As an aspiring video and/or audio creator, the microphone is a piece of key equipment in your setup. It is important to have a fair bit about microphones and how they affect the audio of the content you wish to create. Whether you are a podcaster, rapper, master of ceremony, sound engineer, producer, live band musician, or live performance host, the right microphone can make the difference in getting the necessary ears to like your content.
In this article, we will talk about the types of microphones, affordable recording microphones with retail prices of about $100, and how to select a budget-friendly yet effective microphone perfect for your project.
TYPES OF MICROPHONES
There are 3 types of affordable recording microphone; ribbon microphones, condenser microphones, and dynamic microphones. Each type of microphone has different features and sound recording quality. Thus, it is important to note them in order to make an informed purchasing decision, now or later in the future.
Ribbon mircophones are the most fragile of the 3 types. It provides a warm, glassy sound, and it functions with a metal ribbon hanging between magnetic poles. The ribbon notices changes in air velocity and the mic convert them to electric signals. They are usually used to record electric guitar and bass cabs, or recording vocal arrangements. Their darker tonality is great for adding depth and texture while smoothing out any harsh midrange or treble peaks.
Ribbon mics also produce a figure-8 polar pattern that gives them great sound isolation from the sides. It also eliminates ambient noise often picked up by cardioid mics. However, they produce a weak signal and require a powerful audio interface with lots of input gain to boost the output.
These and dynamic microphones are the most popular studio recording microphones. They function by using a diaphragm (a conductive metal plate) which vibrates against a solid plate in order to generate a signal. They are great for recording vocals, with versatility for recording instruments as well.
Music producers and artists prefer large diaphragm condenser mics because of their warm, smooth tones. This adds more color and unique character. Small diaphragm condensers (pencil mics), are a bit clearer and sharper with a slightly more detailed output. Condenser microphones capture finer changes in sound, provide an output that’s more accurate and smoother than dynamic microphones. However, they run on phantom power and are more fragile than dynamic microphones.
Dynamic microphones colour sound less, providing a consistent balanced, and accurate output. Many of these microphones come with a higher sound pressure limits feature. This means it can record a louder sound source without distorting or sacrificing audio quality. Artists love dynamic mics for their clear, accurate tones, durability, and live performances.
1. MXL 990 CONDENSER MICROPHONE
This condenser mic uses a cardioid pickup pattern. It focuses on modern sound for acoustic guitars and vocals. The microphone minimises ambient noise by not recording sounds from the sides and back. This is ideal for situations where sound (vocals and instruments) bleeds easily between mics. The MXL 990 has a frequency response curve that is consistent across its 30Hz-20kHz.
|High-quality champagne metal finish is more durable than cheaper plastic microphones||Manufacturers don’t recommend 990 for recording amplifiers or drums|
|Cardioid pickup pattern with good sound rejection from rear and sides||Requires phantom power from an audio interface or external power source function|
2. SHURE SM58-LC CARDIOID DYNAMIC VOCAL MICROPHONE
The Shure SM58-LC is well-known for its clear vocals and durability. This dynamic mic is designed for vocals, with an extra push through the midrange with a more controlled bass response. It uses Cardioid pickup pattern, with better noise rejection in higher frequency bands. The SM58 has few moving parts, which makes it sturdy for nomadic setups.
|Tailored vocal response curve and built-in windscreen and pop filter to sound great in all conditions||Frequency response tops out at 15 kilohertz (kHz), which can compromise high treble clarity|
|Dynamic construction is more durable than condenser and ribbon mics||This is a microphone that primarily records vocals and is less effective on instruments|
3. MXL R144 RIBBON MICROPHONE
Lots of sound engineers love the warm, smoky sound of ribbon microphones, but it comes with a high price tag. MXL R144 is one of the best affordable microphones for vintage ribbon performance. The R144 has a 1.8 micron aluminum ribbon at its core, that generates a buttery sound with more warmth and depth than most dynamic and cardioid mics. It also has a figure-8 pickup pattern, which means it can record two singers or instruments playing into each end.
High sound pressure max means the R144 can tolerate instruments as well as vocals
|Figure-8 polar pattern allows for a wide sound source range, which may mean less control|
|Great way to get distinctive ribbon mic tone at a cheaper price point||Requires an interface with phantom power and a lot of gain to boost signal to useful level|
4. SHURE SM58-LC CARDIOID DYNAMIC MICROPHONE
The Shure’s SM57-LC cardioid dynamic mic sounds extraordinary on instruments, while the SM58-LC, is built for vocals. Its fantastic durability makes it great for live applications. Built-in slight bass roll-off at the lowest frequencies helps you exploit the proximity effect to generate more powerful, resonant bass tracks without ambient rumble and boom.
|High sound pressure resistance to withstand close miking||15kHz max frequency response limits upper range clarity and punch|
|One of the best cheap microphones for a wide spectrum of instrument applications||Lack of specific tuning can make the mic sound flat when recording vocals|
5. SE ELECTRONICS SE7 SMALL DIAPHRAGM CONDENSER MICROPHONE
SE7 is one of your best budget instrument recording microphones. This small diaphragm condenser has a natural, clear pickup pattern with a neutral voice that’s perfect for many instruments. With a simple front-address setup, it’s easy to point the SE7 at exactly what you want to record. Its cardioid pickup pattern also helps reject sound from the rear for an isolated recording experience.
|Pencil mic shape and small diaphragm clarity sound great for recording instruments||Direct-address pencil shape might be uncomfortable if you need to record vocals close to the mic|
|Low-cut filter and pad provide extra tweakability as you record||Requires 48V of phantom power from an audio interface or external source|
HOW TO MAKE A DECISION
Here’s a breakdown of features of microphones to help you make an informed purchasing decision/
The best affordable microphones offer a broad frequency response — trebles up to 20kHz, the top of the audible spectrum. The lowest frequencies range is usually from 20-40kHz, providing rumble and “punch” rather than audible notes.
Consider each mic’s frequency response curve. This determines if the mic boosts or cuts any frequency bands. It contributes to its overall tonality. Flat response curves provide a more accurate, “dry” picture of your instruments’ sounds, while some mics boost bass or trebles to provide a warmer or brighter sound, respectively. These boosts can be helpful if you want a mic with more character, but can also force you to make more EQ adjustments as you mix.
Consistency across frequency ranges is one of the features of a great mic, but some affordable models use polar patterns that vary wildly between frequency bands. Use the polar pattern charts to look for the perfect microphone for you. These charts display where each mic can detect sound and often vary by the frequency bracket. The closer to identical these charts are, the more consistently your mic will perform.
Cardioid and supercardioid mics are the most popular polar patterns. They provide great rear rejection and deflect sound from the sides as well. Compared to dynamic mics, smaller pencil mics, and large-diaphragm condenser mics, they often respond identically across all frequency brackets. If consistency is your goal, these smaller models with a more focused address style will work well.
When you’re on a tight budget, durability is absolutely essential. If you can afford only one mic, you need to make sure it won’t fail anytime soon.
Dynamic mics tend to be the most durable affordable mics because they use fewer delicate moving parts. Both small diaphragm and large diaphragm condenser mics are a bit more fragile, because of the thin interior diaphragm and metal plate generating the sound.
Ribbon mics are even more fragile because the interior ribbon is extremely thin. Some are so tiny, they can disintegrate when held. For this reason, most producers choose ribbon mics for the studio.
Beyond mic style, look for an all-metal enclosure with a solid mesh grille to prevent you from denting the capsule accidentally.