John is a fervent writer, gamer, and guitar lover. Former automatic-transmission repairer, welder and hobbyist game developer.
Choosing the right equipment for a small studio or home recording setup can be difficult, more so if you’re working with a very tight budget. Most purchases in life involve finding a happy medium between the quality of product you’d like and the amount of money you’re willing to spend and, unfortunately, they don’t often meet in the middle without compromises.
On the one hand, you don’t want to be spending $1,500 on a microphone that you're only using for a hobby. On the other hand, if the microphone you’re buying is poor to the point of being unusable, it hardly matters how cheap it is.
In this hub we’re going to look at five budget microphones that are well within even the smallest of budgets without sacrificing audio quality.
Our Five Mics
|Mic Types||Best Suited For|
Large Diaphragm Condenser
Studio vocal work (singing or spoken word)
Small Diaphragm Condenser
Recording acoustic instruments
Mic'ing guitar amps and vocals
Gaming, really. Just that.
A bit of everything, especially on the move.
Now, obviously these microphones are not going to be up to the standard of alternatives that cost ten times the price, that’s just an unavoidable fact of manufacturing. You simply can’t expect to spend a fraction of the cost and get the same quality product.
That being said, these microphones are, in my opinion, good enough to do the job in most situations. And in terms of the quality you get for the price you pay, these microphones compete with even the big boys of recording equipment.
It's worth mentioning that this is not a "top 5" list, but rather five different styles of microphone that are each suited to different things. Each one, in my opinion, is among the top of its kind in this price range. At the time of writing, none of our five mics were over $100.
BTSKY BM-800 Condenser Mic
The Large Diaphragm Condenser Mic
The BTSKY BM-800 is surprisingly good in all areas. The microphone arrives in a box that comes with a shock proof mounting and a foam cover for the mic itself. Given the price I’d paid for my BM-800, I half expected it to arrive wrapped in brown paper and falling apart.
The body of the microphone feels sturdy and durable; not something that will fall apart in a strong breeze. There are a few different versions available when it comes to appearances, though they all have the same understated style about them. Mine came in an attractive anodized blue with silver highlights.
The BM-800 is a uni-directional microphone, meaning that you need have it pointing the right way round in order to get a clear recording. It requires phantom power and connects to your audio interface using an XLR plug, so make sure you have the right equipment to make use of this mic before purchasing it. There are different versions available that make use of batteries and other alternatives, however this review is covering only the phantom powered XLR version.
The BM-800 provides a good, clear sound that is very well suited for spoken word recordings, though it also does an admirable job in other areas, such as singing and recording acoustic instruments. For the cost, it might just one of the best large diaphragm condenser microphones you can get, and certainly the best that I’ve tried.
The Small Diaphragm Condensor Mic
Microphones, to be precise, as the MXL 840 comes as a pair. Cost-wise, they are at the high end of this list, but there’s also two of them so factor that into your decision. The MXL 840 is a sleek cylinder with chrome trimmings, nice to a look at but not gaudy.
These mics do require phantom power using an XLR connector, so make sure you have the correct equipment to use them before purchasing. It seems silly to have to say, but also don’t forget that you will need two phantom power-providing XLR connections if you want to use both mics together.
As far as the recording quality itself goes, these mics do a good job in general, though I found them a little lacking when it came to the low end. In particular, playing an acoustic bass guitar seemed to be a little thin. That being said it was nothing drastic, and probably something I wouldn’t have noticed had I not been actively looking for holes to pick at.
In conclusion, I certainly recommend the MXL 840 microphone pair with the caveat that they’re really suited for stereo recordings of acoustic instruments. If you’re planning to use them for vocal work, I’d recommend one of the other mics on this list simply for the lower cost.
The Dynamic Microphone
If you know anything about audio equipment, you’ve probably heard of the Shure SM57. This is not that, but the Pyle-Pro PDMIC78 is heavily inspired by the SM57 in both appearance and functionality to the point that it's often referred to as a "rip off".
The SM57 has made a name for itself through being relatively inexpensive and extremely durable, making it perfect for gigging with. If PDMIC78 aims to emulate these qualities, it nails it with the price which is a tenth of what the SM57 cost. Durability-wise it certainly feels up to the task, but I haven’t put it through years of being carted around in gig bags and dropped and plugged and unplugged over and over, so I can’t honestly say it’s up to scratch in that regard. Given the price, we have to assume the life-expectancy of this mic is not as good as the SM57.
The audio quality, however, is on par. There are noticeable differences between the PDMIC78 and the SM57, but they sound like EQ differences rather than differences in quality. The one area where the PDMIC78 did seem to fall a little flat was with plosives, so if you’re going to use this mic for any kind of vocal recording, you’ll want use a pop filter.
The mic doesn’t come with much, but then for the price I’m surprised it comes with anything. What you do get is a nice long XLR to 1/4“ cable so you’re ready to go right out of the box.
Given the price of the Pyle-Pro PDMIC78, not only do I recommend this microphone, I would go so far as to say that any home studio (or professional studio for that matter) should have one or two of these around, even if they’re just backup mics.
Corsair Raptor HS30
The Headset Microphone
When it comes to choosing microphones for recording, headsets are generally shunned, and with good reason. Headset microphones are built for comfort and ease of use, but it’s impossible to fit the kind of quality you’d get from a nice large diaphragm condenser into that little arm sticking out of your headset. In short, good microphone quality in a headset is usually considered more of a bonus than a deal breaking feature. Still, there are many content creators who use headsets for Let’s Play videos and other pieces of content, and it’s certainly possible to get good enough audio out of a headset for a lot use cases.
The Corsair Raptor HS30 does an admirable job at a low price point. Designed with gamers in mind, the headset is comfortable and provides nice clear audio through the over-ear headphone. But it’s the mic we’re interested in.
It is unidirectional and features noise cancelling technology to try and reduce the background hiss. It connects using a regular 3.5mm headphone jack. If you’re a video game content creator this could well be the mic for you.
Blue Microphones Snowball Professional USB Mic
The All-Purpose USB Microphone
Blue Microphones have a full range or products on offer, but they’ve made a name for themselves with high quality portable mics that can be taken anywhere and set up quickly. For many, it doesn’t get much quicker than simply plugging in a USB cable—assuming you get it the right way around first time!
The Blue Snowball is a particularly popular microphone among online content creators, such as podcasters and YouTubers, especially those who move around and may not always be creating content in the same location. At around $70, the Snowball is one of the more expensive mics on this list, but it also has a much wider scope of use than the other mics, not to mention the fact that you don’t need extra equipment—such as an audio interface.
The Snowball sports a stylish retro look that is completely distinctive and instantly recognisable. The fact that the mic itself is essentially a ball means that you will need to use the stand unless you want to hold it like some kind of sci-fi speaking orb.
Performance-wise, the Snowball is as good a quality as you could hope to get for less than the price of a cheap car. It sports a switch that allows you to use the microphone in three different modes for added versatility and, of course, it is as simple to set up as plugging in a USB cable.
One thing to note, however, is that there is no software included with the Snowball, so you’ll need to find your own recording application. In conclusion, however, the Blue Microphones Snowball is good for everything. Sure it may not handle certain dedicated tasks as well as a purpose-built microphone, but if your budget can only stretch to one microphone, and especially if portability is a factor, this is the mic for you.
© 2016 John Bullock