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Five Microphones Under $500 That You Need In Your Studio
A microphone doesn't have to cost thousands of dollars in order to be a professional tool

 

by Phil O'Keefe



Let's face it - if money was no object, most home studio owners would have no problem quickly listing several high-end or vintage microphones that we'd love to add to our studio's mic collection, but for the vast majority of us, money is an issue. While the idea of compromising usually doesn't sit well with picky artistic types (and the best recording engineers are both picky and artists in their own right), there are plenty of excellent microphones that will cost you a lot less than that vintage Neumann U47 that you've been dreaming about, and yet can still deliver excellent sounding recordings. For some recording tasks, the less expensive microphone might even be a better choice. So let's take a look at five outstanding microphones that will be excellent performers in any studio, no matter how upscale or humble it might be.




Microphone: Shure SM57

Typical "street" price new: $99.00

Microphone type: Small diaphragm moving coil dynamic

Why you need one: This is the one mic that you will find in almost every recording studio, large or small. If you don't have one (or several) in your studio, you're definitely missing out. It's a rugged and classic dynamic mic that can be used on almost any sound source and deliver decent to excellent results - assuming you do your part and position it properly and pair it with a decent mic preamp. A legendary guitar amp and snare drum mic, it's one of the most versatile and affordable professional microphones on the market, and one that has been used on countless hit recordings.

 

 

Also check out the Granelli Audio Labs G5790 ($149.99 "street"), a rebuilt SM57 with an easy to place right angle body. Click here to read HC's review of the G5790.








Microphone: Electro-Voice RE20

Typical "street" price new: $449.00

Microphone type: Large diaphragm dynamic microphone with Variable-D proximity reduction

Why you need one: This is another legendary and highly versatile dynamic mic that can be used on a wide variety of sound sources with excellent results. It's one of the most popular broadcast and voiceover microphones in the world, and it has been used on more than a few lead vocal tracks that have been released on major label recordings too. Still not enough versatility for you? It is also an outstanding choice for use on guitar and bass amp speaker cabinets, horns and sax, and decades after its introduction, it's still one of the best kick drum microphones on the planet.

If you're really strapped for cash, also consider the similar, but less expensive ($299 "street") E/V RE30. Check out Harmony Central's review of the RE320 here.





Microphone: Blue Hummingbird

Typical "street" price new: $299

Microphone type:  Small diaphragm condenser mic with articulating head / capsule.

Why you need one: After vocals, the one instrument that probably gets recorded more than anything else in the typical home studio is the acoustic guitar, and on acoustic guitars, small diaphragm condenser microphones are the most popular choice. While there are a lot of different options available at prices ranging from less than a hundred bucks up to thousands of dollars for a single microphone, the Blue Hummingbird is one of the best mic bargains you'll find, regardless of price range. The Hummingbird's condenser capsule is based on Blue's B1 Bottle Cap capsule, which was designed for use with their flagship Bottle tube mic. The Hummingbird's articulating head design is a unique feature that makes placement in tight locations a chinch, but it's the sound quality and versatility that you'll appreciate the most. Check out the HC review of the Blue Hummingbird for all the details.  





Microphone: Cascade Fathead II

Typical "street" price new: $449.00

Microphone type:  Ribbon microphone

Why you need one: If you're into digital recording and you've never tried a ribbon microphone, you're really missing out. Ribbon microphones have very lightweight corrugated ribbons of aluminum as their pickup element, and while they tend to be more fragile than other mic types, they provide the quick attack transients of a condenser while offering a warmer tone that is often a perfect foil for digital audio's sometimes bright and clinical sound. There are many great ribbon mics on the market from companies like Beyer, AEA and Royer, although most of them sell for more than $500 new. The Cascade Fathead II is a high-quality ribbon mic that bucks that trend, and is one of the best affordable ribbon microphones currently on the market. Equipped with Lundahl  transformers, the Fathead II is a great choice for use on guitar cabinets and drum overheads - or any other sound source with an overly bright or peaky sound that you'd like to tame. They also sound good on wind instruments (with a pop filter) and even work great on rotary speaker cabinets as long as you protect them from wind blasts with a good windscreen. For all the details, click here to check out my Cascade Fathead II ribbon mic review.





Microphone: Rode NT1

Typical "street" price new: $269.00

Microphone type:  Large diaphragm cardioid condenser

Why you need one: There are a lot of different large diaphragm condenser microphones available for under $500, and some of them are very nice - because of that, it was difficult to narrow it down to just one for this article, but if I had to pick one all-around outstanding mic in this category, this would be it. Why? Value. Not only do you get a very good sounding large diaphragm condenser mic that will serve you well for vocals and other featured sound sources, Rode also throws in a shock mount and pop screen with it at the price, making it an even better bargain. Even better still, the sound is surprisingly noise-free, with a shockingly low self-noise rating of 4.5 dB - that makes it one of the quietest condenser microphones available at any price, and with Rode's 10-year warranty, you know it's in it for the long haul. For the rest of the details, you'll find the Harmony Central review of the Rode NT1 right here.


No matter how many microphones you eventually own, or how expensive some of the other mics in your collection are, these five microphones will always be useful and valued parts of your microphone collection, and best of all, none of them will break the bank. If properly cared for, each should provide you with years, or even decades of valuable service, and unlike the latest plug-in, they'll still be useful in their present form far into the future. That's the kind of value that makes them essential tools for every studio! -HC-



Did I leave your favorite under $500 mic off the list? There's a good chance I may have - such lists are always going to be subjective by nature. But don't worry - we want to hear what you'd put on your list - so please head over to this thread in the Studio Trenches forum right here on Harmony Central and tell us what your favorite microphones are for under $500. And if you have other questions or comments about this article, feel free to post them there too!



Resources

Shure SM57 (Usually $99.00 "street", currently selling at $89.00 "street" for a limited time)    

Available from:

Sweetwater  

Guitar Center    

Musician's Friend    

B&H Photo Video  



Granelli Audio Labs G5790  ($154.99 "street")     

Available from:

Sweetwater 

Guitar Center 

Musician's Friend   



Electro-Voice RE20 ($449.00 "street")     

Available from:

Sweetwater    

Guitar Center    

B&H Photo Video    

Musician's Friend    



E/V RE320  ($299.00 "street")    

Available from:

Sweetwater    

Guitar Center    

B&H Photo Video   

Musician's Friend    



Blue Hummingbird (Usually $299.99 each "street" / $599.98 per pair, they're currently on sale for $299.99 per pair)   

Available from:

Sweetwater    

Guitar Center    

Musician's Friend    

B&H Photo Video 



Cascade Fathead II ($449.00 "street")    

The Cascade Fathead II is available singly and in stereo pairs. It can be purchased directly from Cascade Microphones.



Rode NT1  ($269.00 "street", packaged with shockmount and pop filter)     

Available from:

Sweetwater    

Guitar Center    

Musician's Friend    

B&H Photo Video   






__________________________________________________

 




Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.  

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