If you’re looking to get into audio recording, chances are you’ve shopped around for microphones. However, with so many options, it can be impossible to determine what a quality mic is and how much it should cost.
A good mic can cost an average of $500. The price is determined by your budget and intended use. Microphones come in a variety of types with unique specializations. It becomes only possible to get an accurate estimate by knowing what audio you want to capture.
The rest of this article will further explain topics related to this question, including different microphone types, their practical uses, and what makes a microphone good.
Types of Microphones and Their Average Costs
A microphone’s role is to convert incoming sound waves and vibrations into electrical signals. How they perform this job is determined by their inner components, which are also used to separate them into different categories.
Dynamic microphones are the toughest and most reliable microphones on the market. Dynamic mics are durable internally and externally, and they can cost up to $1000 or more, though you can probably get a decent one between $300 to $500.
Their components are strong enough not to overload at higher SPLs, and their outer parts have no problem with wear and tear from extended use.
Also, as the most affordable and available microphone type, they are effortless to replace if you wind up damaging or breaking one. The dynamic mic capsule features a Mylar diaphragm connected to a conductive coil. When acoustic energy comes in contact with the diaphragm, it causes the coil to move to create a charge.
Due to this magnetic coil design, dynamic mics are much less sensitive than other microphone types. This trait is essential for their ability to record loud sound sources like percussion instruments, guitar amps, and horns, as well as live performance vocals in noisier areas.
However, this lower sensitivity makes it hard for these mics to pick up softer noises or higher frequencies. Lower sensitivity also means these mics are just not as accurate as others on the market. When the captured audio is reproduced, it tends to be harsher and less natural.
Dynamic microphones typically use a unidirectional or cardioid polar pattern. A cardioid pattern will only pick up sound from the front of the microphone, ignoring audio from the sides and rear. This pattern lets you get focused audio to your source, even in a noisy room or space with poor acoustics.
This pattern is another reason they are commonly used for live music performances like concerts and festivals.
Condenser microphones are much more sensitive and sophisticated than most mics on the market. The average condenser microphone costs between $200 to $300, though high-end versions can cost more than ten thousand dollars.
While less versatile than dynamic microphones, Condenser mics are famous for their ability to reproduce audio clearly and accurately. This makes them the go-to mic for recording all types of vocal performances.
To create electrostatic energy, condenser mics utilize a two-metal plate system (one mobile and one fixed). As soundwaves hit the movable metal diaphragm, it changes its distance from the static plate, a process known as capacitance which produces a small amount of voltage.
However, because of this process, a condenser typically needs an external energy source. Through phantom power or phantom powering, they pull this charge from devices like audio interfaces, mixers, and computers.
Before purchasing a condenser mic, make sure your audio interface can offer your mic enough power (48V)
These components are where condenser mics get their high sensitivity. Their diaphragm gives these mics some of the best transient and frequency responses available, allowing them to capture the nuances of human speech.
They also work well for recording softer instruments like acoustic guitars and tambourines.
Although their sensitivity is excellent for capturing audio intricacies, they are not built to handle the harshness of louder noises. These mics are highly delicate and known to overload and distort in the presence of higher sound pressure levels. Not just internally, these mics are prone to damage and breaking if not handled properly.
Their superior accuracy and delicate parts also make them one of the most expensive microphones you can buy, another reason why they aren’t usually used for live events.
However, some cheaper condenser mics offer similar accuracy for a fraction of the price. These types of condensers typically use a USB cable instead XLR cables.
Another advantage of these mics is the wide range of polar patterns. No matter what pattern you prefer (cardioid, bidirectional or omnidirectional), you can find a condenser with the one you need. Many condenser mics change their polar pattern on the fly to match your current recording needs.
Condenser microphones come in various types. Their main distinction is the size of their diaphragm. Large-diaphragm condensers (1 inch/2.54 cm or larger) are more versatile with a well-rounded frequency, making them ideal for recording voices.
Small-diaphragm condensers (1/2 or smaller) have an easier time recreating higher-end frequencies, which makes it better for capturing instrumentation.
Ribbon microphones are a part of the dynamic microphone family, but with so many differences, they are typically put in their own category. Of the three styles, ribbon mics are considered the most sensitive and expensive.
On average, a ribbon mic can cost anywhere between $80 to $3000, with the average cost being about $1000. The more expensive varieties can reach up to $10000.
Popularized in the 50s, they are sought out today by those who want to recreate that iconic retro sound.
Ribbon microphones use an elongated rectangular aluminum-based diaphragm with a pair of magnets. As incoming sound waves hit the diaphragm, it vibrates, producing an electrical charge or voltage. They are unrivaled in their ability to recreate natural and precise recordings.
A ribbon microphone’s frequency response matches a human’s hearing range, which is why vocals and even instruments sound more precise and natural.
However, they are even more sensitive and delicate than condenser mics, which requires extreme caution. Their high sensitivity plus price point typically makes them unusable for live performances.
In terms of polar pattern, most ribbon mics have a bi-directional (figure 8) design. These types of patterns limit sound waves from the sides of the microphone, focusing on sources from the front and rear of the device.
Although they can be used for home recording, they are typically found in professional recording studios. These rooms are generally acoustically treated, giving them advantages from their bi-recreational polar pattern. A proper studio allows you to safely position and protect the mic to avoid damage and increase longevity.
How Much Should You Pay for a Microphone?
How much you should pay for a microphone is determined by its type, quality, intended use, and personal budget. These factors will affect a mics price and the jobs it is meant to perform.
What Determines Quality
Before you can find an accurate price for a good microphone, it’s essential to understand what makes a mic “good’.
Microphones are separated by their components and how they convert sound into electrical signals. This means quality is determined by the condition of these components and how well they reproduce audio.
A quality microphone is precise and balanced. A good microphone should accurately capture the sound of vocals and instruments without producing any unwanted noise or distortion in the recording.
A quality microphone should also be built to last and be easy to use. Even with extensive use, a good mic can last years with proper care and quality components.
Limiting damaging factors like heat, dust, gravity, and physical trauma significantly increases your microphone lifespan. It is also recommended you invest in a reliable mic stand and take the time to store your microphone’s when it’s not being used.
More expensive microphones typically come with higher-quality components and more accurate sound quality, making investing a good idea if you have the budget. However, you can still get solid performance and longevity from a cheaper mic.
No matter what type of microphone you choose, you must test its functionality if you have the chance. You can get a working idea of the microphone’s capabilities using an audio interface, recording software, test mic, or online test tool. If you cannot test your potential microphone, take a look at reviews or stick to more trustworthy brands.
However, before you can begin accurately testing, you must know what types of audio you plan to record. As different applications will require different degrees of durability and sound quality.
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Microphones are incredibly versatile devices used by many professionals, such as musicians, actors, podcast/radio hosts, and content creators.
Different microphones are built for these various applications, and picking the right one depends on the type of audio you plan to record and the environment you’ll be recording in
Matching the most optimal microphone with your specific intended application will enhance the quality of your audio and make a significant difference in your experience and your audience.
Before you genuinely understand what microphones work best for what activities, you need a clear understanding of polar patterns.
As mentioned, polar patterns determine the direction from which a microphone is most sensitive. The most common polar patterns are cardioid, hyper/super cardioid, bidirectional, and omnidirectional.
The cardioid pattern has a heart shape (how it gets its name) and is the most common pattern available. They focus on sound waves from the front of the device while limiting noise from the sides and rear. These mics are typically used when you only want to record one source.
Figure-of-eight or bi-directional polar patterns are shaped like an eight and have some of the most natural sound capture available. These microphones ignore audio from the sides of the device while focusing on the front and rear. This allows them to pick up not only the primary audio source but the ambiance of the room as well.
Omnidirectional patterns are shaped like a perfect sphere capturing acoustic energy from all sides of the microphone. They offer the most natural and realistic audio on the market and are ideal for incorporating the area’s sound into the recording or recording multiple people simultaneously.
Hyper-cardioid and super-cardioid polar patterns are a type of cardioid shape with an even stricter focus. They are even better at picking up sound from the front of the mic while ignoring even more noise from the sides and rear.
Now with a solid understanding of polar patterns, let’s discuss some specific applications.
Much like traditional radio, a good microphone for podcasting does a great job of picking the nuances in human speech.
Besides the information itself, sound quality is often the biggest draw for any size podcast. If your audience is going to sit through hours of your content, they typically want it to be free of distortion and feedback.
For yourself, if you’re pouring time in money into your passion, you should want the best quality to can achieve. For these reasons, you should use a condenser or dynamic microphone.
A condenser is designed to reproduce clear and natural audio, focusing on human speech. Whit a condenser mic, you can ensure your audio is clean and free of any distortion allowing your audience to hear you. They also come in various polar patterns making it easy to find and match your show’s needs.
Affordable condensers are typically USB-based, meaning you can begin recording quickly by simply plugging it into your laptop or PC.
Dynamic mics are also a good choice because they are tough and cheap. They also make audio a lot brighter for a more radio-like sound. However, these microphones lack the sound quality you get from a condenser.
As with podcasting, condenser microphones are often the best for streamers as they offer high sound quality and USB-based options. This allows you to plug your microphone directly into your streaming device without needing extra hardware.
However, a dynamic microphone could be the better option if you’re prone to screaming or plan to stream live instruments.
If you still need help deciding what mic is best for intended use, this video breaks down some of the best and most affordable options.
How you should pay for a good microphone comes down to a few significant factors.
- The type of microphone
- Your intended application
- Your set budget
Matching the right microphone style and polar pattern with your specific needs and price range is the only way to estimate how much a good mic will cost.
- Higher Hz: The 3 main types of microphones (with subtypes) and their best uses
- Synaptic Sound: What is SPL in Audio?
- Popsci: Different types of microphones and when to use them: The shape of things to come
- Mynewmicrophone.com: How Much Do Microphones Cost? (With Pricing Examples)
- Britannica: capacitance
- Home Studio Expert: Best Condenser Mic Under $200
- Music Mayhem: 4 Ways To Test The Quality Of Your Mic
- Gear4music: MICROPHONE POLAR PATTERNS – EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
- YouTube: The Best Microphone for Your Budget – Cheap to Pro
- CostHelper Electronics: How Much Does a Microphone Cost?
- Improve Podcast: How much does a dynamic microphone cost?
- The Podcast Host: The Best Podcast Microphones for All Abilities and Budgets
- JZ Microphones: Is It Worth It? Essential Things To Know About Microphones Price Ranges
- Producer Hive: 4 types of microphones and polar patterns
- Mynewmicrophone.com: Do Microphones Wear Out? And If So, How?
- Joey Sturgis Tones: How To Make A Cheap Mic Sound Good
- Podcast Rocket: How Much is a Mic? (A Complete Guide)
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