Is a sub $50 mic a complete waste of money

Discussion in 'Recording Gear and Equipment [BG]' started by skycruiser, Jun 10, 2019.

  1. skycruiser


    Jan 15, 2019
    I'm doing some really basic demo type home recording using a mic I borrowed from a friend and a USB recording interface device. I'm recording "drums" direct from my drum machine. I'm not happy with the freq response of the mic I'm using for guitar (I don't have the mic make/model handy but I think it is meant for voice). Both high and low end were very poor. I have a coupon for Guitar Center and am looking at the cheap end of the instrument mic list. They have several under $50:

    Digital Reference DRI100 Dynamic Inst Mic ($50)
    Nady DM71 Drum and Inst Mic ($30)
    Nady CM90 Cardioid Condenser Mic ($40)
    Audix F50 Dynamic Vocal Mic ($50)
    AKG D8000M Dynamic Vocal Mic ($50)
    Digital Reference DRV100 (3 for $50 ???)

    I'm recording amplified acoustic bass guitar and unamplified acoustic guitar (6-string), separately of course, mixing in Audacity.

    Will any of these get by until I can invest more in a decent mic or should I not waste my $50? My budget for music equipment is very limited.

  2. cornfarmer

    cornfarmer jam econo

    May 14, 2002
    I didn't bother looking at the 'Digital Reference' mics because anything named that way at low price points are neither going to be 'digital' or 'reference' worthy.

    The AKG had the best freq. response and handles 144 dB spl which you'll probably never get close to. Couldn't find a freq. response graph, but looking at a D3800M which is probably similar, it looks fine for $50.

    For $150-250 you can get a pretty good sounding condenser mic that would be a better all around recording mic. I wouldn't spend more unless you were going to use it regularly, if this is a once in a blue moon thing, just get the $50 AKG.
  3. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    Many years ago, when I didn't have any money, I would use whatever I could beg or borrow (no stealing), and it was often crappy gear. Use whatever you can, because you will still be learning how to record.

    Rather than buy low-end microphones new, look around for some used microphones of better quality. Dynamic mics don't go bad over time. You will need that GC coupon for cables and mic stands.
  4. Bodeanly


    Mar 20, 2015
    If memory serves, there’s a set of MXL condensers in the classifieds for 50 bucks. We used similar mics to record our Christmas songs (for vox and guitar). I think the link is still on my profile if you’d like to have a listen first. Great budget mics, especially at used prices.
    The Owl likes this.
  5. ugly_bassplayer


    Jan 21, 2009
    Used 57.
  6. And I

    And I

    Feb 19, 2009
    Witchtown, MA
    For acoustic bass guitar and acoustic guitar you will want a condenser mic. Dynamic mics are not well suited especially for acoustic guitar, and cheap ones are not really that good on a bass amp either if you want a full range sound.

    I would avoid anything with the "MXL" makers mark, personally. The Audio Technica 2020 is a good budget mic and can be had new for $80.
  7. skycruiser


    Jan 15, 2019
    Thanks for all the comments. I think I'll hold off and do a little more research. The SM57 and AT2020 are mics I come across in a lot of places for good starter instrument mics. Maybe something at a good price will come through on CL. The GC coupon I have is actually a smaller percentage than some of their rotating coupon codes of 20 and 25%, so I guess there's no need to rush.

    I actually found that I got better sound recording on my phone than the mic I currently have, so maybe I'll mess around with that for awhile. It does end up with a hiss but it's not unbearable (though it might get worse mixing multiple tracks together...)
  8. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    I have to disagree (with respect, of course). I have a couple of old EV RE55s which are superb mics for guitar, and even a cheap dynamic (used EV 635, maybe?) can yield eminently passable results. Will it have that studio sparkle? Probably not. But it can sound good.

    OP is not looking for champagne on a beer budget. I think the idea is to get him an improvement over the gear he has now. IMO recording is more about technique than gear... learning how to use the mic is more important than the mic itself.
  9. And I

    And I

    Feb 19, 2009
    Witchtown, MA
    this is why i recommended an entry-level mic. i recommended what i think is the best type of mic for the applications that were named. you can get a big increase in quality without an increase in spending if you use the right tool for the right job. knowing the difference between different types of mics and which applications they are better suited for is a big part of recording technique.

    in the end, sounds good = is good.
    AGCurry likes this.
  10. Ukiah Bass

    Ukiah Bass Supporting Member

    May 10, 2006
    Get a Shure SM-57. You can find used 57s for $50-60. Buy Bobby Owsinski's "The Recording Engineer's Handbook" for a deep education on differences between mics and how to place them for a wide range of instruments. The 57 has been the bedrock of amateurs and pros alike. Not the greatest, but it will do fine for your purposes and budget. The real value of mics (esp expensive top of the line products) is more about how you use them than what's inside. Later you'll get into "signal chain," which means upgrading all the components from the mic to recording source. They all impact sonic quality. For now, get a 57.
    Bboopbennie, pcake and Roland GR 88 like this.
  11. mapleglo

    mapleglo Ancient Astronaut Theorist Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 7, 2013
    phoenix, az
    I agree with the SM 57. I have two, one I bought new, the 2nd I bought used for $50. They're bullet proof, and sound fine. The 57 is a standard in the industry.
    pcake likes this.
  12. And I

    And I

    Feb 19, 2009
    Witchtown, MA
    You are probably going to be unhappy with an SM 57 on acoustic guitar--it will sound dull, inarticulate, undetailed. It is absolutely not an industry standard for recording acoustic guitar or mic'ing a bass cabinet. It is used ubiquitously for most drums/hand percussion, guitar amplifiers, and horns. It's a great and very versatile mic. But not for your stated use case.
  13. skycruiser


    Jan 15, 2019
    Thanks for that And I and other commenters. I see there are comparison videos on youtube so I'll definitely go through those. Sounds like the rough consensus is to put in a few extra bucks for a slightly better option than the sub $50s.
  14. And I

    And I

    Feb 19, 2009
    Witchtown, MA
    You may have luck on a used mic in the $50 range. Certainly sub $75. There are AT-2020s and SM-57s both around $65 on
  15. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Save your beer/coffee/lunch money for a few weeks and get a 57.
  16. Badwater


    Jan 12, 2017
    Yes sub fifty buck mics can be worth it. Just do your research on reviews. Also know that mics vary in type and application. If you have the right type of mic for the proper application they will suffice.
  17. ofajen


    Apr 12, 2007
    92.4W 38.9N
    I used to have four RE-55s, but sold them over the years. I got the first one, seriously used, for $50. At some point the capsule quit working. I sent it to EV and they replaced the capsule and only charged for return shipping. The RE55 is really good to work with on so many instruments. Of course , it’s also been out of production for about two decades, IIRC.

    At some point I decided that I preferred the cleaner high end of the SM80 condenser omni, but I kinda miss having the dynamics that don’t need phantom power.

    At this point, I don’t really think I’d have much use for RE-55s that I don’t handle with the SM80s, but I would kinda like to have a 635a around. It’s a great alternative where you want the accurate overall sound of an omni but with low end roll off to clean things up on all the instruments where low end is not wanted and has to be rolled off at some point. On the SM80 I can get that using one of the roll off filter settings.

  18. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    We're probably hijacking the thread, but yeah: When I want a result to sound "just like it sounds" - live or recorded - I go to the RE55. It's great for recording my voice while I'm sitting at the computer, or putting it an inch from my acoustic guitar or bass in live playing.

    Looks like I need to try an SM80 - but they look to be as hard-to-find as the RE55.
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2019
  19. I saw you know about the AT2020 above, I would suggest that if one comes up cheap on the used market. I like them enough to have 2, despite owning two nicer mics (Neat king & worker bee mics). The only catch with condensers is they need phantom power, but the vast majority of interfaces have phantom power built in anyways.
  20. ofajen


    Apr 12, 2007
    92.4W 38.9N
    Both were discontinued about the same time. Omni mikes weren’t cool again, yet, so they weren’t selling.

    Both were recommendations I got from David Josephson decades ago. He regards the RE55 as the best dynamic omni ever made (I agree) and the SM80 was, to his reckoning, the only “decent, cheap condenser omni” available at the time.

    The only slight drawback to the RE55 is that it is, after all, a dynamic mike and EV had to use acoustic resonance in the spaces in front of the diaphragm to prop up the high end frequency response to 18K, when it would otherwise behave about like a 635 and roll off above 13K. The price you pay is some smearing of the response in the time domain, where the SM80 doesn’t need those resonant chambers to raise the high end and it sounds a tad cleaner.

    Unfortunately for the OP, neither RE55s nor SM80s are likely to be had for $50 any more. I got a lot more than that when selling my RE55s.

    OTOH, if you have an SM81, all you need is an SM80 omni (R104A) capsule. The bodies and capsules of SM80 and SM81 are interchangeable.

    Also, you can make very natural recordings with the cheapo omni measurement mikes. Behringer sells one I think. Only issue is relatively high self noise due to the small capsule, so play/sing loud and mike close.

    Last edited: Jun 14, 2019