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 microphone is your key to the music production kingdom. But is there such a thing as a budget mic? And what are the best cheap microphones out there?
- All the best microphones for instruments, vocals and podcasts
- Best vocal mics: vocal microphones for the studio and stage
- Microphone types and where you should use them
High-end studios tend to rely on large collections of vintage, pro-grade mics to get the job done, but for those of us with more modest resources, there is some good news. Basically, there are a whole load of affordable, reliable and great-sounding microphones out there just waiting to be used. In this guide we’ll offer some recommendations for the best cheap microphones in 2020, so you can be recording epic tracks in no time at all and for a very respectable budget.
Which are the best cheap microphones?
It’s almost cliché, by now, to list the Shure SM57 and SM58 as ‘best cheap microphones’ 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 brothers sound great and can be relied upon to deliver show after show, year after year.
Special mention to the MXL 990 which, for an entry-level condenser, delivers incredible sounding recordings which hit the spot every time.
Best cheap microphones: buying advice
Microphones are, fundamentally, quite simple things. 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 though, 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. Microphones suited to live performance, or being thrown in your bag after rehearsal, maybe aren’t the same you’d choose for a studio session where precision and clarity is key.
At the entry-level point, where affordability is key, you’ll likely have a choice between a dynamic or a condenser mic. Dynamic microphones are inherently robust, and reliable. Their construction and method of operation is such that there are no moving parts, and they can be relied upon to thrive in hot, humid, loud environments like stages. They are not, however, considered to be the most precise form of microphone, so in a studio situation they may not be the best choice.
- The best podcasting microphones: record your first podcast today
- Or plug and play with the best USB microphones
- Best home studio mixers: analogue and digital mixing desks for all budgets
Condenser microphones, however, are built with tonality and depth of sound in mind. They’re more fragile than dynamics, for sure, but what they lack in toughness they make up for in warm, rich recorded sound that elevates acoustic instruments and voices to another level.
The good news is that there are plenty of great mics out there that will do a job for you. In fact, they’ll more than do a job for you. There are budget microphones we’ll detail below which remain on the go-to list for some of the world’s greatest producers, on account of their quality and reliability. So, you don’t need to let price be a compromise; read on to get acquainted with the best cheap microphones out there today. Your recordings will thank you for it.
More great budget music gear
- The best budget audio interfaces: all under $120/£100
- The best budget studio monitors: affordable studio speakers
- Best budget laptops for music production
- The best budget in-ear monitors: cheap in-ears for musicians
The best cheap microphones available today
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 mics 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.