Microphone for Home Studio

I am looking at putting together a home recording studio whenever I get the money, and I need a microphone I can use for both instruments (acoustic guitar, ethnic drums, amp cabs, etc.) and vocals. I guess I have two questions:
1.Should I get a large diaphragm or small?
2.Which brands are dependable and affordable for the quality?

“I hear the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me.” -T.S. Eliot

It’s hard to offer a good answer without knowing your price range. Mics can be had in the tens, or tens of thousands, of dollars.

That said, I have two Shure SM81s which I am quite fond of. If you look around you should be able to find them for under $300/ea. They’re flat from 20-20K, with a 3 pos bass rolloff switch, selectable 20db cut, and generally a considered a good “workhorse” mic. Requires 48v phantom power. You might also consider the Crown CM700, which is about the same price, and also a well thought of mic that can handle high SPL for kickdrums and whatnot.

Large diaphram mics tend to be pricier (there are some cheap Russian import ones available now, but I haven’t been hugely impressed with them). I don’t know as much about the models, but I think Beyer, Neumann, and Shure make good large diapham mics ($$$$ though).

peas on earth

I’ll second the SM81 for recording. If you’re on the frugal side, check out the SM57, also by Shure. Dynamic cardioid, very rugged and excellent for guitar and percussion.

If you have the dough, look into the Shure KSM32 ($500-ish). A standard in many pro and semi-pro studios, it’s a side address mic with a Class A preamp, a Mylar diaphragm and it handles very high SPL’s.

You may want to check out “The home studio guide to microphones” by Loren Alldrin. It’s an easy-to-understand, concise manual covering all aspects of mic types, placement and so on.

Well, another mic you can go with is one of the CAD Equitek series. They make a large diaphragm model called the e200 which is very affordable for a good vocal mic and it sounds really good. Another must have (in my opinion) is a few SM-57’s – they are great for snares and guitars.
I would definitely have a good large diaphragm mic in your collection though. They make a world of difference in the realm of vocals and can also be used for a variety of other applications. I used to use my e200 for area miking drums, close miking the kick and guitar.

Sorry about not putting a price range on there. I am a college student, so money is pretty scarce, but I’m planning on getting a job next semester, so I will have a little extra to spend on crap I don’t need. I’m really looking for something less than $500. Preferably less than $300, but if there’s nothing decent for less, well then I’ll go with something good. Another concern is phantom power, since I will be recording on my computer. Do the SM81s have an option of using a battery instead? I saw a RØDE large-diaphragm between 300 and 350, but I don’t know about the quality. Any specific brands (other than Shure, Neumann, etc) that are good to stay away from? I plan on going in to Guitar Center this week sometime and trying some out, but I would like some info from people who aren’t trying for commission.

“I hear the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me.” -T.S. Eliot


For $300 you can’t go too far wrong with the SM81’s, but you can get very nice sound out of lesser priced mics too. Technique makes as much or more difference than which mics you use. I used to record using $80 mics, and the results were almost as good as my SM81s. The most noticeable difference I found is in very low bass, such as the lowest few notes on a piano, where the cheaper mics tend to have quite a steep rolloff. This would matter less for other instruments that don’t have much signal down near 20-40 Hz. Anyway, if you’re on a tight budget, you can IMHO get fine results out of sub-$100 mics and that might be a sensible way to start.

But note that the mics are only one variable here. Mic placement is another, as is the rest of your equipment, room acoustics, and post-processing (eq, verb, etc). Low end PC audio cards have poor quality mic preamps in them, and often just in mono - I doubt many are suited to even casual hobby studio use, so I’d recommend against that route. (Better PC audio cards tend not to have mic preamps at all). You might pick up a used Mackie mixer to use as a mic pre for under $200. GC might have a cheap dedicated one too.

AFAIK, you can’t use a battery with the SM81s (unless it’s external and can deliver the same voltage/current as the mic wants to see on the XLR connector).

Re: buying mics at GC or elsewhere, one thing to know is that most places won’t let you return mics once you’ve bought them. (This is for health reasons; they don’t want you coughing all over them and then returning them).

Hope this helps.

peas on earth