Five Great Mics Under $200

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An Introduction....

A High-End Microphone Collection. Courtesy The Sonic Range

The mantra that we've been repeating over and over on our tutorials is true: the better the source, the better the recording. But it's an unfortunate fact that without a good microphone to translate that good sound to the recording, even the best sounding source will come through poorly. Fortunately, in recent years the price of microphones that will do the job well has dropped significantly.

One thing to remember is that not every microphone can do everything, and what your ears love, another pair of ears might hate. What makes you happy, and what meets your needs (and budget), is most important.

In this guide, updated for 2010, you'll learn about five great microphones that ring in at under $200 each but pack a punch worth much more. With these selections, you can't go wrong; they can record just about anything you throw at them, and the right combination of value for your dollar and performance makes these choices good for every audio engineer, professional or amateur.

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Mic #1 - Shure Beta 52A

Shure Beta52a Low-Frequency Microphone. Courtesy Shure

The Shure Beta 52A is one of my favorite microphones. At $189, it packs a great low-end punch and Shure's legendary build quality.

The Specs...
The Shure Beta 52A is a dynamic microphone with exceptional low-frequency characteristics; this makes it the perfect kick drum microphone. Paired with a Shure Beta 91, you'll get a phenomenal kick drum sound. However, you can find many uses for this in the studio that make it worth the money; bass cabinets, Leslie cabinets, and floor toms come to mind. The ability to withstand very high sound pressure levels (a rated tolerance of close to 175db) and a wide frequency response (20hz to 10kHz with a bump in the high-mids and lows) make this an exceptional value. Plus, nearly every rock club in the world has one of these mics that has been beaten up severely over the years and still works just fine, so it'll definitely take the abuse of your home studio. Retail is right around $189.

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Mic #2 - KAM C3

KAM C3 Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone. Courtesy KAM Instruments

The KAM C3 arrived for me to review after meeting KAM's founder, Kamran Salehi. I'll be reviewing the entire line, but the C3 immediately impressed me as one of the best large-diaphragm condenser microphones for a budget price -- $166.

Part of why I love the C3 is it's really flat frequency response. Whether used live as a drum overhead mic or in the studio on acoustic guitar or vocals, the C3 had a soft, lush frequency response that doesn't scream "cheap!" like many microphones in similar budgets. The KAM C3 is a cardioid large-diaphragm microphone that has a flat, 20hz-20kHz frequency response, and features a switchable high-pass filter and 10db pad.

Overall, the C3 is one of my top picks for a very good reason -- sure, it's value-priced, but it delivers performance above and beyond the pricetag.

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Mic #3 - Rode NT1-A

Rode NT1-A
Rode NT1-A. Rode, Inc.

A Studio Staple Revisited
The Rode NT1 is a staple of studios everywhere. With its warm, up-front characteristics, it quickly became one of the best values in recording microphones. The NT1-A ($199, including shock mount) is a redesign of the classic NT1 with even lower self-noise than the original, making it one of the quietest microphones on the market today.

Using the NT1-A Low self-noise makes the NT1-A perfect for recording acoustic instruments and vocals. Low self-noise means that you don't hear any extra static or hum from the microphone itself. In fact, the NT1-A is the preferred acoustic guitar microphone in many studios for this very reason. With a frequency response of 20hz to 20khz, high SPL capacity of 137db, and a price of $199, it's hard to go wrong with this mic. When recording vocals, this microphone shines. Its up-front and warm sound is a classic for a reason, and one listen will show you why.

Compare Prices

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Mic #4 - Audix I5

Audix I5
Audix I5. Audix, Inc.

The I5, Jack Of All Trades
If you've got right around $100 to purchase one mic for your studio, the Audix I5 should be it. A perfect mic for drums, guitar amps, horns, and most anything else, the Audix I5 ($99) can do it all.

Durability and Reliability

The I5 is made of bullet-proof metal casing, perfect for use on drums where you'll most likely watch your mics get hit by sticks. With a frequency response from 50hz to 16khz, you'll find this mic has no problems handling even the most sensitive of subjects. A great, durable mic!

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Mic #5 - MXL 990 Small Diaphragm Condenser Pair

MXL 990 Microphones. Musician's Friend

These microphones are cheap - $179 for the pair - but you'd be surprised at how good they sound.These mics are a little on the bright-sounding side, but don't let that fool you; these are powerful mics for the home recordist looking for a stereo pair of microphones to use for drum overheads or on acoustic guitar. You might find yourself rolling off the highs a little bit, but you'll like the overall sound, and for $179 it's hard to go wrong. If you're on a really tight budget, these work great for what you're paying.