Modern manufacturing techniques coupled with economies of scale and intense market competition has been good news for us as consumers. In the technology sector, it means that highly advanced products are now available to us for not much money.
With microphones, for musical performance and recording, this is particularly true. There’s an absolute plethora of cheap microphones available offering top notch performance that won’t give your wallet a heart attack.
So what is the best budget microphone? Well, in this article we break it all down for you – it’s all about bang for buck with an upper price limit of $150. Many are significantly less than that. If you’re looking for the best budget microphone but are overwhelmed by the choice, then look no further as we reveal our cheap mic top picks.
- Back to the classroom: Microphone types
- Review: Dynamic Microphones
- Review: Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphones
- Review: Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphones
- Review: Ribbon Microphones
- Crunch time: The Overall winner
There are several different types of microphone available so we’ve broken this article down into categories: dynamic microphones; large diaphragm condensers; small diaphragm condensers; and ribbon mics.
We’ve picked a top two in each section and assessed them on price, build quality, performance, sound and application. We then select an overall winner and unveil the best cheap microphone across all categories.
Back to the classroom: Microphone types
Important note: these are XLR microphones so irrespective of microphone type, if you’re using your mic for recording on a computer, you’ll need a mixer or an audio interface.
You can’t plug these microphones straight into your computer. If you want to do that, you’ll need a USB microphone but don’t expect the same quality. And if you’re thinking of buying a condenser microphone – large or small diaphragm, you’ll need to get an audio interface phantom power. Most do, but check.
Dynamic and ribbon mics don’t need phantom power.
OK let’s take a closer look at the different flavors of microphone:
Mention dynamic microphones and the Shure SM57 and SM58 will inevitably spring to mind. The market is much wider than these two legendary products, but as our review will reveal, they’re hard to beat.
Dynamic microphones are often referred to as workmanlike and that’s because they’re used extensively for live performance and recording applications. They incorporate a moving coil magnetic diaphragm to produce the audio signal.
We can’t all have an acoustically treated room to record in, so a condenser mic just might be too sensitive. Because of their ability to reject sound other than what’s in front of them, dynamics are recommended for less than perfect environments.
They’re sturdily constructed, affordable, can handle high SPLs (sound pressure levels) without distortion and, unlike condenser mics, they don’t need phantom power. Generally they can take some serious abuse physically and sonically.
Their versatility extends to vocals, drum kits, overheads, mic’ing up guitar and bass cabs, acoustic instruments and a ton of other stuff.
Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphones
Before we get started on condenser microphones – large or small diaphragm – remember you’ll need phantom power to get them to work. Most (if not all) audio interfaces come with this functionality. Let’s move on.
When it comes to versatility, it’s a toss-up between dynamic and large diaphragm condenser microphones.
Most people think of large diaphragm condensers as vocal mics and that’s certainly true, but they’re also used effectively on acoustic guitar, drum overheads and even guitar cabs so their flexibility isn’t in question here.
They’re much more sensitive than dynamic microphones so they tend to be used in recording applications rather than for live performances where their attention to sonic detail really comes to the fore on vocals, acoustic guitars or piano. They are however more prone to distortion and overload.
Because of their inherent sensitivity you’ll definitely need a popshield (to minimise sibilants and plosives on vocals) and also a shockmount to keep things steady. Condensers pick up everything – including your neighbor’s dog barking – so an acoustically treated room is recommended. Oh and you’ll need phantom power so make sure your audio interface can provide it.
Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphones
Whereas the diaphragm on a large diaphragm condenser microphone is usually around 1”, it’ll be no surprise that the diaphragm on a small diaphragm condenser is…smaller!
They’re often referred to as pencil mics so that’ll give you some idea of their dimensions. Large diaphragm condensers tend to be side-addressed, which means you sing into the side of the microphone. Small diaphragm condensers are end-addressed.
Small diaphragm condensers generally produce more self-noise that their large diaphragm siblings but in just about every other aspect, SDCs are, on paper at least, technically superior: excellent detailed and rapid transient response (response to fluctuations in sonic dynamics); extended high frequency response and a consistent pickup pattern.
Because of the levels of detail they capture, where small diaphragm condensers really excel are with mic’ing up acoustic guitar, piano, stringed instruments and drum overheads. They’re also good on banjo, mandolin and yep, even vocals, although they’re not particularly renowned for solo voices.
Great on choirs though. Not surprisingly, they’re used quite a bit for classical music. They also need phantom power.
Sensitive, fragile and once the exclusive domain of professional studios, ribbon microphones have since become much more mainstream – even to the point that we’ve included two in this review of cheap microphones. Not so long ago, this wouldn’t have been economically possible.
Ribbon mics have a character all their own. Excellent on vocals, choirs, strings and a ton of other things, they’re often used when you need to faithfully record a specific sound – perhaps a particular guitar/amp combo, a quirky vocal or even brass and percussion.
Many associate them with a vintage vibe. Often, they’ll succeed when everything else has failed. They have a knack of capturing sound exactly as its produced, taking in everything from the player to the natural ambience of a room. They don’t need phantom power to operate.
If you can only afford one mic it probably wouldn’t be a ribbon, but sometimes only a ribbon will do.
OK let the battle commence. If you want a cheap mic that’ll deliver the goods, you’re in the right place. Let’s get to it!
Review: Dynamic Microphones
Live or in the studio, the Shure SM57 unidirectional dynamic microphone needs no introduction.
Since its launch in 1965, it has been the de facto microphone for mic’ing up guitar amplifiers but it’s also excellent on other instruments too like acoustic guitar, brass, snare drums, harmonica and pianos. It also excels as a drum overhead mic and it’s great on vocals. Hook it up to your mixer, audio interface or PA system via XLR cable.
The 40Hz – 15,000Hz frequency response is tailored for instruments, with a presence boost at 4-8kHz. Its cardioid pattern means it picks up sound from the front of the mic while doing a great job of reducing background noise from the sides and back.
It also has a strong proximity effect which means the closer you get to the source, the more emphasized the bass frequencies become. This is why it works so well with guitar amplifiers. Experimentation with mic placement is recommended. Even try using it off axis.
Weighing in at 284g and constructed from dark gray, enamel painted, die-cast steel with a polycarbonate grille and a stainless-steel screen, this is a virtually indestructible microphone. An internal pneumatic shockmount system helps keep handling noise under control.
Useless fact: the SM57 has been used at the podium for Presidential speeches for the past 40 years!
- Absolutely bulletproof. When you buy an SM57 it’ll last for decades
- Revered as a guitar amp mic, but awesome on other instruments as well. And yep, decent on vocals, particularly for metalheads, screamers and rockers
- Cardioid polar pattern is highly front focused and rejects sound from sides and rear. Forgiving in a less than perfect acoustic environment
- Can handle insane SPLs (sound pressure levels) without distortion
- Awesome value for money
- Low sensitivity. For recording applications you’ll need a decent preamp/interface to get the required volume. Too much gain = noise
- For vocal recording you’ll need a popshield to tame those plosives
- No XLR cable supplied
One user said: “Would probably sound just as good if you shot it out of a cannon into the woods and found it 10 years later.” That just about sums up the SM57. Sonically, versatility is its strong point and it has a multitude of uses. Primarily it is an instrument microphone but, depending on your style, it works really well on vocals.
Who should consider this microphone?
Anyone wanting one of the best all round instrument microphones in the business who also wants to use it for vocals as well. It’s a sound investment because it’ll last a lifetime.
If the Shure SM57 is legendary as an instrument microphone, then the SM58 commands the same respect as a vocal mic. For live performances, it’s probably the bestselling mic of all time.
Its construction has the same bombproof characteristics as its sibling, but the SM58 features a foam filled grille to make it more plosive resistant. The 20Hz – 15,000Hz frequency response is more attuned to vocals with a brightened mid-range and bass roll-off to control proximity effect. Not too bright; not too dark. Pretty perfectly balanced in fact.
It’s shape, particularly with the spherical steel mesh grille means it’s not so versatile as an instrument mic as the 57 and it’s not really designed to get up close and personal to guitar cabs. It is a cardioid though so most of the sound is absorbed through the front with good sound rejection from the sides and back.
For vocalists, the shape is much better to hold. The SM57 just doesn’t feel that brilliant held in the hand.
- A supremely capable vocal microphone for live performers – with a frequency curve to suit a wide range of vocal styles
- Rigid and robust
- Reassuringly weighty in the hand for live performers
- The built-in pop filter is quite effective
- Fantastic price
- Suffers from the same low sensitivity as the SM57. You need quite a bit of gain to hit the required volume when recording
- Because of the bass rolloff, the SM58 isn’t particularly suited to bass instruments although when recording you could use EQ to compensate
A legendary live vocal microphone that will also do the job in a recording environment. As a dedicated all-round mic for recording, not the best choice.
Who should consider this microphone?
Vocalists basically – particularly on stage. It’s an industry standard for good reason that’ll survive the rigors of live performance night after night.
Dynamic Microphones: The Bottom Line
Controversial perhaps, predictable maybe, but the Shure SM57 and SM58 have snared the two top spots in our dynamic microphone review.
There’s very little to differentiate these two legends. The 57 is a great instrument mic; the 58 is top notch for vocals. Both are bombproof; both are ridiculously priced; and both are living proof that simple is quite often better. There’s very little to go wrong in either of these microphones and they’ll both last you a lifetime.
So how do we choose a winner?
Well, if you’re after a vocal mic predominantly for using live then it’s a no brainer; we’d go for the SM58. The integral pop filter means less of a ‘raw’ sound than the SM57 and it feels much better in the hand.
But in practically all other circumstances, for us, the SM57 is the winner by a whisker and that’s simply because in our opinion it’s a better vocal mic than the SM58 is an instrument mic.
This short video explains the primary differences between the SM57 and SM58:
And if you want to know more about the proximity effect:
But before we move on, one other thing…
If you’re using a dynamic microphone for recording, both the SM57 and the SM58 suffer from low sensitivity which means if your audio interface doesn’t have enough grunt, you’ll have to crank up the gain to get a decent signal to record which of course can introduce unwanted noise.
See how you go first – but if this is a problem, we recommend using the Cloudlifter CL-1 for recording with dynamic mics. Essentially this takes 48V of phantom power and converts it into around 25dB of clean gain – giving the mic signal a noticeable boost and lightening the load on your interface.
Review: Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphones
We’re now into the world of condenser microphones – and whilst we appreciate there are exceptions, that means we’re moving away from live performance and into recording microphones. Condenser mics are all about detail.
Our winner in this category is the Audio Technica AT2020. It’s an XLR large diaphragm, side address (you sing into the side of it, not the end) microphone that despite its sensitivity in use, is actually really well built and solid, weighing in at 345g. We wouldn’t advise testing the theory but it should survive a knock or two!
Don’t forget you’ll need an audio interface or mixer with 48V phantom power to provide the grunt it needs. It works fine with something like Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 or Solo (links).
The AT2020 features a 120-degree cardioid polar pattern so it’s sensitive to sound from the front only, with excellent sound isolation from the sides and rear. We like the way the mic has a ‘back’ label so there’s no danger of using this mic the wrong way round.
Spec wise, it cuts the mustard. Frequency response is 20-20,000 Hz but it can also handle quite hefty volumes up to 144dB. Signal to noise ratio is 74dB which is respectable at this price.
Accessories are basic but just fine. You get a microphone stand mount for 5/8″-27 threaded stands; a 5/8″-27 to 3/8″-16 threaded adapter; and a soft protective pouch.
This is quite a bright sounding mic, but it offers pretty well-balanced results across the sound spectrum. The lower mids are warm and smooth. Out of the box, some may find it a little harsh – but others would call it vocal ‘airiness’. Either way it’s easily remedied with EQ. A popshield is highly recommended.
This guy seems to be having a lot of fun with the AT2020. The video will also give you some idea of how it sounds:
- Versatile. Great results on vocals and acoustic guitar, but also on percussion, horns, piano and drum overheads. Some fortunate souls have even had good results mic’ing guitar cabs
- Can handle high sound pressure levels (SPLs) for a condenser
- Robust metal construction
- The price. You get a lot of microphone for a modest amount of money
- No shockmount and no XLR cable supplied. Something has to give but please, an XLR cable?
- Not necessarily a con but like most condensers, this is a sensitive mic that will work better in a room with decent acoustics
- Some may find the upper mids and high frequencies a little harsh for vocals
- Not the quietest mic in terms of self-noise. You need to get quite close to the source to avoid excessive amounts of gain
There are better large diaphragm condenser mics out there but not at this price point. It’s versatile, robust and an ideal entry point into the world of condenser microphones. A proper workhorse.
Who should consider the Audio Technica AT2020?
Good for entry-level home recordists and more experienced sound engineers alike wanting a versatile, cost-effective versatile large diaphragm condenser microphone.
Also those looking to make the step up from a USB microphone to an XLR condenser microphone/audio interface-based setup.
The runner-up in our large diaphragm condenser mic shootout is the MXL 770 and with a price tag just shy of $100 it’s an absolutely fantastic buy.
Like the Audio Technica AT2020, this is a cardioid microphone that picks up sound from the front and rejects sound from the back and sides. Looks classy too with its black body and grille and gold band.
The frequency response is not quite as wide as the AT2020, spanning 30Hz – 20KHz, but the MXL 770 has a couple of tricks up its sleeve that the AT2020 doesn’t have; namely a -10dB attenuation switch to handle loud sources and a high pass, bass frequency roll-off switch to reduce unwanted rumble and reduce the proximity effect. The proximity effect is distortion that often occurs when a sound source is too close to the mic.
Sonically, the MXL 770 offers warmth and clarity with a balanced mid-range. It has a presence peak starting at around 5kHz rising to around 10kHZ. There’s virtually no bass roll-off – solid lows and clear highs.
Also unlike the AT2020, you DO get a shockmount thrown in along with a rather fetching and hard case which does a good job of protecting the microphone when not in use or being transported around
The signal to noise ratio is 74dB, so comparable to the AT2020. Its volume handling capability is a little less at 137dB max SPL. The 770 features a low-noise FET preamp with balanced, transformerless output, so it’s pretty quiet in use.
- Value for money. Cheaper than the AT2020 if you’re on a really tight budget
- You get a shockmount. It’s distinctly average but you do get one. Nice case
- Smooth, balanced sound across the frequency spectrum
- Great on vocals, pianos, stringed instruments and percussion. Podcasters and voiceover gurus will like this mic for its warm sound
- No cable included
- Could be brighter sounding on acoustic guitar
- Flat frequency response is pretty flat until you hit the 8-10kHZ range where there’s a whopping 10dB presence boost which accentuates sibilance. You’ll definitely need a popshield
- Bass roll-off switch can make vocals in particular sound tinny
On paper, in terms of features and price, you may think the MXL 770 should be the winner here. Indeed if price is your primary consideration, the 770 just might get your vote.
In our opinion however, we just think, on the aspect that matters most – how it sounds – the Audio Technica is the better studio microphone.
Who should consider the MXL 770?
Ideal for home studio setups and it’s hard to argue with the 770’s bang for buck ratio. You get a shockmount, a nice case and a decent entry-level large diaphragm condenser mic for under $100. If you’re on a tight budget, you shouldn’t feel in any way compromised buying it.
Large Diaphragm Condensers: The Bottom Line
Although the MXL 770 has some useful extras like the high pass filter and the 10dB pad, not to mention a shockmount and hard case thrown in, we just feel that it’s not as smooth sounding or versatile as the AT2020. The MXL 770 could sound a little harsh and ‘raw’ in certain applications. The AT2020 is simply richer sounding and more refined.
Review: Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphones
Austria-based Lewitt Audio are the new kid on the block in microphone circles but since 2009, when they emerged in the marketplace they’ve made a big impact.
Renowned musician, producer and sound engineer Warren Huart is a big fan of Lewitt microphones. In this video he takes a look at the Lewitt LCT 140 AIR and also another product from the Lewitt stable – the LCT 040 MATCH which are matched pair microphones. Definitely worth a look.
With so many products at his disposal, it’s testament to the quality of the LCT 140 AIR that he rates this microphone so highly. As you’ll see from this video, he uses Lewitt microphones literally every day in his studio.
The Lewitt LCT 140 AIR is a permanently polarized cardioid small diaphragm condenser that weighs just 2.3oz (66g) yet with its aluminum case manages to feel substantial. With a maximum SPL of 135dB it won’t shy away from volume and like other condenser mics it requires 48V of phantom power to operate.
It’s a very quiet mic. It ships with a windshield, microphone clip and protective bag.
Probably the standout feature of the 140 AIR however, aside from its fantastic sonic qualities and warm natural sound are three slidable switches on the side of the mic that enable you to engage additional functionality built into this microphone.
The first switch is SOUND and you have two options here: AIR and FLAT. AIR adds high end sparkle, shimmer, gloss and zing to the sound without any hint of harshness. It achieves this via a presence boost that starts at around 2kHz rising to 12kHz FLAT is basically 100% natural with no coloring.
The next switch is FILTER which is an 80Hz low cut filter if you need to remove annoying low-end rumbles; the third switch is PAD which reduces loud sounds by 12dB if they’re getting a bit wild!
- Fantastically detailed audio quality across the sound spectrum with excellent transient response
- Great on acoustic guitar, piano, choirs, as drum overheads, congas, percussion and snare drums
- The AIR option switch is a killer feature. Adds smooth top end zing. Perfect on acoustic guitar
- Great price
We really can’t think of any
An absolutely marvellous example of an inexpensive small diaphragm condenser that punches well above its weight. At this price point there’s little to touch it.
Take a listen to the mic being used on acoustic guitar:
Who should consider this microphone?
Anyone who wants to capture the natural sound of acoustic instruments with clarity and precision.
Small diaphragm condenser microphones are an invaluable addition to any recording set-up because they’re so good at recording acoustic instruments.
Accuracy and rapid response to transients is their forte. If you want a mic to capture an instrument realistically and with little or no coloration, a small diaphragm condenser is the way to go.
The AKG P170 cardioid supersedes an earlier model – the Perception P170. They’re very similar microphones but the newer version incorporates changes to the capsule vent size and shape resulting in an improved upper frequency response.
This is an XLR mic and it needs phantom power from your interface or mixer. It features an all-metal construction and is very solid and professional aesthetically. A nice touch is a 20dB attenuation switch which enables the P170 to handle SPLs up to 155dB without distortion. Pretty impressive for a small diaphragm condenser.
A 20Hz to 20kHz frequency response means a wide audio spectrum is captured and a 19dBA noise level is just about respectable. In the package, you get the mic itself and a stand adapter.
Sound wise, there’s some bass rolloff at about 50Hz. Then it’s flat until around 7kHz; then a presence boost at around 10kHz for upper frequency clarity.
The AKG P170 is marvellous on acoustic guitar. Have a listen:
Compact. Only 160mm in length. Easy to position just where you want it
Excellent on a wide variety of sources from percussion, overheads, horns and woodwind through to piano, mandolin, banjo and vocals. It’s particularly awesome on acoustic guitar
Great price and value for money
Can handle high sound levels. The attenuation switch is great for taming high SPLs. Kick drums have been recorded with this mic
It’s a bit noisy
A well-made, compact entry-level small diaphragm condenser that’ll faithfully reproduce just about any acoustic instrument you throw at it. Hard to beat on acoustic guitar.
Who should buy this microphone?
Anyone who’s passion is recording acoustic instruments with clarity and precision.
The Bottom Line: Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphones
Both the Lewitt LCT Air and the AKG P170 would be worthwhile additions to any microphone collection. The qualities of small diaphragm condensers are often overlooked, particularly in home studios.
For us, the Lewitt bags the top spot. It’s quiet, sweet sounding and the additional switch functions are a bonus at this price. The AIR function in particular is awesome – giving an airy quality to mic’d up instruments.
Review: Ribbon Microphones
Top end ribbon microphones are expensive so it’s good to be able to select a couple of decent examples at the budget end of things.
Ribbon mics nearly always have figure of eight polar patterns which means they accept sound from both the front and rear of the microphones but reject from the sides. The MXL R144 is one such mic – but the sound from the rear isn’t the same as that from the front. It seems a little brighter.
Ribbon microphones are fragile – try very hard not to drop them, and certainly don’t blow across the ribbon as you run the risk of doing some serious damage but the MXL does its best to offer some protection via its all metal body and grille.
It performs particularly well on acoustic guitar, brass and vocals and a drum overhead mic. Some nice accessories are included comprising a shockmount, carrying case and cleaning cloth. Ribbon mics may be fragile but the MXL R144 can still handle 130dB which adds to its flexibility. Frequency range is 20Hz – 17kHz.
Many people get really good results pairing an MXL R144 with a Shure SM57 on guitar cabs. The darker sound of the MXL complements the brighter sounding SM57 perfectly.
- A great price for an entry-level ribbon microphone
- If you’re happy tweaking EQ and experimenting with mic placement the results are worth it. Warm mids and the ability to tame a harsh top end are the trademarks of ribbon microphones. But make no mistake, this is quite a dark sounding mic
- Fast transient response
- Nice case included
- Not so much a con but you absolutely must use a popshield with the MXL R144 – and actually with ribbon microphones in general. They’re particularly susceptible to plosives
- It’s unlikely you’ll get the exact sound you want without some tweaking straight out of the box
- A tendency to be boomy and very prone to the proximity effect if you get too close to the source
- Low sensitivity which means you’ll need a decent quality, quiet mic preamp
- Poor quality shockmount. It holds the mic OK but does nothing to reduce vibration
Many of the things that afflict the MXL R144 are common to ribbon microphones in general so let’s not be too hasty here.
For the price, this provides an excellent introduction to ribbon microphones. Be prepared to work with the thing and the results can be excellent. Just don’t expect perfection out of the box.
Here’s a really informative video that sees the MXL R144 used on vocals, electric guitar and acoustic guitar:
Who should consider this microphone?
If you already have a couple of mics – perhaps a decent dynamic and a large diaphragm condenser for example – getting a ribbon microphone just adds another dimension to your armoury. If this is you, the MXL R144 is a really nice sounding, excellently priced option.
California-based Nady Systems has been manufacturing pro audio equipment for 40 years. Its budget ribbon mic, the RSM-5 certainly looks distinctive with its lollipop style capsule and grille.
This is also a figure of 8 microphone so it’s sensitive to sound coming from the front and back but not the sides. Like the MXL R144, it lends itself well to the mic’ing of acoustic guitar, brass, strings, piano, percussion and vocals to name just some of few of its proven applications.
The RSM-5 works well on electric guitar cabs but it may be a little dark for many tastes with a strong proximity effect. Used in conjunction and blended with a dynamic mic like a Shure SM57 however really brings things to life. If you’re serious about recording electric guitar with the RSM-5, be sure to give this a try.
The sound is distinctly smooth with natural extended lows and detailed realistic mids. Highs are clear without being harsh so it’s great as a drum overhead mic with loud crash cymbals. With SPL stats of 135dB it’s on par with the MXL, but it does exhibit a slightly enhanced upper frequency response: 30Hz – 18kHz.
- Versatility. You’ll need to work at it in terms of placement and EQ but the Nady RSM-5 has a multitude of uses
- Very solidly constructed
- Excellent as a drum overhead microphone
- Definitely benefits from an acoustically treated room
- We recommend buying a popshield. Definitely. The resultant plosives from this microphone could well ruin your recordings otherwise – particularly vocals
- Relatively low sensitivity so a decent, clean pre-amp is recommended. Most budget audio interfaces will be fine
- Tends to be boomy when placed too near a bassy source
For the money, the Nady RSM-5 is both versatile and very competitively priced. If you’re set on buying a budget ribbon microphone, then you won’t go far wrong with this. To see how the mic sounds, take a look at this unboxing and test video:
Who should consider this microphone
Anyone wanting a cheap ribbon mic that performs well and looks a little different from the norm.
It’s great that there are budget products in this category. Ribbon mics are an acquired taste; you often have to work harder to achieve your sonic objectives but often they’ll reward you with qualities and a character of sound that you just can’t get with other mic types.
As this video explains, mic placement is everything:
Generally ribbons are something you acquire once you’ve got a decent dynamic and a condenser under your belt first. We really can’t recommend them in isolation if you’re on a budget.
As far as this test is concerned though, we think the MXL R144 has the edge over the Nady RSM-5. It seems to respond better to EQ due to a generally flatter frequency curve. Whilst the proximity effect is prominent on many ribbon mics, the MXL sounds smoother and less boomy to our ears than the Nady. The sturdy carrying case is also a nice touch.
Crunch time: The Overall winner
Good grief this is a difficult one. Selecting a winning good cheap microphone from this comprehensive list is no mean feat. By virtue of the fact they’re even on this shortlist means they’re all good!
OK, let’s be honest about this. We actually don’t recommend just having one microphone in your collection. Different mics do different things so asking one specific type to do everything is a bit unfair.
There’s one scenario that does have a clear winner though: if you want a great budget microphone for live vocals, go with the Shure SM58.
For recording, things get a little more convoluted and it will depend on your application. If mic’ing up an electric guitar cab is in the equation then you really should have a Shure SM57 in the cupboard. You can also use it for acoustic instruments and vocals.
If your passion is acoustic instruments and vocals that could stretch to a guitar cab from time to time, a large diaphragm condenser like the Audio Technica AT2020 is the way to go. Ideally, have both to cover all your bases.
Of course, as instrument mics with supreme clarity and accuracy, let’s not forget small diaphragm condensers like the Lewitt LCT140 AIR which are superb for this application.
But if you can only afford one microphone and one microphone only, go for the AT2020 large diaphragm condenser. When it comes to cheap microphones, it’s our top pick!