Using the right microphone, even if you are on a budget, is vital. If you want your music, podcast, or movie to sound great, you need to choose the best budget microphone. But buying a great low-cost microphone can be confusing, especially if this is your first microphone.
It’s no secret that a microphone’s price is an important factor. But it doesn’t mean that you have to be rich to buy a good quality microphone. Yes, even budget mics are capable of producing high-quality sound. With a little research, you can find the best budget microphone.
To help you find the best budget microphone, one that not only matches your budget but your needs, this guide will explain the most important characteristics of microphones.
What to look for in a budget microphone?
Your microphone will have a huge impact on the audio of your next project, be it a podcast, film, or training video. Audio is so important that it could ruin your podcast or film. I have clicked off of many videos because the audio was of poor quality. If you want to create a professional sounding project, you need a good microphone. The good news is that you can record great sounding audio with a budget microphone. You will find that the best budget microphone will take your podcast to the next level. The challenge is to find the best budget microphone.
You don’t have to become an audio engineer to find a great budget microphone. So what do you need to look for in a cheap microphone? Whether you’re starting a travel podcast, working on your YouTube channel, or making your next film, consider the following before buying a budget microphone.
What will you use your microphone for?
One of the most important questions for you to answer is: What will you use the microphone for? Before you can buy the best microphone for the job, we need to know what you are recording and how you will record it. You could spend a fortune on a super high-end microphone, and a budget microphone that is designed for your intended environment could outperform the expensive microphone.
Each type of microphone has distinct sound and advantages. When paired with someone who knows how to use them, it can provide the best possible sound. Simultaneously, even the best microphone can sound awful if you don’t know what you are doing.
What kind of budget microphones are there?
Once you know your microphone’s purpose, you can start looking at different types of microphones on the market. On your quest for the best budget microphone, you will look at dynamic and condenser microphones.
Dynamic microphones – also called moving-coil microphones – convert sound into an electrical signal through electromagnetism. They are versatile, sturdy, and highly reliable, making them a great option for bands on a low budget. People use dynamic microphones for musical instruments, vocals, and podcasts. Because they aren’t super sensitive mics, they are great for loud audio sources such as live music.
These types of microphones don’t require a power supply. One of the greatest features of dynamic microphones is that they are inexpensive.
Pros of Dynamic Microphones
- You can get some good quality cheap dynamic microphones.
- They can take a beating, which makes them great for bands on the road.
- Excellent for home recording studios.
- No power required.
Cons of Dynamic Microphones
- Low sensitivity and slower response time.
- Larger and heavier than other types of microphones.
- Not an ideal choice for maximum audio quality, and they are not the prettiest sounding mics.
- Not the best for low-end instruments – if you are going to use a dynamic microphone for low-end instruments, makes sure the mic is meant for low-end instruments.
Ribbon microphones work similarly to dynamic mics. Instead of a diaphragm, ribbon microphones have a thin ribbon that vibrates to alter voltage. The ribbon, which is a delicate foil, creates an accurate and authentic sound. The advantage of a ribbon microphone is that it can pick up delicate frequencies. It also provides an accurate recording. Ribbon mics can be on the expensive side due to their delicate nature. They aren’t particularly robust mics and might require frequent repairs. Professional sound studios tend to use ribbon microphones.
Ribbon microphones have a long history. It was invented in the 1920s. They were modeled after telephones. You shouldn’t be surprised if many old recordings sound like they were played through a telephone.
Pros of Ribbon Microphones
- Rich and natural sound quality
- Great detail for high-frequency recordings – compared to dynamic mics
- Flat frequency response
- Great sound detail without being overly sensitive
- Can capture sound equally well from front and back – sounds from sides have no effect on recording
- Doesn’t require a power supply
Cons of Ribbon Microphones
- Fragile – the aluminum ribbon is prone to bending and breakage
- Expensive – not a budget microphone
Condenser microphones are ideal if you want to record top-notch quality sound. Because of its underlying technology, a condenser microphone can be tiny in size. Of course, the smaller the microphone, the more expensive it is. This type of microphone is not as sturdy as a dynamic mic. Therefore, they are not ideal for outdoor recordings.
Condenser microphones require a power supply because they require a pre-amp. The power supply can be built into the audio board or audio mixer. It is called a phantom power supply.
Pros of Condenser Microphones
- Higher quality audio
- Fit for studio recording
- Condenser microphones are more sensitive.
- They can be tiny
Cons of Condenser Microphones
- Require either external power or battery power
- Condenser microphones are fragile.
- They are more expensive.
- Greater self-noise
- Prone to RF interference
- Sensitive to weather issues
Best Budget USB and XLR microphones
If you want an easy to use budget microphone, you will appreciate USB microphones. In addition to ease of use, USB mics are generally less expensive than XLR microphones. Because most USB mics have a cardioid polar pattern, they’re an excellent choice for making voiceovers or podcasts. The reason for this feature is that USB microphones pick up sound from the front.
But if you’re interested in recording instrumental music or vocals, an XLR microphone is the right choice. They are also more ideal for high-quality podcast productions. XLR microphones can be more expensive than USB mics. But the result is a much higher quality sound quality.
The sound quality difference lies in the inner mechanisms of each type of microphone’s output. The electrical currents that exit the USB microphone share a single channel. Because the input and output use the same channel, the sound can be distorted.
Unlike USB mics, XLR microphones have two channels, one for incoming and the other channel for outgoing currents. That’s why it’s called balanced. The two channels cancel out unwanted noise.
Microphones and Polar Patterns
We refer to the field of the sensitivity of a microphone as the polar pattern. The polar pattern describes from which directions a mic picks up sound. If you want a mic that picks up sound from all directions, you need an omnidirectional microphone. A Figure 8 microphone which is also called a bi-directional mic, picks up sounds from east and west. A Figure 8 mic excluding sounds from north and south. Unidirectional microphones are engineered to pick up sounds from only one direction while excluding sounds from all other directions.
The most common microphones are unidirectional. They come in the following polar patterns:
- Cardioid – The cardioid pattern is similar to a heart shape. The cardioid polar pattern makes the microphone most sensitive to sounds from the sides and straight on, but rejects sounds from 180 degrees opposite the direction the mic is aimed.
- Supercardioid – The supercardioid microphone receives a bit more sound from a 180-degree field, but rejects more from each side.
- Hypercardioid – The hypercardioid allows even more sound from 180 degrees but rejects more of the sound coming from 90 or 270 degrees.
All of the above polar patterns reject off-axis and rear-axis sounds coming from the sides or behind the microphone.
Polar patterns are critical when setting up a mic for a vocalist. Cardioid, supercardioid, and hypercardioid microphones are made to exclude all the sounds except the voice of the singer. The result is a clearer sound and reduced feedback.
One way to further optimize a supercardioid microphone element is to place it inside a shotgun microphone. If you notice the thin slots that run down the sides of a shotgun microphone barrel, you will see the part of the microphone that creates phase cancellation in sound waves arriving from the sides. Simultaneously, the sound arriving straight through the front of the barrel is unaffected. This feature improves the directional performance of a supercardioid microphone, particularly at higher frequencies.
Shotgun microphones are ideal for recording dialogue in a film. A shotgun microphone is ideal because you can place it out of frame, or above your talent on a boom pole.
Contrary to popular belief, a shotgun microphone doesn’t actually “reach” for the sound. They aren’t designed to work that way. Think of the shotgun microphone as a tool to filter out the sounds you don’t want to record. It creates a better focus on the sound you really want to record.