Cheap vs. Expensive Microphones: Which to Use for Podcasts
As a lifelong musician I’ve played through a lot of instruments, used a lot of microphones, recorded on a ton of devices and listened through a plethora of headphones. From those dollar store specials to items costing upwards to $2,000 – especially microphones (As I did an article on the most expensive microphones a few months back). Any budget will tell you that sometimes you have to cut a corner.
The biggest question I get asked is if they should go cheap or expensive. There are microphones you can get for $30-40 that have a good sound to them for a Podcast – especially one that ends up getting compressed to 128 kbps or even 64 kbps. So which one do you choose?
Dynamic vs. Condenser Microphones
Before we start, let’s do a quick explanation. A Dynamic microphone has a spring-like diaphragm. Most likely set up like a speaker – a cone with a bubble in the middle. When you talk into the microphone, it works in the reverse way to a speaker – the vibration created will send signal to your audio input.
Condenser microphones have a small piece of plastic or other material in the capsule – referred to as a “ribbon”. The ribbon moves around when you talk into the microphone. The condenser has a faster response to the voice because it is so sensitive. Therefore, you may get better sound from a condenser over a dynamic – while a dynamic microphone can be easier to control on external sound.
Small or Large Condenser
Another factor to remember is the size of the condenser. A larger diaphragm condenser microphone will give you even more frequency range. A good example – let’s say you built your podcast studio like a recording studio: wood floors, wood and foam combination walls. The perfect acoustic mix that you want to share with the world. Larger diaphragm microphones will be able to pick up those acoustics in the recording. If you are recording at 24-bit 9600 Hz, your audio might be perfect (until you have to start compressing to MP3 levels).
Most Condenser microphones also need phantom power to run – either through using a battery in the microphone or by powering with an external box such as the ART USB Dual (which is also a great USB audio input device).
The Cheapest Microphones
Besides making your own microphone, the cheapest mics will most likely be dynamic. With that said, the cheapest dynamic microphone I found on B&H Photo and Video is the Pyle Pro PDMIK1 Moving Coil Dynamic Handheld Microphone at $2.98. I like to call these the “Mr. Microphone” models.
This handheld mic will give you sound but it might not be the best. These are microphones you might have for general use or high volume usage – even as a backup microphone. I have picked up several of these throughout my career and they usually get used once and put in the microphone bin.
Of course, I go by the old addage:
Microphones with a switch ain’t worth sh*t
– and old musicians proverb
The cheapest microphone that I will actually recommend to people is the Nady SP-5 handheld microphone at $10.49 each. I actually have 3-4 of these microphones and use them for simple mic situations. If I need to mic up a panel or have 2-3 instrumentalists come in to do a quick record, these mics do the job. They are also great practice microphones for bands.
Cheap Condenser Microphones
Interesting thing is condenser microphones used to be expensive. However, with new technologies that make parts smaller and better, condenser mics can be found for less than $30.
For this article, I looked for a condenser that looks like the studio microphones we’re used to. The Behringer C-1 at $42.98 was the first to come up. It’s got a 40 Hz to 20 kHz range (as opposed to the Nady, which has a 50Hz to 12 kHz range) which means it will pick up the high and low end of any vocal.
I have found a good condenser line is the MXL series 770 at $78.95 (I have the 990 series, which has been discontinued). You get this one with a shock mount to reduce external noise – which I highly recommend for any condenser mic.
Expensive Microphones – Do You Need them for Podcasting?
Some people swear by the Heil Pr-40 microphone for $315. If you watch TWIT.tv, you will see Bob Heil’s name all over the place. This microphone has a 28 Hz – 18 kHz range; which is very impressive for a dynamic microphone. A lot of people call this the ‘broadcaster microphone’. Another broadcaster mic (which you might see in a studio setup) is the Electo-Voice RE-20 for $449.00. This has a range of 45 Hz- 18 kHz.
Two good reasons to have a more expensive mics – 1. If you are recording things like musicians or one mic recording for multiple voices and 2. You record your shows planning to sell as Albums in the future. A good microphone for that will have a range around 15 Hz to 20 kHz – especially if its a mix of high and low vocals or instruments.
USB Mics Dynamic and Condenser
A lot of people have been touting the Audio Technica ATR-2100 USB is a good mic for simple podcasting. This microphone lets you connect via XLR or USB straight to computer. The ATR-2100 dynamic microphone has a 50 HZ – 15 kHz range and comes with all cables.
I have heard people talk about how much they love this microphone and those who have complained about its durability (breaking down within 30 days). I am personally on the fence with this microphone since I have not used it.
USB Bus – 16 bit and 24 bit
The Audio Technica ATR-2100 uses its own USB specs to record at 16-bit. Other USB devices can record up to 24 bit. Basically that means the number of bits the computer uses to capture audio. The higher the bitrate the better. USB 2.0 audio can go up to 24 bit, while other sources can capture up to 32 bit audio.
The best USB mic I can suggest is still the Blue Mic Snowball $59.99. This microphone has 3 sound positions to cut external noise. Blue Mic snowball also has a range of 40 Hz to 18 kHz. The microphone is a little bulky but can be set up for travel recording or be placed on its own shock mount and added to your studio.
Blue Microphones have other great mics in their portfolio – including the Yeti and newer Nessie mics. They also have the snowflake (which is portable but harder to position towards the mouth) and the Mickey for iPod and iPad devices.
What’s in Your Mic?
In an average week I will use several microphones. From the podcast studio, to my wireless Sony UWP-V6 (on Geekazine). I also have lav mics and the handheld mics like the Nady SP-5 I talked about earlier.
Each has their own need and use – from podcasting to music. Bottom line is I use all the microphones I own, which makes them all invaluable.