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With so many alternatives available, it can be difficult to separate the finest affordable mics from the rest. We've broken down the most crucial characteristics of each microphone to help you make an informed decision.
The best cheap microphones have a wide frequency response, with trebles up to 20kHz, the audible spectrum's top end. The lowest frequencies, usually between 20 and 40 kHz, provide rumbling and "punch" rather than audible notes. For example, the lowest note on bass is 40kHz, while the lowest note on a guitar is 80kHz.
You should also consider each mic’s frequency response curve. This displays whether the mic boosts or cuts any frequency bands, which contributes to its overall tonality. Flat response curves provide a more accurate, “dry” picture of your instruments’ sounds, while some mics boost bass or trebles to provide a warmer or brighter sound, respectively. These boosts can be helpful if you want a mic with more character, but can also force you to make more EQ adjustments as you mix.
One of the trademarks of a superb mic is consistency throughout frequency ranges, yet some low-cost versions have polar patterns that vary widely between frequency bands. Look for a microphone with polar pattern charts that are accurate. These graphs show where each microphone can detect sound, and they frequently vary by frequency bracket. The closer these charts are to being identical, the more consistently your microphone will function. The most common polar patterns are cardioid and supercardioid. They have excellent rear rejection and also deflect sound from the sides.
Smaller pencil microphones and dynamic mics often respond similarly to large diaphragm condenser mics throughout all frequency ranges. These smaller variants with a more defined address style will work well if consistency is your goal.
Durability is critical when you're working with a limited budget. If you can only afford one microphone, make sure it won't break down very soon.
Because they have less sensitive moving parts, dynamic mics are the most durable affordable microphones on the market. Because of the narrow internal diaphragm and a metal plate that generates sound, both small and big diaphragm condenser mics are more brittle.
The internal ribbon of ribbon microphones is exceedingly thin, making them even more delicate. Some are so little that holding them can cause them to dissolve. As a result, most producers opt for ribbon mics in the studio.
In addition to mic type, look for an all-metal enclosure with a strong mesh grille to avoid accidentally denting the capsule.