19 Best Cheap Microphones: Your Buyer’s Guide

Microphones are an interesting puzzle for the home recording aficionado. While it’s true about any piece of gear, it seems especially true of microphones that the sky is the limit in terms of what you can spend. In a world where you could easily spend $10,000 on a current-production microphone (feel free to read that in the movie preview voice), having decent options at this price point seems impossible. But here’s the thing: people do it all the time. In order to record the best possible version of your music without breaking the bank, here are the best cheap microphones for sale right now.

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Once you've kitted out everything you need to actually play, your thoughts will soon turn to recording. Musicians love two things above all else: playing live with other musicians and working on songs. Besides, you can't invite the whole world into your practice studio to show them what you're working on, so recording yourself on some scale becomes almost inevitable.

While you can go direct-in with a lot of things these days, but any acoustic guitar or vocal work will require a mic, and a combination of direct-in sounds and mic'd sounds work best for electric guitars, too. There are electronic drums, of course, but it's hard to beat a real kit. 

That means you're going to need microphones. More than one, even. While you likely have no plans to open a top flight recording studio in your home, you want to get a few decent, purpose-built mics to cover a variety of uses.

How Much Should I Spend on a Microphone?

Microphones are an interesting puzzle for the home recording aficionado. While it's true about any piece of gear, it seems especially true of microphones that the sky's the limit in terms of what you can spend. Industry standard microphones include things like the Rode NTK or Neumann TLM 102 or 103. These are pricey for units you'll need more than one of. 

Still, not too bad, and worth it if you're starting to make some money on your music. It starts to get downright nose-bleed-inducing when you consider the Royer R-121or Neumann U 87. While you likely won't be springing for those any time soon, but you don't want the hunk of plastic attached to your kid's karaoke machine to outshine your microphone, either.

Given that you will soon likely find yourself in need of multiples of the same mic, the cost of outfitting your home studio can get out of control in a hurry. For this post, we focused on mics that come in under $300. 

We chose a mix of XLR-based condenser and dynamic mics. Cheap microphones often call to mind options from Blue like the Snowball, but here we've focused on XLR only. If they exist, we've mentioned USB counterparts, but USB-only mics aren't what we're after here.

Now, it's true that by and large, these won't be nearly as sensitive nor detailed as their more expensive counterparts. For one thing, they tend to have smaller diaphragms, which simply equates to less air moving and thus less signal. 

You may also find that they have narrower frequency response. These two things together can mean that they'll fare better for louder, more focused sounds like cranked guitar amps and drums, but feel a little lacking when it comes to soft sounds and vocals. This may also mean you'll have to spend more time finding the optimal placement and settings in your DAW, but again, the cost savings may well be worth it.

How Do I Choose a Microphone?

When you start to look, you'll quickly realize that there are a few decisions you need to make about your microphone purchase. While just about any mic can work for just about any purpose, there are several popular choices loosely fitting into just a few categories. The most obvious of these is Dynamic and Condenser

Dynamic microphones are passive, requiring no outside power, generally relying on heavy diaphragms whose movement generate the necessary voltage. Condenser microphones require phantom power, usually supplied by your interface or mixing board, though occasionally from a dedicated source.

Because of the additional power, condenser microphones can record softer sounds since they have more gain available. That's a good general guide: if you have soft sounds, try a condenser. For powerful sounds, go dynamic. You'll almost certainly want to own at least one of each so you can try both for every application.

Beyond that, there are a few other questions to ask:

What Is a Microphone Polar Pattern?

The polar pattern determines the direction in which the mic is most sensitive. The most common of these is the cardioid polar pattern, which is a unidirectional (one focus point, that is) pattern with a 131-degree angle of pickup, while nearly completely ignoring anything from behind it. 

There are others, too, and the blog on the Shure website has a great explainer. This won't be super important to the novice recorder, but it's good to know what you're buying. There are even mics that will let you switch between patterns, if you like.

What Is Frequency Response?

 Frequency response gives you an idea of what that particular microphone will excel at recording. Usually, condenser microphones have a higher frequency response, making them better for piano or cymbals, and usually vocals. 

Dynamic mics are usually better for low-frequency things like drums. There are no real rules here, especially if your normally high frequency source happens to be unusually low. 

Finally, a couple last considerations. One is address direction, or basically, what direction you situate the mic to pick up the sound. This largely depends on your use as they make all sorts of mics in all sorts of form factors. 

The last thing you might want to know about your microphone is whether it can be used live. If you only want to use one type of mic for everything, including on-stage, you may make a different decision. Read up on that Shure link, too, because your polar pattern choice could be affected by the number of high-volume sources you have going on around you.

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