3 Versatile Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphones Sub $1000
I’d like to start off with a disclaimer and breakdown of how I arrive at the microphones I review and share for your consideration. I am a recording engineer and not a salesperson - this hopefully offers some unique perspectives. Salespeople can be really insightful because they have the advantage of testing many microphones back-to-back on the showroom floor. Recording engineers can be hearing qualities of a different perspective because they listen and critique sound during hands-on record making scenarios. As an engineer, I don’t have access to a plethora of mics to test out at any given moment - though because I have been engineering for many years, I have been lucky enough to come across and use many different types of microphones.
The main hole that I have in my mic usage history is from relatively new companies or designs, as well as some special exotic or vintage mics which are soooo expensive that they are rarely accessible to me(or anyone) anyways. This writeup seeks to share some of the mics I have used in the past and have thought highly of. To help out with my choices, I have noted some musicians (some who I know personally and others who I respect) who weigh in with their opinions.
I hope to do many microphone write ups and let this list grow naturally over time. When considering a purchase, I always suggest buying used to save a buck. Besides some delicate ribbon mic models (though most are quite hardy), microphones are usually durable and not as suspect to abuse as one might assume.
A special note of appreciation to Cal Sturges who is a Patreon supporter and posed the question that inspired this detailed response: “I was kinda wondering 3 [condenser mic] choices from you [for vocals and acoustic guitar]… a pricey choice, a quality but more reasonable and a more budget but appealing sound.” The following is what I came up with, thanks Cal!
Thanks for taking a moment to read and as always, feel free to leave comments and questions below. If there’s a mic I forgot and you feel should have been included, please let me know! Please consider supporting directly at www.Patreon.com/JamesMeder. Also, word of mouth is always best in my line of work - so if you or another musician are looking to record, please consider my services. Much appreciated!
3 Versatile Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphones Sub $1000 - Cardioid-Only! (November 2021)
Large Diaphragm Cardioid Condenser microphones are
the crème de la crème of record making. They can be used effectively on a wide variety of instruments and almost always sound representative of the room/source... or in ideal pairings, they might even flatter the source so that it’s best characteristics are enhanced! They are sometimes considered the most clinical sounding of the microphone types, perhaps only second to their small diaphragm cousins. They require +48volts (phantom power) from the microphone preamp in order for them to function so make sure your preamp has that feature and it is engaged.
USES: What sources does the microphone best fit
*TONE(frequency biased): BRIGHT (top end/aggressive), DARK (bottom end/mellow), FLAT (midrange/neutral)
*VOICE(texture/density): MODERN (hard), VINTAGE (smooth), TIMELESS (even)
*TRANSIENT RESPONSE: FAST, SLOW, MEDIUM
EXTRAS: PADS, FREQUENCY CUTS/BOOSTS AND OTHER NOTES
VALUE: out of 10 (PRICE VS APPLICATION)
OVERALL: out of 10
*I sometimes like to think of the categories Tone, Voice, and Transient Response as a representation of sound as imagined in a 3d space.
Audio Technica AE3000 (list $279)
Audio Technica is a Japanese brand that was founded in 1962 and started out by manufacturing turntable cartridges. It wasn’t until 1978 when the company released its first microphones for sale - the AT800 series. The date on the spec sheet for this mic, the AE3000, is 2002 so it’s been consistently made for a couple decades.
I own a pair of these mics. There is a specific purpose for which I bought them - I wanted an inexpensive but high quality and durable tom mic, and this fit the bill. It also serves as an optional alternative to the more common dynamic style microphone used for toms. World renowned drummer Benny Greb sometimes has his drum kit mic’d up with these on toms and his tone is great (video link below).
Another quality that makes this mic suited for toms is its compact size. It is the smallest large diaphragm mic I know of and stays out of the way of exuberant drummers. Additionally, for electric guitar micing, its skinny side profile allows it to be placed extremely close to an amp's speaker cone for an exaggerated proximity effect - extra low end! It has a convenient -10dB pad as well as a roll off switch. They’ve crammed a lot into a small package!
The sound of this mic is quite modern, with a slight presence peak between 5-7kHz on the top end, and a very gentle roll off starting around 150Hz at the bottom frequencies. It reminds me a lot of other Audio Technica mics and would fit alongside other AT mics if a ‘singular’ type sound is desired. Many AT mics I am accustomed to using are crisp and clear with a lot of the ‘muddy’ frequencies already dealt with - this is nice when considering that the more eq applied/needed, the more there’s a chance for phase shift issues to arise. Stop it at the source!
Used on toms by drummer Benny Greb: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WuAa5VrWfDw&ab_channel=BennyGreb
You can hear me singing live into this mic during my 2021 Tiny Desk Contest Submission: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRomVVucLi8&ab_channel=JamesMeder
New music by Delving will feature the AE3000 on some of the guitar amp sounds
USES: TOMS, GUITAR, CERTAIN VOCALISTS, MISC.
TRANSIENT RESPONSE: FAST
EXTRAS: -10dB Pad, Low cut @ 80Hz 12 dB/octave
Neumann TLM102 (list $699)
Neumann is a company that was founded in Berlin, Germany in 1928. The company is so ingrained in recording history it likely doesn’t need any introduction - you’ve listened to these microphones your whole life whether you know it or not.
The Neumann TLM102 is a newer mic design and one I don’t own but it somehow seems hard for me to avoid. I have many musician friends who have it, use it, and are eager to speak it’s praises. Orchestra engineer Robin Wienands has a pair and when I sometimes assist him with ensemble recordings we use this mic as string spot mics. It has a vivid and translucent sound quality - letting stringed instruments come alive with exaggerated bow articulation.
Another great spot to place this mic is in front of a vocalist. You can hear it featured on the record ‘On To The Moon’ by Vesper Sails. Vocalist Marshall Hattersley recorded his vocals at home before I mixed the songs. The mic fit his baritone/tenor vocal range really well, comfortably letting his vocals stand out within the dense rock arrangements.
One of the interesting traits that makes this mic so wonderful for singers is it’s lift in ‘air’ frequencies. Between 6k-10kHz, the mic gradually climbs +4dB before gently rolling back downward around 15kHz. No wonder this mic is so flattering and detailed!
This characteristic high end can sometimes be a drawback if a sound needs to be recorded that does not require such presence. For example, certain electric guitar amps or even extra bright acoustic guitars might sound thin or strident when using this mic. This is a small exception to the rule though, as it seems like I always want more up there!
Vocal mic on the album I mixed by the band Vesper Sails, entitled ‘On To The Moon’ https://tinyurl.com/58ekf4bc
Regular orchestra mic choice (strings spot mics) when I work with engineer Robin Wienands
Two songwriters that I have worked with and regularly use this mic for vocals: Lavender Bird, Kamerin McDonald
USES: VOCALS, ACOUSTIC GUITAR, BOWED STRING INSTRUMENTS, MISC.
TRANSIENT RESPONSE: FAST
United Studio Technologies UT FET47 (list $899)
United Studio Technologies is a newer audio company putting their spin on the classic mic design from Neumann, the U 47 FET. The original U 47 FET was manufactured from 1969 - 1986 and the reissue was brought back on the market in 2014.
I’m usually hesitant to recommend equipment from new companies because their reputation hasn't been verified in real world environments compared to pieces of equipment that are time tested… but I feel like this mic is an exception due to the company's attention-to-detail when striving to recreate a studio classic. United Technologies teamed up with famed capsule designer Eric Heiserman to recreate an honest sounding capsule that rivals the original. United also equips the mic with transformers from Cinemag (a well respected and long-standing brand) and used NOS (new old stock) FETs (Field Effect Transistors) to keep the sound as true to the original as possible.
Another reason I feel confident recommending this mic is because my trusted drummer friend, Garrit Tillman, uses one on his kick drum and loves it. Garrit even had the unfortunate experience of accidently denting the grill of this mic when doing some studio renovation... he reached out to the company who was kind enough to send Garrit a new grill promptly and for free - he was able to replace it with little fuss and the mic is good as new! This is a testament to the company's customer service, kudos to them!
This mic likes to be placed wherever a lot of bass frequencies need to be captured or emphasized. It has a ‘blooming’ bass tone that few others can replicate. It’s because of this quality that the mic likes to be placed in front of a kick drum or paired with a lower ranged vocalist. The mic has a smooth +3dB lift in the higher mid frequencies between 2-5kHz, then dips downward between 6-9kHz, before rising again for the sparkly air frequencies to be retained. This dip in frequencies between 6-9kHz naturally attenuates pesky sibilant vocal frequencies... thus it is another win in the vocal category.
Neumann still manufactures U 47 FET reissues, which can be had new for around $4,200. This makes the UT FET47 recreation a deal with a list price of $899.
From a SoundOnSound.com article on the Neumann design: “Neumann describes the U 47 FET as a fixed–pattern cardioid microphone, although it actually has a distinctly hypercardioid response for all frequencies above about 500Hz.”
Neumann’s own company manual of a vintage U 47 FET lists the mic as being a ‘Super-Cardioid’ microphone - which is a polar pattern between Cardioid and HyperCardioid. Either way, there are some inconsistencies here which makes me curious to know how closely the UT47 matches some of these characteristics.
Garrit Tillman using the UT 47FET on kick with a full drum drum mix/performance: https://youtu.be/6WU8EC7sMxQ
Session Drummer EMan doing a side by side comparison of a vintage Neumann U47 FET and the UT 47FET https://youtu.be/gkbL4OppV9E
USES: VOCALS, KICK DRUM, ACOUSTIC & AMPED BASS
TRANSIENT RESPONSE: Medium
EXTRAS: -10dB Pad, Low Cut @ 75Hz 12dB per octave
Other Microphone options that fit this criteria:
AKG 412, AKG 314
Warm Audio WA-87
Aston Microphones Origin
Audio-Technica AT2020, AT2035, AT4033, AT4040
JZ Microphones Vintage 11
Ear Trumpet Labs Myrtle
Mojave Audio MA-201fet, MA-50
Austrian Audio OC18
Lauten Audio LA-220
Sennheiser MK 4
Roswell Pro Audio Mini K47
Lewitt Audio LCT 440
Stam Audio SA-47F
Awesome Audio Resources:
Special thanks to www.SweetWater.com for the stock mic photos.