As far as studio equipment goes, there is nothing as important - or as versatile - as a decent microphone. From recording vocals to guitar amps, or podcasting, or even field recording, a good quality mic is your key to the music production kingdom. But is it really possible to pick up a quality mic on a budget? And what exactly are the best cheap microphones on the market today?
High-end studios tend to rely on large, enviable collections of vintage, pro-grade mics to get the job done, but for those of us with less spare cash to splash, there is thankfully some good news. Basically, there are plenty of affordable, reliable and great-sounding microphones out there just waiting to be used, whether you’re hitting the studio or the stage.
In this guide we’ll offer some recommendations for the best cheap microphones you can buy, so you can be hitting the stage or recording epic tracks in no time at all and for a very respectable budget.
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- Best vocal mics: vocal microphones for the studio and stage
- Microphone types and where you should use them
Best cheap microphones: Our top picks
It’s almost cliché to list the Shure SM57 and SM58 as ‘best cheap microphones’ considering how long they’ve been part of the musical fabric, but there’s a simple reason why they’re on the list. In fact, there are many reasons. Aside from the fabled toughness and durability, the SM duo sound fantastic and can be relied upon to deliver show after show, year after year.
Special mention must also go to the MXL 990 which, for an entry-level condenser mic, delivers incredible sounding recordings which hit the spot every time.
Best cheap microphones: Product guide
If you’ve seen a band play live in the last 30 years, or listened to any music at all in that time, then the chances are you’ve heard the results of a Shure SM57 microphone. Put simply, they are the best-known and most widely-used dynamic microphones out there, and for good reason.
Although primarily an instrument mic, they excel in pretty much any situation. The tight pickup pattern means they receive sound only from one direction and reject it from immediately around it. Hence, they’re great for snare drums, or guitar amplifiers, or anything where you need to capture a specific source. Simply point it and forget it. Happy days.
Read the full Shure SM57 review
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While an SM57 can do vocals, and do them well, if you’re a singer you probably want something more readily-equipped to your needs. Thankfully, Shure has you covered. The Shure SM58 is the vocal equivalent of the SM57, and features the same tough construction and reliability but with a slight tweak in its frequency response meaning it enhances mid and upper frequencies to let your voice sing, so to speak.
SM58s excel in the live arena, where their ruggedness means they can survive all manner of abuse and still sound as good as the day you got it.
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Recording acoustic instruments, like guitars or pianos, requires a special microphone to pick up all that natural goodness in the sound. Condenser microphones excel at this, where the extra precision helps you capture accurate, rich tones in a way dynamic mics can’t.
The MXL 990 is one such mic. Its large diaphragm ensures the captured sounds have colour and flavour which, for the price tag, are hard to beat.
If you’re on a budget but need a versatile, well-made mic that can work equally well across a range of applications then the AKG P120 might just be perfect. As a jack-of-all-trades condenser, the P120 is at home recording vocals, instruments and other sources and provides a balanced, clear sound.
It’s not a bad shout buying from a big name either; AKG is a well-respected brand in the mic world, so you know you’re getting quality across both the construction and the sound.
Small diaphragm condenser microphones are great choices where there is a specific tonality you’re looking to recreate perfectly on your recordings. It could be cymbals, or acoustic guitar strings, or anything where you’re not looking to colour a sound too much at the point of recording.
The SE Electronics sE7 is an ideal choice here, where the small diaphragm makes for a neutral, balanced sound that lets the instrument shine.
Not every recording situation is musical, and in the IK Multimedia iRig Studio there exists a superb entry-level microphone for recording podcasts, e-books and voiceovers. The iRig Mic Studio connects to your laptop or mobile device using USB, which makes it simple to get recording in no time.
There are better choices on the list for recording vocals or instruments, but if you are in the market for a well-built, simple mic to record – or stream – speech then you could do a lot worse for the money.
Read the full IK Multimedia iRig Mic Studio review
If you’ve ever tried ambient miking a room while you record multiple instruments, you’ll know the results can be worth the extra effort. Particularly when recording a drum kit, where having a couple of extra mics can really fill out a sound and give it body.
The Nady CYM-2 kit comes with two Nady CM88 condenser mics, which are ideal for setting up high above a kit and leaving to work their magic. For a shade under $/£100 they’re well worth consideration.
As cameras on our smartphones improve, so it figures that the need for higher quality audio than we can get from those devices increases. The IK Multimedia iRig Mic Cast HD solves that very specific problem, by providing a tiny condenser mic which attaches directly to the phone’s input to instantly elevate the audio part of your filming to another level.
It’s small enough to fit in your pocket, and mounts using a magnetic pad meaning you won’t be scrabbling around holding a separate mic while filming. It’s not the answer to every studio owners’ prayers, but it does what it does very well indeed.
Best cheap microphones: Buying advice
Microphones are, fundamentally, quite simple pieces of kit. They rely on electromagnetism to convert a sound source, be that a voice or instrument, into electrical waves which are then sent to an amplifier or recording device. Within that simplicity lies a couple of key differences worth considering, and they have a real impact on the results you’ll get. Perhaps the first question you need to ask is how you plan on using the microphone. Those mics suited to live performance, or being tossed in your bag after a rehearsal, probably aren’t the same mics you’d choose for a studio session where you need precision and clarity.
Where affordability is a key consideration, you’ll likely have two choices: dynamic or condenser. Dynamic microphones are inherently robust, and reliable. Their construction and method of operation means there are no moving parts, and they will thrive in hot, humid, loud environments like stages. They are not the most precise form of microphone available, so wouldn’t be the best choice for a studio situation.
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Condenser microphones, on the other hand, are built with tonality and depth of sound at the forefront. They’re more fragile than dynamics, sure, but what they lack in toughness they make up by delivering a warm, rich recorded sound that will elevate acoustic instruments and vocal performances to another level.
There are plenty of great budget mics out there that will do a decent job for you. In fact, the best cheap microphone we’ve covered in this guide will more than do the job for you. There are budget microphones we’ve detailed here which remain go-tos for some of the world’s greatest producers, on account of their quality and reliability. With the best cheap microphones in this guide, price doesn’t mean compromise. In fact, your recordings will thank you for it.