Condenser microphones became very popular in the early days of podcasting, likely because condensers give a better ‘real-life’ representation of the speaker’s voice. Many people will argue that condenser mics can make anyone sound great.
While condenser mics can give you a great sounding recording, there are some drawbacks. They can be amazingly sensitive. Even with shock-mounts that are meant to reduce the amount of conducted sound on a mic stand, condensers can pick up sound that travels through your floor. They can also pick up a lot of sound that travels through the air from other parts of your house including through vents (so shutting your door may not help you any, especially if you have a furnace or air conditioner running). If you have a particularly quiet room with a solid floor in your basement, a condenser mic might be the ideal choice for you.
MXL brand condenser mics are popular among podcasters, particularly because of their entry-level pricing (some of their mics can be purchased for around $100). No matter how good they may sound, don’t let any salesperson convince you that a $100 MXL mic is comparable to a Neumann U67 which can sell — used, mind you — for over $5000 (new, they’re about $7000). This has happened to me.
I like condenser mics and own a few mid-range MXLs. However, when it comes to spoken word recordings for podcasts which will be made available as MP3s, I don’t see the specific value in using one; particularly since I have two young children and find it limiting to wait until they’re asleep to do all my recording to avoid giggling and arguing from two floors away (yes, two floors away). I also live in a century-old row house which means that I frequently picked up noise that carried in through the floor from my neighbour’s house.
Condenser mics require something called ‘phantom power‘ in order to put out any signal. This means that you need to also buy a mixer or a mic pre-amp that has ‘phantom power’.
I don’t want to go into much detail about mixers and pre-amps since that could take a long time. What I will say is that the general equation is cheaper-price equals cheaper-quality. This could mean either noisier electronics which will result in recordings with hisses or hums, or a mixer that (figuratively) blows-up on you. I remember suggesting to a friend that he not purchase a $100 Behringer mixer just to save a few bucks when he could spend an extra $50 and get a Mackie. One year later (after the warranty period, of course), he had to replace the Behringer. For me, it’s worth the extra money to have a mixer that will last a long time, even if only to save me another trip to the music store. If you’re like me, each trip to the music store can be expensive.
In my view, a condenser is best for recording singing and acoustic instruments where the nuances of the voice and instrument are of particular importance. I still use my condensers once-in-a-while, though I rely on my dynamic mic almost exclusively for my spoken-word and voice-over work.
That wraps-up my series on picking microphones.