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The Best Vocal Microphones on a Budget

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By

Favy

on January 31, 2023

Home recording is an endeavor that comes with its challenges, one of which is finding affordable equipment that gives you a quality sound. 

Below we look at some recording microphones that give you an excellent sound -- while on a budget. 

Before You Choose A Microphone...

No matter what microphone you choose, it has to be the best choice for your vocals -- not anyone else’s. 

Before you buy a microphone, you should know what kind of sound you are going for, the environment in which you are recording, and what types of microphone you’ll need. 

Here are the two types of microphones you will need to know about: 

Condenser Microphones

Condenser mics -- also called capacitor microphones -- can be used for a variety of instruments: vocals, violin, piano, acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo, oboe, flute, and more. These are ideal for studio settings in which background noise can be controlled and result in a warm, rich sound. 

Condenser microphones have fairly high sensitivity to pick up sounds from a distance, have a wide frequency range, and a better transient response than a dynamic mic; additionally, they need a source of power like batteries or phantom power. These are considered a good option between dynamic and ribbon microphones. 

However, condenser microphones tend to be more expensive than dynamic microphones. In particular, large diaphragm condenser microphones are pricier; small and large diaphragms in condenser mics are larger than ones in dynamic mics, which makes them more sensitive and record with more detail. Condenser diaphragms point to the side of the mic to capture sound all around. They also have a lower sound pressure level (SPL) than dynamic mics, although this isn’t something you can harm with a condenser. A loud amp, on the other hand, can cause damage. 

Be sure to handle condenser mics gently since the tubes inside it can be damaged or even broken if it’s dropped or knocked around. 

Most condenser mics have a XLR connection, although there are a few that have a USB connection. 

Condenser mics may have more than one mic capsule, which allows them to record different pickup patterns (aside from the standard cardioid pattern usually found in single-capsule models).  These models are also a little pricier. 

An FET (field-effect transistor) is a type of condenser mic that is popular in studio recordings and may sometimes have a harsh or bright signal, so you may want to avoid this if you are aiming for a different vocal sound. 

Because condenser mics can pick up every sound due to its sensitivity, it’ll work great for softer styles of music and recording (jazz, voiceover work, acoustic); however, loud styles (hard rock and metal) may benefit from a dynamic mic. 

Dynamic Microphones

Dynamic mics are an excellent choice for louder styles of music since it’s very difficult to damage or break. These are ideal for loud/screaming vocals and even being used in front of a drum or amp since they don’t have tubes that can be broken by being dropped or shaken around. 

Dynamic microphones have a diaphragm at the top of the mic, which makes it easy for singers to hold it in their hands while performing. Unfortunately, these mics aren’t as responsive as other types of mics, so it’s important for musicians to be close to the sound. 

Many musicians prefer dynamic mics due to its ability to amplify darker and lower frequency instruments such as vocals, electric guitar, bass, drums, percussion, and mic-ing brass instruments. They also don’t require a separate power source (such as phantom power). 

Dynamic microphones include moving-coil and ribbon mics; moving-coil dynamic microphones have presence boosts that allow vocals to be heard through dense mixes (presence refers to the microphone’s sensitivity to the presence band of audible frequencies, around 3 kHz to 6 kHz). Ribbon mics are generally not used to record in studios but are great for picking up a wide range of frequencies; however, these mics are incredibly delicate due to their fragile parts, so they are much easier to break. While dynamic mics in general are more affordable, ribbon mics are a bit more expensive. 

What Else To Consider Before Buying

Before you buy a microphone, know what your ultimate goals are. Some final factors to consider include: 

  • Type of microphone: How durable is your mic? Does your mic need phantom power or an external power source? Will a dynamic or condenser mic better fit the recording environment and instruments you are working with? Some microphones are more sensitive when picking up sounds so louder styles may need lower mic sensitivities; make sure you find something that works with your setup. 
  • Purpose: What kind of sound are you going for? Are you also planning on using it for live performances as well as recording? 
  • Cost: The price point of the microphone and your budget is an important factor to consider. Ribbon microphones, for example, are typically more expensive than other types of dynamic mics.  We will be looking at microphones under $200, which is a very low budget for recording equipment -- but that doesn’t mean you still can’t get a good quality microphone. 
  • Additional equipment needed: Will your microphone need an external power source or an audio interface? Microphones usually require an interface to record and don’t simply plug into a computer, with the exception of USB mics. 

Top Vocal Microphones Under $200

Avantone Pro CK-6

The Avantone Pro CK-6 is a large diaphragm cardioid FET (field-effect transistor) condenser microphone; it has transformerless class A circuitry and a highpass filter. 

This is one of the best microphones for recording quality vocals at an affordable price due to its ability to record crisp and clean vocals without high-end thinness and brittleness. 

Neat Microphones Worker Bee II

The Neat Microphones Worker Bee is an affordable option for musicians who want a clean and nuanced sound; it can withstand high sound pressure levels with dynamic range and a wide frequency, so it can work with live recordings, guitar amps, brass, drums while still accurately recording softer instruments. 

The Worker Bee mic comes with a Honeycomb pop filter, which prevents plosive consonants and excess air from singing, and a custom Beekeeper shock-mounted 25 mm diaphragm capsule, which helps prevent low frequency rumbles that can interfere with recording. 

AKG P220

The AKG P220 is a versatile large-diaphragm condenser microphone that you can use in the studio and for live performances. It records clear and precise vocals due to its accurate transient and frequency responses, and has a warmer sound than many other microphones. It also has a cardioid pickup pattern, switchable 300 Hz bass roll-off, a 20 dB attenuation pad, max SPL (sound pressure level) of 155 dB, and requires +48V phantom power.  

sE Electronics X1 A

The sE Electronics X1 A  is an affordable large-diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone that provides precision with its accuracy, transient speed, and balanced frequency response. 

The X1A is durable with its all-metal housing and has a -20 dB pad (which extends your dynamic range and is great for recording close-miked instruments), a 100 Hz high-pass filter (which can reduce low-frequency sounds), a built-in windscreen (which negates the need for an external pop filter), a custom swivel mic clip, a gold-plated XLR connector, and a thread adapter that is able to fit nearly any mic stand.

Audio-Technica AT2035

The Audio-Technica AT2035 is a durable, transparent large-diaphragm electret condenser microphone that records a clear and natural sound for vocals. It comes with a custom shockmount for mechanical isolation and has a high max SPL, a switchable 80 Hz high-pass filter to keep rumbles out of the sound during live events, and a 10 dB pad, which is ideal for vocalists who are belting or standing close to the mic. 

Audio-Technica AT2020

The Audio-Technica AT2020 is similar to the AT2035 in terms of its sound but it comes with a lower price due to having different features: it doesn’t have the additional switchable features and has a standard swivel mount as opposed to the custom shockmount (which unfortunately does not have the same mechanical isolation as the AT2035). 

The AT2020 has a flat frequency response and a slight boost for high-end clarity and clean vocals (although it may sound “thinner” than its counterpart). 

MXL 770

The MXL 770 is a large-diaphragm electret condenser microphone that offers a low-frequency response and a clear high-end response; while it works with many vocal types, it’s a good choice for lighter vocals. It can have a bright sound but is balanced by the low-end roll-off.

MXL 990

The MXL 990 is a cardioid large-diaphragm condenser microphone that has a smooth high end and solid low and midrange reproduction. It comes with a shockmount, mic stand adapter, and carrying case; it has a frequency response of 30 Hz to 20 kHz and requires 48V phantom power. 

Marantz Professional MPM-2000U

The Marantz Professional MPM-2000U is a large-diaphragm FET USB condenser microphone with a cardioid polar pattern and built-in audio interface that is designed for DAW (digital audio workstation) recording. It’s simple to use -- you only need to plug it into your Windows or Mac computer and start recording. 

Blue Yeti

The Blue Yeti is an excellent choice for a USB microphone on a budget and is widely used by amateurs and professional musicians, podcasters, and more. Its proprietary tri-cal technology allows you to capture 3 different polar patterns -- omni, cardioid, and bidirectional -- along with an option for XY stereo capture; its frequency response is especially beneficial for vocals. 

Shure SM58

The Shure SM58 is a popular, industry-standard handheld microphone that is particularly well-known for live performances, although it also works well in studio settings. It has a presence boost that helps vocals be at the forefront of recording and remove low-frequency rumble from background instruments, and is especially great if you are looking for a live feel. 

The Shure SM58 is a moving-coil dynamic mic that has low sensitivity, which is great if you are recording in an environment that isn’t acoustically treated. It comes with a cardioid pickup pattern that minimizes background noise, isolates the main sound source, and provides high gain before it feedbacks.

Runner up: Shure SM57

The Shure SM57 is also known as an industry standard and is very similar to the SM58 since they share the same internal mic (essentially the same capsules and electronics) but a different top shield of the diaphragm. 

Samson Go Mic 

The Samson Go Mic is a portable, compact USB microphone with a headphone jack that has a cardioid and omnidirectional pickup pattern for on-the-go, flexible recording. It can be clipped easily onto your laptop so you can record easily and adjust between modes depending on if you are recording close up (cardioid) or if you want to record the whole room (omnidirectional). 

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