11 Best Small-Diaphragm Condenser Microphones Under $500


Small-diaphragm condenser microphones are useful tools in the studio and live sound environments around the world. They are regularly used to close-mic instruments and as distant/room mics. Their characteristic fast transient response; extended frequency response, and consistent polar pattern specs make them go-to’s for plenty of applications where precision is critical.

If you’re on a budget (who isn’t?), it’s nice to have small-diaphragm microphone choices that won’t necessarily break the bank. For under $500 USD, we are able to purchase high-quality SDC for our studio and live sound needs. This article aims to present to you the best choices in this price range.

The top 11 best small-diaphragm condenser microphones under $500 are:

In this article, we’ll talk a bit more about SDCs and what constitutes a great small-diaphragm condenser microphone. We’ll then get into each of the above-listed mics in greater detail to give you a better idea of a potential addition to your mic locker!

Before we get started, I’d like to share a few notes/disclaimers:

  • This list is subject to my opinion and biases though I’ve tried to be as objective as possible.
  • The choices made are based on my own experience and the experience of my mentors, the comments and reviews on internet forums, and the official product descriptions from the manufacturers.
  • SDCs are often sold as matched pairs. The SDCs on this list are priced at under $500 per single unit.
  • I have not included lavalier/lapel microphones, shotgun microphones, or measurement microphones to this list, even though these mics may certainly be considered small-diaphragm.

CLICK HERE TO JUMP AHEAD TO THE TOP 11 BEST SMALL-DIAPHRAGM CONDENSER MICROPHONES UNDER $500

With that, let’s get into it!


What Is A Small-Diaphragm Condenser Microphone?

A small-diaphragm condenser microphone is loosely defined as a condenser mic with a diaphragm diameter of 1/2″ (12.7 mm) or less.

Condenser microphones are active, meaning they require power to function. This power can be provided with +48V phantom power (as is the case with the mics in this list); external power supplies (as is the case with tube condensers, none of which appear on this under $500 list), and other DC-biasing techniques (as is the case with many lav/lapel mic, which are not included in this list).

The condenser capsule is the key transducer component of the SDC. It converts variations in sound pressure into audio via a small, movable diaphragm. More technically, it converts mechanical wave energy (diaphragm movement) into electrical energy (audio signal). It does so via electrostatic principles.

The capsule acts as a parallel-plate capacitor with a stationary backplate and a movable front plate (the diaphragm). This capacitor holds a fixed electrical charge and is polarized either externally via the power source or internally via pre-polarizing electret material.

The capsule must have a high impedance in order to keep this charge from escaping. As the diaphragm moves, the capacitance of the capsule/capacitor changes and a proportional voltage (mic signal) is produced.

This mic signal passed through an active impedance converter in order to be effectively passed through the rest of the mic’s circuitry and is ultimately outputted as the mic signal.

The small-diaphragm yields a few general characteristics that benefit the user in multiple ways. If we compare the small-diaphragm condenser against the large-diaphragm condenser, we’d have the following table of notable differences:

 Small-Diaphragm Condenser MicrophonesLarge-Diaphragm Condenser Microphones
Diaphragm Size1/2" (12.7 mm) or less1" (25.4 mm) or more
Transient ResponseMore accurateLess accurate
Frequency ResponseFlatter and more extendedMore coloured especially in the high-end
Address TypeTop or sideTypically side
Polar PatternsAny polar pattern. Very consistentAny polar pattern. Less consistent
SensitivityHighHigh
Self-NoiseMoreLess
PriceCheap to very expensiveInexpensive to very expensive

For a detailed article on the differences between SDCs and LDCs, check out My New Microphone’s Large-Diaphragm Vs. Small-Diaphragm Condenser Microphones.


What Makes A Great Small-Diaphragm Condenser Microphone?

As stated, there are a few general characteristics that small-diaphragm condenser microphones are known for. There are a few other specifications that make a great SDC. Let’s list them here:

  • Accurate transient response.
  • Extended frequency response.
  • Consistent polar pattern.
  • Low self-noise.
  • High sensitivity.
  • Versatility.
  • Price.

Accurate Transient Response

Small-diaphragm condensers naturally have very fast transient responses. Their thin diaphragms naturally react with accuracy to varying sound pressure and, therefore, are more precise in their reproduction of sound as an audio signal.

One thing to watch out for with cheaper condenser mics is overshoot, where a diaphragm will overreact to sound pressure. The diaphragm will move outward (or inward) with sound pressure and the physical limitations cause it to begin moving back before the sound pressure would naturally cause it to. This causes non-linearity in the mic signal and distortion in the audio.

To learn more about microphone transient response, check out my article What Is Microphone Transient Response & Why Is It Important?

Extended Frequency Response

SDCs also tend to have very extended frequency responses, since their diaphragms or better suited to capture higher frequencies with short wavelengths. The relatively small diameter of the diaphragm is more apt to capture short wavelengths directly and the mic capsule requires much less tuning to yield the same high-end response.

To improve your knowledge on microphone frequency response, check out my articles Complete Guide To Microphone Frequency Response (With Mic Examples) and What Are Coloured And Flat Microphone Frequency Responses?

Consistent Polar Pattern

The physical size of an SDC capsule allows for more consistency in the polar pattern than its large-diaphragm counterpart.

That being said, the fact that a mic has a small-diaphragm doesn’t necessarily mean it has a consistent polar pattern across its frequency response. However, it’s something to look for and is a sign that the SDC is of high quality.

For more info on polar patterns, check out my article The Complete Guide To Microphone Polar Patterns.

Low Self-Noise

When we’re going for precision recording, low self-noise is a must. There are enough factors to be worried about in the recording environment that will add to the noise in a mic signal. The last thing we want is the microphone causing a great deal of noise within itself.

Really, anything below 15 dBA can be considered a good self-noise rating and will allow the microphone to output a strong signal-to-noise ratio. A self-noise below 10 dBA is what I’d consider great and anything 5 dBA or less is practically unnoticeable.

To learn more about microphone self-noise, check out My New Microphone’s article What Is Microphone Self-Noise? (Equivalent Noise Level).

High Sensitivity

Sensitivity could mean two things.

First, it’s great to have a microphone that is sensitive to the subtleties of a sound source. In studio and other acoustically treated environments, a mic that will pick up the tiny details of a sound source is often preferred.

Second, the mic’s sensitivity rating refers to the signal level a microphone will output at a given sound pressure level. A high sensitivity rating means the microphone will be less reliant of preamp gain to boost it to line level and will, therefore, perform more consistently.

To acquire more info about microphone sensitivity, check out my articles What Is Microphone Sensitivity? An In-Depth Description and What Is A Good Microphone Sensitivity Rating?

Versatility

It’s always nice to have gear that will perform well in multiple scenarios. The same goes for microphones.

Though small-diaphragm condenser mics are typically used for close-miking instruments and capturing room/ambience, there are plenty of other uses for these mic types. Choosing an SDC that will perform spectacularly in all your required applications is a huge bonus for a mic.

Additionally, modular components, high-pass filters, attenuation pads, and polar pattern switches are excellent design featured to have in a microphone.

Price

As the title suggests, the price of a small-diaphragm condenser microphone on this list must be under $500. The currency referenced in the prices is the United States Dollar (USD).


The Top 11 Best Small-Diaphragm Condenser Microphones Under $500

My New Microphone’s top 11 best small-diaphragm condenser microphones under $500 are:


AKG C 451 B

The AKG C 451 B (link to check the price on Amazon and/or B&H Photo/Video) is a reproduction of AKG’s original (now vintage) C 451 C from 1969.

The original, in its time, was one of AKG’s best-selling microphones and is still one of its best-known models (along with the C 12 and C 414). It was a modular microphone that combined the C451 EB amp and CK1 capsule and marked the first-ever FET mic from AKG.

In 2001, AKG produced a single-piece replacement for this popular microphone, known as the C 451 B.

AKG C 451 B
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid
  • Self-noise: 18 dBA
  • Sensitivity: 9 mV/Pa
  • High-pass filters:
    -12 dB/octave @ 75Hz (via switch on microphone)
    -12 dB/octave @ 150Hz (via switch on microphone)
  • Pads:
    -10 dB (via switch on microphone)
    -20 dB (via switch on microphone)
  • Modular: No

The capsule of the 451 B is not the original CK-1 but is rather a modern electret (pre-polarized) design with identical acoustics. It uses a 3-micron gold-sputtered diaphragm and is shock-mounted to reduce handling noise in the mic signal.

This capsule produces a uniform cardioid polar pattern across the entire frequency response of the 451 B.

In terms of frequency response, the C 451 has a natural high-end boost that doesn’t only pick up the high-end but captures the “air” of a sound source and the room without sounding harsh.

As mentioned the AKG C 451 has two high-pass filters and two pads that are selectable via switches on the microphone body.

The filters help to mitigate proximity effect, reduce low-end rumble, or otherwise reduce the low-end of a sound source.

The pads improve functionality by allowing the mic to be placed very close to a loud sound source without the likelihood of overloading. With the 20 dB pad engaged, the maximum sound pressure level of the 451 B becomes a hearing-damaging 155 dB SPL!

The amplifier circuit has a transistor-based transformerless design and is clinically clean, allowing the natural sound of the capsule to be heard. This makes the C 451 B very neutral. In other words, the mic picks up sound with near-perfect precision.

A central selling feature of this feature-rich microphone is the durability. The microphone is fit for the studio and the live stage. These mics can take a beating (though I’d never recommend purposefully abusing your microphones) and, typically, continue to perform.

In terms of application, the AKG C 451 B sounds top-notch on strings, piano, and drum overheads but also shines on most other sound sources as well.

AKG includes their SA 40 stand adapter and W 90 windscreen with a new purchase of their C 451 B.

AKG is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphone Brands You Should Know And Use.

The AKG C 451 microphones (both the original and the 451 B) are featured in the following My New Microphone articles:

• 50 Best Microphones Of All Time (With Alternate Versions & Clones)
• Top 11 Best Solid-State/FET Condenser Microphones
• Top 12 Best Vintage Microphones (And Their Best Clones)


Shure SM81

Second on this list is the Shure SM81 (link to check the price on Amazon and/or B&H Photo/Video) ).

This small-diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone has a transformer-coupled output and a cardioid polar pattern.

  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid
  • Self-noise: 16 dBA (19 dB)
  • Sensitivity: 5.6 mV/Pa
  • High-pass filters:
    6 dB/octave roll-off @ ~100 Hz (via switch on microphone)
    18 dB/octave roll-off @ ~200 Hz (via switch on microphone)
  • Pads:
    -10 dB (via switch on microphone)
  • Modular: No

Like the aforementioned AKG C 451 B, Shure’s SM81 is built with durability in mind. This is almost to be expected of Shure’s microphones. The company has a reputation for making the world’s toughest microphones.

The custom capsule of SM81 yields a beautifully flat frequency response and a consistent cardioid pattern.

The cardioid pattern and great durability of the 81 make it a superb choice for close-miking instruments live. Its frequency and transient response allow it to excel in the most precise studio environments.

With most modern SDCs being transformerless, the transformer-coupled output of the SM81 gives it a sort of characteristic sound with a slight colouration and warmth. The custom transformer also helps to lessen the mic’s susceptibility to radio frequency interference and electromagnetic interference.

As mentioned, this microphone features 2 high-pass filters and a 10 dB pad, making it pretty versatile. The high-pass filters help reduce proximity effect during close-miking and tune out low-end rumble and handling noise is all cases. The pad increases the max SPL of the SM81 to 146 dB, which is more than enough to capture practical sound sources without distortion.

In terms of applications, the Shure SM81 works tremendously on acoustic instruments such as guitar, piano, and cymbals in both studio and live settings.

With each new purchase of the SM81, Shure provides a custom swivel adapter, attenuator-switch lock, foam windscreen, and carrying case.

Shure is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphone Brands You Should Know And Use.

The Shure SM81 is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:

• 50 Best Microphones Of All Time (With Alternate Versions & Clones)
• Top 11 Best Solid-State/FET Condenser Microphones


Rode NT55

The Rode NT55 (link to check the price on Amazon and/or B&H Photo/Video) is a modular small-diaphragm condenser microphone that comes with two interchangeable capsules: one provides a cardioid polar pattern while the other yields an omnidirectional response.

Rode NT55
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz
  • Polar patterns: Cardioid and omnidirectional
  • Self-noise: 15 dBA
  • Sensitivity: 12.6 mV/Pa
  • High-pass filters:
    -12 dB/octave @ 75Hz (via switch on microphone)
    -12 dB/octave @ 150Hz (via switch on microphone)
  • Pads:
    -10 dB (via switch on microphone)
    -20 dB (via switch on microphone)
  • Modular: Yes

The detachable capsules of the Rode NT55 are the NT45-O omnidirectional capsule and the NT45-C cardioid capsule. Each capsule is externally-polarized and is relatively flat.

The NT45-C has slightly less low-end to help relieve the signal of the bass boost that comes with the proximity effect when the mic is used to close-mic a source. As for high-end, the NT45-C sounds fairly bright but not overly harsh.

The frequency response of the NT45-O is also quite flat with a nice bottom-end. The high-end of the capsule is a bit exaggerated to help improve the brightness of the mic when used at a distance. Some would criticize the brightness of the NT45-O, particularly when used at a short distance from the sound source.

Both capsules have wonderfully steady polar patterns throughout their frequency responses.

The NT55 body/amplifier is made from a low-noise JFET design with a transformerless output. This crisp and clean amp provides allows each of the capsules to shine as they naturally would with accurate transient responses and bright characters.

Rode’s NT55 body also features two pad and two high-pass filters for added versatility.

As discussed before, the HPFs help to reduce proximity effect (in the cardioid capsule) and aid in subduing handling noise and other low-end noise. The pads help the mic to handle louder sources without distortion.

Rode specifies the best applications of its NT55 as the following: recording acoustic instruments, drum overheads, cymbals and live performances.

The Rode NT55 includes an RM5 mic clip, the NT45-O and NT45-C capsules, a metal storage box, and a 10-year warranty.

The Rode NT5 (link to check the price on Amazon and/or B&H Photo/Video) is a cheaper, stripped-down option. It is essentially the NT55 without the pads and high-pass filters. It comes with the detachable NT45-C cardioid capsule. The NT45-O omnidirectional capsule is compatible with the NT5 though it is sold separately.

So if you’re looking to save the extra money or are simply uninterested with the extra options of the NT55, the NT5 may be the small-diaphragm condenser microphone for you!

Rode NT5
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz
  • Polar patterns: Cardioid
  • Self-noise: 15 dBA
  • Sensitivity: 12.6 mV/Pa
  • High-pass filters: N/A
  • Pads: N/A
  • Modular: Yes

Rode is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphone Brands You Should Know And Use.


Shure KSM137

The Shure KSM137 (link to check the price on Amazon and/or B&H Photo/Video) is the second SDC from Shure on this list. It is a versatile cardioid microphone designed for the studio yet rugged enough for road life and live performances.

  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid
  • Self-noise: 18 dBA
  • Sensitivity: 14.1 mV/Pa
  • High-pass filters:
    -6 dB/octave below 115 Hz (via switch on microphone)
    -18 dB/octave below 80 Hz (via switch on microphone)
  • Pads:
    -15 dB (via switch on microphone)
    -25 dB (via switch on microphone)
  • Modular: No

The electret capsule of the KSM137 features a 2.5 μm 24 karat gold-layered Mylar diaphragm that exhibits excellent transient response; wide frequency response, and a consistent cardioid polar pattern.

Its sturdy design, high maximum sound pressure level, and cardioid response make the KSM137 a superb choice in live environments. Combining these factors with a decent self-noise figure and a wide frequency response allows the 137 to excel in the studio as well.

Its pads and HPFs further improve the versatility of this fantastic small-diaphragm condenser microphone.

The body of Shure’s KSM137 is composed of a transistor-based impedance converter/amplifier and a transformerless output circuit. It maintains a transparent sound the brings out the true nature of the sound source it’s placed in front of.

Application-wise, the KSM137 is an outstanding performer on a variety of instruments ranging from percussion to wind, strings to brass, and piano to guitar.

The KSM137 ships with Shure’s A100WS foam windscreen; A57F mic clip; thread adapter, and a hard plastic shelled carrying case.


Lewitt LCT 340

The Lewitt LCT 340 (link to check the price on Amazon and/or B&H Photo/Video) is Lewitt’s flagship small-diaphragm condenser microphone.

This versatile modular model comes with a cardioid capsule though an optional omnidirectional capsule is available with a purchase of the microphone.

Lewitt LCT 340
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid or omnidirectional (with additional capsule)
  • Self-noise: 15 dBA (cardioid)
  • Sensitivity: 9 mV/Pa
  • High-pass filters:
    40 Hz – 12 dB/oct (via switch on microphone)
    150 Hz – 6 dB/oct (via switch on microphone)
    300 Hz – 6 dB/oct (via switch on microphone)
  • Pads:
    -6 dB (via switch on microphone)
    -12 dB (via switch on microphone)
    -18 dB (via switch on microphone)
  • Modular: Yes

This microphone, like many on this list, boasts an impeccably transparent sound with a natural transient response and flat frequency response. This is, in no small part, due to the precision of the custom-made capsule of the LCT 340.

The low-noise transformerless amplifier circuit does little to colour the sound of the capsule as it brings the sensitivity up to a respectable level. The 13 dBA self-noise of the amplifier circuit makes this microphone a great choice for quieter environments.

Application-wise, the LCT 340 is superb on any instrument that requires a precise recording. Whether in the studio, on the stage, or in the field, the LCT 340 is capable of delivering spectacular results.

As listed above, this microphone features a whopping 3 high-pass filters and 3 pre-attenuation pads to alter its sound to fit the situation.

Regardless of the implementation, the LCT 340 is capable of capturing incredible results.

This microphone comes stock with its cardioid capsule though an additional omnidirectional capsule is also available. A new purchase also includes Lewitt’s DTP 40 MTS Shockmount, LCT 40 WS Windshield, DTP 40 LB Leather Bag, and a limited 2-year warranty.


Warm Audio WA-84

Warm Audio is known for its affordable tributes to legendary vintage microphones. The Warm Audio WA-84 (link to check the price on Amazon and/or B&H Photo/Video) is based on the famed Neumann KM 84 cardioid microphone from 1966.

Though Neumann has its own replacement for the KM 84 on the market (the KM 184), it is out of the price range of this article. Warm Audio’s WA-84 meets the criteria to be one of the best small-diaphragm condenser microphones under $500.

Warm Audio WA-84
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid
  • Self-noise: 16 dBA
  • Sensitivity: 11 mV/Pa
  • High-pass filters: N/A
  • Pads:
    -10 dB (via switch on microphone)
  • Modular: No

Starting with the capsule, Warm Audio’s WA-84 features a custom vintage-style based on the KM 84’s original KK84 cardioid capsule. Its sonics are not identical but are surely reminiscent of the vintage-era solid-state SDC.

The capsule yields a wide and flat frequency response with a cardioid polar that remains faithful throughout the frequency response. Its transient response aids in capturing the important details of its intended sound sources.

The solid-state amplifier body of the WA-84 is designed with a fully discrete Class-A amplifier and CineMag output transformer. Whereas the transformerless schematics in this list yield transparency, the transformer-coupled WA-84 amp circuit gives it a smooth top-end and fat bottom-end. This colouration and presence are truly nostalgic for early, vintage SDCs.

Acoustic and electric guitars and basses; drums; piano; strings, and brass and woodwind instruments are all perfect sources to be captured by the Warm Audio WA-84. When using this microphone on louder sources, the 10 dB pad will provide extra headroom to capture the source without distortion.

Each new purchase of the Warm Audio WA-84 includes a shock mount, mic clip, windscreen, and carrying case. Although the capsule is easily removable, this microphone is not designed to be modular.

Warm Audio is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphone Brands You’ve Likely Never Heard Of.


Audix ADX51

The Audix ADX51 (link to check the price on Amazon and/or B&H Photo/Video) is a small-diaphragm electret condenser microphone with a cardioid polar pattern. Audix lists this microphone as being suitable for stage, studio and broadcast applications.

Audix ADX51
  • Frequency response: 40 Hz – 18,000 Hz
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid
  • Self-noise: Not listed
  • Sensitivity: 17 mV/Pa
  • High-pass filters:
    -6 dB/octave @ 150Hz (via switch on microphone)
  • Pads:
    -10 dB (via switch on microphone)
  • Modular: No

Audix designed its ADX51 with a precision-machined brass body and steel grille mesh for durability.

On paper, the ADX51 doesn’t look nearly as impressive as the other microphones on this list. Its frequency response graph suggests an overly bright sound and the polar response graphs suggest a more omnidirectional pattern at the low-end and an almost supercardioid pattern at the high-end.

However, the sound of ADX51 is neither harsh nor overly thin. The natural roll-off in the low-end reduces handling noise and other audible structure-borne vibrations in the signal.

The mic certainly lacks in the bottom end, but this is actually preferred in some situations.

For instance, many ADX51 users report remarkably great results as drum overheads. The high end of the cymbals comes through crisp and clean and the low-end widens out to capture the full size of the kit.

Furthermore, the thinness of the low-end is often compensated for when close-miking due to the bass boost of the proximity effect.

The ADX51 electret capsule yields the bright frequency response and accurate transient response. Its transformerless solid-state amplifier circuit is transparent and clinical.

The mic body features a 10 dB pad and a high-pass filter for increased flexibility in terms of mic positioning. When close-miking with the ADX51, try engaging these options to hear the differences.

The ADX51 comes brand-new with the DCLIP heavy-duty snap-on mic clip; P1 carrying pouch, and the WS1C external windscreen.

By the fact that Audix ships this microphone with a windscreen and a carrying pouch rather than a case solidifies their confidence that the mic is more than capable of withstanding the rigours of the stage and broadcast environments.

Audix is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphone Brands You’ve Likely Never Heard Of.


sE Electronics sE8

The sE Electronics sE8 (link to check the price on Amazon and/or B&H Photo/Video) is another impressive small-diaphragm condenser microphone for under $500.

sE Electronics sE8
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid
  • Self-noise: 13 dBA
  • Sensitivity: 25 mV/Pa
  • High-pass filters:
    -6 dB/octave @ 80Hz (via switch on microphone)
    -6 dB/octave @ 160Hz (via switch on microphone)
  • Pads:
    -10 dB (via switch on microphone)
    -20 dB (via switch on microphone)
  • Modular: No

The sE Electronics sE8 is built around its hand-crafted true (externally-polarized) capsule. This capsule is constructed with cutting-edge components and is hand-tuned by sE engineers.

The 3-micron gold-sputtered diaphragm reacts incredibly well to transients and provides a beautifully flat frequency response curve. As for polar pattern consistency, the cardioid response is nearly the same across the entire frequency response.

The smooth nature of the capsule is further ameliorated by a sophisticated transformerless Class-A amplifier circuit. The transparency and low-noise of the amp really enable the capsule’s careful design to shine through.

2 pads and a 2 high-pass filter switches are incorporated into the mic’s body. Adjusting these can help get the sE8 closer to its sound source without the risk of distortion or a muddy low end.

It’s tough to pinpoint specific applications when a microphone sounds great on everything. Try the sE8 on acoustic stringed instruments, pianos, and drums to get amazing results.

sE Electronics ships their sE8 microphone with its own mic clip (with a thread adapter) and a windscreen.


Shure Beta 181/C

For a brand that is best known for its dynamic microphones, Shure is certainly cleaning up on this list! The Shure Beta 181/C (link to check the price on Amazon and/or B&H Photo/Video) is one version of a modular microphone system that utilizes various side-address small-diaphragm condenser capsules.

The Shure Beta 181 has four compatible detachable capsules. Their polar patterns are cardioid, omnidirectional, bidirectional, and supercardioid. Though all capsules perform superbly, in this section, we’ll be discussing the cardioid capsule (Beta 181/C).

Shure SM181/C
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid (omnidirectional, bidirectional and supercardioid capsules available)
  • Self-noise: 20.5 dBA
  • Sensitivity: 4.7 mV/Pa
  • High-pass filters: N/A
  • Pads: N/A
  • Modular: Yes

The Shure Beta 181/C is a peculiarity in this list. Whereas the other microphones are top-address pencil-style SDCs, the 181/C is a side-address microphone (it “points” to the side rather than through its top).

Each of the compatible capsules is a pre-polarized electret with a small diaphragm. Though the microphone does not have any pads or high-pass filters, its modular nature makes it a versatile performer.

Shure’s Beta 181 is a small-diaphragm condenser but is designed in a way that makes it excel on loud stages. In this way, it can be likened to a moving-coil dynamic mic.

At 149 dB, the cardioid capsule has the lowest maximum sound pressure level of the 4 capsules. This allows the Bete 181 to be used on incredibly loud sound sources on the stage and in the studio.

The self-noise and sensitivity ratings are lacklustre compared to many standard SDC pencil mics. However, for the intended applications on stage, the accuracy and transparency of the Beta 181 make it a standout microphone.

As would be expected of a Shure microphone, the 181 and its capsules are tough and durable and can handle many of the rigours of being on the road.

The roll-offs in the high and low-end frequency response concede less extraneous noise in the mic signal and improve the mic’s gain-before-feedback. Its side-address form factor allows for easier placement in front of guitar and bass amps and around drum kits and pianos.

Each new purchase of a Shure Beta181 comes with your choice of capsule (1 of the 4); an A57F mic clip; an A181C zippered carrying case, and an A181WS windscreen. Of course, the other compatible capsules are available separately.


Audio-Technica AT4022

The Audio-Technica AT4022 (link to check the price on Amazon and/or B&H Photo/Video) is an omnidirectional small-diaphragm electret pencil condenser microphone.

It is the more popular versions of the cardioid AT4021 pencil mic from Audio-Technica and is the only dedicated (fixed) omnidirectional mic on this list.

Audio-Technica AT4022
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz
  • Polar pattern: Omnidirectional
  • Self-noise: 13 dBA
  • Sensitivity: 19.9 mV/Pa
  • High-pass filters:
    80 Hz, -18 dB/octave (via switch on microphone)
  • Pads:
    -10 dB (via switch on microphone)
  • Modular: No

The pressure capsule of the AT4022 yields a consistent omnidirectional pattern and a flat frequency response erring on the side of brightness.

It provides a detailed low-end that can be reduced if need be via a high-pass filter at 80 Hz. Its top-end is brilliant but not overly harsh. Though the AT4022 has a low price point, it avoids the infamous harshness of cheap condenser mics.

The diaphragm reacts with precision to incoming sound waves and the FET amp and transformerless output circuit maintain this clarity.

This small-diaphragm condenser is an exceptional choice for capturing the sound of piano, acoustic guitar, and other acoustic instruments. It also excels in ambient recording situations indoors and outdoors.

The Audio-Technica AT4022 comes brand-new with an AT8405a mic clip, a foam windscreen, and a carrying case.

Audio-Technica is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphone Brands You Should Know And Use.


Avantone Pro CK-1

Finally, we have the least expensive, most budget-friendly mic on this list. The Avantone Pro CK-1 (link to check the price on Amazon and/or B&H Photo/Video) is a modular SDC with three interchangeable capsules.

Avantone Pro CK-1
  • Frequency response: 25 Hz – 20,000 Hz +/- 3dB
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid, hypercardioid and omnidirectional capsules
  • Self-noise: 17 dBA
  • Sensitivity: 15 mV/Pa
  • High-pass filters:
    80 Hz 6dB/octave (via switch on microphone)
  • Pads:
    -10 dB (via switch on microphone)
  • Modular: Yes

Now, we shouldn’t expect the CK-1 to perform as well as the top-of-the-line small-diaphragm condenser microphones. However, the sound of the Avantone CK-1 makes many people wonder how so much could be sold for so little.

First, the CK-1 comes with three detachable true (externally-polarized) capsules (cardioid, hypercardioid, and omnidirectional). Each capsule is centre-terminated and features a 6-micron gold-sputtered Mylar diaphragm. The relative thickness of the diaphragm acts to increase durability while lowering the cost of manufacturing.

The high-quality FET amplifier circuit and transformerless output produce sonically pleasing modern-sounding results akin to more expensive contemporary designs.

To improve upon the versatility of have 3 modular capsules, the CK-1 also comes with a 10 dB pad and high-pass filter switch at 80 Hz.

The Avantone excels in the project and professional studio alike. Its rugged build also makes it an excellent budget-friendly choice for live stage use. This microphone is best-applied on drum overheads, acoustic instruments and piano.

Avantone’s CK-1 comes with its 3 capsules and an SSM elastic shock mount in a padded wooden case. Writing this, I still don’t know how Avantone packed so much value into this single mic package.


This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.


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