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.
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.
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.
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.
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!