you can see, the market of condenser microphones full of various models that are different in so many aspects. In order to get the best budget condenser mic, you should identify your priorities. Therefore, determine your budget, choose a type that would be a perfect fit for your instrument of vocal and pick the one that seems most convenient to you. Also, keep in mind the main purpose – whether you need it for live performances, studio session, YouTube videos or something else.