If you want to make recordings you’ll need a microphone – and there are many out there to choose from. In the first of a multi-part series MusicTech’s resident mic expert Huw Price looks at the most popular condensers and guides you through what to look for and the best ones out there, whatever’s in your wallet…
In this first installment we’ll round up the top five budget mics, if you’re on a tight budget You’d be surprised by what you can get for your money…
Price £89 Contact Audio-Technica 0113 277 1441
At 16mm, the diaphragm in this microphone falls somewhere between small and large, but the side-fire body means we can include it here. The capsule is also a permanently charged back-electret rather than a traditional condenser. There aren’t any pad or HPF switches, but the AT2020 can handle an impressive 144dB SPL.
The sound quality is impressive, with a negligible noise floor and very healthy output level. The high frequencies have a crisp and sweet sparkle that adds a degree of presence, but not in any artificial way. The midrange is very well defined – there are no obvious colourations – and the bass is solid.
Price £159 Contact Life Long Music via website
This nine-pattern valve microphone is sold under a huge variety of names. The Alctron HST-11A comes straight from the factory and it’s the cheapest and best ‘stock’ version to buy. Loosely based on the AKG C12, the HST-11A features a 12AX7 valve preamp, transformer-balanced output and ships with a windshield, power supply, suspension mount and interconnect cable.
Although coloured in a valvey sort of way, the HST-11A is a match for many more expensive valve condensers. Commonly used for DIY upgrades that range from cheap and easy to expensive and delicate, this microphone can sound amazing.
Price £179 Contact Musictrack 01767 313447
A fixed-cardioid with a dual-diaphragm 32mm capsule. Unusually, the diaphragms are mismatched to create a dual sonic signature. The front houses a ‘bright-sounding’ six-micron diaphragm, and there’s a ‘warm’ eight-micron diaphragm at the back. You can switch from one to the other and there are HPF and 6dB attenuation switches, too. The output is transformer-balanced. The effect of the voicing switch is fairly subtle, yielding a hint of extra sheen in the high frequencies in ‘bright’ mode. Even so, the V67i is a capable all-rounder, though some may consider the 150Hz HPF frequency point slightly high.
Price £149 Contact Source Distribution 020 8962 5080
Australia-based mic-maker Røde was among the very first company to enter the fledgling budget condenser market, with a U87 lookalike called the NT2. The fixed-cardioid NT1-A is a substantially upgraded version of Røde’s entry-level classic that comes with a metal shockmount and zip-up pouch. A gold-sputtered one-inch diaphragm feeds a transformerless JFET preamp; frequency range is quoted as 20Hz–20kHz.
Regarded as an all-round recording mic with a bright sonic signature, plenty of treble detail, defined low end and a slight boost in the upper bass, it can handle SPLs up to 137dB and has an impressively low noise floor.
sE Electronics X1
Price £119 Contact Sonic Distribution 0845 500 2500
Finished with an unusual black rubber coating, the sE X1 is a fine-looking microphone. It’s not sold with a suspension mount but sE Electronics does offer one that’s suitable. The upside is a switchable 10dB attenuation pad and switchable bass roll-off starting at about 600Hz.
Sensitivity isn’t amazing but the noise floor is very low. Test recordings revealed a very detailed sonic character with surprisingly little midrange colouration and a nice tinselly top end that’s bright but not edgy or harsh. Slightly lean low mids were our only reservation.