In this buyer guide, we roundup four popular studio condenser microphones selling for under $300 – the Blue Microphones Spark, Samson MTR231A, RØDE NT1A, and Blue Microphones Bluebird. Once microphones of this class were only found in professional recording studios, but now they have become affordable for both project and home studios. In this video, the microphone being described was actually used to record the voiceover, so you can hear the tonal differences between them.
Out of the box, you can see why Blue Microphones are recognized for their high-quality design and machining. The Spark comes packaged in a very nice wooden case and ships with a custom shock mount and pop filter. The Spark features a cardioid pickup pattern and provides a crisp tone with a 20-20kHz response. However, with just the push of a button you can engage “Focus Control.” Essentially acting as a low cut filter, this added flexibility held define your mid to upper frequencies making ideal on vocals and acoustic instruments. Last, but not least, the Spark comes with a detailed recording guide complete with setup and recording tips.
The most versatile microphone of the bunch, the Samson MTR231A provides a 10dB pad for hotter sound sources and has three selectable pickup patterns – cardioid, omni and figure-8. It chan handle sound pressure levels up to 134dB while maintaining its smooth response. While all large diaphragm condenser mics can benefit from a reflexion filter, the MTR231A benefits especially , considering its multiple patterns create a variety of miking options. You can get very creative with the MTR231A – try it on ambient or overhead miking, and of course on vocal and instrument tracking.
The third microphone in our roundup is the RODE NT1A. Housed in a metal chassis with an attractive satin nickel finish, the NT1A has cardioid pickup pattern and a noticeably warm tonal characteristic that can be described as sexy! It features the widest dynamic range and lowest self noise of our four mics, making it well suited for both subtle and powerful sound sources. Self noise is the standard noise level added to your audio path by the microphone’s components and circuits. In addition to the custom integrated pop filter and shock mount, RODE has been kind enough to add an instructional DVD and quality microphone cable to their package.
Sharing a similar visual design with the Spark,, our final microphone is the Blue Microphones Bluebird. While Blue is known for making application-specific mics, the Bluebird is probably one of the most versatile microphones they make. The Bluebird is a no-frills cardioid condenser that borrows some of the same characteristics of Blue’s high end mics like the Dragonfly, Kiwi and Mouse. The result is an affordable mic with an appealing tone and excellent clarity. It certainly provides the hottest signal of the group and has a dynamic range and self-noise on par with the RODE NT1A.
All in all, large diaphragm condenser microphones can really help you achieve a more professional sound, and as we have just shown, you can get there with a minimal investment. While you can connect directly to an audio interface with these microphones, consider investing in a dedicated microphone preamp for even superior sound quality and recording flexibility. Finally, due to their sensitivity, not everyone is going to have an ideal room for recording with these microphones so make sure you read through the set up instructions that come in the package. You will be surprised how a few tips and tricks can make a big difference in your tracks.
If you have any questions about these or any of the wide variety of microphones available, speak to a Sam Ash expert at 1-800-472-6274 between 9AM and 12 Midnight EST. They will assist you to pick out the studio microphone that is perfect for your needs – always at the guaranteed lowest price.