I am frequently asked, “How Much Do Microphones Cost?” The simple answer to that is anything between a few dollars and time to sell the car. There are probably better questions to ask before you get that far. They might be, ‘What am I going to use it for?’ And, “How much do I want to spend?” The answers to both will have a profound impact on what you choose.
Is It Better to Spend More?
Not at all. Again I will repeat. It depends on what you are going to use it for. It wouldn’t be a good idea to spend thousands on a Neumann, AKG, or a Sennheiser if you want a mic to make podcast videos in the rain.
What you are going to use it for must be the first question to answer. Then once you have identified that, you can decide how much. There will be dozens to choose from in every category that I will look at. Some good, some excellent, and some, let’s be polite, awful.
But just because one costs more than another doesn’t always make it better. Or perhaps more to the point, more suitable. So, let’s get started by trying to make some sense of the first question.
What Are You Going to Use It For?
There are many reasons why you need to buy a microphone. And the first thing you need to do is be realistic about its use. Let’s look a bit deeper into some of the environments where you might need your mic.
Professional Recording Studios
Let’s start this section by saying we won’t be spending much time in this area. If you own a professional studio, it is unlikely you will be reading this article. You will know exactly what you want to use it for. How much it is likely to cost and where to get it. Moving on…
Amateur Recording Studios
There are a few mic requirements here. Do you want it for vocals? How about micing up instruments? Are you recording kick drums, guitar, or bass amps? If so, you will need a specific mic that can handle a high SPL. Vocal mics are probably not the best choice.
What about adding a mic for drums in general, perhaps overheads or close to the snare or toms? Or possibly for an acoustic piano?
You might be on a budget, and you are looking for the most versatile microphone that can handle a number of different sound sources. They are out there. But while they might be a “jack of all trades,” they are likely to be “master of none.” If you buy a mic to cover all options, you may be sacrificing quality in some areas.
Home Recording Studios
This is where you are likely to need a mic “for all seasons.” In many ways, looking for a mic that can handle various applications at this level gets a bit easier. I am going to assume your studio is at home, and you won’t be recording live drums. You may or may not be recording bass or guitar amps. But they are unlikely to be turned up to the max.
Essentially that leaves us with a limited number of instruments. There might be a violin or flute or anything in between. There are a lot of mics that can handle that in varying degrees of quality.
But, the number one use will likely be vocals. If so, there are some great vocal microphones that will do a very good job. And you will be pleased to know that some are not that expensive. An added plus is that most of the mics that you might choose for vocals could also do a decent job with instruments.
Indoor Podcasts and Interviews
The number of people that now have internet channels has grown to incalculable numbers. Podcasts, YouTube videos with commentary, personal views channels, etc., have gone through the roof. And if those channels are accompanied by speech or narration, the provider will need a mic.
If you are just using your voice, then the mic you will need can be quite a simple affair with not too much in the way of bells and whistles. If you are at home or the environment is indoors, a basic mic will suffice.
What might be worth considering is whether it will be a microphone for interviews or group chats. Then you will have to pay attention to the Polar Pattern, or how the mic collects the sound. I will be looking at that a bit later.
Recording to a computer will require an interface, or you could buy a USB mic that plugs straight in. I will also deal with that in a later section.
Mics with a built-in “pop’ filter”
This will attempt to remove plosives that naturally occur in speech. It is almost certain that to get a good recording; you will need an external filter. But they are inexpensive.
These mics are good at performing this task, but they will not be so good for some other applications. As an example, they won’t work well if you want them to double up as a vocal mic in a studio. They will also be vulnerable outside. Let’s take a look at that.
Outdoor Podcasts and Interviews
Nearly all of what we have said for indoors will apply to those recording outdoors. However, there are a couple of major extra considerations. Being outside, the elements come into play. You will need to do all you can to protect the sound against the wind, rain, external noises, and possibly crowd noise.
You can get foam covers that are not particularly helpful or fur “gloves” or ‘dead cats’ as we affectionately call them in the industry. But they will only cut out so much. It is where you might need to consider the Polar Pattern and the quality of the mic a little more carefully.
Once again, you will be looking for a mic dedicated to this kind of activity. It will work inside, of course. You can get a mic that will cover both indoor and outdoor activities. However, it is likely to be more expensive than just the indoor-only version. That is understandable considering what you need it for so you don’t buy something you will not need.
Clip-On Interview Mic for TV or Video
If you are going to be using the mic for a formal interviewing process, then you do not want a mic sitting in front of the target source’s face. In that case, you will require a Lavalier mic. This is sometimes called a Clip-on mic.
It is designed to be attached to the clothing of your source and to be unobtrusive. The quality won’t be as good as most handheld mics. But we are talking about convenience and practicality, which in some cases are more important. This is a mic that has only one purpose. To be attached to the target source for an interview, and that is all.
Mics with a Computer or USB Input
I mentioned mics that are used for podcasts, interviews and outside broadcasts, etc. Some have USB connections that go straight to the computer. These are mics that can enjoy multiple uses.
Podcasts, interviews, and all associated activity with people’s private channels would naturally be included. But you can also add on some basic home studio recording activities. At a low level, they are usable for vocals and even for some instruments.
They offer options
The recording quality will not be as good as many of the XLR mics that do the same job. But there is a convenience factor to it. Also, if you want a mic that can handle various activities, then they might be worth considering. They are certainly a lot cheaper than most decent XLR mics and will save you from the expense and hassle of buying an interface.
So I hope by now that you have a clear picture of what you need your mic for. Let’s take a brief look at what mics there are for you to consider and answer the question, “How much do microphones cost?”
Types of Microphones
1 – Dynamic Microphones
These mics have great versatility and are ideal microphones for general use. The design is simple, and they have very few moving parts. Therefore, they can endure some rough handling. They are usually better suited to handle high SPLs.
There is no internal amplifier, and they don’t require any external power or batteries. These mics are therefore passive. However, there are a small number of “Active Dynamic” mics. However, Active Dynamic mics need a power supply.
2 – Ribbon Microphones
A ribbon mic is a form of a dynamic mic. Instead of having a diaphragm and a moving coil, it has a very thin strip of metal that’s suspended in a powerful magnetic field.
Do they add anything?
They are great for capturing dynamic performances and where you need accuracy. You’ll get clear highs and very defined bass sounds. Furthermore, they can give the recording a slightly dark feeling. Some prefer that. However, they can be a bit vulnerable and fragile and need to be handled carefully. Studio use only, and even then with care.
3 – Condenser Microphones
Condenser mics are probably not the sort of mic you might give to Roger Daltrey for a live gig. Not if you wanted it back in one piece anyway. They are largely studio and home microphones.
They can record in great detail and are great for working acoustic guitars, certain parts of a drum kit, and acoustic pianos. Likewise, they are better at recording vocals as they collect more detail. They are, therefore, a great mic for the studio.
The dynamic mic features a ‘heavy’ moving coil. Condenser mics do not and can therefore track the sound waves in a more defined fashion. However, they do need external power, often referred to as Phantom Power.
There are two main types of condenser microphones…
Large Diaphragm Condenser
As the name suggests, it has a larger diaphragm. This has advantages in some areas. Good for vocals and voice-overs, they are highly sensitive and offer a warm sound. You can sometimes pick up a decent budget range Large Diaphragm Condenser mic.
Small Diaphragm Condenser
These have a very smooth transient response which makes them good to use with acoustic pianos, acoustic guitars, drum overheads, choirs, and strings. They produce a very neutral sound and have a wider frequency response. They produce a high-quality recording but don’t try and get one on too small a budget.
5 – Electret Microphones
The Electret is a Condenser mic that has a permanent charge. All mics have a pair of charged plates to operate. Condenser mics usually need an extra voltage to make the diaphragm work. With the Electret mic, this is built-in.
6 – Lavalier Microphones
I have already mentioned these clip-on alternatives. Normally only suitable for one application, as I mentioned, but James Taylor’s legendary acoustic guitar sound was created using one, and you can hang one near a kick drum beater if you really want to get the sound of it. Small and quite delicate. They fulfill a function if that is the only kind of mic you will need.
7 – Shotgun Microphones
These are normally used for recording sound at the same time as video and are widely used when filming movies and TV shows. They are very focused and capture dialogue well with limited bleed, which is obviously important for movie soundtracks.
However, creative uses have been found for them in recording studios, so always experiment; the wrong microphone in the right place could produce just the sound you are looking for.
8 – USB Microphones
Again a mic I have briefly looked at. The USB mic is a recent member of the microphone family. Designed for use with a computer, they serve a very convenient function. However, as mentioned, until the technology improves, the quality is not as good as the better XLR mics.
I’ll finish this discussion about what mic you might need with a look at Polar Patterns. You will need to select a mic with the right Polar pattern to get the best results for whatever you are recording. So, let’s see what the options are…
1 – Cardioid
This will pick up sound from straight in front of the mic while limiting what is collected from the sides and rear. It is known as a directional pattern because it can be pointed in the direction of the sound source.
Great for vocals in a studio and for recording some instruments, it is also very good as a mic for a solo presenter. It has the added advantage of reducing any natural reverb in an untreated studio room. Probably the most common polar pattern you will see.
2 – Omnidirectional
This pattern collects the sound equally from all around the mic. They are the most common patterns for Lavalier clip-on mics. Good for recording a group discussion with several people around a table. However, you won’t get the quality that you would get if each had a separate mic.
They are also excellent for recording ambient noises for documentaries/soundtracks or if you need the sound of a room when recording, for example, a drumkit or an acoustic piano.
3 – SuperCardioid
This will make the area of sound collection at the front much narrower. However, it does make the mic slightly more sensitive to any sound from behind it.
4 – Hyper-cardioid
A more extreme version of the SuperCardioid. The sound collection area at the front is now very narrow. But again, it creates even more sound space behind the mic.
5 – Shotgun
These are used in filming, as I’ve said. They are often long and thin in design and are made to point at a sound source that might be some distance away.
6 – Figure of Eight
Sometimes called bi-directional. This pattern will pick up sound equally from the back and front of the mic whilst rejecting sound from the sides.
They are often used for one-to-one interviews, but they are also superb for recording backing vocals with both singers looking at each other and singing through the same mic, optimizing both the ability to harmonize together and the feel of the track.
Why Are Some Mics So Expensive?
Companies need to make money. Simple fact. Some of them don’t need to make as much as they do, but that’s another discussion. So, when someone asks, “how much do microphones cost?” you need to consider the quality and the extras.
Included in the price of a mic will be all the business costs plus a few extras. Those extras include research and development. The better mic manufacturers will spend a lot on that. Product testing is also a factor, to make sure it is perfect when it gets to you. And finally, the “name.”
You are going to pay far more for a Neumann than you would for a “Joe Bloggs” special. One has a name, and you are paying a premium for that. With the name, though, usually comes a quality product. I would argue that the price is usually realistic when you consider what you are getting, even at the top end.
Will You Need Accessories?
We have already mentioned a pop filter. You will certainly need one of those, whatever you use the mic for. If you are outdoors, you may need even more extra protection.
And what about a stand? In the studio, that could be an ordinary stand or a boom arm. This needs to be stable and secure. You don’t want your new mic crashing to the floor. Check out our reviews of the Best Microphone Stands for some quality recommendations.
Some mics, especially the USB variety, might come with a tripod or a base stand. If not, you will need to consider what you need for the mic to fulfill its function. Even for applications based at home, you are going to need a secure stand that will do its job. The exceptions are the Lavalier which is a clip-on, and the Shotgun, which usually fits onto the camera.
As for cables, again, there is a massive choice, but to help you narrow it down, take a look at our review of the Best XLR Cables for Microphones currently on the market.
So, Exactly How Much Do Microphones Cost?
What feels like a week ago, I asked the second question. But to get here, you needed to grasp the basics and understand exactly what it is you are after. Now we can look at the costs.
It is not possible to a complete list of the various price ranges for each category. First of all, there are too many to consider, and secondly, they will fluctuate by location and circumstance. Expect to pay top money for a quality studio mic. Tube and Ribbon mics could set you back over $5000. Especially the vintage ones.
You can get great dynamic mics from $100 and up. A good condenser mic is maybe $150 and up. Lavalier and USB mics are considerably cheaper but have limited user options. Having identified what sort of mic you need, you can set yourself a budget. There will be plenty to choose from.
I have highlighted a few below.
- Shure SM58-LC Cardioid Dynamic Vocal Microphone
- Sennheiser E614 Super-Cardioid Condenser Microphone
- Rode Lavalier GO Professional-Grade Wearable Microphone
- Blue Yeti USB Mic for Recording & Streaming on PC and Mac
In the real world
I’d like to bring this article to a close by mentioning a recording session that should confirm that the cost of a microphone is not the most important factor.
Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins was doing a microphone shootout which is common when major bands are making major records. In the shootout were 20 microphones ranging from 20,000 dollar vintage Neumann U47s and 67s, through AKG C2’s an original 414’s down to more humble but still respected microphones.
He sang a few lines of a verse of a song through each of the mics, and then all the takes were blind compared to see which microphone sounded the best with his voice. The winner was a $99 Shure SM58, not a 20,000 dollar vintage dream microphone.
This is only one example; I could list many more; in fact, Bono from U2, Chris Martin from Coldplay, and Trent Rezner from Nine Inch Nails regularly record in the studio with SM58s, so price really has nothing to do with it. Therefore, choose the microphone that brings out something special in your voice, not the one with the highest price tag.
Need a Great Microphone?
We have a wide selection to choose from. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Lavalier Microphones, the Best Wireless Microphones, the Best Dynamic Microphones, the Best Microphones For YouTube, the Best Microphones For Gaming, and the Best Computer Microphones, and the Best USB Microphones you can buy in 2021.
Also, have a look at our comprehensive reviews of the Best Interview Microphones, the Best Live Vocal Mics, the Best Microphones For Recording Electric Guitar, the Best Shure Microphones, the Best XLR Microphones, the Best Condenser Mics Under $200, and the Best External Microphones For iPhone currently available.
How Much Do Microphones Cost – Final Thoughts
Now it is time to make the choices, and this is going to be the hard part. There are so many to choose from. But if you are clear in your mind what you want it for and you have a set budget, you can narrow it down.
There are some very good options available, and you shouldn’t have any problems finding the microphone that works best for you. Likewise, you should be able to find one that fits your budget.
Until next time, make yourself heard.