Home Microphone Guides 8 Budget XLR Microphones, Ranked

8 Budget XLR Microphones, Ranked

by Stuart Charles Black
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Greetings mate and Welcome aboard!

Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions, so…

Today I thought I’d run down a list of XLR microphones and share my experiences in determining which ones, in my opinion of course, are the best.

Keep in mind that just because a microphone is ranked lower on the list, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. It just means that I would consider it behind the others.

Originally I thought about ranking them in terms of value (Overall accessories, etc.) first and sound second, but after hearing how much better one of these mics sounded vs. the rest, I decided to rank them in terms of sound first.

That said, I will provide samples of each mic for your listening discernment so you can formulate your own opinion!

Be sure to check out the official reviews for each as I go into a lot more depth. This is meant as a guide to familiarize yourself with how they sound in relation to each other.

Also, bookmark and share as this will act as a central hub for all mics I demo in the future as well as any changes I make regarding my overall impressions and opinions, re-recordings, and so on.

Finally, all of these mics are XLR and require either phantom power from an audio interface, mixer, preamp, etc., OR simply need a lot of gain (as in the case of the SM57).

Here you can find my USB Rankings List if you’re interested in that as well.

With that, let’s dive in!

#8

Maono AU-PM500

Price: Check Amazon! | Official Review: Here!

Maono AU-PM500 Review Maono AU-PM500 Review

Unfortunately, the PM500 falters in comparison to the rest of the mics, as it sounds too throaty, dark, veiled, etc.

When compared to the heavy hitters, it’s not as clear and articulate but also lacks body and sounds a bit unnatural.

I appreciate what Maono was going for (Radiobroadcast warmth), and the mic certainly doesn’t sound terrible, but it needs work.

That said, the overall value here is quite incredible and virtually unmatched, as they include a Scissor Arm, Pop Filter, Shock Mount, and even an XLR cable!

Sound Test(s):

  • Record Date: 01/2024
  • Interface: Universal Audio Volt 2
  • DAW/Sequencer: FL Studio
  • Gain: 75%
  • Pop Filter Used: Included In Box
  • Post dB Boost: Yes
  • Mic Stand Used: Included In Box
  • Shockmount: Yes, Included In Box

Maono AU-PM500:

At A Glance

  • Microphone-core: Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz
  • Sensitivity: -35.3 dBu at 1kHz (1pa=94dB SPL)
  • Output Impedance: 98.7 Ohm
  • Rate Load Impedance: not less than 1k ohm
  • Maximum SPL: 120dB SPL (1K, THD 0.5%)
  • S/N Ratio: 70 dB-A
  • Noise Level: 20u Vrms
  • Dynamic Range: 120dB
  • Power Requirements: +48V DC Phantom Power

#7

Audio Technica AT2020

Price: Check Amazon! | Check Sweetwater! | Check B&H! | Check eBay! | Official Review: Here!

An ever-popular XLR microphone, the Cardioid Condenser AT2020 has long since been a staple in the budget sphere, but how does it perform?

I purchased one of these bad boys around 2017 from my local Guitar Center.

They were having a sale at the time and I was able to snag it for around $80. Normally this puppy runs around $100, so I couldn’t pass up saving a Jackson.

Build-wise, the quality here is excellent and the mic feels incredibly sturdy and robust.

Additionally, the sound quality is crisp, clear, and very articulate, with a mostly neutral profile but with a bit of a dip in the 70-90Hz region.

So, if you’re looking for a bit of extra girth/gruff in your vocals, you’ll either need to EQ this area or opt for something else.

The highs are somewhat boosted, which gives the AT2020 some nice sparkle and air, and overall, this is a good mic.

That said, I ended up selling it because I felt as though there were better options out there.

Sound Test(s):

  • Record Date: 08/2016
  • Interface: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
  • DAW/Sequencer: Audacity
  • Gain: 95%
  • Pop Filter: Samson PS01
  • Post dB Boost: No
  • Mic Stand: OnStage DS7200B
  • Shockmount: No

Audio Technica AT2020:

Test 2:

Test 3:

Test 4:

At A Glance

  • Intended Use(s): Vocals, Speech/Voice-Over, Instruments
  • Microphone Type: Condenser. Condenser mic vs. Dynamic mic
  • Orientation: Side Address
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid.
  • Diaphragm Size: 0.63″ (16mm)
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz
  • Max SPL: 144 dB.
  • Output Impedance: 100 Ohms
  • Signal-to-noise ratio: 20dB
  • Color: Black
  • Connector: XLR. What is XLR?
  • Weight: 0.76 lbs.
  • Included Accessories: Stand Mount, Microphone Pouch
  • Manufacturer Part Number: AT2020

#6

Fifine K669C

Price: Check Amazon! | Check Fifine! | Official Review: Here!

Note: You can choose the Condenser or Dynamic version from the drop-down menu on Fifine’s website.

Fifine K669 Review

The K669 at an astonishing $37 (subject to change) is an excellent-sounding mic with a robust stature.

While being a bit too hot in the upper registers, I still like the air and sparkle here, and the entirety of the frequency range is handled pretty well, all things considered.

One issue is that it picks up a bit more background noise than I prefer, but it’s hard to argue with the price.

That said, I appreciate what Fifine was going for here (ultra-clear/neutral) but it’s sometimes a bit too sibilant, lacks body, and you’ll be able to hear the difference when compared to the top dogs in this list.

Sound Test(s):

  • Record Date: 10/2023
  • Interface: Universal Audio Volt 2
  • DAW/Sequencer: FL Studio
  • Pop Filter: No
  • Gain: Around 75%
  • Post dB Boost: Yes
  • Mic Stand: InnoGear Scissor Arm
  • Shockmount: No

At A Glance

  • Model Number: K669C
  • Connection: XLR
  • Element: Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Diaphragm Size: 16mm
  • Sensitivity: -43dB±3dB
  • SPL: 130dB
  • Frequency Range: 30Hz – 20kHz
  • Power Requirements: Phantom Power 48V±4V

#5

Samson C01

Price: Check Amazon! | Check Sweetwater! | Check B&H! | Official Review: Here!

The C01 was the very first microphone I ever bought all the way back in 2007 at the local Sam Ashe here in Ruff Raleigh, N.C.

It will always hold a special place in my heart and the sound? I’m still quite fond of it!

Not only does it sound excellent, but it’s built like a damn dumbbell and incredibly robust – especially for the price. If you’re on an extreme budget, this and the K669 are the mics to look at first.

And hey, if you ever need to do a set of 50,000 curls or something, this homie’s got you covered.

If you can believe it, this thing was going for around $45 in 2023 due to overstock on Amazon, and that makes me sad.

I’ve always felt like the C01 never quite got the recognition it deserved, and folks still message me to this day commenting on how great it sounds and how much they love it.

I would have to agree. I ended up selling my original (long story) but plan to get another one at some point.

It’s a Hypercardioid mic; so it’s even more directional than your typical cardioid condenser and tends to block out background noise perhaps better than any mic I’ve used.

Sound Test(s):

paired with the 2i2.

  • Record Date: 08/2015
  • Interface: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (1st generation)
  • DAW/Sequencer: Audacity
  • Pop Filter: Samson PS01
  • Gain: 75%
  • Post dB Boost: Yes
  • Mic Stand: Not Used
  • Shockmount: No

Samson C01:

At A Glance

  • Polar Pattern: Hypercardioid
  • Frequency Range: 40Hz – 18kHz
  • Maximum SPL: 136dB
  • Power Sources: Phantom Power
  • Sound Field: Mono
  • Operating Principle: Pressure Gradient
  • Element Type: Condenser
  • Sensitivity: -33dB
  • Operating Voltage: 36 to 52V
  • Package Weight: 2.6 lb
  • Box Dimensions (LxWxH): 12 x 9.2 x 2.9″

#4

MXL V67G

Price: Check Amazon! | Check Sweetwater! | Check B&H! | Official Review: Here!

MXL V67G Review

Coming in at #4 is the vintage-inspired MXL V67G, a mic that looks and sounds the part.

If the PM500 was going for that radio quality but came up a bit short, the V67G nails it.

This mic, to me, is a perfect cross between neutral and warm; i.e. it kind of sounds like the K669 and PM500 had a baby.

Neutral-ish, but not overly bright like the K669, and has a touch of warmth but doesn’t sound overly dark/recessed like the PM500.

That said, I don’t think it’s as good as the next mic, but let’s be honest: these differences are pretty subtle.

Sound Test(s):

  • Record Date: 12/2023
  • Interface: Universal Audio Volt 2
  • DAW/Sequencer: FL Studio
  • Pop Filter: No
  • Gain: 75%
  • Post dB Boost: Yes.
  • Mic Stand: InnoGear Scissor Arm
  • Shockmount: No

MXL V67G:

At A Glance:

  • Form Factor: Large Diaphragm/Stand/Boom Mount
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency Range: 30Hz – 20kHz
  • Maximum SPL: 130dB SPL (.5% THD)
  • Output Connector: 1x XLR 3-Pin Male (On Mic)
  • Power Sources: Phantom Power
  • Color: Green/Gold

#3

MXL 770

Price: Check Amazon! | Check Sweetwater! | Check B&H! | Check eBay! | Official Review: Here!

MXL 770 Review

The MXL 770 is not only versatile, but it sounds very clear and natural. Combine that with an excellent overall accessories package and you’ve got yourself quite an amazing value.

In the box, you’re getting a hard body case, shock mount, and the mic itself has 2 switches: One is an HPF (High Pass Filter) and the other is its normal setting (Flat).

This means it’s essentially 2 mics in one. For those desiring a more radio-type sound, use the flat setting.

If you’d like some bass roll-off, use the HPF feature which results in a bit of an airier presentation.

Sound Test(s):

  • Record Date: 12/2023
  • Interface: Universal Audio Volt 2
  • DAW/Sequencer: FL Studio
  • Pop Filter: No
  • Gain: 75%
  • Post dB Boost: Yes.
  • Mic Stand: InnoGear Scissor Arm
  • Shockmount: Yes

MXL 770 (Flat Setting):

MXL 770 (Hi Pass Filter):

At A Glance


#2

Shure SM57

Price: Check Amazon! | Check Sweetwater! | Check B&H! | Check eBay! 

Shure SM57 Review

Until I’m in a situation where I don’t have to boost the SM57 in post, I can’t quite place it at #1. Heck, I may never prefer it over the 990 and that’s okay.

Originally, a funny thing happened as I was redoing some of these takes and matching levels inside FL Studio.

Sound-wise, the SM57 emerged victorious, but after going back and forth for WAY too long, I think the 990 sounds better. It’s smoother and more natural, but still has that nice air and sparkle.

The SM57 with my Universal Audio Volt 2 at around 95% gain and a 10+dB boost makes it sound a little … I don’t even know the word but I’m sure you can hear it.

It’s like, warbly or something. It almost sounds too raw. 

That said, it’s incredibly articulate and about as true to the human voice as I’ve personally experienced. It picks up all the subtle nuances in my voice to the point of astonishment. 

I talk about resolution in headphones a lot; that is, how good are they at presenting everything there is to hear?

Well, the SM57 is most certainly the best on this list in terms of overall resolution when it comes to vocals, and it’s easy to see why it’s been around for many decades.

Even so, the 990 is a better option for most people because it’s much easier to set up and get a good take. With the SM57, you absolutely need an interface with more than enough gain so you’re not compensating in other ways.

Of course, everyone and their Grandma knows you can hammer nails with it, plus it’s been used for every presidential address since Lyndon B. Johnson. So there’s that.

Sound Tests

  • Record Date: 01/2024
  • Interface: Universal Audio Volt 2
  • DAW/Sequencer: FL Studio
  • Pop Filter/Windscreen: Yes, Windscreen
  • Gain: 95%
  • Post dB Boost: Yes.
  • Mic Stand: InnoGear Scissor Arm
  • Shockmount: No

Shure SM57:

At A Glance:

  • Type: Dynamic.
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid.
  • Frequency Response: 40Hz-15kHz.
  • Output Impedance: 150 Ohms.
  • Color: Black.
  • Connector: XLR. What is XLR?
  • Weight: 0.63 lbs.
  • Accessories: Carry Case, Mic Clip.
  • Manufacturer Part Number: SM57-LC.

Notes:

It’s important to keep in mind that the SM57 is a dynamic mic, and while not requiring 48V phantom power, it needs around 50 (minimum) to 65dB of gain.

My Volt 2 has 55 and while not maxed out, I was close to it and had to boost it up after the fact. When I record it without having to do all that, I will update this article.

If you’re serious about buying this puppy (and you should be) I’d plan on investing in 2 things:

  1. A Cloudlifter or Fethead
  2. This Shure A81WS Windscreen

Or, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (4th gen) now has 69dB of gain. Should you get the 2i2, you likely won’t need a Cloudlifter or Fethead.

If you’re interested in why I recommend these things and want to find out how to make an SM57 sound identical to a $400 SM7B, click the link below!

Learn More:

 


#1

MXL 990

Price: Check Amazon! | Check Sweetwater! | Check B&H! | Official Review: Here!

MXL 990 Review

If I had to decide on one mic to record voiceover work, I’d have a pretty tough time choosing between the 990, 770, and SM57.

The 990 takes the 770’s sound and brightens it up a smidge, but it still has some of that radio sound we all know and love.

I think the 990 edges the 770 because it sounds just a hare more natural and smooth. It could have simply been the difference in takes, but in going back and forth, the 770 feels slightly boxier and/or hollower.

Again, these discrepancies can be a bit trivial – especially if you’re not obsessively going back and forth as I am.

In other words, I wouldn’t stress too much about which of these you go with.

The 770 is a great value because of its accessories package, but if you need to record an acoustic guitar, I’d go with the 990/991 bundle in a heartbeat.

The 991 provides flawless takes with my 20+-year-old Gibson Epiphone, and it’s super fun and easy to get a good recording right off the jump.

Here are a couple of chords I recorded for a future beat:

Sound Tests

  • Record Date: 12/2023
  • Interface: Universal Audio Volt 2
  • DAW/Sequencer: FL Studio
  • Pop Filter: No
  • Gain: 75%
  • Post dB Boost: Yes.
  • Mic Stand: InnoGear Scissor Arm
  • Shockmount: No

MXL 990:

At A Glance

  • Analog or digital: Analog.
  • Frequency response: 30Hz to 20KhZ.
  • Max SPL: 130 dB. What is SPL?
  • Connectivity: XLR. What is XLR?
  • Capsule: Condenser.
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid.
  • Type: Mounted.
  • Applications: Studio.
  • Diaphragm size: Large diaphragm.
  • Switches: None.
  • Phantom power required: Yes (48V).
  • Width: 2.4″
  • Height: 5.11″
  • Weight: 1.2 lb.
  • Case: Carrying case.
  • Clip: Yes.
  • Shockmount: Yes.

Final Verdict

Overall, and in going back and forth for quite some time, I think the 990 sounds the best out of all the mics discussed today. It has air and sparkle, but also sounds smooth, natural, and effortless.

In addition, there’s a perfect amount of radio broadcast warmth which makes the voice sound sultry and splendid without coming across as forced and throaty. 

Opting for the MXL 990/991 bundle at $130 over the standalone MXL 990 at $100 offers a compelling advantage by providing a versatile microphone set.

The MXL 991, included in the bundle, complements the MXL 990, offering a dedicated instrument microphone, expanding your recording capabilities and providing a more comprehensive solution for various audio needs without a significant increase in cost.

Learn More:

 

Microphone Tests for you to compare:

#8: PM500

#7: AT2020

#6: K669C

#5: Samson C01

#4: V67G

#3: 770

770: (Hi Pass Filter)

#2: SM57

#1: 990

Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this XLR Rankings List and came away with some valuable insight.

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please contact me!!

If you love what I do here and want to support the blog and channel in a more personal way, check me out on Patreon and discover all the value I have to offer you.

Which of these mics sounds best to YOU? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…

All the best and God bless,

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

Be sure to check out my Reviews and Resources page for more helpful and informative articles!

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