Choosing the Right Condenser Microphone
Among all microphone types, condenser models provide the widest frequency response, lowest noise and distortion levels, and the most accurate overall sound. For these and other reasons, they’re the preferred choice for vocalists and solo instruments. And they work well for recording large ensembles, such as orchestras or choirs, as well as amplifier speaker cabinets.
But which of the Best Condenser Mics Under $200 is perfect for you?
That really depends on your application, budget, and personal taste. There are hundreds of excellent condenser mics to choose from and a bewildering list of technical specs. We’re here to help you make that choice!
So, let’s start by briefly discussing a few important technical issues…
What is a Condenser Microphone?
It is a microphone that contains a sealed “capsule” that acts like a capacitor, also called a condenser. It has plates that are parallel and very close together, which can conduct electricity. The stationary backplate is heavier and made of brass or another metal.
The other plate is called the “diaphragm,” it is very thin, so it can move closer to or further from the backplate in response to air pressure changes. The best diaphragms are made of Mylar or aluminum foil that’s “sputtered” (coated with vaporized gold).
An electrical charge is applied between the diaphragm and the backplate. As the diaphragm moves in reaction to sound waves, it changes the capacitance. A preamplifier converts the capacitance to a varying voltage.
Responsive and sensitive…
Condenser microphones are known for having an exceptionally wide frequency response, typically from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. They’re also very sensitive to air pressure variations, which makes them the ideal choice for vocals and instruments. They’re also very quiet because they don’t contain any electromagnetic coils that pick up hum.
All condenser models require a source of power. This can be from an external power supply or battery, or they can be “phantom powered” through the audio cable from a specially-equipped mixing console or audio interface.
But they also have their weaknesses…
Good condenser microphones are quite sturdy, but they’re generally still more fragile than dynamic mics. For this reason, they’re not the usual choice for onstage situations where they could be accidentally kicked or dropped or exposed to extremely high sound levels.
Also, condenser mics tend to be more expensive, with the very best models costing thousands of dollars. Fortunately, many manufacturers have devised innovations to bring the cost of high-quality condenser mics within the reach of podcasters and small studios.
Let’s move on by looking more closely at some of the features to consider when choosing a condenser mic.
Large or Small Diaphragm?
Small condenser microphone diaphragms are about 0.5 – 0.7 inches (12 – 18 mm) in diameter. A smaller diaphragm has a lower mass, so it can capture faster transients and has the best high-frequency response. However, it’s also less sensitive, so it has a lower signal-to-noise (S/N) ratio.
Small diaphragm mics usually have a pencil shape and are “top-addressed,” meaning they’re most sensitive to sound on the top. They can be handheld or mounted on a stand, and are typically used for piano, acoustic guitar, strings, drums, or cymbals. In matched pairs, they’re ideal for overhead or room miking of drums, orchestras, or choirs.
Large Diaphragm Condensers…
Mics with large diaphragms (up to 1 inch) are physically larger and heavier, and they’re almost always “side-address.” Because of their weight, they must be suspended in a shock mount on a sturdy mic stand or in a desktop stand.
The higher diaphragm mass gives them a lower resonant frequency that can add some bass boost but reduce high frequency and transient response slightly. On the other hand, they produce a stronger signal, making them more sensitive and quieter. They’re the preferred choice for vocalists and solo instruments.
Analog vs. Digital Mics
Some microphones include internal analog-to-digital converters (ADCs) to provide a digital signal via a USB interface. Digital mics are the easiest to use with computers. They’re usually plug-and-play devices with no driver software required. And they draw power from the USB connector, so no other power source is needed.
They often include a zero-latency headphone monitor output with a volume control.
Which is better?
Soundwise, digitizing the signal close to the mic can reduce noise. And a separate mic preamp isn’t needed, so digital mics are often the best choice for applications such as podcasting.
However, a computer sees a digital microphone as an audio interface, so it’s harder to set up multiple mics. And the internal A/D converter may not be as accurate as those found in professional audio gear.
Microphones are more sensitive to sounds received from certain directions than others. How a mic responds to sounds all around it is called its “polar pattern.” Specification sheets provided with the microphone often provide a graph that illustrates this.
The most common microphone polar pattern is the “cardioid” because the graph resembles a heart shape. Cardioid mics are more sensitive to sounds picked up at the front than at the sides, and even less from the back. Small-diaphragm mics are usually cardioid.
Some large-diaphragm mics have two capsules that work together to provide additional pickup patterns. These include the supercardioid, which provides stronger rejection of sounds coming from the sides, and omnidirectional. Some condenser mics include a switch to select different patterns.
A microphone’s frequency response is the range of frequencies it can pick up. It’s expressed in hertz (Hz) or kilohertz (kHz), with the maximum variation from the average sensitivity. For example: 20 Hz – 20 kHz +/- 3 dB. Some mic manufacturers provide only the overall frequency range. A frequency response graph offers a clearer picture of a mic’s performance.
Condenser microphones are capable of a very wide frequency response, approximately 20 Hz – 20 kHz. Unless specifically mentioned, all mics reviewed offer this full-range response. And some have dips or peaks within that range that give them a unique sonic character.
Maximum Sound Pressure Level
Maximum Sound Pressure Level (SPL) is measured in dB. It’s the loudest sound a microphone can handle without distortion. Condenser mics generally have maximum SPL values of 120 – 150 dB.
Microphone sensitivity is the output measured against a standard sound pressure level (SPL). It’s generally specified in decibels compared to a 1 volt output. The number is always negative, so the closer to zero, the more sensitive the mic is.
Microphones with higher sensitivity can pick up quieter sounds. This is useful in some situations but not in others.
Signal and Noise
There are two standards for microphone noise measurement. The first is “self-noise.” This is the amount of hiss and other random sound that the microphone’s internal circuit puts out. It’s the ultimate limit to the quietest sound that can be recorded.
It is measured in decibels, adjusted to account for the ear’s varying sensitivity to different frequencies (“A” rating). Condenser mics typically have very low self-noise, around 16 – 24 dBA, so you can capture the softest nuances of a sound.
The other common noise specification is the signal-to-noise (S/N) ratio. This is the ratio of a 94 dB SPL to the self-noise level. S/N is not the same thing as dynamic range, which is always higher.
Other details to consider before purchasing a condenser microphone include the…
Some microphones include switches that change how they work. One switch, called an attenuator or pad, reduces the mic’s sensitivity, usually by 10 dB, so you can record a higher-SPL sound source.
Another common option is a high pass filter. It reduces the bass response to get less of the “tubby” sound that occurs when a source is too close.
Digital mics often include an onboard headphone amp for zero-latency monitoring, with a volume control.
What else is in the Box?
Most condenser microphones include accessories that you’d otherwise pay for separately. Most important is a cable with an XLR or USB connector. Also needed is some kind of case or pouch for safe transport and storage. Also, large-diaphragm microphones should always be used with a high-quality shock mount to prevent physical damage, and these are often provided with the mic.
Other important accessories that might be included are a mic stand swivel mount, a pop filter, and a windscreen. We’ve reviewed one complete kit that includes all these items and more.
So here’s our choice of the…
Top 10 Best Condenser Mics Under $200 To Purchase In 2021 Reviews
First, let’s take a look at a few large-diaphragm mics used in the studio, starting with the…
1 Marantz Pro MPM1000 Studio Recording Condenser Microphone – Best Budget StudioCondenser Mic Under $200
Although the Marantz Pro MPM-1000 is one of the least expensive microphones reviewed here, it can deliver studio-grade audio performance that’s perfect for podcasting applications or recording vocalists or instruments when budget is a serious concern.
The MPM-1000 is based around an 18mm aluminum-plated capsule with a cardioid polar pattern. It offers full-range frequency response, excellent sensitivity of -38dB ± 2dB, and fast transient response. Self-noise is remarkably low at just 17 dBA, and the overall S/N ratio is a very respectable 77 dB. It can handle a maximum SPL of 136 dB.
What’s in the box?
Just 6.5 inches (165mm) long, The MPM-1000 weighs 10.5 ounces (300 grams). The package provides all the accessories you’ll need to use it effectively, including a windscreen, purpose-designed shock mount for a traditional mic stand, tripod stand, and even an XLR cable.
- Low noise.
- Large number of accessories included.
- Great price.
- Cardioid pattern only.
- No high-pass or pad switches.
2 Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Studio XLR Microphone – Best Low Cost Studio Condenser Mic Under $200
The Audio-Technica AT2020 is a side-address cardioid microphone that’s an excellent choice for personal studios needing to strike a balance between high fidelity and low cost. Full-range frequency range and superior transient response are guaranteed by its low-mass diaphragm.
The AT2020 offers a S/N ratio of 74 dB and a sensitivity of -37 dBA. It can be used effectively in almost any recording situation, from soft vocals to drums or guitar amps, thanks to its maximum 144 dB SPL and a 124 dB dynamic range.
Or go for the fully-featured model…
This microphone provides no attenuation or bass filter switches. However, Audio-Technica also offers the AT2035 model, which includes an 80 Hz high-pass filter and 10 dB pad, as well as improved sensitivity of -33 dB. This understandably costs a little more, but it is worth it if you need the features.
The AT2020 ships with a soft zippered pouch and a threaded stand mount that pivots. It weighs in at 12.2 ounces (345 grams).
To find out more, check out our in-depth review of the Audio Technica AT2020.
- Wide frequency response.
- High sensitivity and very high maximum SPL.
- No high-pass or pad switches.
- No hard case included.
3 Behringer B-1 Gold-Sputtered Large-Diaphragm Studio Condenser Microphone – Best Value for the Money Studio Condenser Mic Under $200
Next, in our reviews of the Best Condenser Microphones Under $200, we have the B-1 from Behringer.
The company has a solid reputation for delivering excellent products for a very reasonable price, often based on the world’s best designs. The Behringer B-1 is no exception. While it’s one of the priciest mics in this review, its large 1-inch (25mm) gold-sputtered diaphragm gives you the crisp sound of a professional studio condenser mic at a home studio price.
Some superb specifications…
The B-1 has a cardioid polar pattern. A transformerless FET input provides the lowest self-noise of all the mics reviewed, a mere 13 dB, and a remarkable 81 dB S/N. Switches control a 75 Hz high-pass filter and a 10 dB pad. The maximum SPL is 138 dB (148 dB with the switch engaged).
The microphone includes a suspension shock mount, windscreen, and hard aluminum carrying case.
- Very quiet, wide dynamic range.
- HP and pad switches.
- Hard case included.
- Cardioid pattern only.
Next, we examine a selection of USB microphones, starting with the…
4 TONOR USB Microphone Kit, Streaming Podcast PC Condenser Computer Mic – Best Budget USB Condenser Mic Under $200
The Tonor USB Microphone Kit provides everything you need for voiceovers, podcasting, making YouTube videos, or gaming. This includes a fully-adjustable boom stand with desk clamp, metal shock mount, pop filter, mic cover, USB A to USB B cable, and instruction manual.
The package is built around Tonor’s Q9 condenser microphone. The .63-in (16mm) diaphragm provides a full-range frequency response, cardioid polar pattern, and -45 dB sensitivity. It includes a rocker button to increase or decrease output volume, but no headphone monitor output or high pass filter.
Tonor has recently introduced an upgraded mic kit at a slightly higher price. It includes an improved boom arm and their TC-2030 microphone, with a .71-inch (18mm) diaphragm.
- Complete podcasting/voiceover mic setup.
- Very reasonable cost.
- Not the best USB mic available.
- No headphone monitor output.
5 Samson Meteor Mic USB Studio Condenser Microphone – Coolest USB Condenser Mic Under $200
The Samson Meteor Mic is a portable USB studio condenser microphone that’s designed for recording directly to your computer. Its unique design resembles a 1950’s rocket ship, or maybe a meteor! It offers plug-and-play operation, even working with iPhones and iPads (using Apple’s Lightning-to-USB Camera Adapter), or Android devices via a Host OTG cable.
Not only does it look cool, but the Meteor has some impressive specs. With a full 1-inch (25mm) diaphragm providing a cardioid polar pattern, it delivers a S/N ratio of 96 dB and a digital output up to 16-bit/48 kHz resolution. A 1/8-inch headphone output and volume control provides zero-latency monitoring and mute switch.
Three support legs fold back so the Meteor can be perfectly positioned on the desktop or easily transported in the included soft zippered carrying bag. An integrated mic stand adapter on the bottom enables boom arm or desktop stand mounting. The package also includes a USB cable.
- Unique, distinctive design.
- Includes headphone out with mute and volume control.
- Up to 48 kHz sampling.
- No hard case.
- No windscreen or pop filter.
6 Blue Snowball USB Microphone – Best Plug and Play USB Condenser Mic Under $200
Next in our Best Condenser Mics Under $200 Review, we have the Blue Snowball. This is a USB mic that’s not only great-looking but very easy to use.
Stylish and practical…
Available in either black or brushed aluminum, the dual-capsule design provides both cardioid and omnidirectional polar patterns to fit any situation, from studio recording to corporate conference calls. And because it’s a plug-and-play device, it connects directly to a Mac or PC with no additional software needed.
The Snowball has a three-position switch on the back to select the operating mode. Setting 1 is the cardioid mode. Setting 2 engages the built-in 10 dB pad to handle higher sound levels, while setting 3 switches the Snowball to omnidirectional mode.
Very impressive stats…
It provides a digital output at 16 bits, 44.1 kHz. The frequency response is rated at 40 Hz – 18 kHz, so it probably won’t be your first choice for recording instruments with a deep low end.
The Snowball includes its own adjustable tripod stand, and it can also be mounted on a standard mic stand. Also available is the Blue Snowball Ice, a lower-cost option that’s cardioid-only and lacks the 10 dB pad.
Interested in finding out more? No problem, just take a look at our in-depth Blue Snowball USB Microphone Review.
- Cardioid and omnidirectional polar patterns.
- 10 dB pad.
- Weaker low-frequency response.
- No headphone monitor output.
7 Blue Yeti Nano Professional Condenser USB Microphone – Best Premium USB Condenser Mic Under $200
Another great option from Blue Microphones is their Yeti Nano mic. This is their entry-level model that also includes the more full-featured (but still under $200) Yeti X. The Yeti Nano is designed for broadcast-quality podcasting, YouTube content development, gaming, Skype calls, or voiceover applications.
Two polar patterns…
Yeti Nano includes two .55-inch (14mm) capsules to provide cardioid or omnidirectional pickup and digital output up to 24 bits, 48 kHz. It includes a zero-latency headphone output with mute and volume controls.
To find out even more information, take a look at our in-depth Blue Yeti Nono Review.
- Cardioid or omnidirectional polar pattern.
- 24-bit, 48 kHz output.
- More expensive.
And finally, here’s a sampling of handheld condenser mics under $200, starting with the…
8 Audio-Technica AT2010 Cardioid Condenser Handheld Microphone – Best Budget Stage Condenser Mic Under $200
The Audio-Technica AT2010 cardioid condenser microphone brings to the stage the same crispness and clarity of their renowned AT2020 studio mic, featuring the same 16 mm diaphragm.
As with most high-end mics developed for vocalists, the AT2010’s frequency response starts to roll off around 100 Hz, and its slightly enhanced upper midrange sensitivity gives a warmer sound. The S/N ratio is a respectable 71 dB, and it can handle a maximum of 136 dB SPL.
Built for the stage…
Its solid, all-metal construction and gold-plated XLR connector help it withstand the rigors of live performance. Also worth noting is that the AT2010 is the lightest of the handheld condenser mics reviewed here, at just 8.2 ounces (233 gr), as well as the least expensive.
- Less expensive
- Large capsule for a handheld mic.
- Limited low-frequency response.
9 Rode M2 Handheld Super-Cardioid Condenser Microphone – Best Supercardioid Stage Condenser Mic Under $200
The RØDE M2 is a rugged handheld condenser microphone designed for live performance. It features a more directional supercardioid polar pattern that’s ideal onstage. The 1/2 inch (13 mm) capsule is internally shock mounted.
The M2’s frequency response is rated at 40 Hz – 20 kHz, but in fact, the bass response starts to drop off at 100 Hz. The super-cardioid design helps it achieve a sensitivity of -44 dBA. And it can withstand an SPL up to 141 dB.
Turn it off…
The all-metal body makes it a little heavier than other handheld models reviewed, at 10.6 ounces (300 gr). On the plus side, it includes a lockable on/off switch and a 10-year warranty.
- Supercardioid pattern is more directional.
- On-off switch.
- A little heavier than other models.
10 Shure SM86 Cardioid Condenser Handheld Vocal Microphone – Best Premium Stage Condenser Mic Under $200
No comparison of handheld microphones would be complete without at least one Shure model, and the SM86 cardioid condenser mic is an excellent choice. It features a two-stage pop filter for less wind and breath noise, and a built-in 3-point shock mount to reduce handling noise.
The SM86 has a rated frequency response of 50 Hz – 18 kHz that includes a slight peak in the 2 – 5 kHz range for added vocal clarity and warmth. At the same time, its maximum SPL of 147 dB is the highest of all models reviewed here. It’s also the most expensive.
- Built-in pop filter and shock mount.
- High maximum SPL.
- More expensive.
Looking for even more high quality microphone options?
Then check out our comprehensive reviews of the Best Condenser Microphones, the Best Vocal Mics, the Best Microphones Recording Electric Guitar, the Best Microphones for Recording Rap Vocals, the Best XLR Microphones, the Best USB Microphones, or the Best Dynamic Microphones you can buy in 2021.
And the Best Condenser Mics under $200 are…
We’ve decided to award the winner in three different categories, namely, the…
Best Studio Condenser Mic Under $200…
It’s more expensive, but it offers a large diaphragm, higher sensitivity, lower noise, and onboard high-pass and pad switches. It performs as well as much pricier name-brand mics.
Best USB Condenser Mic Under $200…
This choice was tough, but the Blue Yeti gets the edge. The higher-resolution sample rate makes it stand out from the rest.
Runner up: Tonor USB Microphone Kit. If you’re setting up a voiceover or podcasting station, this package gives you everything you need in one package.
Best Handheld Condenser Mic Under $200…
The supercardioid pattern works well on stage, as well as the on-off switch.
Best Condenser Mics Under $200 – Final Thoughts
Our list is far from exhaustive, and our choices for best condenser mics are necessarily subjective. Use these reviews as a starting point to explore more deeply and find the model that’s best for your situation.