When it comes to recording, it’s obvious that the microphone you choose is important. Whether you’re recording spoken word for a podcast, a vocal track for a song, instruments, or anything else, your means of recording those soundwaves will have a massive impact on your finished product.
Cheap, low-quality microphones might seem tempting to beginners, especially when you compare prices with high-end, top-of-the-line products. But, as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for! And if you’re paying next to nothing, you can expect the microphone to fall flat in many areas.
So in this article, we’ll have a look at some microphones that might not be the best choice for your recording career!
We’ll look at what makes a microphone bad, and what might make a ‘bad’ microphone ‘good’ in other situations.
Bear in mind that certain aspects of microphones and recording technology can get quite technical. We’re not going to go too deep into that side of things. Also, remember that there is a lot that can factor into the final sound of your recorded track. Don’t blame the mic for everything!
Table of Contents
What to Avoid…
Let’s start off with a quick rundown of the kind of thing you should probably avoid.
First of all, it’s safe to say that anything under $100 is likely to give you subpar quality. That’s not to say you have to spend a lot of money on a microphone, it’s just unlikely that a $50 mic from Amazon will provide anywhere near the level of quality that a $2,000 mic can.
If you do some research into USB mics, you’ll see that there’s a lot of buzz out there about how great these things are. And while they are good as a cheap alternative, and as a workaround for having to buy an interface device, they’re far from perfect.
For recording spoken word, like podcasts or audio commentary, a USB mic will be fine. But if you plan on recording music, with a range of instruments and sun vocals, a USB mic just won’t do.
The convenience of the USB microphone is ultimately what makes it unsuitable for most uses aside from spoken word. It has an entire digital interface crammed into its small shell, which negatively affects sound quality when recording.
USB microphones also lack the ability to record multiple tracks at once. Some, like the Blue Yeti, have omnidirectional capabilities, so you can record from multiple sources at the same time, on one track. But again, this will cause audio quality to suffer.
So, if you’re looking to record one track at a time for a podcast or audiobook narration, then a USB mic might be ok. But if you’re looking for industry-standard quality, you’ll need something better, like an XLR microphone and audio interface.
Generic Non-Branded Microphones
It’s not always the case that brand names are better, but when it comes to specialized products, like microphones, it is generally a better idea to go for a well-established, long-standing company with years of experience and prestige behind its name.
AKG, Shure, and Neumann can charge so much for their microphones because people are willing to pay that much for them. And they’re willing to pay that much because they know they’ll be getting a quality product!
You can find plenty of non-branded generic microphones on Amazon, and even at Walmart (tip: avoid!). They’ll be tempting because of the price, and they’ll usually come backed-up with hundreds of positive reviews, which you shouldn’t always trust. This CAD U1, for example, is highly rated, and only $17 (at the time of writing). You might think you’ve found a bargain – a great microphone for under twenty dollars!
Sounds too good to be true? It probably is.
Check out this review, which tests the microphone under various different applications, including recording guitar and vocals. The video title should tell you all you need to know about how good this ‘bargain’ mic actually is…
Best Uses for Bad Mics
If you’ve already bought a cheap mic or found yourself stuck with something that is far from ‘high-end,’ then don’t fear! There might be a use for it yet.
As I mentioned earlier, USB microphones, while unsuitable for recording to a professional standard, or for recording most instrumentation, are ideal for spoken vocals.
If you’re after a lo-fi tone, you may even be actively seeking out a poor-quality microphone to enhance that crunchy, distorted sound that a bad mic can have.
But really, the best way to use a bad mic is for a motivator to practice your production skills. If you can salvage an audio track that sounds horrible due to poor audio quality from your microphone, then you might have a future in audio production!
Best Cheap Microphones
You might be wondering what you should buy; if you’ve had your eyes on a cheap Chinese imitation on Amazon, or considered seeing what was on sale in the electronics section at the supermarket.
Here’s a very quick list of five of the best cheap microphones you should buy!
- Shure SM57 – an industry standard and super tough and reliable. Great for instruments but can be used for vocals.
- Shure SM58 – like the SM57, but more geared toward vocal recording – tweaked to enhance high and mid frequencies. Rugged as they come!
- MXL 990 – an affordable condenser microphone that will work wonders for your acoustic instrument recordings.
- AKG P120 – a durable, compact, and highly flexible little microphone that will competently record almost anything – for cheap!
- Audio Technica AT2020 – another inexpensive all-rounder with an impressive natural sound.
It’s hard to know where to start looking when you’re out to buy something specialized. You don’t want to spend too much, but you want something good all the same. Trying to find that middle ground between ‘rip-off’ and ‘cheap crap’ is hard!
That’s why sometimes it’s best to start when you know what not to buy! And the microphones discussed in this article are a great cheat sheet of things to avoid!
Of course, price is an obstacle for some, and not for others. If you are tight on cash, consider saving up just a little more and buying one of the mics listed at the end of the article. They’re still very cheap for what they are, and it’s better to pay a little more for something durable and widely-used, that you know will last, rather than waste your money on a cheap mic from Amazon that you’ll have to buy again in a few months!