Professional Microphone Guide

First Tier:

In this category you will find only no-compromise builders with factories in their native countries.  These microphones are built to exacting standards and are considered the best options available.  In alphabetical order to not play favorites…

Coles: Makers of fine ribbon microphones including the famous 4038 which is among the most popular designs for smooth and musically detailed pickup of harsher acoustic instruments.  Especially brass. 

DPA: or Danish Professional Audio, is a subset of Bruel & Kjaer and now produce the parent company’s line of professional music recording microphones, including the famous 4006 and 4011 models which are perhaps the most widely used orchestra microphones.  The company also produces the finest miniature microphones available for instrument and voice recording and live sound. 

Josephson: An American brand who make extremely high end large diaphragm capsules renowned for their clarity and detail.  They also make a small diaphragm FET body (C617) which uses a Microtech Gefell M221 nickel measurement capsule as standard for a combination that produces perhaps the most detailed capture of sound available today.

Microtech Gefell GmbH:  The Gefell factory began as a secondary hub for the Neumann Company during World War 2.  After the fall of the iron curtain, and after Georg Neumann’s death, the factories in Gefell and Berlin fell out of contact.  While the Neumann brand was sold to Sennheiser in 1991 and adopted a machine and assembly line model for making microphones, the Gefell factory continued to produce microphones with hand-made craftsmanship in the ways Georg Neumann originally laid out.   After the reunification of East and West Germany, the company made its resurgence in the western world and is now considered by many the true lineage of the Neumann name. 

Neumann GmbH: Perhaps the most famous microphone maker in the world.  Founded in 1928 by Georg Neumann, the company produced the world’s first condenser microphone for the mass market, the CMV 3.  Throughout the mid 20th century, the company has been known for the finest, handmade capsules and original microphone designs.  The company was sold to Sennheiser in 1991, and the brand name suffered somewhat under the new factory manufacturing model, as well as producing new modes of questionably declining quality, but the company, and especially the vintage models, are considered some of the finest microphones available.

Royer Labs: A company that produces exclusively a line of ribbon microphones.  Original designs such as the R121 are studio staples, and the acquisition of designs by Bob Spiden further increased the company’s reputation as THE high end ribbon maker. 

Schoeps GmbH:  (pronounced sheps) produce the most widely respected interchangeable capsule small diaphragm condensers in the world. They are a top choice for many classical engineers for a variety of tasks from full orchestra to chamber recordings.  Their sound is coveted for its incredibly detailed balance and musical tone. 

Sennheiser GmbH: This company produces a variety of audio products including wireless transmitters and popular headphones, but its professional model microphones are still considered among the best available today.  Besides the acquisition of the Neumann brand, the Sennheiser MKH models are top choices for classical engineers for their richly detailed and smooth response, and frequency ranges that extend to 50kHz. 

Sonodore: Founded by respected microphone builder Hens Reijnis, Sonodore is a company that is gaining popularity for producing microphones that rival the clarity and detail of the C617set and DPA microphones.  Utilizing Japanese made measurement capsules, the microphones are known for their “active” powering which separates the power supply from the audio signal to further enhance the SPL rating and produce finer detail than “phantom” powered options.

Second Tier:

These companies by no means make poor products. Costs may be cut in order to make the microphones more affordable, which may include overseas manufacturing and automated processes.

  Some may question my decision to place a respected German maker in the second tier.  While AKG produces classic designs like the C12 microphone and studio staples like the C414, the majority of their line is now marketed toward the hobbyist and utilizes “overseas” manufacturing. 

Audio-Technica:  A Japanese maker of good quality condenser microphones.  Their most popular microphone, the AT4050, is a studio staple and rivals many microphones three or four times the cost. 

Beherdynamic: Another good German maker.  The models are designed to be affordable, but Beherdynamic compromised little in terms of sound quality to achieve the lower price point.  Their line of small diaphragm condensers is very well respected as is their famous M160 and M130 ribbon microphones.

Blue: Originally coined as a high end maker, the company has since ventured in the popular mass market with affordable USB microphones and valve condensers.   The original Blue bottle remains an extremely high quality product on par with most high end tube microphones.  

Charter Oak:  Makers of very good tube microphones and signal processors.    Similar to Lauten and Mojave, they are original designs that found their way into the hands of individuals who would rather not use vintage copies and are unable to afford the sticker price of the first tier originals.
Electrovoice:  While not known for condensers, the Electrovoice RE20 is one of the most popular dynamic microphones for radio, voice, and kick drum recordings.  That alone gives this company a spot in the second tier.

Lauten: Designer of original valve microphones.  These microphones for the most part sound exceptional, though do not make their way into the hands of many engineers, sad as that may be.

Miktek:  A new American company who utilize a mixture of US, European, and Chinese manufacturing to produce excellent sounding microphones at a reasonable price point. 

Mojave:  Founded by David Royer, yes from Royer Ribbon microphones, Mojave introduced some very good original designs and maintained affordability with overseas manufacturing.    They specialize in valve microphones, both small and large diaphragm models are available.
Octava:  The go-to mics for many engineers on a budget.  Octava is a Russian brand that enjoys a good reputation, warranted or not.  They are also the most “modded” microphones by their owners, who will replace the stock parts with ones of higher quality to achieve better results.
Rode: Many consider the Australian made Rode brand to be a budget line of microphones.  Though they are made in the most advanced facility in the world, and utilize no overseas labor.  They are unquestionably well built, and many well respected engineers will use Rode microphones as a secondary (sometimes primary) choice to the top contenders. 

sE Electronics:  This company not only utilizes “overseas” labor, they are a Chinese company.  The fact that they are proud of that, and they design good quality microphones that are neither copies nor rebrands of any other maker, place them squarely in the second tier. 

Shure:  Mostly known for their live stage and dynamic microphones, Shure also make very good quality condensers for a variety of tasks.  The KSM44/32, SM81, and KSM141/137, are all well respected and found in the majority of studios in the world. 

Third Tier:

Mics for beginners or those on an extreme budget.  Most of these makers produce their products exclusively in China. 

Behringer:  A German company that builds its entire line of products in its own Chinese factory.  It has a small microphone line that is surprisingly good, utilizing decent electronics while maintaining a shockingly low price point. 

Cascade: Importer of Chinese ribbon microphones.  Cascade provides quality control and rebrands the microphones in their name.  They also offer transformer upgrades to bring the quality of some designs to near high-end status.  One of the only third tier companies worth considering for quality work.

MXL:  A budget line of Chinese made microphones, popular among beginners.

Samson:  More-well-known for other products like power amplifiers and the line of Zoom recorders, Samson produces an entry level line of microphones for the engineer on a tight budget.

Studio Projects:  A company that offers a comprehensive line of budget condenser microphones.

Legacy Designers:

Mostly small companies and makers of high quality vintage design replicas.

AEA:  An American maker of quality ribbon microphones.  They started out as a repair shop for the respected RCA line of ribbon mics, and now produce the official replicas of those designs as well as excellent original designs that are easily as popular among classical engineers as Royer or Coles. 

Flea: Some consider Flea to be the best replicator of vintage tube designs. Along with the C12, and U47 replicas, they also produce copies of the Neumann M50 and 49, considered by some to be the finest orchestral recording microphones ever built.   

Lawson:  Replica makers of the Neumann U47 and Telefunken ELAM 251

Peluso:  John Peluso makes very good copies of several vintage and current designs, including the AKG C12, U47, U67, ELAM251, and the Schoeps CMC series.