I've seen alot of threads on this and other forums asking what microphone they should get for $xxx. It usually relates to guitar and vocals, as those are the 2 main instruments low-budgeters and home studio entrepreneurs seem to concentrate on.

A question I see more than anything else, aside from the e609 vs Sm57 debate, is what type of microphone should someone be getting to use for recording their guitar. Dynamic, condenser, perhaps a ribbon? No one seems to know...

Oh wait, MrPillow does (somewhat)! In this topic I'm going to present 3 common, well reputed, lower budget (i.e under $200) microphones, 1 of each variety, and compare them from a aural standpoint. Be warned, 56k = death to follow.

First I must say...

Welcome to our amazingly high class studio


It's nothing special, but it gets the job done fairly well.

The equipment -

All tracks where recorded through a MOTU 896HD interface, tracked in Sonar 7. All WAV's where recorded at 44.1khz, 16bit. MP3 encoding was done via LAME through Sonar, done to highest quality VBR. All monitoring was via a pair of M-Audio BX5a's.

The guitar amp was a Mesa Mark IV with a BBE 882i Sonic Maximizer in the FX Loop, run into a 4x12 oversize Recto cab. Guitar is a Ernie Ball Music Man John Petrucci 7 string Ball Family Reserve.

Bass was played on a Shecter Studio 6, split into both a Behringer BXL3000 which was DI'd back into the MOTU, with another output running into the Mark IV. The Mark IV was the recorded with the Cascade Vin-Jet and mixed with the DI track.

The contenders -

All 3 of these mics are common, well priced, well reputed and them, or other very similar counterparts, could be found in any budget studio. Prices are rough averages.

Self noise readings were taken with the microphones all set coming in at -10dBu against a white noise sample, apprx. 50% preamp gain (variation for different microphone types). Readings were taken below the noise threshold of the MOTU preamps

Shure SM57 Cardioid Dynamic Mic - $100

Self Noise -

Freq. Response -

Fairly typical of a dynamic, high-mid boost (added brightness and presence) with low end rolloff, mainly flat

Apex 435 Large Diaphragm Condenser Mic - $80

Self Noise -

Freq. Response n/a

I'm going to guess this has the same response as most lower end condensers. A small hump from 25-320 can be expected, a boost from 10khz-15khz can as well. Relatively flat mids.

Cascade Vin-Jet Long Ribbon Mic - $200

Self Noise -

Freq. Response -

A rather extended low end with a nice hump in the warm 100-450hz regions, smooth high-end roll off beginning from 10-11kHz.

Note - I believe the low end rumble in the self noise can be attributed to vibrations from the floor of us moving around outside the live room. Either way, this can easily be cut out with a hipass filter as you would usually use on most recordings to get rid of excessive lowend.

Continued below -

The Test -

I have setup all 3 microphones on the guitar cab, 9" back, on axis, set approximately halfway between the middle and the edge of the cone.

I got our guitarist to play 4 different types of sounds - clean, crunch, high gain, and the acoustic output of his piezo's through the Mark IV's clean channel. I recorded each mic onto a seperate track for each part, and applied a master hipass filter at 75hz to get out any excess rumble. No EQ or any other post effects were added.

Excuse the rather sloppy playing. This was done at about 4 in the morning and none of use were rather enthusiastic about staying up any longer.

The files are available below - If you are experiencing trouble accessing or DL'ing them, let me know.

Clean -


Crunch -


High Gain -


Acoustic -


Throughout the test, the 3 mic's kept the following average spectrums -

From the graphs, we can draw the following conclusions -

The condenser will give you the widest spectrum, with some warmth in the low end but somewhat shrill highs.

The ribbon will be the warmest of all with the most low, and less in the highs, which are smoother in their rolloff.

The dynamic will give you the narrowest response, and will be the harshest due to it's upper mid boost.

One final track - The Bass

Sounds alright, nothing great through... Probably would be better with a proper, good bass amp.

Conclusions -

Now I'm not going to sit here and tell you whats better than what, as alot of that is personal preference. I have provided information and examples in context, deciding what you want is up to you. There are many models in this price range with many variations among them, but all of each type will stick more or less to the fundamental aspects and information presented here.

Personally I love the sound of the Cascade ribbon, and find the Sm57 overly harsh in its upper midrange. The Apex sounds full and well balanced on clean and acoustic parts, a tad to robust on others. Then again, thats just my opinion.
good job on this
'08 Gretsch White Falcon
'98 Fender USA Deluxe Tele
'79 Greco Les Paul Standard
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A bunch of funky pedals

Handwired 50 Watt Plexi Lead Clone w/ Orange 4x12
Dude, epic post, so much great info here, you really know what you're talking about. Impressive studio set-up too.

As for what mic I use, it's a Samson USB condenser mic that I use with my laptop. It really captures the richness of my acoustic (unplugged), but also does a great job when I mic it to my amp to record my MIA Strat. I've never tried recording with a ribbon mic but for me the condenser mic is more than capable of getting polished recordings with great tone.

Again, awesome post!
Thanks! Condensers do sound rather clear and polished on their own, a ribbon doesn't help much more in this aspect, it's just a much warmer, more vintage voice sound.

Is there a sticky I could put this in so it stays easily accessible?
Great job on this thread, having a listen to the audio clips these would be my choices.

Clean - 435
Crunch - 435 (57 sounded thin)
High gain - 57
Acoustic - 435

Reasons I didn't like the other mics:

Clean - The 57 sounded too harsh and the Vin-Jet was too muddy for my taste.
Crunch - The 57 was too harsh...Vin-Jet was too bass heavy
High Gain - The Vin-Jet sounded distant, the 435 was ok but I liked the edgier tone from the 57.
Acoustic - The 57 was too harsh once again, the Vin-Jet was nice and balanced but I liked the slightly brigher tone from the 435 on acoustic.

Other mics to think about:

Don't forget about the Studio Projects B1 and Rode NT1A Both great mics also under $200. For acoustic and vocals I think the NT1A works best.

Also keep in mind that may people say the SM57 should be run with a good preamp to warm it up some. I really think this is why it sounded so harsh in the audio clips.
Last edited by moody07747 at Mar 30, 2008,
The SM57 sounded awful Probably because it was recorded digitally.
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The Vin-Jet is indeed rather bass heavy. It sounds much better than the others IMO once int he context of a mix with proper hipass filtering applied (usually around 100hz if a bass guitar or other low instruments are present for me). It gets the same thickness and warmth the others dont without their low low end present. The 57 just never really sounds too thick to me, no matter the circumstances.

For modern vocals a condenser such as the Rode you mentioned would indeed do a superior job, but if you're looking for a nice warm vintage tone (think Beatles and back), I think the Vin-Jet would do an excellent job.

A better preamp probably could have helped all 3 mics a great deal, but unfortunately I dont have the cash for anything better at this time =(
I thought the MOTU pres were good, no?

Just curious... why did you record at 16 bit?

Methodology.... I'm not asking you to do this, but just suggesting another way it could have been done... Not all mics will respond equally with the same placement. Some like to be closer, etc. I wonder what the results would have been if you had tried to get the best possible sound from each mic (might require different placement, proximity, axis, etc.), and then compared those results?


Could I get some more talent in the monitors, please?

I know it sounds crazy, but try to learn to inhale your voice. www.thebelcantotechnique.com

Chris is the king of relating music things to other objects in real life.
The MOTU pres are quite good, if a little lacking in the gain range. About 42dB is all I can get. That said, they seem louder than they are and can drive the ribbon and dynamics reasonably well. However, they're very clean preamps, certaintly no added warmth here so they do little to nothing to round out the Sm57.

Why did I record at 16 bit? That's the MOTU's defualt setting upon powerup and I was too lazy to change it =P

As for placement, I tried to choose a setting that would be rather neutral on all mics. Close enough to get proper response, far enough to sound well on all 3. On axis simply because it was the easiest way to get them all aligned with a specific place on the speaker.

I might go back in a bit and record new test with each mic set for optimum performance, just to see how each is capable of sounding, but I wanted this to be more a raw test of the facts and performance, therefore I kept the mic position static.
I'm keeping an eye on the new MOTU 828 mk3 units. (and the new M-Audio 2626, the new TC Electronic 48, and the new Presonus Fire-something-or-other). Nice to know their pres are good. You scared me there for a bit. haha A bit surprising (though I guess it is an older card...) that the default setting on a higher-end piece of gear would be 16 bit.

FWIW, I probably would have chosen the same methodology you did, and for the same reasons. I just wanted to be the devil's advocate.

Could I get some more talent in the monitors, please?

I know it sounds crazy, but try to learn to inhale your voice. www.thebelcantotechnique.com

Chris is the king of relating music things to other objects in real life.
Well, I shouldn't say default. You can set the defaul with the included software, I just never got around to changing it. I've always just set the clocks as needed since all you have to do is push a and turn a pot on the front panel to do it.

The Mk3 looks rather promising, especially with the new built in DSP. Could make it an excellent front end to a live setup as well as a recording interface. I dont know if they have improved the preamps any, havent read much about that. I've always been tempted to try some TC studio gear but never got around to doing it. If it's half as good as their guitar equipment it should be wonderful.
If you're not quite satisfied with MOTU's sound but like their software (so you're not moving to RME) you may want to look into Black Lion Audio's mods. They essentially improve the A/D conversion to be nearly Apogee/Lynx quality.
I have a TC Electronic M300 (dual engine effects processor) and it rocks. VERY nice verbs and delays. Better than anything in my software. (Cubase 4)

Apogee/Lynx quality for a MOTU price.... nice!!

Could I get some more talent in the monitors, please?

I know it sounds crazy, but try to learn to inhale your voice. www.thebelcantotechnique.com

Chris is the king of relating music things to other objects in real life.