It’s amazing how affordable hardware is these days.
Today, if you wanted to set up a basic home studio, you could easily do it for $1,000 or less. Even better, the quality of your recording would be surprisingly good – better than the recordings that came out of the 60s and 70s.
An essential piece of gear to getting a good quality recording is microphones. There are many microphones on the market, and today, you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg to find a quality product. Many times, you can get exactly what you need in a mic for under $200.
So, here are some of the best studio microphones that should fit your tight budget.
AKG P220 Vocal Condenser Microphone
The AKG P220 is a large-diaphragm vocal microphone. As you can guess, it’s great for vocals, but it’s also perfect for pianos, acoustic guitars, and brass instruments.
Condenser mics aren’t always particularly durable, so you need to be careful with them, but this one has a robust design. This means it should hold up to heavy use, even if you aren’t as careful as you should be with it.
This mic is fantastic for recording at home. Whether you’re building a home studio, or just looking to begin experimenting with recording instruments, you’ll like the results you get with the P220.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better condenser mic in the same price range. The AKG is worth a look.
Sennheiser e906 Supercardioid Dynamic Mic
The e906 is truly an incredible instrument mic for under $200. Its frequency response is flat, giving you just the true, pure tone of the instrument you’re recording, and it’s extremely durable to boot.
It should be noted that the Sennheiser was built primarily for guitar amps. Though it probably shouldn’t be used to record vocals, it can be used for other instruments such as drums, keys, and strings. It’s more versatile than you might be inclined to think. This alone is a good reason to invest in one.
The mic features a three-position switch that allows you to change its tone from bright, to moderate, to dark. This allows for more customizability when you’re trying to achieve different tonal characteristics.
The e906 is available to buy now.
Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Studio Microphone
I’ve recommended the AT2020 to several people, and I don’t think they’ve ever come back to complain. That’s because this mic looks good, feels good, and sounds good too.
Whether you’re podcasting, recording instruments or vocals, you’ll find this mic offers a great tone overall, and its bass response is better than you’d expect.
Every studio needs a good condenser mic. Now, you should always be aware of some of the common drawbacks of a condenser mic, such as the fact that they are extremely sensitive and will pick up background noise. But this is also what tends to add a lot of life to your recordings. Dynamic mics can sometimes suck the warmth right out of your tracks, though they are great for some purposes.
Bottom line, you just can’t go wrong with the Audio-Technica.
Blue Yeti USB Microphone
Blue has made a name for itself thanks to its affordable condenser microphones specifically designed for voice. Plus, their mics connect via USB, making them ideal mics for beginners who are new to software-based recording.
I know what you’re thinking. This is just a podcasting mic, right? But the Yeti will surprise you, as it’s more than that. It can be used to record your voice and instruments as well. It comes with a tri-capsule technology that allows you to switch between three polar patterns, so you can tweak its pickup until you get a sound you like.
Should you use the Blue for everything? Probably not. There’s a reason why it’s cheaper than some of the other studio microphones. But is it good bang for buck? Undeniably.
Shure SM57-LC Cardioid Dynamic Microphone
It’s not that the SM57 is an incredible microphone. But it’s unlikely you’ll find a single studio that doesn’t own at least one. This might have something to do with its durability, or the fact that it can be used in so many ways.
There are plenty of guitarists that prefer the sound of the SM57 on their guitar amps. This mic is also often used for snare drums, and sometimes for vocals as well.
Does the SM57 have a colored tone? You better believe it. But for some applications, it’s just perfect. Sometimes, a crystal-clear condenser isn’t what you’re looking for.
Plus, every studio should have a dynamic mic. Condensers are great for a lot of things, such as vocals, acoustic guitars, and drums. But sometimes you don’t want to pick up all the fine details of a sound. That’s where a dynamic mic comes in – it tends to cut down on a lot of extraneous noise.
It’s unlikely you’ll be using the Shure for everything, but it can’t hurt to keep one around.
sE Electronics X1 Large Diaphragm Condenser Mic
Here’s another large diaphragm consider mic that’s almost too good to be under $200. The X1 is about as versatile as they come in this price range. It’s durable and has a great tone. It can be used for vocals and percussion instruments, and is favored by jazz players.
The X1 comes with a 10dB pad, bass cut, and a black rubber paint finish.
Normally, you would pay a lot more for a mic of this quality. But you can get the SE Electronics X1 condenser mic within budget. I think it’s worth a try.
Rode NT-USB USB Condenser Microphone
I’ve been a long-time user of Rode microphones, which I think are among the best midrange studio mics available.
The NT-USB is a compelling option, so far as USB condenser mics are concerned. Even though it’s a condenser, it’s built not to pick up a lot of background noise. It has a stereo headphone jack for zero-latency monitoring, built-in master gain knobs, and comes with a tripod stand, pop shield, and ring mount. It plays nice with Apple devices too.
This mic probably isn’t suitable for anything except voice. If you’re a podcaster or a vocalist, you might give this one a try.
If you find the Blue Yeti compelling, but you’re looking for something with a little more “oomph”, you’ll want to check out the Rode.
What Should I Look For In A Microphone?
If you’ve been following along so far, you’re probably starting to get a good sense of what microphone(s) to buy. Different mics serve different purposes, and it’s best not to view any one of them as being all-in-one solutions. But here are some further insights into important criteria as you go through the selection process.
Rarely as important as sound and tonal qualities, durability can still be a major consideration if you’re new to mics and you’re mostly recording from home, where mics might get bumped, dropped, or clipped.
When you’re ready to upgrade, you’ll need to be a lot more careful – especially with something as sensitive as a ribbon mic.
Dynamic Or Condenser
I’ll talk more about these two types of mics in a moment. Although you could buy an all-purpose mic – such as the sE Electronics X1 – and make do with it, if possible, I would recommend starting with both a dynamic and condenser mic, so you can get used to the properties of each.
In this guide, you’ve learned about several mics that offer a great tone for a reasonable price. If you’re looking to go any cheaper than $99, yes, there are some products out there, but I wouldn’t recommend them. If you can’t afford $99, you may want to take some time to save up. Budget is always an important consideration, but I would suggest waiting to get what you want as opposed to making do with a cheaper alternative.
Sound & Tonal Qualities
Ultimately, only you can decide whether you like the sound of a specific microphone. You may buy a mic on a recommendation, and that’s totally fine, but for whatever reason, you may not end up liking it as much as the person who recommended it to you.
There are so many variables when it comes to recording – your room, your gear, the musician playing the part, the instrument they’re using, the engineer or producer, mixing and mastering procedures, and so on. You may not be able to achieve what others were able to do using the exact same gear. Strange thought, I know, but it’s true.
As a guitarist, I endlessly obsessed about my guitar tone. I mostly gave up on that path, because after a certain point, I didn’t think the “perfect tone” existed. But that’s when I discovered my favorite setup – when I stopped looking for it!
So, don’t get discouraged if you aren’t happy with your early choices. You can always upgrade later. Try things out with different mics, and see how far you get. You’ll outgrow your gear at some point, and then you will need to get new gear. Of course, a mic like the Shure SM57 is something you never outgrow, because virtually every studio has one.
What Is The Difference Between A Dynamic & Condenser Microphone?
Understanding this difference is important, because most studios are equipped with both types of microphones.
A simple way of explaining the difference is that dynamic mics are designed to only capture the sound of the voice or instrument in front of it, and block out extraneous noise. They are often used to “close” mic instruments, and don’t pick up much of the room sound. This explains why most podcasting or broadcast quality microphones are dynamic as opposed to being condensers. They reduce a lot of the background noise and “bleed”. Dynamic mics are also used on instruments with a larger dynamic range, such as drums and electric guitars.
Condenser mics are the opposite. They are often used for vocals and acoustic instruments. They pick up the finer details of the tonal qualities of the voice or instrument in front of it. They are sometimes used as “distance” mics, which allow producers to pick up the sound of the room, and the sound of the instrument reflecting off the walls of the room. This gives you an idea why some fancy studios have rooms made of different materials.
Bleed can be a problem with condensers. This isn’t an issue if your mix contains a lot of loud instruments, because nobody is going to be able to make out the finer details of individual tracks. But if you’re trying to record just your voice and acoustic guitar, even the sound of the click track in your headphones can sometimes bleed into a condenser mic. This can be solved with closed back headphones (rather than open back ones), but it should give you an idea of just how sensitive condenser mics can be.
Another important aspect of the two types of microphones is their tonal characteristics. There are no rules against experimentation. You can use any mic in any situation you please. But you may want more life and warmth injected into certain tracks over others, such as your vocals and acoustic guitars. You may want more of a colored tone that cuts off certain frequencies, such as with your drums and electric guitars. You can still EQ your tracks and pull out different tones with them later, but when recording anything, I believe in starting with a tone you like so you don’t end up having to endlessly edit later, which again can take the “life” out of a track.
Talking shop is a lot of fun. Whether you’re a “gearhead” or not, it’s easy to get sucked into conversations about who’s using what to achieve a certain tone. This is all part of a learning experience, and can be valuable information.
But I will caution you against getting too excited over every new product that comes out. Every company will try to convince you that their new model is the best thing since sliced bread. You can overspend on microphones you don’t even need, and that’s probably not going to help you move your recording projects along.