Best Condenser Mic for Lead Vocals and Home Recording

best condenser mic

Recording good lead vocals takes much more than a beautiful voice.

And there is only so much that even an experienced engineer can do with harsh, distorted, and clipped vocals.

The quality of your vocals depends largely on how well your microphone captures your voice and arrests the negative elements in your recording environment.

Your choice of microphone is especially important if you record in a home studio that does not have the high tech acoustic treatment of pro studios.

To be honest, no mic can fully reproduce the many expressive nuances of the human voice.

But it’s been established that:

For recording vocals at home especially, condenser mics are your best bet.

And today we run the ruler over the best condenser microphones currently available for the home recording market.

How Vocal Microphones Work

Microphones are basically a transducer – a device that turns a form of energy into another.

In this case, a mic converts sound waves into electrical energy, which enables amplification and recording.

The main difference between the two common types of microphones (condensers and dynamics) is the mechanism employed for the energy conversion.

Dynamic microphones use a magnet to create a magnetic field that causes the movement of a wire coil attached to a thin, vibrating metallic diaphragm and, in the process, convert sound waves into an electrical current.

For condenser mics, a rigid, charged backplate takes the place of the coil to convert sound waves discharged by a diaphragm sitting in front of it. The electrical current is then amplified as a digital sound.

Which Type of Microphone is Best for Recording Vocals?

The question on what type of microphone works best for vocal recording has been a subject of much debate.

While you find some people who use dynamic microphones for home vocal recording, there is a consensus that condenser microphones are the best.

But that does not mean dynamics aren’t useful for vocal recording. There are situations where they are actually a better option.

For example, if the vocal source is particularly noisy or it requires better SPL (Sound Pressure Level) handling, a dynamic will be a better option.

It is just that most people prefer their vocals to have more sonic detail, an attribute for which condenser mics have no real competition.

Why Condenser Microphones are the Best for Recording Vocals at Home

Perfect vocal recording is as much an object of the recording environment itself as it is about your choice of microphone.

Certain types of microphones perform best in certain recording environments.

As such, several other factors must come together to create that happy medium where you can record your vocals without contamination from secondary noises.

Getting back to the microphone itself, condenser microphones are by their design very sensitive.

Perhaps more important for singer/songwriters than louder rock lead vocalists and rappers who tend to scream and shout into the mic, condenser mics will pick every little nuance of your voice and produce detailed, crisply rounded vocals.

Without getting too technical, condenser microphones are more sensitive than other types of microphones, like dynamics and ribbons.

Since you are recording at home, where it is unlikely to be as noisy as a live venue, you should exploit condenser mics’ noted attributes to record better vocals.

But what are the other attributes you should look out for?

How to Exploit Condenser Microphones’ Inherent Attributes and Record Better Vocals

Before delving deeper, it is important to make a distinction between Small Diaphragm Condenser (LDC) and Large Diaphragm Condenser (LDC) microphones.

Because, for home recordings in particular, LDC’s work best.

LDC’s have a larger field of sensitivity and a more balanced frequency range.

Yet, for the very same reason, you will hate these mics if your recording environment has too much background noise.

But you can counter that by choosing a condenser mic with the right pick-up pattern – the direction from which a mic receives the sound input.

Ideally, you want the mic to pick up just your vocals and leave out all other sounds from your recording environment.

These could be:

  • Fan sounds from the air conditioner
  • Car sounds from outside, and
  • Your own vocals bouncing off the walls

But mics aren’t that smart:

Cardioid Condenser Mics Will Help You Filter Out Any Background Noise

No one mic will completely eliminate background noise from contaminating your vocals as you record. Not even the expensive, high end ones.

But the polar pattern you choose or set on the mic goes some way in eliminating the noise coming from behind the microphone.

You have mics that pick sounds from all around the mic (omnidirectional), from the front and back (bidirectional), as well as those that will pick sounds from the front of the mic only (cardioid)

As they have greater secondary sounds’ blocking properties, and produce cleaner recordings, cardioid microphones are best for home vocal recordings.

Beyond the polar pattern and model of mic you choose, how well you soundproof the room you record in also determines how clean your vocals will be.

Note, however, that there are some mics that allow you to switch between different polar patterns. But this feature is normally only available on the more expensive models.

Condenser Mics Need Less Gain and Have a Defined High-End

The other big attribute is condenser mics produce a more amplified sound than dynamics.

As a result, they don’t need as much gain on the mixing console to bring the audio output to the usable, line level.

Less gain requirements lessen noise and distortion, unlike what tends to happen with the less sensitive dynamic mics where you need to crank up the gain.

Condenser mics are also much better at recording high frequency sounds. But be sure to check the mic’s frequency chart.

As a guide, if you have a low pitched voice a mic that emphasizes frequencies lower than 200 Hz will give your voice a good lift and reproduce it better.

On the other hand, if you have a naturally high pitched voice a mic that neutralizes some of the highs in your voice will be the best fit.

What Else Must You Consider?

There are so many good condenser mic choices out there that you can easily find yourself at a fork in the road, unsure of which one is the best.

But, before considering any specific specs, it is your budget that determines which mic you will buy.

Still, spending big money on a mic doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting the best mic.

After your budget, your choice of microphone should be guided by what your needs and particular use requirements are.

If you choose the wrong mic, you are essentially signing yourself up for a handicap.

A quick note:

Condenser microphones require a secondary/phantom power source to work. That power is usually provided by the preamp, mixing deck, or audio interface you use.

Some older models of these gadgets have no phantom power, so you may need to check the one you plan to use first.

One thing you should definitely consider investing in is a pop filter. It can benefit any microphone.

The 5 Best Condenser Microphone Reviews

Right, I know you are chomping at the bit and want to get that microphone right away.

So here are your top choices, picked for their different price points.

Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Studio Microphone

 


This is the Audio Technica brand’s entry level condenser mic.

Besides the great price, there is a lot more substance to the mic’s appeal.

The AT2020 is solidly built and, for the price, you can’t get a better mic for recording vocals.

The mic uses a fixed cardioid polar pattern, meaning it blocks sounds coming from behind the microphone. Get a pop filter for it and your vocals will sound even better.

With a 16 mm diameter capsule, this mic is not an LDC, but it still produces clear, warm vocals.

Even though the sensitivity isn’t the greatest it is still captures low frequency sounds decently well and the bass response is very good.

Other Features and Benefits

  • An SPL of 144 dB which enables it to handle very loud sounds without distortion
  • Includes a threaded stand mount that helps to securely place the mic
  • Comes with a protective, soft vinyl zip-up pouch
  • Captures the low tones of deep voices very well
  • Fabulously solid build quality for such a low price

Cons

  • Has no battery options
  • Not the greatest sensitivity, meaning it won’t pick vocals if it is placed too far away from the source

See The Audio Technica 2020 on Amazon >> Click Here


AKG P220 Vocal Condenser Microphone

 


For this price range, the AKG P220 blows the competition out of the water.

This large diaphragm condenser spots an all metal enclosure and full 1-inch LDC diaphragm.

A side address mic, this Perception 220 has so much sensitivity you may end up with a battle trying to reduce all the secondary noises it will pick up.

Though the low end on this mic is on the muddy side, its high end glistens, with remarkable detail. For the money, you are unlikely to do any better.

Other Features and Benefits

  • Uses a cardioid pick-up pattern for lesser vocal contamination
  • Rugged build guarantees years of regular use
  • A switchable bass-cut filter helps record clear voices even at high SPLs
  • Comes with a sturdy spider shock mount and protective pouch
  • All round audio capture for more detailed vocals

Cons

  • The sound can sound too bright, which may prove a turn-off if you prefer a warmer sound

See The AKG P220 Listed on Amazon >> Click Here


Rode NT1 Condenser Microphone Bundle

 


It is generally agreed that you only start to get studio quality microphones after you pass the $200 price threshold.

Of course, price isn’t the only measure of an item’s quality. But it is usually a very good guide.

The Rode brand has a reputation for solid quality microphones. And the Australian brand’s goal of bringing studio quality mics into home recording space is noble.

They haven’t done too badly either, especially with this Rode NT1, which is a resurrection of the classic Rode NT1. Besides the mesh cover, however, this is a completely new design.

This mic is being sold as a bundle on Amazon at a very competitive price.

Other Features and Benefits

  • Tough nickel plated aluminium body with a hard wearing ceramic coating
  • A large, LDC cardioid side address capsule with great sensitivity
  • A near inaudible 4 dB of self-noise for cleaner vocals
  • A wide 20Hz - 20 kHz frequency range ensures polished vocals with no distortions
  • Can handle an SPL of up to 132 dB without clipping
  • The Amazon bundle includes mic stand, cable, shock mount, pop filter, and cloth pouch

Cons

  • The clarity isn’t world beating, but the bundle value more than makes up for it

See The Rode NT1 Listed on Amazon >> Click Here


AKG Pro Audio C214 Condenser Microphone

 


But for the single diaphragm and cardioid only polar pattern, this AKG Pro Audio C214 is essentially the same design as its celebrated stable mate, the C414.

You understand the reason for its massive appeal when you consider that the C414 costs more than twice the price of the C214.

The appearance, wrapped in an elegant exterior, is the same.

Vocals emerge out of the mic crisp and detailed, whatever your music style. They glide gracefully, without too many bumps right through the frequency range, which is rated at between 20Hz and 20 kHz.

With a perfect 5-star average review from 76 reviews, this mic is a certified Amazon Choice.

Other Features and Benefits

  • A switchable attenuator that minimizes clipping
  • A 20 dB bass filter that controls bass at 6 dB per octave after 160 Hz, enabling the mic to handle an SPLs of up to 156 dB
  • A sturdy shock mount that will last as long as the mic itself
  • Made in an all-metal body and is finished in a scratch-resistant coating
  • The capsule is supported by an integrated suspension and protected by a double mesh grille

Cons

  • A few people have complained the mic is too harsh on the high end

See The AKG Pro Audio Listed on Amazon >> Click Here


Shure KSM32 Condenser Microphone

 


Who doesn’t want to spoil themself with a good, statement mic from an iconic brand?

Albeit one that sells at a price that won’t punch holes in your pocket.

Known for its much loved range of dynamic mics, this time Shure brought its ‘A’ game into the condenser mic space.

The result is the Shure KSM32 condenser microphone, a working musician’s mic that will be a great addition to your home studio.

Some reckon the KSM32 is just at home in the studio as it is on stage. This makes it a versatile mic that musicians on a budget will love.

Other reviews regard it as the cleanest and warmest mic under $1,000. Costing roughly half that price, you get the reason why the mic had to make this list.

Other Features and Benefits:

  • A cardioid polar pattern that rejects rear sounds for cleaner vocals
  • Has an in-built shock mount that reduces the mic’s handling noise
  • A switchable low-cut filter that allows you to remove lower frequency response and use the mic for recording instruments as well
  • An embossed diaphragm ensures wider low frequency response
  • An integrated triple step pop protection means you can even avoid the added expense of a pop screen

Cons:

  • Spots a 0.75” diaphragm that’s smaller than a standard LDC microphone

See The Shure KSM32 Listed on Amazon >> Click Here


And Our Pick Is...

The AKG Pro Audio C214.

This mic is hard to pass up and will be a great addition to any home studio.

If you are starting out and are on a tight budget, the Audio-Technica AT2020 is where you should be looking.

The Rode NT1 bundle deal, for its part, is bursting with irresistible value. The mic itself is well made and produces a vintage, classic vocal sound.

While the AKG P220 is, hands down, the best mic for the money, the AKG Pro Audio C214 is simply the the best fit for recording vocals at home after all else is considered.

It is fairly priced, versatile, with a sturdy build, and gives your vocals a perfect balance between warmth and bulk.

Check On Amazon Here Read More Reviews >>

When it is time to upgrade, the Shure KSM32 is a solid mic, from a brand with a long and proud reputation in the mic trade.

Now, go on and start recording those beautiful vocals!

About The Author

Patrick Zuva

I’m Patrick, Head of Product Research at Voices Inc. My passion is to research musical instruments and courses, and write in-depth product reviews. I will be thrilled if this website can help you decide which brand and model of musical instrument is right for you.