Best High-End Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone ($1000 - $5000)

Smooth, refined sounds of these 7 classic large diaphragm condenser mics will instantly bring any instrument to life. These are the gold standard of microphones in modern audio recording.

When you’re striving for fidelity, clarity, and authoritative presence, any of these 7 mics could be your go-to mic. 

Manufacturers of these mics pay careful attention to detail in the mechanical and electrical design of their capsules, head‑amplifiers and packaging. 

These mics are rugged, reliable and, they possess a character which is always musical, and which can be used creatively with a huge range of sound sources.

This is the 4th part of my ultimate guide to the best large diaphragm condenser microphones. In the previous 3 parts of this article I look at some of the budget condenser mics & mid-range mics. Also, in part 3 I raise the bar a little and examine the best large diaphragm condenser microphones under $1000.

Here in part 4, I review the ELITES of condenser microphones that are appropriate for a home recording studio. 

Top 4 of these mics are priced at under $2000, and they will be a delight to use, and give you pro quality results. 

For a very exclusive section of our readers I have also reviewed 2 of the legendary microphones, Neumann U 87 Ai Set Z & Neumann U 47 FET Collector’s Edition Microphone.

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1. Neumann TLM 103

The Neumann TLM 103 is a cardioid microphone, operating with a pressure gradient transducer, meaning that its inner membrane is responsive to the pressure differential (gradient) from both sides of the microphone (front and back).

At first sight, the Neumann TLM 103 is a gorgeous microphone. Unlike cheaper microphones that may have very slight alterations in their production, this microphone is pristine and you can tell that Neumann’s meticulousness in their design isn’t just limited to the inner-workings of their microphones.

TLM-103 sound is exceptional: it offers a remarkable detail clarity along with excellent dynamics. The sounds recorded with this mic sound vivid and lively. Try comparing it with a hundred dollar range mic in a good studio environment and the cheaper device will suddenly sound dull and lifeless. 

This Neumann mic also captures even slightest inflections that are otherwise imperceptible with low-priced mics.

The microphone has a cardioid polar pattern, which means that it only picks up sounds from the front, and rejects sounds from the back (off-axis sound rejection).

However, this doesn’t mean that it won’t entirely pick up the sounds that are produced behind the microphone, as sound reflections and reverberations will cause the microphone to ultimately pick up reflected sounds, but it does a good job of minimizing these sounds bleeding into your voice over recordings.

Frequency response is another great asset of Neumann TLM-103. Although it does produce a slight accentuation when it comes to higher range pitches, this isn’t very crucial for most of the uses. 

For the rest of the range though, it gets a very stable curve with a perfect spectrum.

The self noise (ie. that of the internal circuitry) of the new mic is stunningly low compared with similar models; presumably this is another benefit of the 103’s TLM circuitry.

This is undoubtedly one of the top microphone for voice overs.

Another very impressive characteristic of the TLM103 is that it can accommodate peak signal levels of up to 135dB SPL at 0.5% distortion. The ability to handle such high volume means that the new mic does not need a pre‑attenuator.

No foam windshield is supplied, but the mic has a strong, dual‑layer wire mesh grille which is reasonably effective at reducing plosives and popping; optional foam windshields and pop shields are available separately.

The microphone comes into two colors, Nickel and Black. Both are priced the same, which means that you can pick the one that best suits your studio setup.

Pros:
  • Ideal microphone for voice overs & lead vocals
  • Great for acoustic instruments that are supposed to cut through the mix
  • Wide frequency range
  • Extremely low self-noise
Cons:
  • Only one pickup pattern
  • Lack of additional controls

2. AKG Pro Audio C414 XLII

AKG’s C414 is one of the most popular and widely used microphones in the world today. You’re likely to see one in every major studio. It has become a professional studio standard.

The microphone is equipped with nine selectable polar patterns, three attenuation levels and three switchable bass-cut filters, the C414 XLII remains one of the most versatile condenser microphone for recording vocals, drums, and acoustic & amplified instruments in the studio or on stage. 

Although the design is basic, the beautiful gold grille found on the C414 XLII, makes this microphone appear quite flashy when in the studio. 

You shouldn’t judge a microphone by its look. However, if you’re running a small startup studio, the impression of your clients and collaborators seeing the sparkling C414 can be a valuable thing.

The base of the C414 is solid and heavy, quite frankly, it’s built like a tank. Underneath the grille is the precious heart of the C414, the 2nd generation CK12 nylon capsule, responsible for the sound of the C414. 

The C414 is a large-diaphragm, multi-pattern capacitor microphones utilising a gold-sputtered diaphragm where only the front side of the diaphragm is coated, the aim being to avoid electrical shorting between the diaphragm and backplate at very high SPLs. 

The pickup pattern can be switched in five steps to encompass omni, wide cardioid (not available on previous C414 models), cardioid, narrow cardioid, and figure of eight. 

A tiny system of green LEDs below the switch illuminates whichever option has been selected, and the current selection can be temporarily locked by pressing and holding the rocker selector switch for three seconds. 

Pressing again for three seconds, or switching off the phantom power, unlocks the setting. 

The same pattern-selection LED doubles as a clip warning light, and turns red for around one third of a second 2dB prior to clipping.

best large diaphragm condenser microphone under 2000

The C414 gives the user considerably more control over how it picks up sound than most microphones. For example, most mics feature one volume pad, but the C414 gives you three: -6dB, -12dB and -18dB. 

Engaging any of these will lower the output by the specified amount, which is helpful for avoiding overloads when recording loud sources like horns, drums and guitar cabinets.

Also, whereas most mics only give you a single option for cutting low-frequency pickup, the C414 offers three filter settings: 40Hz, 80Hz or 160Hz. 

The first two filters provide a 12dB/octave slope, while the 160Hz setting has a gentler 6dB/octave slope. 

The filter can be helpful to reduce low-end distortion when recording bass-heavy sources, and can be useful for reducing proximity effect, wind noise, or plosives. 

The ability to switch between polar patterns on the C414 is what makes it so incredibly useful, but it is the sound quality and character of this microphone which ultimately seals the deal. 

The C414 has become renowned for its high-end clarity and sound character. This is what makes the C414 XLII particularly popular as an amazing noise cancelling vocal microphone.

Pros:
  • New switching system with LED indicators.
  • Additional wide cardioid polar pattern.
  • Improved technical spec.
  • Excellent accessories included.
Cons:
  • Grille is a bit fragile

3. Austrian Audio OC818 

Designed by a team of former AKG personnel, the Austrian Audio OC818 Studio Set is a large-diaphragm studio condenser microphone offering detailed audio capture and immense sonic customization for producers and engineers in personal and commercial recording facilities. 

The handmade 1″ ceramic capsule features two gold-plated polymer membranes to enable multiple polar patterns. 

With a small, flat, rectangular body somewhat reminiscent of a C414, and a capsule (Austrian’s handmade CKR12) made with similar dimensions, not to mention properties similar to a CK12 capsule. 

This one of the best large diaphragm condenser microphone under $2000 also has multiple polar patterns (cardioid, omnidirectional, figure 8, hypercardioid), two levels of defeatable padding/attenuation (-10 and -20 dB) and three levels of defeatable highpass filtering (40, 80 and 160 Hz). 

The handmade CKR12 capsule housing is made of ceramic and it contains the dual diaphragms. Ceramics are low in resonance, insensitive to temperature changes and quite stable, contributing to the consistent performance of the diaphragm.

The OC818 has a distinct appearance with a silver, rounded, rectangular grille dominating about two-thirds of the mic’s profile. Beneath the grille is the CKR12, internally shock mounted to reduce mechanically transmitted noise.

The OC818 is powered via +48 VDC phantom power (±4 V) and draws a maximum current of 4 mA.

This large diaphragm condenser microphone comes in a classy yet straightforward package that includes an aluminum briefcase, foam windscreen, hard mic mount, the breakout cable, a quick start guide, and a snug custom shock mount that accommodates either the breakout cable or the optional Bluetooth remote.

The OC818’s mini-XLR jack also accepts the OCR8 Bluetooth Dongle. When the OCR8 is plugged in and the pattern switch is set to Preset Mode, pattern control is accomplished remotely via an iOS or Android device running Austrian Audio’s PolarPilot app (free of charge). 

PolarPilot also enables remote control over the HPF and pad, features a clipping log meter, and supports storage and recall of favorite settings.

The OC818 has another cool trick up its sleeve: the open-source Polar Designer plugin (VST3, AU, AAX). Here’s where you can take advantage of the two perfectly matched cardioid capsule outs on the OC818. 

Record the front and back capsules to a stereo track in your DAW, insert the plugin, and now you can proceed to alter polar patterns and proximity

effect after the fact.

Pros:
  • Multi-pattern dual-output large-diaphragm condenser microphone with optional wireless control
  • Handmade, dual-diaphragm CKR12 ceramic capsule
  • Selectable polar patterns: figure-8, supercardioid, cardioid, omni, custom
  • Microprocessor control of polarization voltages
Cons:
  • Very sensitive

4. Audio-Technica AT4050ST

The new AT4050 ST version extends the virtues of the original model (AT4050) by adding a second capsule within the same body, along with facilities to deliver a stereo output.

The AT4050ST is a studio-grade side-address stereo microphone that offers terrific flexibility for a variety of applications. 

The mic housing contains independent cardioid and figure-8 condenser elements, which allows the mic to maintain precise pattern definition across a full frequency range. 

It also allows you to choose between a left-right stereo output or discrete mid-side signal.

The diaphragms are vapor-deposited with 2-micron thick gold, and undergo a 5-step aging process to ensure years of optimal use. 

Internal circuitry performs the necessary matrix decoding to produce a conventional left‑right stereo output via a five‑pin XLR connector, and a switch selects either 90- or 127-degree stereo acceptance angles, or provides undecoded Mid/Side outputs directly. 

In the 90‑degree mode, a source 30 degrees to the right of the mic’s centre axis will appear about a quarter right of centre in the stereo image, while switching to the 127‑degree mode will reproduce the same source closer to three‑quarters right in the image.

This innovative stereo condenser gives you the choice of selecting a left-right stereo output or choosing discrete Mid-Side signals for later manipulation. 

best large diaphragm condenser microphone

The microphone’s dual-diaphragm capsules maintain precise polar pattern definition across the full frequency range. Its transformerless circuitry virtually eliminates low-frequency distortion.

Because the AT4050ST is equipped with both cardioid and figure-8 elements, it allows you to take advantage of Mid-Side recording techniques; in essence, you can change the “width” of your stereo image to suit a particular project – even after you’ve recorded! Audio-Technica built the AT4050 to give you a very flexible way to record in stereo.

The microphone’s internal transformerless circuitry helps to eliminate low-frequency distortion and provides excellent correlation of high-speed transients.

This one of the best large diaphragm condenser microphone under $2000 comes with a custom shock mount, an extra-long 8-conductor shielded XLR cable, a dust cover, and a protective carrying case.

Pros:
  • Large dual diaphragm microphone
  • State-of-the-art design
  • Ruggedly built to last
  • Great accessories
  • Versatile microphone
  • Suitable for vocals & instruments
Cons:
  • Only for professionals

5. Neumann U 87 Ai Set Z

The Neumann U 87 Ai is the modern incarnation of a classic microphone. Introduced in 1967, the U 87 gained instant favor with engineers, producers, and their clients; by the mid ’70s it was a staple in every world-class recording studio.

The Neumann U87 Ai is a cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure-8 studio microphone. It offers a rated impedance of 200 Ohms, as well as a rated load impedance of 1 Kohms. It weighs 500g, is 200mm in length, and 56mm in diameter. The Neumann U87 Ai microphone offers a frequency range of 20Hz to 20kHz.

There are many reasons why audio engineers, musicians, and broadcasters all love the Neumann U87 Ai so much, mostly it’s because this best large diaphragm condenser microphone under $5000 is extremely versatile. 

As a studio microphone, it can be used for a wide range of purposes, with the spoken voice being as well-represented as a singing voice or that of an instrument.

The reason why it is so versatile is thanks to the three polar patterns (Omni, cardioid, and figure-8), as well as the pad and switchable low-cut options that give audio engineers a lot more choice over its usage.

While the Neumann U87 microphones are known as vocal mics, they also serve as excellent spot microphones for individual instruments. 

Its balanced audio response in each of its polar patterns allow it to record anything from acoustic guitars to a full orchestra with excellent detail and depth.

Engineered as a front-address mic, it can be used to record close to the sound source without sounding unnatural. 

Its sensitivity to any sound allows it to construct a sound that’s as close to real and lifelike as you can get, but home studio users will need to ensure that their recording area is “clean” of any unnecessary noises.

While its price may be off-putting to some, it’s absolutely worth the investment. Many audiophiles believe that if you were to only buy one microphone your entire life, it should be the Neumann U87 AI.

The modern circuitry increases the mic’s operational headroom by reducing the resistance through which the capsule bias voltage is supplied. This gives you 10dB higher sensitivity for identical sound pressure levels and improves the signal-to-noise ratio by 3dB.

The distance between the membrane and electrode of the mic capsule is 35 microns — less than the width of a human hair. The layer of gold applied to a U 87 Ai capsule diaphragm is just 0.03 microns thick, equivalent to 208 atoms of gold. 

The Neumann U87 Ai is quite simply the highest quality studio microphone on the market. It has 50 years of proven success, and it is still as loved by audio engineers as it was when Neumann released the original model in 1967.

Pros:
  • 50 years of proven track record
  • Versatile microphone, equally good for talking, singing or instruments
  • Distinctive voice but instantly recognizable
  • Hand built by experts
Cons:
  • Pricey

6. Neumann U 47 FET

The Neumann U47 FET Collector’s Edition brings the epic sound of one of the most recorded microphones in history into your studio. Neumann went back to the schematics and production notes from the original U47 FET to bring you the wide dynamic range, detailed sound, and fast transient response of the original.

One of its particular strengths is its ability to cope with extremely high sound-pressure levels — up to 147dB SPL with the 10dB pad switched in (for comparison, the original U47 was getting pretty crunchy by 120dB SPL). 

Behind the updated U47 grille, is the same tension ring diaphragm, the K47. At the other end of the microphone, the presence of a DIN connector indicates a regular FET, while an XLR connector indicates a FETi model.

The microphone’s K47 capsule has been in continuous production for most of the history of the company; it is a 34mm O.D. capsule with a single brass backplate and two diaphragms made of 6-micron Mylar. The front diaphragm is center-terminated. The rear diaphragm is presumably clear Mylar (not metallized, nor terminated).

Two switches on the rear of the microphone independently enable a high-pass filter (140Hz) and a 10dB pad. 

A third switch, located on the bottom of the microphone body, enables the mic output to be lowered by 6dB to prevent preamp overload. 

This 6dB pad switch will not prevent the mic’s circuit from overloading, but rather simply drops the output level of the microphone.

The FET 47’s high SPL-handling capability quickly made it a firm favourite for capturing kick drums, bass instruments, guitar amps, brass and many other demanding instrumental applications.

The midrange is flat and up front without sounding woolly or too dominant, and the strong upper midrange and low treble allow the U47 FET to cut through without being edgy or take up too much frequency space.

The U47 FET’s sound is a very present and up front quality. The mic adds body without adding boom and we sensed a slight softening of the ‘esses’ that will help with sibilant singers. Off axis the sound is fairly consistent, which helps with talent that can’t keep still.

With a high-quality Collector’s Edition wooden box and Certificate of Authenticity, the U47 FET leaves no doubt about its heritage.

Pros:
  • Perfect in every way
Cons:
  • Pricey

Written by:
AJ Mani
AJ Mani

AJ has been intimately involved with music for more than 25 years as a composer, electronic musician, guitarist, writer, music software developer, and keyboard technician.

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