I’ve helped schools start up their labs, worked in recording studios, and built my own home recording studio. Over the years I have used many microphones and have distilled that information into this list. I particularly looked at mics that were for starting musicians. Ones with a lower price, but you will still find pro’s using them. If you have a mic I should add, pleas add a comment at the end of the article.
Top Pick: SM-58
I find that in my home studio I run into one major problem, and that is noise. There is always some noise in the house when I am doing voice over work. The Sm-58 is amazing at only picking up what is right in front of the mic. This makes it idea for demonstrations, voice overs, vocal sketches, and some instrumental recording. I have also used this mic in final recordings and find it has a pretty flat and clean sound. Much better for male vocals, or lower range voice.
Versatile and Solid Mic: SM-57
Next up is another mic by Shure. This microphone is a classic in the recording studio. There have been many songs where the only mic used was the SM-57. This microphone is so versatile. I have used it with pretty much every instrument you can think of.
Just like the Sm58, the SM57 uses a cardioid pickup pattern to focus specifically on one source, rejecting audio from outside the pickup area. This means less to no feedback, and canceling all those other sounds in the room. That makes it great for recording live, or performance. One of the main reasons I like this mic though is its durability.
This mic is renowned for the beating it can take. You can throw this out a 10 feet tall window and it will still work. (check out videos on youtube, they can be pretty funny). I have had my 57 for 5 years and it’s gone through a lot with touring, teaching, recording. I would say the 58 is better at vocals, but for everything else the
Here is an example of the Mic:
For the track “For Emma, Forever Ago”, Bon Iver used a check Mbox and spent a winter in his family’s hunting cabin in the woods of Wisconsin tracking and layering guitars, vocals, and horns with his SM57.
Best Condenser Mic: AT2020
If you have a set up recording studio or vocal booth, then the At2020 by Audio-Technica might be the mic for you. It pics up a lot of the delicate sounds. I have used it for percussion, vocals, guitar, and even violin. I think the mic is perfect for string instruments.
This is an XLR connection phantom powered mic. So it requires a phantom powered XLR input, which all pro equipment provides and is also standard on most home recording audio interfaces. There is also a USB version that came out. I have not used it, but if you do not have an Audio Interface, this would be a good microphone.
Condenser mics are also more prone to damage, so they are not as durable as the Shure microphones.
Not Just A Mic: Zoom H4N
Ok, so this one is a little outside the box. The Zoom H4N is a Feild Recorder, but it also has some great mics on it. I use this a lot for feild recording samples out in the world, but it is also a great value buy if you want to just grab live recordings.
The built-in X/Y microphone provides two matched unidirectional microphones. The angle of the two can easily be changed from 90 degrees for a tightly focused stereo image to 120 degrees for a wider image. X/Y is an excellent way to cover a wide area while still capturing sound sources in the center with clarity and definition.
All these mics were chosen to stay on a budget, but give a good enough quality where you want to keep them for years. Many professional recordings have been made with these mics and they have stood the test of time. You will never regret buying an SM-57 and having it in your toolkit. All these mics can be used in many situations.
Do you have a mic you love that you think should be on this list? Share it in the comments.