When developing an interest in audio recording, people tend to want to start recording their voices. The first logical question typically has to do with microphone choice. In this article, we’ll go over (in a sort of beginner’s guide sort of way) the best budget microphones for recording vocals that cost less than $150.
My New Microphone’s top 11 best microphones under $150 for recording vocals are:
- Avantone CK-6
- Neat Microphones King Bee
- AKG P220
- sE Electronics X1
- Audio-Technica AT2035
- Audio-Technica AT2020
- MXL 770
- Behringer C-1
- Marantz Professional MPM-2000U
- Blue Yeti
- Shure SM58
- Shure SM57
Note that these microphones are by no means the best microphones on the market for recording vocals (many of the top-performing studio mics exceed $10,000!). However, this list of microphones are budget-friendly and will yield great results considering their price points.
With that introduction to the list, let’s quickly go over the criteria of great budget mics for vocal recording before we dive into the list.
What Makes A Microphone Excel At Recording Vocals?
It’s important to preface this article by stating that the best vocal microphone for one vocalist may not be the best for another vocalist. In fact, this is more often the case than not.
At lower price points, this matters a bit less since we’re just trying to capture a clean and clear vocal. However, it’s still best practice to listen critically to different microphones in order to choose the best mic to suit the vocalist in question.
With all that being said, there are a few key specifications we should focus on when searching for a proper budget studio vocal mic. They are:
- Frequency response
- Transient response
- Price point
Let’s look into each of these specs in greater detail:
A microphone’s frequency response refers to the frequency-dependent sensitivity of a microphone and is an important factor in accentuating certain vocal characteristics while pulling back others. Although highly subjective, there are frequency response traits that are often advantageous to have when recording vocals. Let’s discuss these now:
- Flat frequency response: A flat frequency response is best for capturing vocals in the most accurate way possible. This is great for capturing clean vocals with large ranges in pop and classical recordings.
- Gentle high-end roll-off: A darker coloured mic can actually benefit many aspects of vocal recording including the reduction of sibilance and overall harshness (especially with digital recording). Darker mics will also help to balance brighter vocals in a mix.
- Presence boost: a slight boost in the presence range (3 – 6 kHz) accentuates much of speech intelligibility, helping vocals pop out in a dense mix like in rock, EDM, pop and classical.
- Sibilance dip: a slight dip in the sibilance range (5 – 8 kHz), which overlaps the upper end of the presence range, will help to further reduce the harshness in the vocal signal. This is helpful for particularly sibilant voices.
- Low-end roll-off or a high-pass filter: removing the low-end of the vocals effectively removes low-end rumble for the vocal signal while also helping to minimize the proximity effect.
For everything you need to know about microphone frequency response, check out my article Complete Guide To Microphone Frequency Response (With Mic Examples).
Transients are short peaks in sound wave amplitude. They are most obviously found at the initial hit of percussion instruments but can be found in nearly all sound sources including vocals.
A microphone’s transient response refers to the accuracy of the mic diaphragm and how closely the mic represents the subtleties and nuances of the sound wave’s pressure variation.
WIth cleaner vocals, a faster (more accurate) transient response is often preferred. As for musical genres, this could be pop, classical, rap and jazz (sometimes), though accuracy is typically a good thing in any genre.
With dirtier vocals, a slower (more compressed-sounding) transient response may be advantageous. These genres include rock, metal and jazz (sometimes).
For more information on microphone transient response, check out my article What Is Microphone Transient Response & Why Is It Important?
Different vocalists and vocal styles will benefit from different microphone sensitivities.
Vocals usually benefit from higher sensitivity microphones. However, it’s crucial that the environment (recording booth, room, etc.) is properly treated or else the mic will pick up the unwanted room characteristics.
Condenser microphones generally have high sensitivity ratings.
On a tight budget, it may not be possible to acoustically treat your space and so a microphone with a lower sensitivity rating may actually be a better choice for recording vocals and other instruments.
Louder vocal style (particularly in hard rock and metal genres) tend to benefit from lower mic sensitivities.
Dynamic microphones typically have low sensitivity ratings.
To learn more about microphone sensitivity, check out my article What Is Microphone Sensitivity? An In-Depth Description.
The price point is very important in this article since we’re discussing the top 12 best microphones under $150 for recording vocals. The price points for this article are taken at retail (brand new microphone) and in USD currency.
To learn more about microphone price points, check out my article How Much Do Microphones Cost? (With Pricing Examples).
Best Microphone Types For Recording Vocals
When we see studio vocal microphones, they are typically either:
- Tube condenser microphones
- FET (solid-state) condenser microphones
- Dynamic microphones
Let’s have a look at each of these types in more detail:
Tube Condenser Microphones & Recording Vocals
Many of the greatest studio vocal microphones (and microphones in general) are tube condensers.
Tube mics often have a warm and smooth character that adds weight and presence to vocals. Many of them sound amazing on vocals due to their smooth presence and sibilance frequency responses. These ranges are eminant in vocal clarity and intelligibility.
These mics often have a “darker” character due to their high-end roll-offs. Vocals also benefit greatly from the high-end roll-offs common to tube mics, especially when used to record digitally. Digital audio is cherished for its clean and accurate nature but is scorned for often being overly sterile and bright. Tube mics help to reduce the brightness and harshness of vocals.
Tube microphones are relatively expensive and it’s unlikely you’ll find a quality tube mic for under $150. For this reason, you won’t find any tube mics on this list.
To learn more about tube microphones, check out my article What Is A Tube Microphone And How Do Tube Mics Work?
FET Condenser Microphones & Recording Vocals
FET (solid-state) condenser microphones are the modern go-tos for studios vocal mics.
Solid-state mics tend to be accurate and transparent but often lack the character of tube mics.
The downside of being so accurate is that FET condensers can sometimes output overly harsh/bright signals which could negatively represent the vocal.
For more information on FET condenser microphones, check out my articles What Is A Solid-State Microphone? (With Mic Examples) and What Are FETs & What Is Their Role In Microphone Design?
Dynamic Microphones & Recording Vocals
Dynamic (moving-coil and ribbon) microphones usually perform poorly on vocals compared to condensers. However, cheap condensers are notoriously harsh and bright and so, at under $150, a dynamic mic may be your best bet when recording vocals.
The coloured frequency responses of dynamic mics benefit certain harder vocal types and harder musical genres.
Moving-coil dynamics often offer presence boosts that help to accentuate vocal intelligibility. This makes up for their typical high and low-end roll-offs (which may also benefit noise reduction in the vocal signal.
Ribbon microphones are not typically used in studios to record vocals but do offer natural-sound high-end roll-offs and a great splash of sonic colour to vocals. Note that quality ribbon microphones are relatively expensive so, like the tube mics, no ribbon microphones have made this under $150 list.
For more information on dynamic microphones (both moving-coil and ribbon), check out the following My New Microphone articles, respectively: Moving-Coil Dynamic Microphones: The In-Depth Guide and Dynamic Ribbon Microphones: The In-Depth Guide.
A Note On USB Microphones
$150 in the audio world is a very low budget.
Budgeting is difficult when building a recording environment for scratch. Many beginners record on their laptops with minimal gear. Microphones, by nature, are analog devices and do not simply plug into digital computers with an audio interface.
So on a tighter budget, a USB microphone (which has a built-in analog-to-digital converter interface) may very well be the best bet. With a USB mic there’s no need for an external audio interface. The mic plugs directly into the computer via USB and acts as its own interface.
For more information on USB microphones and audio interfaces, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• Top 9 Best USB Microphones (Streaming, PC Audio, Etc.)
• Best USB Microphones For Recording Podcasts
• What Are Audio Interfaces & Why Would A Microphone Need One?
• Best Microphone Audio Interfaces
The Top 12 Best Microphones Under $150 For Recording Vocals
The following is a list of My New Microphone’s top 12 best microphones under $150 for recording vocals:
- Avantone CK-6
- Neat Microphones King Bee
- AKG P220
- sE Electronics X1
- Audio-Technica AT2035
- Audio-Technica AT2020
- MXL 770
- Behringer C-1
- Marantz Professional MPM-2000U
- Blue Yeti
- Shure SM58
- Shure SM57
Let’s get into each of these mics in greater detail.
1. Avantone CK-6
The Avantone CK-6 is a large-diaphragm FET condenser microphone with a cardioid polar pattern. It is arguably the best microphone on the market for capturing studio-grade vocals at such an affordable price.
Avantone’s CK-6 Classic has a durable design and a sonically pleasing character. It captures vocals cleanly and smoothly without the dreaded high-end brittleness common amongst cheap condenser microphones.
This microphone has both a -10 dB pad and an 80 Hz low-end roll-off switch for added versatility when it comes to recording various vocalists.
Loud vocals benefit from the pad while the 80 Hz filter helps to remove low-end rumble; thin low-pitched vocals, and reduce the proximity effect when recording close to the mic.
The Avantone CK-6 comes with its own custom retro-style cats cradle shock mount to help mechanically isolate it from mechanical vibrations and noise. This helps tremendously in improving the clarity of the signal and is included in the already low cost.
For its price, the Avantone CK-6 is rarely outdone when it comes to recording crisp and clear vocals.
2. Neat Microphones King Bee
Coming in second place in the Neat Microphones King Bee. This large-diaphragm solid-state condenser microphone has a remarkable look and clean sound.
When recording vocals, precision is often preferred over character and with the King Bee, this is what you’ll get. This mic is transparent and clean and outperforms many of its companions at this price point.
The Neat Microphones King Bee comes with its own custom pop filter and shock mount for full use right out of the box. These accessories are essential to capturing the best possible vocal with this boldly-styled microphone.
Neat Microphones was established by the same founders of the well-respected Blue Microphones company.
3. AKG P220
The AKG P220 is the only externally-polarized “true” condenser microphone on this list.
Though not a major factor, some would argue that externally-polarized capsules outperform electret (pre-polarized) capsules. Although this used to be the case in early electret material, it really isn’t a big factor in modern mics.
The AKG P220 is a relatively smooth microphone compared to its contemporaries. Its accurate transient and frequency responses allow it to capture vocals with precision. I’m fully confident recommending this microphone as a budget option to record vocals with.
The AKG P220 features a switchable 20 dB attenuation pad and bass roll-off switch and comes with its own shock mount for improved mechanical isolation.
4. sE Electronics X1 A
The sE Electronics X1 A is the entry-level microphone in sE’s X1 line of microphones. This large-diaphragm condenser microphone features a 20 dB pad and a high-pass filter at 100 Hz.
This brilliant microphone offers clean precision at a very affordable price point and works amazingly well on the majority of vocal types. This mic performs above its class with incredible transient speed, accuracy, and a well-balanced frequency response that doesn’t overaccentuate the brightness of the vocal.
The X1 A comes with a built-in windscreen and a custom swivel mic clip and thread adapter to fit with any mic stand. However, I would still recommend using a pop filter with the mic when recording vocals. I’ll also note that the clip is perhaps the biggest con of the mic since it is not overly protected from mechanical noise.
5. Audio-Technica AT2035
The Audio-Technica AT2035 is a wildly popular choice for new microphone users.
This large-diaphragm electret condenser microphone features a switchable 80 Hz high-pass filter and 10 dB pad. It also comes with a custom shock mount for excellent mechanical isolation.
This microphone boasts a smooth, natural sound and low noise that works superbly with vocals. Its high max SPL rating and rugged construction mean this mic is also durable. All these factors make it an ideal budget microphone for recording all types of vocals with clarity.
6. Audio-Technica AT2020
The Audio-Technica AT2020 is like the little cousin of the AT2035. It is still an excellent introductory vocal microphone but has fewer features and a low price point.
Sonically, these microphones sound very similar. The AT2020 is effectively an AT2035 without the added switchable features. This mic also comes with a standard swivel mount rather than the custom shock mount like the AT2035, which is a con in terms of isolation.
In fact, the AT2020 was the first microphone of the 20 series and the subsequent mics in the series were designed largely based on the feedback received from the AT2020.
The AT2020’s frequency response is mostly flat with a slight boost for clarity in the higher-end. This sound is sometimes criticized for being thin though it certainly allows the 2020 to capture clean, accurate vocals.
The AT2020 also comes in a USB model known at the AT2020USB+ (link to check the price on Amazon). This USB mic features a high-quality analog-to-digital converter and outputs 16-bit, 44.1/48 kHz digital audio output.
The USB version also features a latency-free headphone monitoring jack with mix control and is compatible with both Mac and Windows operating systems.
7. MXL 770
The MXL 770 is a common multi-purpose budget large-diaphragm electret condenser microphone. One of these purposes, of course, is recording vocals.
The MXL 770 is a great choice for lighter vocals due to its solid low-frequency response and clean high-end response though it also excels on other vocal types as well.
As with most inexpensive condensers, the MXL 770 is sometimes scrutinized for being overly bright but this brightness is compensated for with the lush low-end of the mic response.
The solid-state circuitry and transformerless output yield a transparent signal that captures an accurate sonic picture of the vocal performance.
The 770 features a low-end roll-off and a 10 dB pad. It also comes with a custom shock mount for mechanical isolation.
8. Behringer C-1
The Behringer C-1 is another great entry-level large-diaphragm electret condenser microphone with a cardioid polar pattern.
Behringer is well-known as a “pro-sumer” brand with inexpensive but effective audio products. The C-1 is an eminent example of this.
On vocals, the C-1 reproduces the performance with a realism, sensitivity and accuracy that is rarely matched by other mics at its price point.
The low self-noise is another selling point for the C-1, providing clean vocal captures for easier mixing.
The C-1 comes with a swivel mount but no pop filter.
9. Marantz Professional MPM-2000U
The first USB microphone on this list (other than the AT2020USB+) is the Marantz Professional MPM-2000U. This large-diaphragm FET USB condenser microphone has a cardioid polar pattern and a surprising clean response.
Its studio-quality frequency response; consistent cardioid pattern, and built-in 48kHz/16-bit analog-to-digital converter make it an ideal inexpensive USB mic for recording vocals.
When on a budget or dealing with limited space, it’s often best to consolidate gear if possible. With the MPM-2000U we have an excellent LDC with a built-in audio interface. Simply plug this mic into your Mac or Windows computer and you’re off.
The MPM-2000U also comes with its own shock mount. It’s incredible that Marantz has been able to package all of this into a single product and keep the price low while maintaining the mic’s remarkable performance. It actually makes me wonder why other lesser microphones are so much more expensive.
10. Blue Yeti
The Blue Yeti is the flagship USB microphone from Blue Microphones. This mic is well-known by amateurs and professionals alike and when on a tight budget, this jack-of-all-trades can really be a beautiful vocal microphone.
The Blue Yeti boasts its proprietary tri-capsule technology allowing for 3 different polar patterns (omni, cardioid, and bidirectional) with an added option for an XY stereo capture.
The analog-to-digital converter outputs 48kHz / 16-bit digital audio via USB straight to a computer, forgoing the need for a separate audio interface (which can add quite a bit to your shopping bill). The mic also features a zero-latency headphone monitor output with volume control.
The Blue Yeti isn’t the most accurate sounding microphone in terms of frequency response though it does accentuate the frequency band that holds vocal intelligibility which could be beneficial.
Note that the Yeti comes with a nice desktop stand but there are pop filters and quality shock mounts available for an extra fee.
11. Shure SM58
The Shure SM58 is an industry-standard live vocal microphone. It makes sense that it would work well as a studio vocal microphone as well.
Its presence boost allows the vocal to cut through loud mixes with ease. This mic also excels if a more “live vibe” is what we’re after in our studio vocal recordings.
In the studio, engineers typically opt for large-diaphragm condensers on vocals (as is apparent in this list) but that doesn’t mean we should discount the SM58 moving-coil dynamic mic.
The low-sensitivity of the SM58 is particularly effective if we are not recording in an ideal (sound-proofed or otherwise acoustically treated) environment.
12. Shure SM57
The Shure SM57 is a close relative to the SM58 and actually shares a capsule with the SM7B, which an all-time great moving-coil dynamic microphone (a microphone that is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphones For Recording Vocals, Top 12 Best Microphones Under $1,000 for Recording Vocals, and Top 10 Best Microphones Under $500 for Recording Vocals!).
The 57 is often referred to as the “studio workhorse,” and for good reason: this jack-of-all-trades sounds decent (although maybe not great) on pretty much anything you throw it in front of. Logically, then, the 57 would sound satisfactory on vocal recordings.
The truth is, it’s not terrible either! Though the SM57 is not as clear and as accurate as the LDCs on this list (moving-coil dynamic mics rarely are), its inherent character can benefit certain harder vocal styles.
Extra Notes On Recording Vocals
As an additional resource for you, I’ve added a checklist of factors that will help you make the most of these microphones when recording vocals:
- Soundproof the recording space: it’s typically best to only have direct sound (no reflections) enter the microphone. It’s also critical to eliminate exterior noise from the booth in order to capture the cleanest vocals possible.
- Use a pop filter: this helps tremendously in reducing plosives in the mic signal.
- Distance the microphone from the vocalist: this helps to reduce the proximity effect in directional mics. It also reduces plosives and sibilance in the mic signal and allows for a more consistent pickup in terms of dynamics (inverse-square law).
- Tilt the microphone slightly off-axis: this helps to reduce plosives and sibilance while also slightly darkening the very top-end of the mic.
- Use a proper shock mount and high-quality mic stand: this will keep the microphone securely in one spot and also reduce mechanical and handling noise in the mic signal.
- Keep latency to a minimum if recording digitally: any latency delay in the headphone send will have an effect on the vocalist’s performance.
To learn more about the above tips, please consider reading the following My New Microphone articles:
- What Is A Microphone Pop Filter And When Should You Use One?
- Best Microphone Pop Filters
- Top 10 Tips For Eliminating Microphone Pops And Plosives
- Top 7 Tips To Reduce Sibilance In Microphones & Audio Mixes
- Top 23 Tips For Better Microphone Placement
- What Is A Microphone Shock Mount And Why Is It Important?
- Best Microphone Shock Mounts
- How To Attach A Microphone To A Microphone Stand
- Best Microphone Stands
- How To Fix Microphone Echo And Latency In Your Computer (7 Methods)