For your songs to sound the best they can, it couldn't more more important that you're recording on the best possible equipment. Whilst we totally appreciate that different artists are working on different budgets, the importance of getting the most out of the budget you do have is paramount.
Dave is one of the producers here at TORS. Focusing mostly on guitar and keys based tracks, Dave works with artists from all over the world to help them get their music sounding the best it can. He produces a weekly podcast with 6 million listeners, has 3 kids, loves dogs, and has a taste for Mexican food!!
Microphones allow us to capture the sound waves generated by instruments. And choosing the right mic for your budget will ensure that you capture your performance perfectly. The right mic for you is often determined by getting the most value for your hard-earned money.
We’ve previously discussed the different types of microphones in this blog post. And since condenser mics are the most widely used for recording, the purpose of this article is to help you choose the best condenser mic for your recording setup.
WHAT ABOUT USB MICS?
There are a number of great-sounding USB mics on the market. However, they introduce latency (or delay) to the audio signal and create extra work for your computer’s processor. As a result, when recording multiple tracks of audio in your DAW of choice, there is a noticeable delay in the sound of your voice, and the tracks don’t align properly.
While USB mics are great for podcasting, we’re only going to focus on studio-grade microphones with an 3-pin XLR connection that would plug into your audio interface. More on interfaces in a future blog post...
For under $100 USD, the Audio Technica AT2020 or the MXL 990 is a great choice. Both are cardioid condenser mics that capture both warmth and detail and have a nice proximity effect when used close to the source. Because they capture so much detail, you’ll want to use them in a quiet room and use a pop filter for vocals a few inches from the front of the mic to eliminate any plosives like a hard “p” or “b” sound.
Also recommended are the AKG P120 and the sE Electronics X1 A. These mics include additional features like a -20db pad and a bass rolloff switch, which are helpful tools for recording vocals. The pad allows you to capture a louder sound source – like a singer – without going into distortion. The bass rolloff switch eliminates low frequencies that aren’t useful in lead vocals (usually under 80hz)
For just under $200 USD you can purchase the MXL 603s. This pair of small diaphragm condenser mics allows you to capture stereo images of drums, piano or strings with low noise and excellent clarity. You could also use them to capture a stereo choral performance or even capture crowd response like applause to blend into a live recording.
For slightly larger budgets, the Rode NT1A ($230 USD) is an extremely popular large diaphragm cardioid condenser mic suitable for lead vocals, guitar, piano or drum overheads (if you have a pair of them). It can handle volumes up to 137dB SPL and and has extremely low self-noise which allows you to capture you loudest or softest vocal performance.
The Lewitt LCT-440-Pure ($269 USD) and the Roswell Pro Audio Mini K47 ($349 USD) are relatively newcomers to the microphone space, but have earned rave reviews. I personally own a pair of the LCT-440’s and use them for recording drum overheads and acoustic guitar and have been thrilled with the result.
The Aston Origin ($299 USD) is another popular choice for both build quality and sound quality. It includes a -10dB pad and bass rolloff switch making it a great choice for vocal recording.
If you have around $1000+ to invest, you can’t go wrong with the Neumann TLM-103. It’s a large diaphragm condenser mic that will capture every detail of your acoustic guitar, piano, or lead vocal with warmth and clarity.
The AKG C414 TLII ($1100 USD) can be found in most recording studios around the world. It was made popular by capturing the vocals for U2 frontman Bono and has been a sought-after mic for piano recording and even guitar cabinets. The C414 is the first mic in this list that allows selectable polar patterns. This means that the mic can record in cardioid (where the vocalist is standing directly in front of the mic) or in figure 8 where two vocalists stand on either side of the mic and it picks up both. It also includes an omnidirectional mode which captures a 360 degree field around the mic.
The Neumann KM184 ($1500) is a small diaphragm condenser mic that is often used in pairs to capture the most phenomenal stereo images! From drum overheads to acoustic guitar to piano, these little mics are the often considered the starting point for serious recordings
The Soundelux U99 ($2599) is a large diaphragm tube condenser mic that sounds incredible on vocals and drum overheads. Because there’s a vacuum tube inside the body of the mic, it’s connected to an external power supply by a 6-pin cable and does not require phantom power. The power supply box contains the XLR connector that would connect to your interface.
While we’ve mainly focused on condenser mics in this article, there is one dynamic mic that has exploded in popularity. That’s the Shure SM7b. At around $400 USD, this dynamic mic is a favorite for radio stations and podcasts for the clarity of the vocals and excellent rejection. And more and more studios are using them for lead vocals and rap vocals.
Regardless of which mic you purchase, remember that there’s magic in recording that can’t be quantified by the specifications on the packaging.
So when you’re ready to record, wear something comfortable.
Find a quiet room.
Try a few different mic positions.
Then hit record and breathe.
It’s time to capture the magic and remember,
The Online Recording Studio is always ready to help you.