When it comes to capturing audio at home, there are normally two things on the musician’s mind: budget and quality.
If you’ve already spent hundreds of dollars on a laptop, mac, or PC, and an interface, then you might not have a large amount of money to spend on a microphone.
The good news is that there are microphones for all price ranges on the market these days. I’m going to go through what are considered the studio ‘staples’, if you will, that you will see in EVERY studio in the world. From here I will suggest a reasonably priced option, and you can then search for expensive or cheap alternatives.
1. Dynamic Microphone
If you have a dynamic microphone, you can record anything. It should be the first type of microphone anyone purchases for general studio use. They are rugged and have a reasonably flat response curve with a dip below 100hz. They have a strong diaphragm which can take loud impacts from instrument sources. This makes them a solid all-rounder for most instrument sources. They are commonly used for recording loud and transient strong instruments, like guitars and drums. They are also commonly used in live situations for vocals. Not the friendliest for deep instruments like bass, but will still capture any signal you pump in.
The staple: Shure SM57
These are all but indestructible. There’s a video online of someone using one as a hammer. They retail for $200AUD for the real thing. If you find one second hand, be 99% confident that despite looking beaten half to death, it will work. Online there are also cheaper clone alternatives for as low as $39AUD from Behringer.
2. Large Diaphragm Condenser
These are the large, fancy looking mics that most studios will have on their home webpage. Yes I am guilty of this. No, I do not care. There’s a reason that they are large and look fancy. It’s because they capture sounds more naturally than their dynamic counterparts. They don’t have as much of a dramatic low-frequency roll off, and are flatter throughout their response curve, generally speaking. These are the weapon of choice for producers worldwide to capture vocals because of their natural frequency response. These mics are more sensitive to transients though and have a wide dynamic range… so maybe don’t put one on a snare drum.
The staple: Rode NT1-A (or any other variant from Rode)
This is a classic large diaphragm condenser that won’t break the bank. Brand new with accessories, it will set you back a little under $300AUD. This is well worth it for the extremely low noise floor and high sensitivity, so it can pick up every little detail that’s going on around it. Consider purchasing some noise isolation. And don’t wear noisy clothing because it WILL pick up every rustle and breath. You can keep breathing, just… be quiet and all that.
3. Small Diaphragm Condenser
Another workhorse of the studio, the small diaphragm condenser. These are like the large diaphragm condensers, except… say it with me now… they’re smaller. The same way small speakers struggle to reproduce low frequencies because of their size, small mics struggle for the same reason. This makes small diaphragm mics excellent for transient-heavy signals, or delicate orchestral instruments. Think: acoustic guitars, hi-hats, drum cymbals, woodwinds, string instruments – anything where detail matters.
The staple: Rode M5 (I swear I’m not sponsored)
These are sold in matched pairs. HOW GOOD!
This makes it convenient to capture stereo sources, like drum overheads, easily with one purchase. These are neutral sounding, with a bit of a low end roll off. They can be bought for around $200AUD, which is excellent for the pair. They have high end clarity without the shrill nature of other microphones in this price range.