Five Best Condenser Microphones Under $200

While many folks in broadcasting swear by the Electrovoice and Shure dynamic microphones, condenser mics have a well-deserved place in the annals of voice over and recording studios because of their sensitive and clean sounds. Even your cell phone depends on a tiny condenser mic. Although some studios rely upon condensers mics that come with price tags in the mid-to-high $1000s, you can pick up a quite serviceable unit for under $200. Since condensers are not dependent upon size, you can find everything from tiny lapel mics to full-sized studio-style models. From rock bottom to the tippy top, here are your choices. Read up before you speak up!
 

1.) The Blue Snowball – Cheap and Simple

 
Excellent for travel (although when dissembled it does kind of look like a Wile E. Coyote Acme bomb, a bit problematic in airport TSA lines), this little round jewel delivers a surprisingly clean sound. It has three settings on the rear that are appropriate for solo voice recordings, large groups or even a kick drum. The included stand screws right into the base of the mic or you can screw it into a proper stand so that you can be on your feet during recording. The best part is the price – somewhere between $60 and $80, depending on the finish and color. The Snowball needs no external power, just plug the USB right into your computer and you’re on your way.

Purchase a Blue Snowball Mic
 

2.) CADU37 USB – Even Cheaper

 
Primarily for the beginning podcaster or enthusiastic gamer, this plastic-bodied mic does an amazingly good job for a price that can sometimes come in under $50. It looks best in black – although there is a silver version – and it comes with a short USB connector and a little stand for your computer desk. It also has a bass cut switch that gives you a little control over your sound. Surprisingly good for the price of a good steak dinner for two.

Purchase a CADU37 Mic
 

3.) Audio-Technica AT2020 USB Plus – Headphone Jack Included

 
Double the price of the Snowball, the Audio-Technica AT2020 USB Plus is also a plug and play, but a much more powerful instrument. You can plug your headphones into the mini-jack socket on the side of the mic and hear exactly what you are doing without fiddling with your computer or interface settings. It is sensitive enough for two people to talk into at once during an interview but you can also isolate yourself for a pretty good closed-miked session. Exceptional for stuff like audio books and podcasting, it runs around $150 and comes with a long USB cord (so you can take it to a booth) and a cute but kind of wobbly little desktop stand. For a similar price, you can also get the AT2020 with an XLR cord but you will need an interface to connect to your computer and there is no headphone jack on the mic.

Purchase an Audio-Technica AT2020 USB Plus
 

4.) Shure SM86 – Take it to the Stage

Designed specifically for vocals, the Shure SM86 hand-held microphone will make you look like a rock star on stage and you’ll get a good enough sound to at least think you are one – all for about $180. It’s a slim, uni-directional with a built-in shock mount and two-stage pop filter so you can rock out in style. It’s an XLR connected mic, so if you’re going to dance like Jagger, you’re going to need a long cord.

Purchase a Shure SM86
 

5.) AKG CK99  Lavalier – Keep it Close to the Chest

 
If you’re making a documentary or want someone to be heard from the stage, AKG’s tiny condenser CK99 is pretty close to perfection for a lavalier mic.  It can usually be found for somewhere from $100 to $130. The 125-degree pickup angle makes ideal for especially expressive talkers who might not know how to address the mic and the cardioid polar pattern helps defeat noise coming from behind the singer or speaker. It has a mini-pin XLR connector that is designed for all of the body-pack transmitters made be AKG but also easily fits cheaper brands. It’s a very nice body mic that is easily concealed. Remember, you can’t just plug this into your camera or computer; you will need either a body pack or other interface. You should be able to complete the package and stay under $200.

Purchase an AKG CK99  Lavalier
 
Choosing the right condenser mic is down to the intended use. For instance, if you are looking to do professional voiceovers, you would do well to pick a microphone with an XLR connection as USB mics often create residual sounds that are not acceptable for TV spots. You can get away with a lot more on radio and when you’re podcasting, you are your own boss! Start on the cheap and upgrade as you move along. For now, just pick what you can afford and start creating!


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Audio and Video Security Issues (Plus a Free GoDaddy Renewal Coupon Code)!

Pinhole Cameras For Business And Home Security: When Are They Appropriate?security video and audio

In science, it’s called the “Hawthorne effect“; it describes the changes people make to their behavior based on the knowledge that they are being observed. The Hawthorne effect is in play the second somebody sees a video camera mounted to the wall or ceiling. In terms of business security, this can be a good thing, serving as a deterrent to theft and other forms of crime. It can likewise serve a similar function in home security.

There are security situations where it can prevent you from obtaining vital information, however. In a business setting, the issue might be employee theft or vandalism by unknown parties. At home, you might want to determine if a babysitter is being abusive or neglectful with a “nanny cam”, or if contractors are stealing or rifling through personal materials.

In situations where you are seeking to gather incriminating evidence without alerting the offending party to your observations, a pinhole camera is an indispensable tool. These cameras are available in sizes smaller than a square inch. They are designed to be fitted to all manner of everyday objects, and many come pre-fitted to objects such as clocks, speakers or light switches.

Important Legal Considerations

An important point of note before considering a pinhole camera is to check local laws regarding surreptitious video recording. Most of these cameras ship with no ability to record audio, as recording of audio without the other party’s knowledge or consent is widely illegal under state laws. Some states forbid audio recording without the consent of all parties involved, but it is legal if the conversation is recorded in a public place and is at a volume that others can unintentionally hear it.

Surreptitious video recording for security purposes is generally legal, so long as it is not used to capture people undressing, using the bathroom or engaging in sexual activity. Certain types of businesses naturally face further privacy restrictions, such as places of lodging not being allowed to place hidden cameras in guest rooms. Again, it is important to check state and local laws, as they do differ somewhat.

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Technical Details

Pinhole cameras usually don’t contain their own internal memory for storing video, unless they come in some sort of prefabricated setup inside of an object (such as the clocks or speakers mentioned above). Most frequently, they wirelessly transmit data to a base station that records to an SD card.

To conserve battery life, some will offer the feature of only activating when they detect motion. This feature does somewhat restrict how they can be set up, however. An ideal solution for a camera with motion detection is to hide it in an actual motion detector, such as the sensors on light switches that automatically turn lights on or off based on activity in the room.

Other optional features on higher-end models include automatic adjustments to ambient light settings, infrared illumination and recording to different types of video formats.

Camera Placement

A variety of different lens types are available, but generally speaking, these cameras are designed with a wide angle lens to capture as broad of a viewing area as possible. The best placement is therefore usually a minimum of a few feet back from the area you are attempting to videotape.

Other Uses For Pinhole Cameras

It’s possible for pinhole cameras to be worn on the body. This is how investigative journalists, law enforcement and even mystery shoppers obtain video covertly. Again, it is important to remember while this is usually legal in areas where there is not an established expectation of privacy, surreptitious audio recording is prohibited by law in many states.

Another professional application is to use a flexible snake-style camera with infrared illumination to get into tight spaces. Such cameras are used by pest control technicians and tradesmen of all sorts who perform repairs. They are particularly helpful in diagnosing automotive problems without having to disassemble a vehicle.

Pinhole cameras have many valid security applications both in the home and in business settings, but it is extremely important to review your local surreptitious recording laws before deploying them.