MXL 990 Condenser Microphone
MXL R144 Ribbon Microphone
Shure SM58-LC Cardioid Microphone
Table of Contents
Whether you’re producing songs in your basement or touring with a band, a high-quality microphone could be just what you need to take your performance to the next level.
While high quality often comes with a substantial price tag, there are some amazing cheaper microphones that offer superior sound.
With its focused, stylish response and premium durability, the MXL 990 condenser microphone, hands down, is the best cheap microphone around.
The MXL 990 may be our No. 1 pick, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only affordable mic worth a look.
We’ve put together a comprehensive guide detailing 10 of the best cheap microphones for vocals, electric guitar amps and everything in between. So, no matter what instrument or genre you play, this guide will help you find the perfect budget mic for your needs.
The 10 Best Cheap Microphones:
MXL 990 Condenser Microphone
It rejects sound from the back and sides of the mic to minimize ambient noise making it ideal for vocals or instruments, particularly where sound bleeds between mics easily.
The 990’s frequency response curve is remarkably consistent across its 30Hz-20kHz range. This curve displays how sensitive the mic is to certain frequencies, so you can estimate how accurately it will capture different instruments.
It features a slight treble boost that lends some extra clarity and definition toward the high end of a singer’s vocal range. And, with some slight equalization (EQ) adjustments, the 990 can also sound great on acoustic guitars.
Shure SM58-LC Cardioid Dynamic Vocal Microphone
The Shure SM58-LC is famous for its clear vocals and amazing durability. Legends from Bono to Roger Daltrey to Sheryl Crow have trusted the SM58 for vocals both live and in the studio.
This dynamic mic is tailored for vocals, with extra punch through the midrange and a tighter, more controlled bass response. These tweaks help your voice cut through any mix, and keep your tracks clear and focused.
Together with the built-in windscreen and pop filter, the adjustments also reduce the “proximity effect.” This means you can put your mouth on the mic without rumbling bass or harsh “p” and “b” sounds. Because it’s a dynamic mic, the SM58 has few moving parts, so it’s hardy enough for years of touring.
The mic uses a cardioid pickup pattern, with better noise rejection in higher frequency bands. This isolates your individual sound from other performers, whether you’re tracking vocals in a studio or rocking out on stage.
MXL R144 Ribbon Microphone
Many engineers love the warm, smoky sound of ribbon microphones, but struggle to afford the cost. Thankfully, the MXL R144 is one of the best cheap microphones for vintage ribbon performance.
The core of the R144 is its 1.8 micron aluminum ribbon, which generates a buttery sound with more warmth and depth than most dynamic and cardioid mics. This extra character and low-mid boost makes ribbon mics popular for warming up spiky guitar pickups or smoothing out nasal overtones.
The max sound pressure level (SPL) of more than 130 decibels means it can withstand noises up to 130 decibels (dB) and not distort. This makes the R144 perfect for louder sources like guitar amps and brass instruments, which benefit from a ribbon mic’s warmth.
This mic offers a figure-8 pickup pattern, which means it can record two singers or instruments playing into each end. It also improves sound rejection from the sides, although the extra response from the back end may not be ideal for every application.
Shure SM57-LC Cardioid Dynamic Microphone
While its brother, the SM58-LC, is built for vocals, Shure’s SM57-LC cardioid dynamic mic sounds fantastic on instruments from electric guitars to strings to drums. This mic’s outstanding durability makes it great for live applications as well.
The main strength of the Shure SM57 is its versatile response curve, without any specific tuning. Unlike cheap microphones tailored for vocals, the Shure SM57 provides clear, authentic reproduction across a broad range of frequencies.
Shure built in a slight bass roll off at the lowest frequencies, making the Shure SM57 perfect for close miking loud instruments. This works together with the exceptional sound pressure tolerance to keep the mic clear and focused at high volumes, where other cheap mics might distort.
It also helps you harness the proximity effect to generate more powerful, resonant bass tracks without ambient rumble and boom.
SE Electronics SE7 Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphone
If you’re focused on microphones recording instruments, the SE7 is one of your best budget options. This small diaphragm condenser offers a natural, clear pickup pattern with a neutral voice that’s perfect for many instruments.
With a simple front-address setup, it’s easy to point the SE7 at exactly what you want to record. Its cardioid pickup pattern also helps reject sound from the rear for an isolated recording experience.
You also get a low-cut filter and a -20dB pad on the back of the mic. The filter can tighten up your bass response to reduce boomy sounds below 80 hertz (Hz) in a mix, while the pad drops your overall output by 20dB in case you need to record an extra-loud source.
Overall, the SE7 is a superb budget mic for recording instruments and is definitely worth a closer look.
AKG Pro Audio D5S Professional Dynamic Vocal Microphone
For a dynamic mic you can take on the road and into the studio, the AKG Pro Audio DS5 is hard to beat.
It provides frequency response from 70Hz-20kHz, with a presence boost of 4-12kHz for clarity throughout the vocal range.
Unlike many other budget microphones, the D5S uses a supercardioid polar pattern. This improves sound rejection from the sides, and the direct-address style does a good job limiting noise from directly behind the mic.
You also get a max SPL of 156dB, which means the D5S can handle even the loudest stages with ease.
With its spring steel wire mesh grille and rugged metal housing, this mic is built to take a beating and continue sounding great. The DS5 certainly deserves a spot on our list, and is definitely a versatile option worth exploring further.
AKG P120 General Purpose Recording Microphone
AKG advertises its P120 condenser mic as a “general purpose” microphone for recording — and it certainly lives up to its name. It offers surprisingly clear sound with the flexibility and durability to record almost any instrument around.
The P120’s frequency response covers the entire audible spectrum, from 20Hz-20kHz. It’s tailored for a silky, warm high end, with a slightly compressed voicing to tighten up vocals and instrument tracks.
The mic’s face also features a low-cut filter and a -20dB pad. The low-cut filter comes in handy for recording in a home studio or using on stage, where you might otherwise hear ambient rumble in your tracks.
The -20dB pad, meanwhile, drops the output of the mic by 20 decibels. Together with the P120’s maximum 150dB sound pressure level, this makes it durable enough to close-mic guitar and bass cabinets without distorting.
Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Studio XLR Microphone
The Audio Technica AT2020 has been one of the best budget condenser microphones on the market since it was first released in 2004. Even today, it delivers audio quality that’s hard to top in a mic this cheap.
You get frequency response from 20Hz-20kHz, with a slight boost around the 8-10kHz band. This helps accentuate your trebles for a bit of extra presence and sparkle.
The sound pressure level reaches 144dB, which helps the Audio Technica AT2020 deliver clear, supple response on vocals and instruments alike.
Audio Technica finished this mic with a sleek black metal enclosure, so it’s durable enough for recording throughout your home studio. Along with the mic, you also get an Audio Technica boom arm and carrying case.
Samson CO2 Pencil Condenser Microphones
Matched pairs of small diaphragm condenser microphones, like the Samson CO2s, allow you to record your instruments from different angles. This offers a more textured sound without variations in mic response.
These two small diaphragm condenser mics cover between 40Hz-20kHz, with a slight bump in response around 8kHz to give your tracks a sense of space and depth. Their 134dB sound pressure level (SPL) also helps them adapt easily to different instruments around a home studio.
Because the CO2 pairs are matched for similar response and sensitivity, you won’t need to worry about finding dull spots on a track, or adjusting for one mic’s greater presence.
These mics offer polished tones rather than bright, jangly sounds, making them easy to tweak to your liking without reining in any cutting trebles.
AKG D112 MkII Professional Bass Drum Microphone
Recording bass drums can be tricky because they have high sound pressure levels (SPL) and low spectrum EQ.
That’s why a lot of drummers and producers reach for the AKG D112 MkII, one of the best cheap microphones specifically built for bass drums.
With an SPL of more than 160 dB, the D112 can handle even the loudest bass drums without distortion.
It’s built to deliver all the punch and “oomph” of a great kick drum below 100Hz without washing your mix out with rumble and boom.
You also get a slight boost in the 4kHz range, which keeps the drum punchy and lively in a full band mix. With its large diaphragm dynamic build, this mic provides enough color and warmth to put a unique signature on bass drum recordings, while also being durable for touring and gigging.
What Are The Different Types of Microphones?
The best cheap microphones for recording can be broken down into three categories: dynamic mics, ribbon mics and condenser mics. Recording with each type of mic will alter the sound of your final tracks, so it’s important to know how each type should be used.
Artists love dynamic mics for their clear, accurate tones and durability. They’re built with a coil suspended in a magnetic field that moves in response to sound waves. This simple setup makes them tougher to break.
Dynamic microphones tend to color your sound less, providing balanced and accurate output at all times. Many dynamic mics, like the Shure SM57, feature higher sound pressure limits, which means they can record a louder sound source without distorting or sacrificing audio quality.
Their clarity and sound pressure tolerance makes them perfect for miking electric instruments, which require clear response without distortion or damage. And, thanks to their durability, artists love dynamic mics for live performances.
Ribbon microphones are the most fragile, but also provide a warm, glassy sound that producers and artists covet. They operate with a metal ribbon suspended between magnetic poles. The ribbon detects changes in air velocity and the mic transforms those into electric signals.
You’ll usually find ribbon mics on electric guitar and bass cabs, or recording vocal arrangements. Their darker tonality is great for adding depth and texture, while smoothing out any harsh midrange or treble peaks.
Ribbon mics also naturally produce a figure-8 polar pattern, which gives them exceptional sound isolation from the sides. As a by-product, it also eliminates ambient noise that cardioid mics often pick up.
Unfortunately, ribbon mics produce a weak signal and require an interface with lots of input gain to boost the output. If you don’t have a powerful audio interface, you might struggle to get great tones from a ribbon mic.
Along with dynamic mics, condenser mics are popular for recording in the studio. They use a conductive metal membrane (often called the “diaphragm”) vibrating against a solid plate to generate a signal.
Because the membrane is thinner than the coils in dynamic mics, a condenser mic can capture finer changes in sound and provide a more accurate, smooth output than many dynamic mics.
Among condensers, the best cheap microphones provide a smooth, balanced sound that’s perfect for recording vocals, with the versatility to mic some instruments as well.
Artists and producers love large diaphragm condenser mics for their warm, smooth tones with more color and unique character. Small diaphragm condensers (like pencil mics), are a bit clearer and sharper with a slightly more detailed output.
Unfortunately, condenser mics are more fragile than dynamic mics and require phantom power to run. This makes them a less common choice for the stage.
How to Choose the Best Budget Microphone For You
With so many options on the market, you might find it tough to pick the best cheap microphones from the rest. To help you make an informed purchase, we’ve broken down the most important features of each microphone.
The best cheap microphones offer a broad frequency response — look for trebles up to 20kHz, the top of the audible spectrum. You’ll usually see the lowest frequencies range from 20-40kHz, providing rumble and “punch” rather than audible notes. The lowest note on a bass is 40kHz and 80kHz on a guitar, for example.
You should also consider each mic’s frequency response curve. This displays whether the mic boosts or cuts any frequency bands, which contributes to its overall tonality.
Flat response curves provide a more accurate, “dry” picture of your instruments’ sounds, while some mics boost bass or trebles to provide a warmer or brighter sound, respectively. These boosts can be helpful if you want a mic with more character, but can also force you to make more EQ adjustments as you mix.
Consistency across frequency ranges is one of the hallmarks of a great mic, but some cheap models feature polar patterns that vary wildly between frequency bands.
Look for a microphone that features reliable polar pattern charts. These charts display where each mic can detect sound and often vary by the frequency bracket. The closer to identical these charts are, the more consistently your mic will perform.
Cardioid and supercardioid mics are the most popular polar patterns. They provide great rear rejection and deflect sound from the sides as well.
Compared to large diaphragm condenser mics, smaller pencil mics and dynamic mics often respond very similarly across all frequency brackets. If consistency is your goal, these smaller models with a more focused address style will work well.
When you’re on a tight budget, durability is absolutely essential. If you can afford only one mic, you need to make sure it won’t fail anytime soon.
Dynamic mics tend to be the most durable cheap mics on the market, because they use fewer delicate moving parts. Both small diaphragm and large diaphragm condenser mics are a bit more fragile, thanks to the thin interior diaphragm and metal plate generating the sound.
Ribbon mics are even more fragile because the interior ribbon is extremely thin. Some are so tiny, they can disintegrate when held. For this reason, most producers choose ribbon mics for the studio.
Beyond mic style, look for an all-metal enclosure with a solid mesh grille to prevent you from denting the capsule accidentally.
We’ve tapped the MXL 990 condenser mic as the best cheap microphone overall. With its broad response and thoughtful EQ adjustments, it’s versatile enough to suit almost any home studio.
If you’re looking for a premium alternative, check out the MXL R144 ribbon microphone. It’s got all the hallmarks of dark vintage ribbon tone without the vintage price tag.
Which type of microphone do you prefer? Which mics do you use for vocals and instruments? Let us know in the comments below.