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Cheap vocal condensers.. are they worth it?

I think most everyone knows of these cheap budget vocal condensers

MXL 990, Studio Project B1, Audio-Technica AT2020

These are all no more than $120. Ive read so much like "these mics sounds just as good as mics that have cost several hundred dollars."

And then I've heard that "condensers from $100-$300 there isn't much a difference so you should really try to get one $400+ range"

I dont know what to believe. Can anyone shed some light on this issue.


JoeH Sun, 02/11/2007 - 22:15
I'm also a huge fan of the whole line of AT mics, esp the 4000 series. I Luuuuuuuv my 4050's, 4033's, and 4040's. All are great mics, and I'm sure you'll have no trouble at all with the 4040s. If you can afford it, go for it, it's built solidly, sounds great, and will be your go-to mic for a lot of things.

I'm also a big fan of MXL mics; IMHO they've come out with some great, affordable stuff. (Some of it claims to be "Assembled" in the USA, although I have no doubt there's a lot of Mandarin speaking people involved in the process...) I've mentioned the V6 and M3 in various forums here; for the price, these are ridiculously good risks and great sounding mics. (The M3 is wonderful for vocals designed to emulate the Neuman U67, while the V6 is designed to emulate warmer,more tube-like mics.) If you dont' like 'em, they're popular enough to sell on Craigslist or Ebay. Chances are, you'll keep 'em long after you've upgraded to other mics.

When you're just starting out, you have EVERYTHING to buy, not just mics - and usually very little to spend. IMHO, it's far wiser (for now) to get your feet wet with some basic stuff that sounds good, isn't going to break your budget (or force you to get an early mortgage), and is fairly easily replaceable should it be lost, stolen or damaged. It's fine if you want ONE U87, and don't mind the upkeep/maintenance, not to mention constant worry about loss or theft.

Last but not least, there are more important things in recording than the mic, pre or recorder: The TALENT in front of the mic, the quality of the instrument, and the room/space it's all happening in. Trust me, upgrading your mic is only one arguably small part of the whole process.

Don't be intimidated by gear snobs. If you like the 2020 well enough, stick with it until you can afford to play around and try something new. (U2 used an SM58 to record much of Bono's vocals; a $120 dynamic mic.)

moonbaby Mon, 02/12/2007 - 11:54
I have a pair of NT-5's that I bought to replace a pair of C452EB's that were stolen. I think that they are great on a lot of stuff the AKG's did. One caveat: I feel that they are a bit "edgie" on loud cymbals and hi-hats. And that may be attributable to my having to learn different placement tricks with them. They are certainly not "muddy".

BobRogers Mon, 02/12/2007 - 12:29
I have a pair of the NT5s, and they made a huge improvement to my recordings of acoustic guitars. I've liked them for drum overheads and I've used them for symphonic band in ORTF. I'm with Karl - no way they are muddy. They could be sweeter in the top end, but they are good enough that an upgrade is way down the list of my gear priorities.

Pro Audio Guest Thu, 05/17/2007 - 04:14
i'm new at all this and i'm just wondering when you record you have a mic and a set of headphones but when recording what do you here in the headphones?
because some one said to me add some reverb.but when i'm recording i only here music and i cant here my voice in the headphones the mic i have is a usb mic (samson co1u) any help would bet nice thanks

Pro Audio Guest Fri, 02/02/2007 - 07:39
my advice to is is to buy a nice preamp for the money and continue using the 990 and 991 for now. a good preamp like the 2 channel fmr rnp will let you get the most out of the mics you are using.

but if you have to get a mic, id suggest the mxl v69 for you. its a tube condenser and its only $300 including a case, windscreen, shockmount, and two high quality, mogami cables. i have it and it sounds very very good for all that and the price tag. everyone who has one is satisfied. plus you can switch out the tube for like $20 and the sound will be even smoother. in the $500 range ive heard a lot of good things about the rode ntk...

zemlin Tue, 01/30/2007 - 20:09
If your ears haven't learned what to listen for, you might not know the difference. If you haven't learned how to set a mic, you won't get the best out of any mic - cheap or more expensive.

Most important - the performance
Next, the engineer that captures it and the acoustics of the space.
Somewhere after that, the tools that are used.

I started with cheap mics, and still have a few. They were good enough to get me started, and taught me what I needed to know to appreciate better ones.

Jeremy Fri, 02/02/2007 - 08:54
I have a rode ntk, mxl 990/991, AT2020. Stay away from the MXL, it is very sensitive, and hyped in the high freqs. The Rode NTK is a hell of a vocal mic, and works great on acoustic guitar, the AT2020 is my go to mic for guitar cabinets, and backing vocals. The best bang for your buck is the AT2020 bar none, I swear by this little gem. If you go the route of ebay (and you should) you could nearly get the NTK, and AT2020 for your price range.

Pro Audio Guest Tue, 01/30/2007 - 20:52
i've been recording for a little over a year now, and my first condenser mics was the MXL 990 and MXL 991. Im getting more serious about recording now and want to upgrade. I'm looking some of the Studio Projects and Audio Technicas. My budget is around $350 -$450.(college student here) I just want a good vocal condenser and I know the MXL 990 probably will not suffice.

Cucco Fri, 02/02/2007 - 13:22
Well....I like the 4040. It works on several sources just fine. It's inexpensive, well made and quite versatile. (I have a few of them myself).

I have absolutely nothing against cheap mics. If it works and you can get a good sound out of it, go for it. In fact, I would rather have 5 cheap mics than 1 expensive mic. At least with the 5 cheap ones, I would have options.

For "high-end" recording, there's no substitute for some seriously good microphones. For most (and I do absolutely mean MOST) applications though, an MXL, Rode, AT, or other budget mic will do beautifully.

The biggest thing is knowing how to use it.

Good luck -


drumist69 Fri, 02/02/2007 - 15:33
Since we're talking cheap mics, I think I'm becoming schooled in this area! I've got a pair of the AT 2020's, and I think they work well on acoustic guitar, but don't sound so great on MY voice, or as drum overheads. I have a pair of MXL 603 small condensors, and these work well for drum overheads through an M-Audio DMP3 preamp, and ART Pro VLA compressor. They sound crappy on acoustic guitar, however. I also have a pair of MXL 2001 large condensors. These sound best on most vocals I've tried them on. They make my lousy voice sound better and fuller. I'll be trying the AT2020 on a Mesa-Boogie Nomad 55 guitar amp this weekend. Hope that goes well! At this point, I think I have a nice pallete of cheapo mics, and am looking for something nicer for vocals mainly. I'll be borrowing an AT4040 for the vocals on this current project (which are thankfully not done by me!). In other words, I think I spent my cash fairly well on a variety of cheap mics, in order to learn how to use different mics with different characteristics. I feel that they are a good learning tool as long as you don't end up getting two or three cheap mics which sound the same. I ended up with three pairs of cheapo mics which all have their own sound. I think they will stay with me for a while. ANDY