Ultimate Guide to the Best Cheap Condenser Mic

This buying guide was written to help you make an informed choice in your search for the best cheap condenser mic. These special microphones are designed to capture the voice of a live vocalist like a rapper or voice actor, or the instrument of a musician as flawlessly as possible. They transform sound into a piece of data that the mix engineer can then manipulate.

With so many great cheap condenser mics on the market, it can be difficult to make a confident decision. Condenser mics are the Holy Grail of the modern recording studio. Everyone wants the best of the best. But part of the challenge of buying professional audio gear is balancing the price with the utility and quality. And we always must keep in mind our specific needs and the law of diminishing returns – after a certain point, any further increase in price only brings us smaller and smaller increases in quality.

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In a Hurry? Here’s Our Top 3

14 of the Best Cheap Condenser Mic Choices

MXL 990

MXL 990
MXL 990 Condenser Microphone with Shockmount
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The MXL 990 doesn’t have the raw sound quality of some on this list, but it is considerably less expensive! With a frequency range that goes from 30 Hz to 20 kHz (meaning there’s a slight low-end cut in the recording), and a maximum SPL of 130 dB, the MXL 990 is a good fit if you’re looking to buy your very first condenser mic.

The sound is bright and surprisingly good for a cheap condenser mic, but some describe it as being too bright, and even harsh in some situations. In short, you will not get the perfect sound, but you will get a solid tool that will allow you to get familiar with this type of audio gear for a relatively small investment. For more details, check out the full review.

Features

♦ Type: Condenser
♦ Polar pattern: Cardioid
♦ Frequency response: 30 Hz – 20 kHz
♦ Self-noise: 20 dB A
♦ Studio use
♦ Brighter sound
Additional specs

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Audio-Technica AT2020

Audio-Technica AT2020
Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Studio XLR Microphone, Black
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Next up is the AT2020 from Audio-Technica. This mic is widely considered to be one of the best value studio condenser mics out there. The cardioid polar pattern is most sensitive from the front, and rejects sound from behind. This enables it to hone in on a single source like a rapper’s voice. This would be a great rapping microphone for someone who wants a mic with a flatter frequency response.

This microphone is not USB-compatible, but there’s an alternative version that does incorporate USB (with a slight decrease in sound quality). Some of the commercial bundles available include a pouch for storage and a mount that will allow you to easily connect the mic to your tripod.

Features

♦ Signal-to-noise ratio: 74 dB
♦ Dynamic range: 124 dB
♦ Polar pattern: Cardioid
♦ Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
♦ Self-noise: 20 dB SPL
♦ Max SPL: 144 dB
♦ Studio use
♦ Neutral sound
Additional specs

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Audio-Technica AT2035

Audio-Technica AT2035
Audio-Technica AT2035 Large Diaphragm Studio Condenser Microphone (Renewed)
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Whether it’s headsets or condenser mics, Audio-Technica is building some of the best budget pro audio gear, and the AT2035 is definitely not an exception. Consider the 2035 if you’re recording music in your home studio, and especially if you’re working with highly resonating instruments, like an acoustic guitar.

In comparison to the AT2020, the 2035 has a few additional features such as a -10 dB pad and switchable 80 Hz high pass filter. It also has a slightly higher max SPL and dynamic range, and lower overall self noise, cutting back a considerable 8 dB of noise versus the 2020.

Features

♦ Signal-to-noise ratio: 82 dB
♦ Dynamic range: 136 dB
♦ Polar pattern: Cardioid
♦ Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
♦ Self-noise: 12 dB SPL
♦ Max SPL: 148 dB, 158 dB with pad
♦ Studio use
♦ Neutral sound
Additional specs

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Rode NT1-A

Rode NT1-A
Rode NT1-A Anniversary Vocal Cardioid Condenser Microphone Package
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Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on https://www.amazon.com/ at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

Ever since Rode appeared in the mic market, the’ve been causing some commotion with some of the best cheap condenser mics around. But few of their products are as exciting as the Rode NT1-A. It features gold-plated output contacts, a gold sputtered diaphragm, an impressive 137 dB maximum sound pressure level, and a 20 Hz to 20 kHz frequency range.

Additionally, the Rode NT1-A is one of the most versatile microphones you can find. It’s used in music like rap and hip hop, YouTube videos, podcasts, and newscasts, and it’s loved both by amateurs and professionals. The reason? It gets you a unique, high-fidelity sound and has very low self-noise for its price. Make sure you check out some recording samples! The Rode NT1-A is great for making your vocals pop in the mix with a nice, slightly saturated sound.

Features

♦ Type: Condenser
♦ Polar pattern: Cardioid
♦ Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
♦ Self-noise: 5 dB A
♦ Studio use
♦ Warmer sound
Additional specs

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Rode NT1 (post-2014)

Rode NT1
Rode NT1KIT Cardioid Condenser Microphone Package
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The Rode NT1 wins top spot in our list for several reasons. This mic is the quietest in terms of signal-to-noise of any mic in this price range. The self noise is 4.5 dBA due to advanced circuitry and a capsule that is mounted on a special suspension system. The materials selection and construction also show that Rode designed this mic to last.

This mic is great for recording vocals, guitar, drums, and other instruments, and can handle up to 132 dB SPL, making it a versatile workhorse. The mic also comes with a 10-year warranty. It is a fixed pattern mic, however, and also lacks other features like a pad and low-cut filter. Even so, reviewers say this mic holds it’s own with the best.

Features

♦ Fixed cardioid pattern
♦ Side-address large-diaphragm condenser
♦ 1″ capsule
♦ Gold-sputtered diaphragm
♦ Internal Rycote® Lyre® based capsule shock mounting system
♦ 10-year warranty
♦ Self noise of 4.5 dBA
♦ Nickel-plated 6061 aluminum body coated in ceramic
♦ Max SPL of 132 dB SPL
♦ Good all-around mic, especially vocals

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AKG P420

AKG P420
AKG Pro Audio P420, Sliver Blue, 9.80 x 5.50 x 9.00 inches (3101H00430)
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AKG designed this mic to compete in the extremely competitive entry-level market and did a phenomenal job. The P420 is a versatile dual-diaphragm mic that has some of the bells and whistles of the high-end models. It also boasts a whopping 155 dB SPL maximum – good for percussion.

Some users report it isn’t as good for vocals as others on this list due to it’s uncolored response. It’s more of an “honest” mic, but nonetheless it will still be a wonderful vocal mic with versatility to record many other instruments.

Features

♦ Variable pattern – cardioid, omidirectional, figure-8
♦ Side-address large-diaphragm condenser
♦ 1″ capsule
♦ Gold-sputtered diaphragm
♦ Self noise of 15 dBA
♦ Signal-to-noise of 79 dBA
♦ Max SPL of 155 dB SPL
♦ Good all-around mic

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Audio-Technica AE3000

Audio-Technica AE3000
Audio-Technica AE3000 Cardioid Condenser Instrument Microphone
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Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on https://www.amazon.com/ at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

Audio-Technica is well known for its mics in this price range, with the AT2050, AT4040, AT4041, and AE5100 all being deeply considered for the cheap-to-mid-grade AT condenser on this list. While each of those are good choices in their own way, I chose the AE3000 because it’s one of their lesser-known mics and because of its specialty – recording drums.

Its small profile is easy to wedge into tight spaces like in between parts of a drum kit. The mic uses a fixed cardioid pattern and backplate charged eletret design. There is a 10 dB pad on this mic and it has a relatively high max SPL of 158 dB.

Features

♦ Fixed cardioid pattern
♦ Side-address large-diaphragm condenser
♦ 1″ gold-sputtered diaphragm
♦ Self noise of 11 dB SPL
♦ Signal-to-noise of 83 dB, 1 kHz at 1 Pa
♦ Max SPL of 158 dB SPL
♦ Great for drums

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CAD Audio Equitek M179

CAD Audio Equitek M179
CAD Audio Equitek M179 Large Diaphragm Infinitely Adjustable Polar Pattern Condenser Microphone
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Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on https://www.amazon.com/ at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

Another top-notch mic is the Equitek M179 from CAD Audio. The main feature that sets this mic apart is its infinitely adjustable polar pattern. The knob on the mic can be moved to one of 5 patterns and anywhere in between, creating an unlimited number of possible polar patterns. The mic also has two other switches, a -20 dB non-capacitive pad and a 6 dB/octave high-pass filter at 100 Hz.

Some users point out that this mic is overly-sensitive with sibilants, which make it slightly less suitable for vocals. If you do decide to use this for vocals, a pop filter is mandatory. Check out the spec sheet here.

Features

♦ Infinitely adjustable pattern – omnidirectional, cardioid, supercardioid, hypercardioid, figure-8
♦ Side-address large-diaphragm condenser
♦ 1.1″ gold-sputtered diaphragm
♦ All-metal body
♦ Self noise of 11 dBA
♦ Signal-to-noise of 83 dB, 1 kHz at 1 Pa
♦ Max SPL of 143 dB SPL with pad
♦ Good all-around mic, not as much for vocals

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Lewitt LCT 440 PURE

Lewitt LCT 440 PURE
LEWITT LCT 440 PURE Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone
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Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on https://www.amazon.com/ at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

Lewitt is an Austrian company known for their higher-end mics such as the LCT 840 and LCT 940. The LCT 440 PURE is like the little brother of these fairly expensive mics, using the same capsule and components. The PURE truly is a no-frills mic, which is perhaps where the name came from. No pad, no filter, and no flexibility with polar patterns.

Functionally, this mic like many others can be used to record a variety of sounds from vocals to drums to guitar. It comes with it’s own shock mount and windscreen at a very attractive price. Have a look at the specs and features.

Features

♦ Fixed cardioid pattern
♦ Side-address large-diaphragm condenser
♦ 1″ gold-sputtered Mylar diaphragm
♦ All-metal body
♦ Self noise of 7 dBA
♦ Signal-to-noise of 87 dBA
♦ Max SPL of 140 dB SPL with pad
♦ Good all-around mic

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Warm Audio WA-47jr

Warm Audio WA-47jr
Warm Audio WA-47Jr Large-Diaphragm Condenser Microphone
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Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on https://www.amazon.com/ at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

The WA-47jr is a tribute to the classic Neumann U47 FET and seeks to emulate it’s K47 capsule design, with some modifications. One big difference is that this mic is transformerless. This allows it to come very close to the sound of the original at a much lower price.

This mic is very popular for vocals, kick drums, and acoustic guitar. It has three polar patterns which offer added versatility, along with a HPF at 70 Hz and -10 dB pad. It also has a pretty high max SPL at 157 dB SPL. Check out the full specs on the Warm Audio website.

Features

♦ Variable pattern – omindirectional, cardioid, figure-8
♦ Side-address large-diaphragm condenser
♦ Gold-sputtered Mylar dual diaphragms
♦ 70 Hz low-cut filter
♦ Self noise of 9 dBA
♦ Shock mount included
♦ Max SPL of 157 dB SPL with pad
♦ Great for vocals, acoustic guitar, and kick drums

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Sennheiser e614

Sennheiser e614
Sennheiser E614 Super-Cardioid Condenser Microphone
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Sennheiser is a big name in pro audio, and they are well known for their fantastic studio headphones, both open-back and closed-back varieties. Their products are manufactured in Germany to strict QA/QC standards, making them some of the best. The Evolution series of small-diaphragm condenser microphones like the e614 are prime examples.

This mic is intended to record instruments, and more specifically, drum overheads. The small diaphragm allows for better and more accurate capture of transients than many LDCs out there. It has fixed supercardioid pattern, allowing it to focus in and can handle up to 139 dB SPL. It does have a relatively high degree of self-noise though.

Features

♦ Fixed supercardioid pattern
♦ End-address small-diaphragm condenser
♦ Gold-sputtered diaphragm
♦ Self noise of 35 dBA
♦ Max SPL of 139 dB SPL
♦ Specialized for drum overheads

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Oktava MK-012

Oktava MK-012
Oktava MK-012-01 MSP2 factory matched Stereo Pair with cardioid capsules (silver)
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Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on https://www.amazon.com/ at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

These Russian-made small-diaphragm condensers from Oktava form a great pair for stereo recording. While technically two of them will set you back considerably in the wallet department, users say they are well worth it. The higher-end packages come with additional interchangeable heads that alter the pickup pattern if you want to upgrade later.

The mic features a flat frequency response with its cardioid capsule, a 10 dB pad, and comes with a wooden box and metal clamp. Buyers report that there are Chinese imitations of the Oktava MK-012 out there. If you do decide to purchase these, make sure they’re from a trusted source and you do your due diligence. Take a look at the specs here.

Features

♦ Cardioid pattern – interchangeable capsules for additional cost
♦ End-address small-diaphragm condenser
♦ Gold-sputtered diaphragm
♦ Max SPL > 140 dB SPL
♦ Great for stereo drums and acoustic guitar
♦ Loads of accessories and add-ons

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Rode NT3

Rode NT3


The Rode NT3 is marketed as a “medium-diaphragm” condenser mic, with a diaphragm diameter of 3/4″. Like the NT1 mentioned earlier, it also has a specialized shock mount that secures the capsule, making it a very quiet mic. Its end-address design and mid-sized diaphragm allow it it be used as a handheld vocal mic as well as a guitar and percussion mic.

One interesting feature this mic has is its ability to receive phantom power from a 9V battery. This is useful when you have this mic connected to a video camera that lacks a phantom power supply. What this mic lacks in pickup patterns, pads, and filters, it gains in situational uses. It works well for studio, stage, and film work.

Features

♦ Fixed cardioid pattern
♦ End-address medium-diaphragm condenser
♦ 0.75″ gold-sputtered diaphragm
♦ Self noise of 16 dBA
♦ Max SPL of 140 dB SPL
♦ Used in the studio, on the stage, and in the field
♦ 10-year warranty with registration

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Shure KSM137

Shure KSM137


Last on our list is the Shure KSM 137. This small-diaphragm condenser mic uses a fixed cardioid pattern and end-address back electret design. It also boasts a layer of gold on the diaphragm that is only 2.5 microns. For an idea of how thin this is, a human hair is 50 to 60 microns. The lower mass makes this mic very responsive to fast transients during recording. This mic can handle a blistering 170 dB SPL with the -25 dB pad.

Aside from technical superiority, it also has a pad that the user can use to switch between 0 dB, -15 dB, and -25 dB, and a high-pass filter with variable roll-off settings adding to its versatility. These make nice matched pairs for stereo work, but like the Octavas, that will cost you a bit more. More technical data is available on the Shure website.

Features

♦ Fixed cardioid pattern
♦ End-address small-diaphragm electret condenser
♦ Gold-sputtered Mylar diaphragm
♦ Self noise of 14 dBA
♦ Max SPL of 170 dB SPL
♦ Signal-to-Noise Ratio of 80 dB

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How to Pick the Best Cheap Condenser Mic

It’s important to know what to look for when shopping for a budget condenser. The following items will outline materials of construction and design choices that make the best cheap condenser mics in our list some of the greatest out there for the money, both in general and for your specific needs.

Condenser Mic Capsule

The capsule is arguably the most important part of the condenser microphone. This is where the magical conversion from pressure waves in the air (also known as sound) to electricity occurs. How does this happen, you ask? Well, it’s actually pretty simple.

The capsule consists of two main components. The first is a very thin sheet of conductive material called the diaphragm. The second is a metal backplate. The two are mounted in close proximity to each other. They act like a capacitor, and when the thin, sensitive diaphragm vibrates due to it’s exposure to sound pressure, the capacitance between the two varies and generates an electrical waveform. This is in contrast to dynamic microphones, which operate on electromagnetic inductance.

condenser mic capsule

Image Source: mxlmics.com

When we’re shopping for the best cheap condenser mic, we need to be critical of the capsule in the following ways, and think about how changes in some of these things will effect the functionality and uses of the microphone.

  1. Diaphragm mass & size
  2. Diaphragm materials & durability
  3. Polarization method

Diaphragm Mass & Size

The size of the diaphragm, and more specifically the diameter, is crucial to consider for what the mic will be used for. There is no “best” diaphragm size, only the best size for your needs.

Most manufacturers refer to their mics as “large diaphragm” or “small diaphragm” where, as a rule of thumb, large means a diameter of 1 inch or greater and small means a diameter of 1/2 inch or less. This rule can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.

In general, large-diaphragm condenser mics are great for vocals and bass drums or other low-frequency instruments. They are less consistent when it comes to pickup patterns across the frequency spectrum, but this can also be what makes them unique. Each one has it’s own character.

In general, small-diaphragm condenser mics are considered technically superior (and usually more expensive) when it comes to the raw accuracy of capturing audio. This is due to the smaller mass of the diaphragm, which makes it very responsive to sound waves in the air. For this reason they, are very versatile and can be used to record pretty much anything.

Diaphragm Materials & Durability

The materials used are very important! Considering that the the potential “atmosphere” the mic will be exposed to (the vocalist’s breath) will contain moisture and possibly even particulate matter, the best cheap condenser mics will use materials that are highly resistant to corrosion and moisture over time.

For this, many high-quality condenser mics will use gold-sputtered Mylar for the diaphragm. Gold is both extremely conductive and corrosion resistant, which is why you’ll also find it used in XLR cable, and other electronic components like circuit boards and Mark Zuckerberg’s brain.

best cheap condenser mic gold image

Go for the gold, baby!

Sputtering is a manufacturing process where they spray a thin layer of gold atoms on the Mylar diaphragm. This makes it much more conductive while still maintaining its flexibility and ability to move with the sound waves.

Polarization Method

The capsule must be electrically charged, or polarized, for it to work. This can be achieved in two ways:

  1. Electret design – the backplate, diaphragm, or inside surface is made of a permanently polarized (charged) material. Diaphragm electrets are not ideal for pro audio because they change the material properties of the diaphragm in an undesireable way.
  2. Externally polarized with 48 V phantom power

In the past, electret mics were considered inferior due to their loss of charge over time. Now, technology has progressed to where backplate electrets are on par with “true” externally polarized condensers.

Polar Patterns

You may have heard the term “polar pattern” mentioned in your search. A mics polar pattern is its sensitivity as a function of circumferential position around the mic. A “cardioid” condenser mic is referring to its polar pattern. A cardiod is basically a heart-shaped graph when plotted in 2D.

Polar pattern cardioid

A typical cardioid polar pattern.

If the microphones capsule is faced to the left and located at the intersection of X and Y axes, and it has a cardioid pickup pattern like shown above, this means it will be most sensitive to sound coming from the left side, and much less sensitive to sound coming from the right side.

Think of it like this – the further the red curve is away from the intersection of axes (origin 0,0 – big pink dot), the more sensitive the mic will be when recording sound coming from that spot or general direction. Clear as mud? The video below will help.

As we can see, it’s important to consider what polar pattern you will use depending on your application. Again, as with many of these “best” audio gear buying guides, the best choice will be what suits your specific needs.

There is no best cheap condenser mic for everything, although many are very well rounded. The best cheap condenser mic for recording vocals will be a different mic than the best cheap condenser mic for recording acoustic guitar, although many are very good at multiple things. When considering your purchase, make sure you keep in mind the mics primary function.

Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR)

We already know that mics produce an electrical signal. On top of that, all mics will pick up a certain degree of background noise and internal noise due to the circuitry. The noise floor is a jagged line encompassing all frequencies that extends across the frequency spectrum. When a mic produces an electrical signal, the signal will rise up out of the noise to a certain level.

The difference between the noise floor and the signal peak level is called SNR or signal-to-noise ratio. It is expressed in decibels dB. This metric is similar to dynamic range in that it is the difference between two signal levels. The higher the SNR, the less noisy the mic will be – and unwanted noise is never a good thing.

best cheap condenser mic SNR

Image Source: National Instruments.com

Sound Pressure Level

Maximum sound pressure level (SPL) is a measure of how loud of a sound the mic can handle in dB SPL. Mics with very high max SPL are better suited for drums and other loud instruments like guitar cabinets and brass. Higher max SPL means more versatility in what you can and cannot record with the mic.

Connectivity for the Best Cheap Condenser Mic

Connectivity refers to hardware design choices that define how the mic transfers data. Two common connectivity options you will see in condenser mics are the XLR condenser mic and the USB condenser mic.

XLR Condensers

XLR condenser mics are very common in studios, and are slightly more versatile. XLR jacks are found all over in the pro audio realm, and on almost all audio interfaces, even the cheaper ones. XLR mics are generally better sounding mics due to the fact that they have dedicated A/D converters (aka your audio interface) that is external to the mic itself. This also gives us more control over the sound. You can always upgrade your interface, mic preamps, etc.

USB Condensers

USB mics have built-in A/D converters, which may not always be up to par in terms of technical capabilities as a separate audio interface, especially high-end Thunderbolt audio interfaces. The mic itself is usually not the weak link, though. Again, it’s the converters, which you are stuck with if you choose a USB mic. The USB mic does have strengths too. For instance, if you don’t have much room or money for an audio interface, the USB mic bypasses the need for one.

Best Cheap Condenser Mic Considerations Recap

  1. Choose a mic with a gold-sputtered diaphragm – this is pretty much industry standard at this point
  2. In general, large-diaphragm condenser mics are great for vocals and bass drums or bass-heavy instruments
  3. In general, small-diaphragm condenser mics are great for live instruments, symphonies, choirs, orchestras, etc.
  4. Consider the pickup pattern:
    1. Omnidirectional – Capture sound from all directions, great for recording in live venues that have good acoustic properties to them
    2. Cardioid – Most common, only captures audio from the front. These are used when you need to focus in on one sound source like a single vocalist or instrument
    3. Super/Hypercardioid – These can focus even more on a single sound, but there is a tradeoff. They are more sensitive from behind.
    4. Bidirectional (Figure 8) – These only capture audio from two opposing sides, and reject sound from the other two. Use these for recording two instruments, or an instrument and voice. Can be used to capture stereo audio as well.
  5. A mic with a high SNR (signal-to-noise ratio) is technically superior. This ultimately means noise will be less present in your audio
  6. A mic with a high max SPL is more versatile – you can record louder sounds with a higher max SPL.

Concluding Remarks

This article was an absolute bear to write and we covered a lot of info here. But all in all, if this is your first mic, it’s not likely you’ll be disappointed with anything on this list provided it fits your own needs.

If your brain isn’t fried from information overload and you already knew all this, well congrats! If it is, let’s toast that last neuron and recap what we learned:

  1. There are a lot of awesome cheap condenser mics out there
  2. The best one will depend largely on your own needs and how you’ll use the mic
  3. Large-diaphragm condensers work well for vocals, guitar, drums, and are versatile in general.
  4. Small-diaphragm condensers are technically-superior, good for stereo miking, and perform better on instruments with short transients
  5. Don’t forget to consider the polar pattern, max SPL, and SNR/self-noise

That’s all for this one. I hope this buying guide provided you with some insight and helps you make a great choice in your search for the best cheap condenser mic you can find. And thank you for reading!

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