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Is a sub $50 mic a complete waste of money

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

  1. callofcthulhu


    Oct 16, 2012
    You should be able to pick up a used SM57/58 for $70 or so, they usually go for about $100 new.

    I wouldn’t trust anything priced less than that for recording anything but scratch tracks.

    A 57 or 58 will never sound “great” (except on snare drums and on about 1 in 10 singers whose vocal timbre seems inexplicably mated to that frequency response) but if they ever sound “bad” you can rest assured that the problem is in the performance/position/processing.
  2. patrickj


    Aug 13, 2001
    Ellicott City, MD
    Endorsing: Spector Bass Guitars
  3. S.F.Sorrow


    Dec 6, 2014
    I think everyone recommending the SM57 must have missed that you are recording ACOUSTIC guitar. The 57 is great for electric guitar amps but not suitable for acoustic guitar unless you are going for a VERY lo-fi sound.

    The 57 isn't really suitable for recording amplified bass either (unless you combine with a DI to provide the lows). The 57 doesn't have the necessary low frequency extention for recording bass.

    I can pretty much guarantee that you won't be happy with the sound of any of the other low priced dynamic mics you listed either. In fact, an SM57 would probably be better than those.

    For acoustic guitar you really need a condenser microphone. The Audio Technica AT2020 is a low priced classic (around $99). It sounds surprisingly good for acoustic guitar and probably the best condenser mic I've used in this price range (not much competition though, most ultra-cheap condensers are rather poor). Any cheaper than this and it's most likely junk.

    The AT2020 would probably be decent for bass too but the problem with condensers and bass is that you need a pretty good acoustically treated room for optimal results. And I'm guessing you don't have access to a great room. The AT2020 would still be better than any of the cheap dynamics on your list though. But ideally I would want a dynamic mic with good low extension for recording bass. But NOT one of the "pre eq'd" kick drum mics that scoop out the mids. Unfortunately good dynamic mics for recording bass can be a bit expensive. Beyerdynamic M88TG and Sennheiser MD421 would be the starting points for me.

    On the cheap I would probably get an AT2020 for the acoustic guitar and just go direct with the bass (just get a cheap DI and maybe play around with some amp sim plugins). That would be the absolute minimum for getting a decent sound IMO. But it depends on what you are trying to do of course. If you're just using recordings as a sketch book and sound quality doesn't matter I would be fine with the built in mic in my laptop.
  4. mapleglo

    mapleglo Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 7, 2013
    phoenix, az
    I've had good results recording my acoustic guitars with my SM-57. I recommended the SM-57 because of my personal experience recording acoustic guitar. The SM-57 is a great, all purpose microphone. I use it for vocals as well, for recording, and when I sing with my band.
  5. And I

    And I Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2009
    Witchtown, MA
    In the end, sounds good = is good, and maybe for the songs you're recording a boxy duller less detailed sound on the acoustic gtr is what you want... but there is a reason those of us who do now or at one time have made our livings recording music would rarely if ever use an SM-57 to record acoustic guitar if we have a condenser mic available... transient response is too slow on a 57 to accurately capture the way an acoustic guitar sounds to the naked ear. Again maybe that's not what you're going for in the context of your music... but if you are looking for a bright and sparkly sound for acoustic guitar, you want a condenser, not a dynamic mic.

    The sm-58 is identical in every way to the 57 other than that it has windscreen which makes it a better choice for vocals, and also why you will never see an engineer put an sm 57 on a vocalist if there is a 58 or any other mic with a windscreen available.

    I'm really not trying to beat a dead horse or be a holier-than-thou jerk here, but I do think it's important to choose the right tool for the right job and to know the reasons why it is the right tool.
    S.F.Sorrow likes this.
  6. mapleglo

    mapleglo Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 7, 2013
    phoenix, az
    Reading the OP again, they are doing "really basic demo type home recording" and they are looking to "get by until I can invest more in a decent mic". It appears they are not making their "living(s) recording music", and they do not have "a condenser mic available".

    You are absolutely right that there are better mics for recording acoustic guitar available. Whether they will be available at the $50 price range in the OP's area, is a main issue here. I recommend an SM-57 for this application because it's a good, universal mic, that will likely be available for $50 used. And if and when the OP does have more money to spend on a dedicated acoustic guitar mic, they won't need to throw it away. They can use it for something else. Because it's a great, all purpose mic.

    Overall, we are not in disagreement. But I think that perhaps budget and availability may be the more important issues in this case. As someone who has been making recordings for many years on a budget, at home, perhaps our perspectives are a bit different.
  7. And I

    And I Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2009
    Witchtown, MA
    Currently on reverb.com, the cheapest used 2020 is $50 and the cheapest used sm-57 is $75... I'm definitely thinking budget-minded here. And the AT-2020 is quite versatile. It's a "better" choice for acoustic guitar, vocals, and bass cab... the 57 is a top choice for guitar cabs, snare, toms, brass, some hand percussion. For the OP's stated budget and intent, the at-2020 is the best choice in my opinion. Rode NT1 and SE electronics X1a also come to mind as good budget-minded choices.

    Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Microphone

    Engineers overthink things, that's just what we do... Of course there are folks who have made killer records with sm-57s on everything. In the end a great recording is any recording of great music played by someone who is giving it a great feel. Put a $2000 mic on a bad player playing a bad song and a $50 mic on a great player playing a great song. We'd all choose to listen to the latter I'm sure.
  8. mapleglo

    mapleglo Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 7, 2013
    phoenix, az
    I have no experience with the 2020, but based on your recommendation, I may have to buy one :p

    But yeah, I'll listen to the great player playing a great song too.
    And I likes this.
  9. skycruiser


    Jan 15, 2019
    Thanks for the discussion. I'm leaning toward a 2020 at this point since the price is comparable to the 57 and seems better suited for what I'm looking for. Thanks all!
    And I and Crater like this.
  10. ofajen


    Apr 12, 2007
    92.4W 38.9N
    AT is a good choice and like Shure in that you can expect any sample to pretty much work to spec. The budget brands have more sample variation and more chance of drift over time.

    The AT2020 would be good and of course an SM57 also gives you a handy and rugged mike for live vocals.

    I might also consider the AT2021, which is an axial address mike. Similar specs to the AT2020 but lists for $79 instead of $99. Also, while you lose the cool factor of side address, axial mikes are handier to work with for a lot of things, in my opinion. Also, if you are fussy, you lose the artifacts created by the metal cage around the capsule.

  11. seamonkey


    Aug 6, 2004
    If you're the only one in the room/studio a good condenser omni-directional mic is a good way to go.
    Most what you hear from a acoustic guitar and bass are from the sound of the room. Close mic'ing with a cardioid isn't always best.
  12. ofajen


    Apr 12, 2007
    92.4W 38.9N
    Yeah, the handy bit is that you get an accurate representation of the sound at the spot. The surprising thing is often how much more prominent the ambient noise sounds when collapsed to mono. This can be a bit of an issue in an uncontrolled space.

    We can contextualize it to a degree with our stereophonic hearing and separate the sound of interest from background noises and reverberations by directional cues. It's the same basic effect that required orchestra recording halls to be less reverberant during the era of mono recordings.

    And I likes this.
  13. And I

    And I Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2009
    Witchtown, MA
    I have an AT 2021 and... well... it doesn't sound great on acoustic guitar and it is definitely not a mic you'd want on a vocal. It's decent as a drum overhead...

    The biggest difference isn't front vs side address, it's small vs large diaphragm.
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2019
  14. The reason that dynamic mics can work better than LDCs in many circumstances is that they are less room sensitive. If the accoustics of the treated room are not very good and you don't know exactly what to do with the placement of the mic, hypercardoid dynamics are often better.

    Dynamics are much cheaper to produce, so you need to invest more if you want a halfway acceptable LDC.
    Good Dynamics are much better than bad condensers...
    Although - IMO - even good dynamics don't have the details even some budget condensers have.
    But the bad room reverberations the LDC records are worse than the details.
    I have some good dynamics from Beyerdynamic, Sennheiser and Heil and a Neumann LDC, the TML 103. In many cases I prefer the dynamics, although I love the Neumann.
    Mics are never an easy decision and if you are an amateur in recording - as I am - don't believe you can buy one good cheap mic and it is the solution. Not even a 3.000,- mic would be that.

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