The 3 most important budget microphones

We’ve all been there – you’re looking for a microphone that can get you close to the sound you want so that you don’t have to shell out hundreds for studio time whenever you want to record.

With so many options to pick from, choosing a microphone can be a daunting process. In this blog post, let’s take a look at the three most important budget microphones to consider purchasing if your budget is $200 or less.

1. Shure SM57 (and SM58)

One thing you’ll notice if you read anything about budget microphones is that the SM57 and SM58 are mentioned without fail. These microphones are durable, versatile, and high-quality, suitable for use on just about anything from kick drums to lead vocals. You’re sure to find a few of these in every professional studio.

The SM57 and SM58 are dynamic mics, meaning they’ll record slightly less detail than a standard condenser. However, in many situations, this can actually make them a more desirable choice. For example, if you’re recording vocals at home, the SM58 is a great option because it’ll pick up less of the reflections emanating from your acoustically sub-optimal space.

It’s worth noting that the SM57 has a slightly smaller grille design that doesn’t incorporate a windscreen, while the SM58 sports the classic ball grille that acts as a pop filter. This makes the SM57 slightly preferable for miking instruments that don’t produce plosives, while the SM58 is a better choice for vocals.

2. Zoom H2n

I absolutely love using Zoom’s handheld recorders. They’re great for tossing into your backpack on a trip or leaving on in the background of a jam session for later inspiration. While they’re not necessarily a go-to pick when it comes to budget microphone recommendations, I’m including the H2n here because it provides several recording options that are otherwise unavailable at this price point.

The H2n sports five different mics for a total of four possible recording modes: X/Y, mid/side, two-channel surround, and four-channel surround. This makes it a fabulous choice for those getting into capturing field recordings and foley for their music. If this tickles your fancy and you’ve got a little more flexibility in your budget, take a look at the H4n, H5, or H6, all of which can be paired with Zoom’s excellent shotgun and omnidirectional capsules.

3. AKG P220

The price is right for this all-purpose condenser that delivers solid, no-nonsense results at $150. If you’ve got a reasonably quiet environment where you’d like to record the best possible vocals, brass, or strings, the P220 is a great choice with solid build quality.

It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the H2n or the versatility of the SM58, but this microphone dutifully delivers the classic AKG sparkling high-end. Some reviewers aren’t fans of this sound, but I’m thankful for this mic whenever I need to capture a sound with a ‘shiny’ treble. Unlike its big brother the P420, the P220 is locked into a cardioid pattern, so if you need more polar pattern options, you’ll want to shell out for a step up.

The big picture

I’m a big proponent of spending money on room treatment instead of a nice mic. If you’re recording in a reflective environment (like your tiled bathroom, for example), your $9,000 U47 is going to capture more of those nasty reflections than a $100 dynamic mic. It’s all a question of choosing the right mic for the right situation. The three microphones above are my top recommendations based on use case – for most applications, the SM57 or SM58 will perform nicely. If you’re interested in making field recordings or sound designing, the H2n is an indispensable tool. And if you’re on a budget but still want the detail that only condensers can provide, you can’t go wrong with the AKG P220.

Do you have any favorite budget microphones? Let us know in the comments below.

September 5, 2019

Max Rewak Max Rewak is a record producer, audio engineer, and music writer, based in New York and currently working in Sounds content at Splice.