Studio Microphone: Your Complete Guide - Musician Nerd

Updated on Dec 14, 2020




When it comes to setting up a home studio, choosing the proper microphone(s) is easily one of the most essential pieces. In fact, aside from choosing a good audio recording device or DAW (digital audio workstation), I would argue the microphone is the most important. But how do you choose which one? After all, there’s a couple of different kinds, each of which come in different shapes and sizes. There’s so much terminology involved with each one, that it’s pretty easy to get confused.

Fortunately, we know a ton about this. We’ve been buying microphones, especially studio microphones, for ages and have tried and tested most mics that you can think of.

As with most things, there’s definitely no one-size-fits-all, regardless of budget. The technical engineering that takes place inside the microphone capsule will have a different effect on the type of audio you're recording. A good microphone for your guitar is not necessarily the best mic for doing voice overs on your YouTube videos, just like how a good microphone for rapping may not be the best for opera singers. When you're just starting out and want to stick to a budget, it's important to look at the versatility of the different microphones we talk about.

Do I Need A Condenser Microphone?

The first question that I hear all the time is, do I need to get a condenser microphone? While it’s true that this will be the most commonly found mic in most studios, that really comes down to both budget and use-case. Let me run an example by you.

If you came to me with a $400.00 budget, and plan to record a few Hip Hop verses over an internet-purchased beat, I would be most likely to recommend one of our favorite microphones, the Shure SM7B Cardioid Dynamic Microphone. This would NOT be a condenser.

The reason for that comes down to the engineering inside the condenser and dynamic microphones. Let’s dive into it.

Condenser microphones feature an ultra-light diaphragm coated in a thin layer of metal (typically gold-sputtered mylar) with a small conductive charge, which will move with the sound waves in relation to the metal backplate, both of which can be found within the capsule. This will create capacitance, essentially converting the shape of the sound waves into an electrical signal (Learn more in our What Is A Condenser Microphone? article).

What we’ll find with most condensers is a flat & wide-frequency response, and because of this engineering, both the depth and accuracy of our sound waves will be unmatched. To contribute to the level of accuracy these microphones hold, they have the best transient response (recording “speed"), which means they can follow rapid sound waves that you may get from guitar strings or drums.

Many dynamic microphones will contain a deeper focus on mid-range controls due to technical limitations (which is advantageous to many situations), which is why if considering recording with one, it’s often the wiser move to find a large-diaphragm dynamic mic like the Shure SM7B mentioned above.

The size, weight, and shape of your microphone diaphragm is going to play an important role in the frequency response. The large-diaphragm will offer a warmer, deeper sound reproduction, which is not to be confused with reproducing low frequencies.

That’s why, when talking about dynamic mics, an LDM will have a more studio-worthy & authentic sound to it, and for music like Rap & Hip Hop, it can make for a fine choice. Especially if you’re not going to find quiet spaces to record. And we mean really quiet.

Condenser Microphone With Metal Pop filter
Condenser Microphone With Metal Popfilter

Condenser microphones, while they are notable for generating very low self-noise, they are extremely sensitive to sound. This comes back to the engineering behind them, the way they accurately capture sound waves, and how they handle the transient response. On top of that, if you have even the slightest reverberance (echo) in your recording room, the microphone will pick it up, and this kind of issue cannot be corrected in production. I must emphasize the importance of this point: Do not record audio with reverberance from the room!

Because of this fact, they can make for a tough beginner’s microphone if you don’t have any soundproofing. Take me for example. When I was younger, I bought my very first condenser microphone (Rode NT1) and created a studio in my mother’s attic. However, I did not consider the fact that we lived next to a highway, and our windows were very old.

Believe me, when I tell you, despite being 3 stories high, you could hear neighbors closing their car doors, dogs barking, and behind all of that, the general “whooshing" sounds of the highway. When I upgraded to the Shure SM7B, however, that issue was completely mitigated.

Picking A Microphone

So now that we’ve covered the two types of microphones, let’s look into what other factors you should consider when looking for a good studio mic.

Two other major factors we need to consider is your budget and what you’re planning to record.

The use case for your recordings will play a pretty big role in which microphone you choose. If you’re doing voice overs, YouTube videos, or maybe a Podcast, your perfect mic may be different than say, an opera singer. Maybe you’re recording guitar and having a mic that is versatile for both instruments and vocals is important to you.

As you can already figure, how much you can afford is going to play a pretty big role in the microphone you choose. Not only will It determine the brand/model, but even whether you go with dynamic or condenser.

A lot of people reading this article may be starting out with a lower budget. That’s completely fine because there really are options out there for everyone. Some, however, may be looking to spend a pretty penny. So, let’s break it down.

Under $200

The most common price range we see is $1 - $200. For condenser microphones, this is definitely on the low side, and the options available to you won’t be true representations of the sheer quality condenser mics offer.

On top of that, many (but not all) condenser mics will require a pre-amplifier, so if you’re starting off with a smaller budget, this is something to seriously consider.

If you’re recording speech, as opposed to singing, we’re going to recommend you look at the Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Not only is the USB connection a major convenience (as it’ll go right into your computer), it also doesn’t require Phantom Power, meaning no pre-amp needed. We did a deep dive on it here.

I wouldn’t really recommend that one for singing or instrument recording, as the quality just isn’t there.

For singers, we have two options.

AKG Project Studio in Spider Shock Mount
AKG Project Studio in Spider Shock Mount

If you’re able to shell out extra cash for a preamplifier (to give your condenser microphone “Phantom Power"), and you can find a quiet space without any reverberance, then you can look at the AKG Project Studio line. They’re essentially budget condenser mics that are pretty versatile, as they work great with both vocals and instruments.

The AKG P220 Project Studio Microphone is a great entry level microphone. You can checkout our review on it here.

If you're looking for a condenser microphone that's even more affordable, then the P220's little sibling, the AKG P120 Studio Microphone may be a good choice for you. Checkout our review on the AKG P120 Project Studio Microphone microphone here.

If you don’t want to invest in a preamp, or you’re worried about background noise, then believe me, despite being the iconic live-performance mic, the Shure SM58 will make do for recording vocals at home. I’ve done it, and I won’t BS you by saying it’s perfect, but it gets the job done, especially when you’re starting out. We review it here.

If vocals wasn’t your concern, however, then Shure also makes the Shure SM57 mic, which is eerily similar, but built specifically as an instrument microphone.

Shure SM58 Dynamic Vocal Mic
Shure SM58 Dynamic Vocal Mic

Under $500

Once we get into the $200 - $500 range, our options improve drastically, both for condenser and dynamic microphones. Overall, there’s only one microphone from each group that I would recommend to you, and they’re both fantastic choices.

Rode NT1 Condenser Microphone In Shock Mount
Rode NT1 Condenser Microphone In Shock Mount

If you’re looking for a good condenser microphone in this price range, the Rode NT1 is a hot choice, and was my very first condenser microphone ever! One thing I love about it is the way they can mirror the prestigious sounds from vintage microphones, while keeping up with the modern standards of low noise. And on top of that, it comes packed with both a shock mount and a pop filter, two essential pieces for any studio condenser mic. You can read our review about it here.

However, for anyone recording Rap / Hip Hop and even Rock vocals, Video Voice Overs, Gaming, or Podcasting, I would 100% always recommend the Shure SM7B, a legendary microphone used by some of the greatest artists in history. The sound quality from this microphone, once boosted with an ultra-clean gain using something like the CL-1 Cloud Activator, is unmatched. Since the first day I bought this microphone, it’s. become a regularly used addition in my studio. You can read our deep review on it here.

Shure SM7B Suspended By Boom Stand
Shure SM7B Suspended By Boom Stand

With either of these two fine choices, your studio will be in good shape.

Under $1000

With Studio Microphones, I'd say you're starting to qualify as "Professional Studio" quality once you hit the $500 - $1000 range. While most studios are using Neumanns that fall between $1600 - $3600, the $500 - $1000 range is jam packed with massive amounts of quality compares to the under $200 mics.

The first microphone I would recommend for your studio in this range would be the Neumann TLM 102. Being one of their most affordable microphones, it upholds the strict quality standards Neumanns are notorius for, and was one of my very first professional studio mics. The sheer amount of quality you'll get from this condenser is similar to the impact the Shure SM7B made for dynamic microphones.

Another good option, right under the $1000 mark is the Warm Audio WA-47 Large-Diaphragm Tube Condenser Microphone.

Neumann TLM 102 Condenser Microphone, Nickel
Neumann TLM 102 Condenser Microphone, Nickel

This vintage inspired tube condenser microphone is like a blast from the past, giving you the best of both the older generations of recording mics, and the contemporary standards now held for condenser microphones. It's an incredibly unique microphone that I've had a lot of fun recording with.

These two microphones will guarantee massive amounts of quality to your home recording studio, allowing you to produce professional sounding music.

Summary

At the end of the day, a lot of factors go into picking out the perfect microphone for your home studio. We love condenser microphones for their wide frequency response, and superior transient response, as they give us a level of depth and accuracy on the sound waves that result in the purest, natural, and raw audio we could ask for. But sometimes going with a dynamic microphone is a great choice too, especially when it’s a large-diaphragm mic.

It’s always good to remember that no matter your budget, there’s a microphone out there for you and that you can always continue to upgrade in the future. The versatility of some mics on this list means you can always repurpose them in the future.

With that, happy recording! Let us know in the comments below if you picked a mic from our list, or if you found one that you like better. We’re always looking to hear your opinions!


Posted on Sep 16, 2020

Recording

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A tool to find the perfect microphone for your needs & budget