Every recording artiste dreams of recording their music with a microphone such as the AKG Pro Audio C214 Condenser Cardioid microphone that enhances and accentuates their music, making them irresistible to their audience. If you’re looking for the well known sound quality of the AKG name, coupled with the ability to record both vocals and instruments equally beautifully, the AKG C214 is your best bet. It is the kind of mic that is good for home recordings just as good it is for a studio.
The Best Condenser Microphone: AKG Pro Audio C214 Condenser Cardioid microphone
The AKG C214 is considered the new generation of the famous AKG C414. It certainly is less costly while the sound quality is within the range of the C414. The AKG C214 is a large-diaphragm condenser microphone which produces great sounding music, is reliable and is known to capture less mechanical noise levels than its competitors.
The AKG C214 is a perfect balance between good money spent and good performance. It certainly does not hurt the purse to buy one either, that is to say, not as much as some others in the market.
Runner up Pick: Rode NTG3 Condenser Shotgun Microphone
If for instance if you have a little more cash lying around, just to be spent on a new condenser microphone, consider investing in a Rode NTG3 Condenser Shotgun Microphone with Storage Cylinder.
The Rode NtG3 is a step-up from the C214 with its shotgun look and its externally RF biased true condenser.
Step Up Pick: Neumann M149Tube Microphone
And here’s every microphone enthusiast’s dream. The definite step up. The ever elusive, the ever dreamy Neumann M149 Tube Microphone.
Budget Pick: MXL 770 Cardioid Condenser Microphone
What if what you wanted was good value for money but you only had a little money to spend. Then, the MXL 770 Cardioid Condenser Microphone would be just the one for you. It has been found to be the favorite of many a home recording artiste.
Despite its more economical price, the MXL 770 looks sleek in black with a gold splutter and is known for its low distortion diaphragm.
Table of Contents
- What are microphones anyway?
- Condenser mics vs. dynamic mics?
- Why choose a condenser microphone
- Blues, pop or rock n roll?
- Whom are condenser microphones for?
- Our testing grounds?
- Our top pick
- Flaws but not dealbreakers
- If we had more mint
- So you can’t have the AKG?
- Specialty models
- What else is out there?
- What else must you know?
What are microphones anyway?
We’ve all seen a mic haven’t we? We know that if you speak into one, it records or magnifies the sound. But, what does it do exactly? Because we don’t want you dozing off in a physics lecture on sound waves and electromagnetism let’s see if we can get this whole thing simplified.
When you make a sound before a microphone, it picks up that sound. Then that sound goes through a little process and gets changed into an electrical signal. It is the same principle as in a telephone mouth-piece. Finally that electrical signal gets sent through an amplifier into a speaker or a recorder. Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it?
Remember the homemade cup telephone we used as kids? Two plastic cups connected by a wire? I keep one cup over my mouth, you keep the other over your ear? I speak; you hear what I said through your cup and we both end up in a fit of giggles? Actually, the cup telephone, then called the lover’s telephone made by Sir Robert Hooke in the 17th century, was the first microphone invented.
In the 19th century, a German inventor by name of Johann Philipp Reis found a way to transfer sound waves using an intermittent current. While Alexander Graham-Bell has been hailed as the inventor of the telephone, now it is widely believed that it was Reis who first invented the microphone and consequently the telephone.
But in this little story of ours, we are completely diverting from topic. What concerns us is the use of a microphone as a recording device.
In 1870, David Edward Hughes in England invented the carbon microphone which is a precursor to the microphones we use today. In 1886, Thomas Edison developed further on the carbon microphone. This new developed version was the one used for the first ever radio broadcast in the world in 1910.
From there on the progress of the microphone has spiraled up, bringing into life, condenser microphones which is the core subject of our discussion, dynamic microphones and ribbon microphones.
Condenser Mics vs. Dynamic Mics
To know the difference between condenser microphones and dynamic microphones, I need to paint you a little picture. If you have ever been to a school musical recital you probably have seen a dynamic microphone. Dynamic microphones are what school principals have been using for decades to bell out morning announcements. They look a little like a metal ice cream. A wire mesh ball attached to the top of a metal rod.
In comparison, most condenser microphones are much cooler looking. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. If you’ve ever seen an old monochrome picture of a diva in the 50s or 60s serenading next to a standing microphone, you can bet it was a condenser microphone. We need not go so back into the past, the microphones you see in music videos on television are condenser microphones.
There’s a reason why one type of microphone is used by school principals and the other one is used by divas. And that reason has to do with how differently the two types of microphones are built. Both condenser and dynamic microphones have a diaphragm to receive sound. A diaphragm itself is like a membrane which catches sound that passes through it.
The difference between the two types is that while the dynamic microphone uses one diaphragm, the condenser microphone uses two diaphragms. A thinner diaphragm and a thicker plate. It is this thicker second diaphragm that gives condenser microphones their distinctive advantage.
Why choose a condenser microphone
There is no doubt that dynamic microphones are great. They come in a variety of prices from the very cheap upwards. But most of them are never as expensive as condenser microphones. And despite of their rather unaesthetic uses in schools, offices and public announcement systems, there are dynamic microphones completely capable of capturing music.
In live concerts, it is dynamic microphones that are used. You can even record studio music by using dynamic microphones. May be not all instruments, but the sounds of electric guitars, bass guitars or drums can be easily recorded using dynamic microphones.
Dynamic microphones are inexpensive. They are versatile. Then, why do we prefer condenser microphones?
Remember the diaphragm in the dynamic microphone? There’s wire attached to that diaphragm. The wire is placed in a magnet. When a sound is made into the microphone, the diaphragm vibrates with that sound. When the diaphragm vibrates, the wire attached to it vibrates. This whole vibration set in a magnet produces a teeny tiny electrical current. Therein lies the problem. To produce a small current, the whole contraption needs to vibrate and it is a lot of work for such little output. And because of that it only works in certain frequency ranges. Did you figure out which ones? The electric guitar and the drums.
Any sound that is very harmonic or is in the upper tonal frequencies would be difficult for a dynamic microphone to reproduce.
This means that if you wanted to record yourself playing an acoustic guitar, a dynamic microphone is not the mic for you.
There is one more disadvantage of a dynamic microphone. Because of the discussed small electrical output, sound though a dynamic microphone has to be amplified a lot to be useful. This is why you see big speaker systems at public events that use dynamic microphones.
One might ask the next logical question. How does the condenser microphone address these little issues we have with the dynamic microphone?
As we said before, a condenser (sometimes known as capacitor microphone) uses two plates. The first of these plates is a thin diaphragm. Just like in a dynamic microphone, this thin diaphragm is the one sound is entered into and it vibrates in the same way. But unlike a dynamic microphone, in the condenser microphone, there is no wire attached. What we have is the second plate fixed in place with the bit of spacing between the two.
When a sound enters the microphone, the first diaphragm vibrates with the sound wave. Because this vibration stems directly from the sound wave, it’s like a little dance. The first diaphragm gets a little close to the second plate, then draws away. Thus minimizing and then expanding the space between the two plates corresponding to the sound wave just received. Because there is no heavy wire attached and because its air that moves with the little dance of the plates, the electrical signal that is produced is pretty accurate.
This means that the condenser microphone can capture sounds in different tonal ranges and frequencies. Because the technology used in the condenser microphone is more advanced than that of the dynamic microphone you will find that they are more expensive than dynamic microphones.
However, the ranges of music that can be captured and recorded by condenser microphones are endless. Acoustic instruments, vocals, piano, string instruments, even xylophone music can be recorded using a condenser microphone.
Because they are mostly mass produced and are heavy made, dynamic microphones tend to be affordable and long lasting respectively. But if you want beautiful music made, it just won’t do the job for you. Unlike a dynamic microphone, the sound that is created by a condenser microphone is clear. In addition, even though we said that dynamic microphones are less expensive, with the current technological advancements you can get your hands on a basic condenser microphone for a pretty low price too.
For example, you will find that Samsung Go Mic is USB compatible. It is also portable which means, if you have it you will be making music wherever you are. What’s more, the Samsung Go Mic is both Mac and PC compatible.
Blues, pop or rock n roll?
Now that you know what suits you best is a condenser microphone, you need to see which condenser microphone is best for which kind of music. Because trust us when we say this, they are all not made the same. Some are best for rock n roll. Some capture the sounds of a Spanish guitar beautifully. Some are made just so that what you sing beautifully is transcended into something out of this world. If what you want is to capture vocals, then there is the whole issue of genres, voices and singing styles. The good thing for you is that with a bit of careful research (such as the one we have done for you here) you can pick a mic that suits your genre, your voice and singing style.
Say you’re recording a song for Valentines’ day, and you want the vocals to sound romantic, intimate and kind of breathy. Then, the chances are that a small diaphragm condenser mic would do the job for you.
But if you are a bit of a rocker intending to make resonating music, a large diaphragm condenser microphone is your best bet. They tend to be good for music that places its emphasis on vocals such as pop and alternative rock.
Whom are condenser microphones for?
The question whom the condenser microphones are for is actually a pretty easy one to answer. The answer is that it is for anyone who wants to make music.
Some come coupled with music systems. Some are portable. Some are heavy and not easy to move around. Some are USB compatible. Some are good for podcasts. Some others are best equipped to handle orchestras.
So basically, whether you are a recording novice making your first song to go on YouTube or a well known music producer making music inside a sophisticated studio, there is a condenser microphone perfect for you out there.
Our testing grounds?
Because we wanted to show you what is out there for you pick from, from the most basic models to the most sophisticated, we wanted to test a range of condenser microphones. A Few of these microphones you will note are rather budget friendly. The price of some might give you nightmares. However, we found out that a few of these condenser microphones brought with them the best of both worlds.
Here’s the deal. While we wanted something that would not break the bank, we figured we needed to get to the root of the issue. The quality of sound of a microphone is what actually matters. After lots of deliberation and frustrated hair pulling, we decided that the sound quality must be the deciding factor.
But then we hit a road block. What exactly is sound quality? How does one quantify sound quality so that it can be easily compared? There is quite a bit of science behind checking sound quality of an audio equipment.
So let’s start with what exactly sound quality of a microphone is. Simply it is this. If a microphone captures a sound and then reproduces an exact or near exact rendition of that sound, it can be said that the sound quality of that microphone is good. Let us for a moment go back to our discussion on condenser microphones against dynamic microphones. We said that the condenser microphones produced a better sound than the dynamic microphones. This means that the condenser microphone has better sound quality than the dynamic microphone.
However, sound quality is not a static thing. It is affected and influenced by a number of factors. According to this article a long list of factors which include, sound dynamics, nuance, ambiance and so on can affect the quality of a microphone’s sound. The Microphone which can re-produce a near original sound to the one it captured can be said to have the best quality.
You can use either an objective test using tools or a subjective test to check sound quality. But as we found out, mostly this is done subjectively. It all depends on the listener. It is what we perceive as being closest audio to the original sound that we would think of being of the best quality. As mentioned in the hub the true guide to buying a good microphone is one’s own ear.
Because we wanted to dig even deeper, we broke down our requirements to small branches so that we could tread better.
Then we checked each microphone for each attribute, starting with fields of sensitivity. We found out that there are different kinds of microphones depending on the side of sound they picked up. There are bidirectional microphones, Omni directional microphones and unidirectional microphones.
Because the more popular microphones in use are unidirectional ones, those were the ones we picked. Unidirectional microphones work on the principle of polar patterns and they capture sound from one direction discarding sound from other sides. Polar patterns are the sound patterns that can be captured by a microphone. There are three kinds of unidirectional microphones depending on the polar pattern, and these are, cardioid microphones, super cardioid microphones and hypercardioid microphones.
If you were recording vocals and you wanted to get a clear, uncluttered recording you should be selecting a unidirectional microphone. You should preferably select a cardioid microphone because they pick up sound coming straight from the front and sides. They also tend to have less feedback.
But you should also know that you can have multi pattern microphones which can be tuned to attract different polar patterns.
The next attribute we checked was the frequency the microphone was able to pick up. Frequencies are measured in Hertz (Hz). If you wanted to capture a bass sound you need to find a microphone that works with a low Hz value. If you wanted to capture soprano, you would need a microphone with a high Hz value such 80Hz.
Because of the range of different condenser microphones that can be found in the market it was not easy narrowing down our list of finalists. In the end, we also factored cost. Finally, this is the criterion we used to pick out best pick. Our best pick for a condenser microphone had to have excellent sound quality. Secondly, it had to be unidirectional, preferably made for vocals so that it could be used by anyone. Thirdly, the best condenser microphone pick had to operate in a good frequency range capturing both vocals and acoustics, or if the need should arise, other instruments.
Our top pick
The Best Condenser Microphone: AKG Pro Audio C214 Condenser Cardioid Microphone
After careful deliberation, we picked the AKG Pro Audio C214 Condenser Cardioid Microphone as our best pick. We didn’t do it willy-nilly. Let us lay it down for you the reasons we picked the AKG C214.
Let’s break it down into understandable pieces. Customers are happy with this microphone for a very good reason. It delivers what it promises.
The C214 is a large diaphragm condenser microphone. Before the C214 was made, AKG brand was well known for their AKG Pro Audio C414 Stereoset Condenser Microphone which is an industry classic. However, those who love the pricey C414 will find that C214 delivers an equal punch.
Because of the C214’s one inch capsule on integrated suspense, mechanical noise is reduced drastically. That’s not all, it can work on frequencies ranging from 20Hz to 20000Hz.
The Sound the C214 delivers is clear, definite and is not clogged with clutter. It captures and re-produces subtle nuances in voices making producing music a thrill for any artiste. Many a customer who bought it claimed on its ability to produce crispy clear sounds.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Here’s the thing though. Nothing is perfect. If you look closely enough, you can find microscopic flaws in anything. Those who had negative things to say about the AKG C214 had only very minuscule negative things to say. Those reviews mostly centered on the fact that looks can be deceiving, because it looks perilously like the legendary C414. But in our books, that’s not a bad thing at all. The C414 is a multi pattern microphone while the C214 is a cardioid. It has been said that the performance of the C214 is closer to the AKG C12VR Reference multipattern tube condenser microphone which is a wonderful thing.
If we had more mint
While the AKG C214 is an extremely good condenser microphone, if we had a bit more money to spare, we would definitely go for the Neumann M149 Tube Microphone.
The Neumann M149 is a classic. It’s beautiful. It’s produces such true and crisp sounds. It’s the one microphone that every music maker dreams of owning someday. While the M149 is obviously too costly for a home recording artiste, if you can spare the cash, it is a must for a studio. The Neumann M149 is the perfect combination between the classic and the modern.
So you can’t have the AKG?
If you are in College and wants to record music with your friends in your dorm room, what condenser microphone should you consider buying? We think you should definitely go for the MXL 770 Cardioid Condenser Microphone. It comes much cheaper than its contenders. But don’t be fooled by its inexpensiveness. It can work a frequency range from 30Hz to 20000Hz. With a less than inch capsule size, the sound quality is also impeccable.
Because we talked about the AKG 414 and the Neumann M149, let’s also talk about the Blue Microphones Bottle Tube Microphone System with B6. Have you seen it? What a beauty! But makes one blue just thinking about the price. The Blue Tube Microphone is hand built to perfection with a class A discrete amplifier circuit.
Then there’s the unforgettable Telefunken U47. The Telefunken U47 is the priciest of the lot. It’s exactly what Telefunken claims it to be. It’s the classiest of classics. It’s the one you saw in old black and white movies.
What else is out there?
All of the above condenser microphones are good. But one must never forget the age we find ourselves in now. When the Digitals cameras, namely the DSLRs, the experienced photographers refused to use the DSLRs. However, they were the forbearers of the modern day photography. In the same manner, the modern condenser microphones must also be able to adapt to the new needs.
There are a few condenser microphones out there that do this job quite well. They have become USB compatible, portable and compatible with both Mac and PC. They also cost much less than conventional microphone models.
Audio-Technica ATR2500-USB Cardioid Condenser USB Microphone is a perfect example of this. It really is a good deal considering that Audio-technica is a well known brand in condenser microphones. The ATR2500 also boasts a headphone jack in the side panel and easy to use controls.
If you want an even less expensive USB compatible model, try the Tonor USB Professional Condenser Sound Podcast Studio Microphone. For its very low cost, it’s compatible to practically any computer, be it a PC, laptop or a MAC. It also works on a frequency range of 50Hz to 16000Hz.
What else must you know?
Before buying your new condenser microphone, think on what we just discussed. The type of music you play or sing, the environment in which you intend to record music, your vocal range all must be taken into account before buying a new condenser microphone.
Further, whether you need to buy a pre-amp, shocks and mounts separately must also be considered.
All in all, considering everything, there is no doubt in our minds that the AKG 214 is the best condenser microphone for that price range, because the Neumann M149 does seem a little far reaching for the layman. If the AKG 214 is not for you, there are always other reasonably priced condenser microphones to consider, such as, the MLX 770 or the Rode NTG3. Thus the MLX 770, the AKG C214 and the Rode NTG3 make a perfect listing for a low cost Mid range and high end condenser microphones respectively. But the point to bear in mind is that you need to check the quality of the sound yourself. The aesthetics of your microphone would be exclusive to you. Therefore, listen to it. Is it the sound that you want to hear, then that’s the one you should buy.