As far as studio equipment goes, there is nothing as important – or as versatile – as a decent microphone. From recording vocals to guitar amplifiers, or podcasting, or even field recording, nowadays the best cheap microphones will do a better job than you perhaps thought possible. The recent boom in USB mics has exploded the market even further, meaning you can get simple to use, great-sounding mics that won’t cost you the earth.
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 of the best cheap microphones around right now, so you can be recording epic tracks, pods, voiceovers or samples in no time at all.
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Best cheap microphones: Our top picks
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.
We would also draw your attention to the Shure MV7 which, in the field of USB microphones, is a great performer. It’s built like a tank, and the bundled software app gives you all you need to record on your computer, tablet, or smart device. It can also record via traditional XLR too, making it versatile and high-quality.
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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The Shure MV7 is a new entry in the list, combining the best of USB recording with traditional XLR capabilities. The bundled app, MOTIV, adds real value to the package, allowing you to select from a number of preset tones making it ideal for podcasters and streamers. We also like the auto-level feature, which greatly reduces the risk of accidentally clipping your recordings.
It is, it should be said, not strictly a ‘cheap’ microphone but for the price you get a superbly thought out, fully-featured microphone that will serve you for years to come.
Read the full Shure MV7 review
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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.
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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.
Read our full Shure SM58 review
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
IK Multimedia has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to creating devices which work well with smartphones and tablets. With the IK Multimedia iRig Mic HD 2, there exists arguably the best microphone for using with these devices, packing in plenty of useful features accessed through the accompanying app selection.
The iRig Mic HD 2 has proven particularly popular with broadcasters and journalists, as they require only the mic and a phone to capture high-quality audio.
Read the full IK Multimedia iRig Mic HD 2 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.
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.
How to choose the best cheap microphone for you
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.
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.
If you’re looking for simplicity, and will be using a laptop or smart device on which to record, you may be better off considering one of the many USB microphones on the market today. You dispel any notion that a USB mic can’t compete with traditional XLR connections - we’ve had great results from a variety of different mics by Shure, IK Multimedia and others. So, you don’t need to let price be a compromise; check out the product section of this guide for the best cheap microphones out there today. Your recordings will thank you for it.