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Need a condenser microphone? We rank the top 15.

Shopping for a condenser microphone can be mind-boggling, particularly when you start seeing the lists of specifications that accompany each model. What separates one from the other? Below we rank the most popular models in the eyes of the podcast hosts on our network, capped by the #1 most-endorsed condenser microphone.

#1

Blue Yeti

by Blue

Type
Condenser
Connection
USB
Estimated Price
$129.99
Endorsments
230 hosts
#2

Blue Snowball

by Blue

Type
Condenser
Connection
USB
Estimated Price
$69.99
Endorsments
57 hosts
#3

H6

by Zoom

Type
Condenser
Connection
XLR & USB
Estimated Price
$400
Endorsments
9 hosts
#4

Blue Snowball Ice

by Blue

Type
Condenser
Connection
USB
Estimated Price
$49.99
Endorsments
18 hosts
#5

Rode NT1A

by Rode

Type
Condenser
Connection
XLR
Estimated Price
$269
Endorsments
19 hosts
#6

Zoom H5

by Zoom

Type
Condenser
Connection
XLR & USB
Estimated Price
$280
Endorsments
6 hosts
#7

Shure Beta 87a

by Shure

Type
Condenser
Connection
XLR
Estimated Price
$249
Endorsments
26 hosts
#8

Blue Yeti Pro

by Blue

Type
Condenser
Connection
XLR & USB
Estimated Price
$249.99
Endorsments
8 hosts
#9

Shure MV88

by Shure

Type
Condenser
Connection
iPhone
Estimated Price
$149
Endorsments
3 hosts
#10

Samson Go Mic

by Samson

Type
Condenser
Connection
USB
Estimated Price
$37
Endorsments
7 hosts
#11

MXL 770

by MXL

Type
Condenser
Connection
XLR
Estimated Price
$72.22
Endorsments
2 hosts
#12

Shure MV5

by Shure

Type
Condenser
Connection
USB
Estimated Price
$99
Endorsments
1 hosts
#13

AKG C1000S

by AKG

Type
Condenser
Connection
XLR
Estimated Price
$199
Endorsments
2 hosts
#14

Rode NT2A

by Rode

Type
Condenser
Connection
XLR
Estimated Price
$399
Endorsments
2 hosts
#15

H1

by Zoom

Type
Condenser
Connection
USB
Estimated Price
$108
Endorsments
7 hosts
#16

Neumann KM184

by Neumann

Type
Condenser
Connection
XLR
Estimated Price
$849
Endorsments
0 hosts
#17

Blue Yeti Blackout

by Blue

Type
Condenser
Connection
USB
Estimated Price
$108
Endorsments
0 hosts

Understanding the condenser microphone  

Like all microphones, the condenser microphone does the job of converting sound waves into an electrical signal for recording and reproduction. However, unlike other microphones — the dynamic microphone, for example, which uses a metal coil and electromagnetism — a condenser microphone uses a capacitor, made of a solid metal plate and a thin membrane called a ‘diaphragm’, to perform its core function. We’ve written a complete guide to help you understand what you’re getting into when you buy a condenser microphone, which you can access here. We recommend you read that in conjunction with this article so you get the full picture of what you’re investing in with a condenser microphone.

What to look for when buying a condenser microphone

As we said at the outset, shopping for a condenser microphone can be really perplexing because there are so many variables that contribute to their performance and cost. We’ll try and deal with each of the main variables as best we can for the remainder of this article.
Diaphragm size
First and foremost, the diaphragms built into condenser microphones can vary in size. What’s conveniently termed a large diaphragm condenser microphone is built with a diaphragm that’s usually at least one inch in diameter, whereas small diaphragm condenser microphones come with much smaller diaphragms, usually less than half an inch in diameter. There are pros and cons to both small and large diaphragm condenser microphones, which we detail in this article. In short, for podcasters at least, a condenser microphone with a large diaphragm may be a better choice because it has a lower self-noise level than those with smaller diaphragms.
Polar pattern
All microphones, not just the standard condenser microphone, have what’s called a polar pattern. A mic’s polar pattern describes how well it picks up sound waves from different directions and angles. There’s a confusing difference here, but remember that the polar pattern of a mic isn’t a measure of how well it picks up sound at different distances, but different directions.   The omnidirectional polar pattern picks up sound waves from all directions and angles. The perfect example of an omnidirectional mic is a lavalier or lapel mic, particularly those with a rounded capsule, which are designed to pick up sound from every angle. The cardioid polar pattern is designed to pick up sound waves best when they hit the capsule from directly in front. They pick up virtually no sound waves that hit the capsule from behind and exhibit limited performance picking up sound waves that it on from either side.   Because of its focused, directional pickup zone, cardioid mics are great in some recording settings because they capture less background noise than a mic with an omnidirectional polar pattern, which are better used in live settings, where the goal is to capture the vibrant noise of a crowd or the bustling sounds of an event.   A condenser microphone with a cardioid polar pattern is great for broadcasters and podcasters, who usually only want to capture their own voice, the voices of their co-hosts and guests, and not much else. But what’s better in that regard is the supercardioid polar pattern, which is even more frontal-focussed than the cardioid pattern.   When you’re hunting for a condenser microphone for use as a podcast host, therefore, we recommend buying one with either a cardioid or supercardioid polar pattern.
Equivalent noise level or self-noise
Putting it simply, equivalent noise level, or self-noise, is a term to describe how noisy your condenser microphone is on its own, without any external sound input. Don’t let the bamboozling, technical terms confuse you. They’re much simpler than they sound and literally refer to the noise the mic itself produces.   You would’ve heard differences in noise levels between microphones in the past, probably without even realizing it. Mics with a low self-noise level make whatever’s being recorded (voice or music) sound crystal clear, because the white noise of the mic itself can’t be heard in the background. On the flipside, you can’t miss a mic with a high self-noise level; you can hear the distracting white-noise in the background of everything that’s recorded.   Quite obviously, therefore, a condenser microphone with a low equivalent noise level or self-noise level will make whatever you’re recording sound better to the human ears listening than a mic with a high level of noise. This metric is normally measured in units of “dB-A”, the A-weighted decibel level. Here’s a quick guide to knowing what to look for when it comes to this measurement:
  • Below 10 dB-A: Excellent
  • Between 11 and 15 dB-A: Very good
  • Between 16 and 19 dB-A:  Good
  • Between 20 and 23 dB-A: Average
  • Above 24 dB-A: Below average
As is expected, you’re likely to pay more for a condenser microphone with a low self-noise level, so do your research and make sure you’re happy with the sound performance of the mic you end up choosing.
Maximum SPL
Maximum SPL represents the Maximum Sound Pressure Level of a condenser microphone, and refers to how much sound pressure the mic can handle before the quality of the sound it outputs is distorted. Quite clearly, therefore, the on-paper quality of a mic improves the higher its Maximum SPL goes.   For musicians, the level of sound pressure a mic can withstand before distortion occurs can be critical, but for podcasters and broadcasters, who aren’t likely to test the sound pressure limits of many modern condenser microphones, this specification shouldn’t concern you too much.
Frequency response
The frequency of a sound refers to its pitch and the frequency response of a condenser microphone is the range of frequencies it can pickup, from low to high, measured in hertz. Again, frequency response is more critical when you’re choosing a mic to record musical instruments. For podcasters and broadcasters who want to capture voice, a frequency response range of 80 Hz — 15 kHz is a good range.

Conclusion

Shopping for a good condenser microphone can be difficult, with so many different models and price-points. But here’s the bottom line: If you’re a podcast host looking to buy one, do your best to find one with a strong price-to-performance ratio. There’s no point over-capitalising in a mic when a more affordable model does everything you need just as well.