9 Mics Under $500 That Sound Incredibly High-End

Posted by Aaron Staniulis on Jun 17, 2015 09:00 AM
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Every musician with a home studio always has the same question: "How do I get a big studio sound on a small budget?" While there's no way to put the sound of an $12,000 signal path into a $500 package, with some recording know-how, good practices, and careful selection of your tools, you can still get some great sounds in your home studio without selling your car. While many mics are application, specific odds are your home studio and budget will most likely revolve around one workhorse mic that can more or less try to do it all. With that in mind, below are some of my picks for the best "bang for your buck" mic choices in the under-$500 (street price) category.

Large diaphragm condenser

Blue Bluebird: $300

bluemic-1Image via bluemic.com

This is probably my favorite cheap and simple large diaphragm condenser. This thing sounds just as good as it looks. From a company known for application-specific mics with lots of mojo, the Bluebird is flexible and sounds good on just about anything you put in front of it. It has a full sound, but with great high frequency transient detail – something most mics in this range struggle with. With a fairly hot output and incredibly low self-noise for its class, it manages to stay workable on even fairly low-end interfaces and pre-amps.

  • Polar pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz
  • Max SPL: 138 dB
  • Signal-to-noise: 87 dB
  • Other notes: Comes with wood box, shockmount, and pop filter

Avantone C-12: $500

avantoneproImage via avantonepro.com

This is perhaps one of the cheapest tube mic offerings on the market that actually sounds like its bigger, more expensive brethren. Some people go as far as to call it a "poor man's AKG C12" (where I suspect this model number may have come from.) While I may not go that far, this is a great warm mic that offers a lot of flexibility and is great if you're looking for that tube mic tone at an entry-level price.

  • Polar pattern: Selectable (nine options!)
  • Frequency response: 25 Hz to 20 kHz
  • Max SPL: 136 dB/146 dB
  • Signal-to-noise: 78 dB
  • Other notes: Includes 10 dB pad and roll-off switch. Comes with wood box, shockmount, power supply, and case for mic and power supply

AKG C214: $400

akgImage via akg.com

Touting the fame of the AKG C414, this affordable option gets you a similar sound at a much lower price point. It's cardioid only and single diaphragm, so go no further if you're looking for bright and in-your-face without being harsh or breaking the bank.

  • Polar pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz
  • Max SPL: 136 dB/156 dB
  • Signal-to-noise: 81 dB
  • Other notes: Includes 20dB pad and roll-off switch. Comes with shock mount, foam windscreen, and metal case

Small diaphragm condenser

Sennheiser e914: $400

sennheiserImage via sennheiser.com

Highly underrated, these mics are as studio friendly as they are bulletproof for the road. These "pencil-style" condensers are detailed mics that sound great on a number of sources from acoustic guitars to strings, piano, and drum overheads. The two three-position switches (roll-off and pad) give you remarkable flexibility for almost any situation.

  • Polar pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz
  • Max SPL: 137 dB/157 dB
  • Signal-to-noise: 75 dB
  • Other notes: Includes three-position pad and roll-off switches. Comes with mic clip, foam windscreen and bag

Blue Hummingbird: $300

bluemic2Image via bluemic.com

An innovative design from the company that loves to be eccentric. Blue's entry to the small diaphragm market couldn't be that simple; there had to be a catch. However, this is an interesting and functional one. Similar to the design of the Blue Mouse, the capsule rotates, but this time a full 180 degrees, effectively allowing to you go from "pencil" to side-address and everywhere in between. The flexibility to fine-tune your mic placement is only as limited as your imagination here, and its off-axis noise rejection and low signal-to-noise may make this a new go-to for me in any environment.

  • Polar pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz
  • Max SPL: 130 dB
  • Signal-to-noise: 85.5 dB
  • Other notes: Comes with case, mic clip, and foam windscreen

Shure Beta 181: $500

shureImage via shure.com

Shure's compact side-address condenser is one to check out. While maintaining Shure's hallmark bulletproof construction, the option of interchangeable capsules opens up a world of mic flexibility without having to buy a closet of mics. Great sound and reliability you can count on should be no surprise here.

  • Polar pattern: Interchangeable capsules
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz
  • Max SPL: Varies by capsule (151.5 dB to 157 dB)
  • Signal-to-noise: Varies by capsule (70.5 dB to 73 dB)
  • Other notes: Comes with case, mic clip, and foam windscreen


Cascade Fathead II: $380 (with transformer upgrade)

sxpro.co.ukImage via sxpro.co.uk

If you're looking to get into the ribbon game, I'd suggest looking no further than this microphone. It may very well be the best cost/value of any ribbon on the market, hands down. If you want to have that silky ribbon touch on your recordings, you almost can't go wrong with this. It's a great-sounding mic, and not just for the price. On top of that, this mic is rugged, something a lot of ribbons (especially older ones) can't say.

  • Polar pattern: Bi-directional
  • Frequency response: 25 Hz to 16 kHz
  • Max SPL: 135 dB
  • Other notes: Comes with wood box, shockmount, and metal carry case

Large Diaphragm Dynamic

Electro Voice RE-20: $450

electrovoiceImage via electrovoice.com

This mic is a secret weapon in the studio, regardless of price. This broadcast mic turned studio beast is as comfortable on a voice as it is on a bass cabinet or kick drum. Absolute rejection from the rear, almost zero off-axis coloration, and lack of the proximity effect make this possibly one of the most forgiving mics on the planet. This mic can make an aggressive vocalist sit beautifully in a mix almost by itself. It does have very low output, so make sure to use it with a clean pre-amp or have some sort of in-line boost.

  • Polar pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency response: 45 Hz to 18 kHz
  • Other notes: Includes bass roll-off. Comes with case and mic clip

Shure SM7-B: $350

vintageking-1Image via vintageking.com

Another classic broadcast mic pressed into studio service with great effectiveness. The yolk-mounted, built-in shockmount makes this a quick and easy mic to throw up and get great sounds on almost anything you mic with it. There's a reason this mic sees the light of day even when mics that cost 10 times as much are available.

  • Polar pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency response: 50 Hz to 20 kHz
  • Other notes: Includes bass roll-off and presence boost. Comes with A7WS detachable windscreen


For more tips on getting the best sound every time, check out more from our resident "Angry Sound Guy."


Aaron Staniulis is not only a freelance live sound and recording engineer, but also an accomplished musician, singer, and songwriter. He has spent equal time on both sides of the microphone working for and playing alongside everyone from local bar cover bands to major label recording artists, in venues stretching from tens to tens of thousands of people. Having seen both sides at all levels gives him the perfect perspective for shedding light on the "Angry Sound Guy." You can find out more about what he’s up to at aaronstaniulis.com.

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Topics: Recording, Angry Sound Guy, Honing Your Craft, Audio 101


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