Home Studio Microphones

Home Studio Microphones On a Budget.

If you're a musician and have thought about recording some of your music, you've probably been wondering what's the best home studio microphone for you. Their are plenty of options ranging from the really cheap to insanely expensive. If you're like me, you're on a budget and want to get a good sound without spending a huge amount of money on your microphone. Luckily, with proper microphone technique you can buy a home studio microphone for under a hundred dollars and get a good clean recording. Microphone placement and the quality of your room can can contribute greatly to the audio quality of your recording.

Don't imagine that you're going to buy a $20 Logitech USB microphone and get a super clean, professional sounding recording. You'll need to know a lot about mic placement and acoustically treating your room. It's easier to buy a little more expensive mic, because it gives you a little more "wiggle room" with mic placement and room quality.

Don't worry if you're not a professional, I'm not going to make this hub overly technical, I'll keep the language simple for those that don't know what polar pattern, or DAW means. I'll try to explain, in layman's terms what are some of the things you should look for and expect from your microphone.

Samson C01U
Samson C01U

Using Your Computer As Your Studio

I'm going to assume that you'll be using your computer for recording. Most people have one, and there's no need to buy dedicated audio hardware if you can use a tool you already have. I'll just go ahead right now and tell you what I recommend if you're going to buy only one microphone and you want to keep things under $100. I recommend that you look for a USB condenser microphone like the Blue Snowball, Samson C01U, or the MXL 990. The MXL retails for $99 online with case and desktop stand, the Blue and Samson, are between $70 - $90 online depending on sales/promotions.  The USB mic is basically a plug and play microphone for home recording.

Setting Up a Condenser Microphone

Dynamic Microphones vs. Condenser Microphones

Dynamic microphoness are well suited to recording in many live situations because they can handle loud audio signals, and are good at rejecting sounds that are off axis. This simply means that they pick up what is directly in front of them, and not sounds coming from the side or back. You'll hear it referred to as off axis rejection. That's useful when you're a vocalist on stage and you're standing next to a loud electric guitar or drums. Dynamic mics are also a common choice in the recording studio for electric guitar, drums or other loud sources . Many times the mic will be placed against the grill of a guitar amp, just inches from the speaker cone or a few inches from drumhead.

Dynamic mics are not as well suited for soft instruments when you want to capture a more delicate instrument like acoustic guitar. I've heard recordings of acoustic guitar with a Shure SM57. They sounded ok, but they didn't have all the nuances a guitar makes, pick noises, finger slides, etc. For that a condenser mic is a better choice. A lot of studio vocals get recorded with a Shure SM57, it's good for a vocalist with a powerful voice. You can also use the Shure SM58 it's just a 57 with a pop filter. I was told that by a Shure rep.

Condenser mics tend to be more expensive are more delicate, but can capture softer sounds, and sound more realistic. Condenser mics come in different forms, some of the directional condensers look like dynamic mics, like the one pictured, others look more like what you think of when you think of a recording studio, or radio broadcast studio. One way in which dynamic mics differ is their sensitivity, they are able to pick up more nuance in an audio source, something you might not want on a loud stage. However there are manufacturers starting to make condenser mics that are able to handle loud sounds and have more of the characteristics of a dynamic mic, like the ability to handle louder sounds, and reject off axis signals.

Because of their sensitivity, condenser mics will tend to distort at sound levels that dynamic mics can easily handle. That doesn't mean that they can't be used for loud sounds, many are designed to handle higher sound levels, and for those that can't judicious placement will allow them to perform well. I've recorded drums with a condenser, it's worked well with careful mic placement.

USB Condenser Microphones: Why I Recommend Them For Beginners.

A lot of people will give you good advice when you ask them what sort of home studio microphone to buy. I've seen lots of people say right off the bat "get a Shure SM57". It's a great mic to be "sure", but it won't do the job by itself. You'll need some sort of digital audio interface to make it work with your computer - the same goes for any other non-USB microphone. So here's why I think USB condenser microphones are the best choice for a home studio microphone on a budget.

  • You don't need any extra audio hardware
  • They're sensitive enough to pick up the nuances of vocals or guitar.
  • They interface with most computers and recording software.
  • They're all under $100

USB microphones are plug and play, that means there is no additional cost. You won't need any sort of converter. Your computer sound card is more than likely not up to the task. You'd need a professional audio sound card or external digital audio workstation that features low recording/playback latency, XLR and 1/4 inch outputs and studio grade fidelity. With a USB you won't need any of that.


A condenser microphone is sensitive to quiet instruments like acoustic guitar. They can also pick up the sound of your room to give a "natural" sound. If you'd like to record yourself singing and playing guitar, they're great for that. The Samson and Blue, both have switchable polar patterns. That means you can set them to pick up sounds directionally (those straight in front of them), or sounds from all sides. Polar patterns in microphones is a whole other hub so I won't get into the technical side of it here.


Now I haven't really gotten into what software to use, or computer specifications, microphone placement or anything like that. All of those are things that can affect the sound of your recording (microphone placement especially), but each deserve their own hub.

Just to show you what a sub $100 home studio microphone can do, here is a song I recorded with a friend of mine. It's recorded entirely with the Samson C01U and Garageband. Warm Embrace


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Comments 10 comments

vaidy19 profile image

vaidy19 7 years ago from Chennai, India

Hi David, My long search finally got me here. Very useful info. I am trying to do some Home Recording without buying expensive accessories. As a writer, I am trying to spruce up my presentations and scripts with my own voice. I also sing. My idea is to put together multimedia using Windows Movie Maker, for business and entertainment. Could you please look at the product at http://www.consumer.philips.com/consumer/en/in/con... and give me your comments? I would also be grateful if you have any other suggestions.

David, you will have to open the pdf on the page to read specs.

Thanks

Vaidy


David Verde profile image

David Verde 7 years ago Author

Vaidy, I don't have personal experience with that exact microphone, I'm in the U.S. and it seems to be a European product. Looking at the specifications though, it looks very similar to the Shure SM58 which is a good vocal mic. I'm guessing the Phillips mic would probably be best for voice applications, and be ok for guitar like the Shure Mic. You will need an external audio interface for your computer, it won't just plug right in. I hope this gives you some help.


AlanSwenson profile image

AlanSwenson 6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

Your "wiggle room" statement about a more expensive mic is VERY inaccurate. A good large diaphragm microphone will hear like people hear but better, anything that makes noise you will hear, because a microphone costs more doesn't mean it has a super smart brain and knows what not to record. A newbie should probably get a dynamic mic because these are directional and block out most of the sounds that are not directly facing the microphone.


David Verde profile image

David Verde 6 years ago Author

Alan, true a dynamic mic does "hear" directionally, but what exactly is it that somebody recording at home is going to be blocking out? They're not going to be recording in a high noise or live situation, but a room in their house. Most dynamic mics that a beginner could afford only sound good close mic'ed. A good condenser mic is perfectly fine for a beginner in your average home bedroom. If you're recording guitar, the mic will sound good 1 foot or 3 feet from the guitar in your average bedroom.


 6 years ago

Great post David. I remember purchasing my first Shure SM-58 and not even thinking about the additional cost of an audio-USB interface. I've never tried a USB Mic but it sounds like a worthwhile investment for someone just starting out. Like I always say, start small and scale up; you could be the proud owner of a Sony C800G in no time!


JamesF 6 years ago

Thanks for this! I was trying to figure out if I should use my dynamic with a 1/4" jack and get an adapter or just get a usb condenser mic. I will prob go with the second option thanks to you explaining in this article.


saxjohnny profile image

saxjohnny 5 years ago

I too am a bit mic-crazy and write and recommend a few from time to time. You talk about USB mics and to tell you the truth I never thought about going that route, mainly because as a musician I use an interface and so never had the need. I suppose with so many people doing podcasts etc there is a whole new market for these USB mics.

Happy recording from http://www.YourHomeRecordingStudio.com/sm-57-shure


David Verde profile image

David Verde 5 years ago Author

Yeah, SaxJohnny, I use an interface too, but there are some people who want to record but aren't "techy" If you've got an interface, then you need the mic and cable, and a lot of people get nervous when they start thinking about the extra stuff you have to buy.


anna  5 years ago

hi my nane is anna i love muics which sides is for my recoding stiod


RadAdMusic profile image

RadAdMusic 5 years ago from Dryden

this hub also doesn't mention that you need "phantom power" for condenser microphones. I would recommend starting with a cheap condenser like the audio-technica at2020 (~99 bucks), and a basic interface like the m-audio fast track (~100-120 bucks). The new fast tracks have phantom power and a built in preamp, all you need other than that is a basic mic cable and your set!

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