Is A $1000 Microphone Really 10x Better Than A $100 Mic?

| Rant, Tips

If you know me, then you know I’m not into expensive studio equipment. Is it because I can’t afford it? Well originally, when I was starting out, that was the biggest factor. I was a broke student working my way through school.

But these days I actually can afford all that expensive gear, and yet I still don’t buy things like $1000 microphones. Why? Because I can’t really justify spending 10x the money on something that really isn’t 10x better than its $100 counterpart.


TRR229 Is A $1000 Microphone Really 10x Better Than A $100 Mic?

Via Will Fisher Flickr



Let’s Be Honest For A Moment

Let’s cut through the silliness and be honest for a minute. There are two inherent reasons why we think that $1000 microphones should sound better than $100 microphones.

One, we see many of the world’s top producers and engineers using them (and much more expensive mics too) and they get really great results. Two, we all suffer from what I call Brand Snobbery, which is a condition where you are brainwashed into thinking you always get what you pay for, and that some brands are inherently “better” than other brands.

Be honest, if it weren’t for those two reasons, most of us would never even consider spending $1000 on a microphone when we could get one that does the exact same thing for one tenth the cost.

But You Don’t Believe Me

I hear it already, many of you don’t believe me. You think I’m simply trying to convince myself that a $100 microphone can sound as good as a $1000 microphone. I won’t come at you with experience and mic shootouts as my proof, even though I’ve worked in some of the world’s finest studios and recorded with some of the most sought after mics.

Instead, I want to put the burden of proof on you! When you record something (a vocal or acoustic guitar, let’s say) with a $1,000 microphone and then again with a $100 microphone, can you really say that the $1,000 microphone gives you a sound that is 10x better than the $100 sound? What about 5x? Does it sound 5x better than the $100 microphone?

Let’s just be conservative. Does the $1000 microphone sound even twice as good as the $100 microphone? Can you literally listen to the $100 recording and then the $1000 recording and say “Wow, this second recording sounds 2x as good as the previous one!”

It Sounds Crazy, Doesn’t It?

When you ask those questions out loud it just sounds crazy. There’s never been a scenario where I’ve tested two mics on a source and thought one was even close to 2x better sounding than the other. Maybe one mic sounds better for the given source, but never twice as good.

That’s just reality.

But in the fantasy that plays out in our heads (and on stupid audio forums) we are almost convinced we should save up and buy (or even worse, go into debt for) a nice $1000 microphone so we can get really professional sounding recordings. Admit it, we’ve all lived that fantasy.

There’s Nothing Wrong With Expensive Gear

Let me be clear: there is absolutely nothing wrong with owning expensive gear. It is generally well made and sounds great. But you know what else is well made and sounds great? Affordable “budget” gear.

I’ve bought and sold (and used for free) a wide variety of gear over the years and I can say from experience that the only difference between a $1000 microphone and a $100 microphone is the price.


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184 Responses to “Is A $1000 Microphone Really 10x Better Than A $100 Mic?”

    • Franck

      Well, I think you put the right topic but I think a $1000 mic is better than a $100 one.

      If you put it in a preamp that is in the same range of your 100$ mic, using a $15 or less xlr cable, you probably won’t be able to make any difference.

      Ask yourself if a $1000 bottle of wine is better than a $10 one. You’ll probably agree it is. But you may or may not agree it is worth is, depending on how much you are ready to pay for this pleasure.


      • Pete

        If that 15 dollar cable is ok there will be no difference in it and any other functioning cable. Right there we see mis info.

      • DAVE

        I agree with you about mic preamp, But totally disagree with you about a 100 mic
        sound as good as a 1000 mic?? Are you crazy you can totally TELL THE DIFFERENT

        • Rudy La Fuente

          I was using an Audio Technica 4033 for a long time I just recently purchased 103 Neumann microphone the Audio-Technica sounds very good but the truth is the 103 sounds better there is a difference if there wasn’t a difference I would have sent back the Neumann 103 microphone Norman microphone I’m also using a lefont p21 preamplifiers

  1. Garry

    I commented to a friend the other day that if they had stopped production of a popular mic such as the SM57 in the 60’s (as they did with U47), they would probably be asking a grand each for one now. Also, having an expensive mic is really only of benefit if you know how to point one in the first place. Even then the differences can be tiny.

    Great post!!

  2. Nyla

    True believer in this as we did a comparison against a U87 ($3500 mic) with an MXL V67 ($99 mic) using a. Millennia STT1 and the V67 won. It was a shocker but true. Preamps can also make a difference in what mic you pair it with. This was a factual example. (Test location: The Spirit Ranch Studio, Bud Snyder-Allman Bros. Engineer)

      • Dave

        That’s not particularly difficult, U87s are the most over rated microphones in the music industry. I’ve used them before myself and it put me off buying one. Incredibly disappointing.

  3. Dave

    I’d say the biggest difference between $1000 mics and $100 mics is that if you buy a $1000, it is going to be good at something. Not every $100 mic is. You have to do more research among the cheaper mics to find the one that IS as good as a $1000 mic. They are out there, but it’s a small percentage of them. If you know your mics and do your research, you can come out way ahead. If you don’t you could end up with junky mics.

    You can even apply it to cheaper than $100 mics. I got some of the GLS mics on amazon that compete with the SM57 (just do a search for GLS 57… you’ll find them). I did A/B testing with them and a Shure SM57. The GLS 57 actually has a wider/flatter frequency response curve… it is MORE realistic than the SM57. If you want a SM57 sound, you can just mimic the 57’s EQ response curve in your DAW’s EQ. For $30.


  4. Jerian Lewis

    I love your articles … I love your review …. Im an aspiring Gospel Producer from Jamaica and this article is spot on … All my gear are budget gear except for my monitors which I actually invested in …. This article on the other hand is spot on … I think we should work with our budget constraints and not be brainwashed

  5. Jacob Chadwell

    Great article man, I debate this exact subject with my peers all the time. I would agree that before the capsule patents expired this debate could be different. But at this time, there’s so many great mics out there based on the classics that its hard to deny that the classics arent worth what people are paying for them. Furthermore, why dont they ever do mic shootouts and drop the recording into a mix? I mean thats what your going to do with the recording anyway right? I guarantee that when you drop the two tracks into a mix, add a little eq, THEY SOUND THE SAME! Personally, I deal with clients that have brand snobbery, so sometimes I have to break out the name brand stuff just to satisfy them. I’m a huge fan of clones and modded mics, no reason not to be. Especially when there’s companys out there like Oktova Mod that make killer stuff.

  6. Mark

    The biggest difference I’ve seen between my $100 & my more expensive mic – noise. The more expensive one just operates much more quieter. Can you overcome this with EQ? Sure. But, using my more expensive mic when recording just means less work when I get to the mixing stage. To me, it’s not an issue between one sounding better; each have their own unique “sound”, and I actually prefer the noise/grit of the $100 for certain vocal applications! 🙂 But, it’s the noise factor that causes me more work later on. I really began to notice this when I started using compression on the $100 mic tracks vs. the more expensive mic.

    • Rod

      Rode NT1-a. 200 bucks. As far as I know continues to have the lowest self noise of ANY mic.

      • Mark

        Right – but again the Rode NT1-A is more than $100, so you’ve proved my point. 🙂 BTW, my $100+ mic is a Shure KSM32 & it’s whisper quiet compared to my $100 mic (which I actually got for $50) – an MXL V67G – which I *love* as a vocal mic.

        • Kurt Kroh

          Yes, but the point we can all agree on is that you don’t have to spend $1000+ to get a very high quality and quiet mic. I own many RODE mics because they are very high quality for the price and have a 10 year warranty. The new NT1 (just released) has 4.5 dB self noise for around $270 street price.

      • walter williams

        Hi Rod,
        I agree the Rode NT1-A is my mike of choice for the past six years in my own studio with soundproof booth mixing down to my iMac 27.
        It’s Aussie made and is in the Guiness Book of Records for having the lowest noise level in the world of just 5db-A.
        I recently replaced it for a month with an Audio Technica 4033a which is twice the price, but still not the better mic.
        All powered 48v thru an M-Audio interface and Rode XLR cables.
        Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oy, Oy, Oy!

    • Jonny

      it depends on the $1000 type of mic also , if its a tube like mine you don`t get it much quieter
      i also got a rode NT2000 that is a good chunk quieter than my Miktek CV4 ( actually $1499 ) ,
      i believe the rode NT1 is just as quiet as the NT2000 , and i believe the NT1 is a great buy sound vice , quality vice and noise vice

      • Jonny

        But graham have proved that the behringer B1 sounds good also , i just dont know a boat the noise on that one , but in many cases some noise is really not a factor. not on vocals and guitar strumming for me at least, but i prefer a quieter mic when i play acoustic guitar very softly with my fingers( fingerplukking ), but im sure there is $100 mics that is quiet enough , maybe some b1 users could jump in on this one 🙂

  7. Rod

    I haven’t had the chance to compare many mics…expensive vs. inexpensive, so I couldn’t challenge your idea here. There are areas, though, where the spendy gear is 2x, 3x, 4x, etc. better. For instance..a $100 mic on a $2500 acoustic guitar vs a $1000 mic on a $200 guitar. The expensive guitar gets the win. Where acoustic instruments are concerned, including drums,….expensive almost always equals better….build and sound.

    • Me

      Come on now.. i own a sontronics stc-2 for a few years mainly to record my demos at home. and i have recorded full album with a neuman u67 and other tracks for other albums with a neuman u87 both for vocals. and the unprocessed audio of both is of no comparison to the sontronics which by the way cost me about 170! Anyway to me neuman u67 is better sounding then u87. its ésses are way smoother, and the overall track is softer less harsh. the u67 is amazing! When i get back to the sontronics it sounds like…damn it…! now what i mean? sure you can get it done with it but not if you’re after sound quality… no… I know the studio has better preamps and converters than mine(actually not now cause i own a hilo) but i took it to the studio once and..nah 🙂 How can one mix and get to hear the very tiny changes and differences that mixing requires and not hear such differences between mics?!
      In audio the amount of the smallest differences is the biggest difference is it not? I’m no mixing pro or audio engineer top notch or whatever, this is just my humble opinion.

    • Jonny

      i wold rather buy a better acoustic guitar than the expensive mic, especially if you write songs where the guitar and vocal is the main instruments
      the source is the most important

    • eddioe

      You’re falling for the same trap, only with guitars! I have access to every Martin and Taylor acoustics on the market, and many second hand ones and as far as sound and playability and sometimes even build quality there are dozens of $200 and under guitars that play and sound as good or better. In fact the Washburn GD20 NS which sold for $175-$250 is probably my favorite sounding acoustic ever. Price to sound ratio means almost nothing, heck even the Rogue Acoustic I bought for $39 bucks on sale for my son sounds very good live and excellent recorded and yes, it plays pretty good.

  8. Jerome

    Graham , you hit it on the head with this post. I’ll add if you use a $100 mic like a doorstop , you’ll do the same with a $3500 mic. If I don’t know how to really use a mic (or any piece of gear) properly I’m spinning my wheels. It aint’t the wand Mr. Wizard.

  9. Namin

    This article came just at a time when I was seriously considering saving up for a ribbon mic. I have been using a Studio Project C1 for at least 8 years now, can only tell you great things about the mic. And have been able to get really great modern vocal sounds out of it. Mic placement and singer’s performance is more critical than perhaps the tiny wee bit of advantage you get over a pricey microphone. I also happened to audition a Golden Age Projects MkIII Active Ribbon for about 2 months and was stunned at the quality of warm and thick vocals you can get out of it, but many people do not want you to believe this.

    • Dave

      I highly recommend getting a decent ribbon mic. I’ve heard good things about the GAP ones. I like my Cascade Victor a lot. It gets used most of the time when recording drums, sometimes vocals and guitars. A moderately priced ribbon is one of the cheapest figure 8 mics you can get.

  10. Jon

    Great article, and I couldn’t agree more. Except for a few mics that I’ve bought used or gotten really great deals on, most of my mics are budget-priced mics, including several models from MXL (a few of which have been modified to make them even better). I’ve owned a few slightly more expensive mics, but just didn’t feel like they sounded any better and ended up re-selling them. I’ve had the same experience with converters. I bought an RME ADI2 to replace a Behringer SRC2496. The ADI2 cost 5 times as much as the Behringer (around $1000 vs $200), and yet to me, the Behringer sounded just as good, so I sold the RME and kept the Behri.

  11. Rob

    I agree ‘1000%’ that the super duper expensive stuff isnt better in relation to the price differencial. I have a Rode NT-2A all around LDC and its a great mic that you can get for about 2 bills on ebay and such. Fx processors, though, I thinl you have to shell out some $ to get a good one though, but dont go crazy. Also, gear depreciates so fast its ridiculous so I as a rule dont buy new retail stuff. Ebay, etc, also, pawn shops are the fastest growing ‘retailer’ in the country now and guess what? Dont but new stuff! And dont spend a ton of $ unless you or your daddy are rich. Its all about technique, and Graham is right, the high end stuff isnt that much better than the economy brand–the basic technolgy and materials are essentilly the same or close.

  12. Steve Hupe

    My Kel Audio Song Sparrow is a great mic, sounds awesome and has an amazing ability to pick up tones that other mics don’t. It’s only $300 mic, but it has one flaw, if a wifi or cell signal is too strong, it actually interferes with the mic. I switched out to a cheap Samson mic and got excellent results (with a bit of eq, it even sounded close). It’s the same with any tool, if you know how to use it and can’t get something the same for cheaper, that’s when you shell out the dough, otherwise, you can generally get away with cheaper equipment.

    I’m also a welder, I’m about to buy a $1200 welding machine that competes equally with machines 2x or 3x more expensive and had a better warranty. I treat all my tools the same, be it musical or mechanical, if it does what I need it to do at the same level as the high price stuff, I’ll go the cheaper route.

  13. Rob

    I got the Avantone retro wine colored ribbon for 2 bills used.Its an excellent mic. Do I need a ribbon mic? Nope. Yea its nice to have the so-called ‘warmth’ but the ribbon thing is sort of the latest fad and I def wouldnt buy the high end one–whats the name, starts w an ‘R’, roy roy, hmmm?

    I was kinda surprised the other day when I just hooked up a basic workhorse dynamic mic and felt it was kindbof kickin ass at everything, so there you go. Dont go crazy on gear, it wont make the MUSIC for you. And dont buy new and all the hyped up bells and whistles.

  14. Jason

    I started out with budget gear and worked my way up to the expensive stuff over the last 20 years. If someone asked me if I wanted to sell my expensive preamps and microphones and do music with the cheaper gear, I would say “not in a million years”. I believe the problem is that many of these shootouts are isolated to one specific signal in the chain. But has anyone ever done a shootout that compared an expensive signal chain to a budget signal chain? I bet the sum of all the parts is what we should be talking about here. Sure a budget mic may sound just as “good” as an expensive one, BY ITSELF. But what if that budget mic is also going through budget preamps, budget converters, budget compressors and Eq’s? If I sincerely believed that going through a budget signal chain was equal to that of a high end signal chain, then I would sell all my gear tomorrow. But I have done my own comparisons and as I said before “not in a million years”. If you can afford it, I say it’s worth it.

    Occasionally, I run into an engineer who is self taught and he will swear to me that he has tried all different microphones on his saxophone but his favorite is the sm57. Then I listen to what he has recorded and its horrible. After a few experiences such as these, it then became clear to me that many project studio engineers never really developed their ears. They literally lack the ability to decipher the difference between what sounds good and what sounds bad. In a twist of irony, THEY are the ones who become the gear snobs insisting on budget gear sounding just as good as high end gear. I rarely meet a super talented mixing engineer that has put out hit records that will agree with the sentiment that budget gear is ‘just as good’. That is a cold hard fact. If it was, we would ALL be using it. To say preferring high end gear is “snobbery” is a bit dismissive and I would venture to guess this is stemming from the need to justify the harsh reality that there are two worlds in the audio industry: The professional users and the project studio users. Those who make real money and those who don’t. The majority of home project users suffer from “gear envy” and do all sorts of mental gymnastics to rationalize their lot in life including talking themselves into believing that the budget gear is just as good as the high end stuff. I know a few engineers who sold all their expenisve gear and ended up buying it back later on on life when they could afford it again.

    • DF

      Jason … I think you are right about the gear. If tomorrow any of us could record the Beatles would be care about having a 1% advantage in our preamp, in our microphone, in our cables, etc., etc. I think the answer is a resounding yes. It is the summing of all the little advantages that creates the professional product. However, for the studio project engineer/ producer budget gear at 90 to 95% quality on the output is not only great, it’s fantastic!

      I think Graham’s point is that there are very few incremental values on a piece of gear by piece of gear basis AND focusing on ‘what I have or don’t have’ is destructive to the more important ‘how do I best use it.’

      Expensive gear usually includes service after sale, reliability, consistency of production (heard lots of stories of variations in quality of Chinese knock of mics due to poor tolerances and poor quality control … you might get the great sounding one of the factory floor, but you might not)and highest engineering standards.

      All that said, I am a project guy, not a pro. I still buy the best used gear I can afford and have never regretted a high end purchase. I’ve gone through a half dozen interface over the years before I wised up an purchased a RME system … still running on PCI or PCIe slots as the best devised audio routing to the DAW. Personally, I’ve found quality preamps make a huge difference provided they are matched with good ADCs and good DAC and monitors. They’ll make almost any mic sound good.

    • Justin

      I think you may be missing the point of this entire website. You may or may not understand this, but everyone who gets into audio engineering is immediately pulled into this idea of “It can’t sound good without expensive equipment.”

      Sure, for the professional audio engineer who is making plenty of money off his venture, he can invest in whatever he wants. He’s trying to make money and if he thinks something sounds good he has the money to do it.

      The problem, however, is that many guys who are just trying to get a good recording out of their bedroom are becoming convinced that they need to go out and spend thousands of dollars. This often happens before they even learn how to use any of the equipment. So they end up with no money, or even a bunch of debt, a ton of equipment, and their recordings still suck because they didn’t learn how to use anything that they have!

      It then becomes a vicious cycle. They keep spending more money thinking its the gear that’s the problem, instead of learning how to be a good engineer.

      It’s not snobbery. It’s looking at for the little guy and realizing that we don’t all need to invest thousands to get what we need.

    • Chris

      “Occasionally, I run into an engineer who is self taught and he will swear to me that he has tried all different microphones on his saxophone but his favorite is the sm57. Then I listen to what he has recorded and its horrible. After a few experiences such as these, it then became clear to me that many project studio engineers never really developed their ears. They literally lack the ability to decipher the difference between what sounds good and what sounds bad”

      Listen to “Atlantic City” by Bruce Springsteen.

      That song, along with the whole Nebraska album, was recorded on a Tascam Portastudio 4 track cassette recorder with an SM57 in Springsteen’s Bedroom.

      Does “Atlatnic City” sound bad? I think it sounds great…even in 2013. Evidently so do millions of others. It certainly sounds a lot better than some of the high end synthesized crap from the 80s recorded with the best gear available at the time.

      I said this on another board but if you read recording notes on many albums released over the past few years (like the Killers) you find that the final versions are combinations of stuff recorded at home as well as in the pro studio. Chris Cornell recorded all of his vocals for the last Soundgarded album at his house through an apogee interface.

      I guarantee you that you can’t listen to those albums and tell which parts were recorded where especially considering the way most people hear new music is not in your acoustically treated room with full resolution audio but rather on a streaming service like Spotify or Pandora through a set of cheap ear buds.

      The best thing about recording in a pro studio isn’t the gear. The gear is a huge part of it but it’s the other aspects being known quantities that make recording in a pro studio great.

      Those known quantities include:
      1. A staff that KNOWS their gear (whether it’s a Neve, API, SSL or whatever) They know how to get the sounds you need.
      2. An acoustically treated environment so that the mixes and sounds translate outside the studio.
      3. Experience.

      In project studios these are the variables that affect recording quality. Because anybody can make a record, many people make recordings without knowing their gear, mixing in an untreated environment and lack the experience to know what works. The gear is way down the list.

      An example is this: Take an experienced recording engineer and mixer. Somebody like Glyn Johns and Chris Lord Alge. Send them to a band’s rehearsal space with a laptop, an interface a condenser mic and a couple of SM57s and ask them to record a song with a band. At the same time, get an inexperienced project studio owner to go to a high end studio with a Neve console, the best converters, a huge array of super expensive mics and gear.

      I bet my shirt that the experienced guys would come up with a far superior recording and final product. I also bet that it wouldn’t be far off from a commercial release in the ears of the average music listener.

    • A I

      Good point. I agree with the signal path chain example. I do believe somewhere there is a price break point for musical instruments, microphones that at that product level lets say a mic for $500 vs. $5000 the later may not be justify the extra $$$.
      I’ve seen this with drums, guitars, preamps etc…
      You really have to find what you like.

    • greg

      I agree in some things you mentioned. but your arguing in a way that your changing the premise of the blog. youre already talking about something else which is not the point of this specific blog. anything that is not within the context of what was written is irrelevant. we can spend days or months on arguing which sounds better by changing the premise and adding different context. but thats the imature way to argue. at the end of the day whats better would always be the one that gets you to your goal. expensive or cheap after all the point is for a better sounding music (which depends on how you want its to sound like and what fits the song) not better sounding “sound” (which is not the point of mixing cause sometimes you want that bad ugly sound) cause thats what fits the song:) peace 🙂

    • Toby

      I agree completely.

      Mics/gear that cost many times their entry level counterparts cannot be flying off the shelves because of hype and marketing alone. As a business model, that approach has a pretty short shelf life (look at all the bogus products that are a huge hit and then disappear from the market like a one hit wonder). There are cases where brand recognition adds a few hundred dollars to the price (like paying for the new telefunken badge), but as in ANY category, price to quality ratio is exponential, not linear; therefore it is naïve to expect a $1000 mic to sound “10x better” (whatever that means) than its $100 counterpart. This is like saying if you buy a used car for $1,000 that tops out at 100mph, you can expect a $50,000 new car to go 5,000 MPH. Does it feel 50x better to drive a brand new lexus than a rotted out ford truck from 1980? Matter of opinion…but if you just want to drive around in circles with your friends and have fun (project studio), then go for the cheapest option. But if your job is driving celebrities around (recording studio), better get something to don’t have to apologize for. I have bought my fair share of MXL’s and the like, returned about half of them because of incredible noise problems. I decided not to give myself any excuses, i.e. cheap gear that I could blame if my records didn’t sound like rick rubin. Patience is the key. If that means socking away $100 a month and waiting a year to get a solid mic, then do it. You will put so much care into placing it, EQing, etc. every time you use it. The investment is not only material, it is spiritual, and your sacrifice will appreciate your entire process, not just your mic locker. That being said, I now own a u87, AK47, etc. and I still bust out my MXL990/993 set sometimes just to test myself. Learning to use the gear you’ve got is more inspiring when it’s great gear, but accepting the challenge of making cheap gear sound as good as possible is also really fun and rewarding, and I think this is where Graham is coming from, which I respect. Either way, there are many paths to the top of thr mountain, but the view of the moon is the same! Happy Trails!

  15. Herb

    Thx Graham, a true word I guess, but: In one of your videos i saw you with a Universal Audio Apollo interface in the background. So, is this concept only valid for microphones or maybe also for Audio interfaces? Is a 2000§ interface really x times better than a 200§ interface? 😉

    • DF

      I’ll answer: without a doubt!

      1. Number i/o available.
      2. Types of i/o available (i.e., S/PDIF/ ADAT/ etc.)
      3. For PC, quality of the drivers available.
      4. Quality of the ADC (analog to digital converters) and the DAC (digital to analog converters for monitoring)
      5. Headphone outputs
      6. Direct Monitoring capacity
      7. Value added features such as the Apollo’s ability to use the UAD plugins for tracking.
      8. Value added software such as RME’s TotalMix software layered between your interface and your DAW to create incredible routing schemes.
      9. Quality of manufacture and component selection (all knobs, switches and input jacks are not created equal)
      10. Support
      11. That’s enough for a start.

      • Justin

        I would like to just add it’s only better if you actually need all of that stuff. For the common musician that is just trying to get good recordings of him and his guitars and drums or whatever, then no he definitely does not need all that.

        For someone working in a studio that is constantly tracking different things and needing to provide monitors for bands and stuff like that? Then maybe it might be necessary for a few.

        It’s just not, “without a doubt” better for everyone. Just those who need it for specific purposes. Most people would see no real improvement from it.

        Even Graham talked about how all the features are overkill even for him.

        I’m sure some people out there find usefulness from the full features of these pieces of equipment, but it would be misleading to tell everyone that it will make their recordings better.

    • Graham Cochrane

      Fair question Herb… I’ve actually only been testing out the Apollo in my studio for a few months. It’s a nice piece of gear but a bit overkill for my needs.

      • Pete Woj

        Overkill how? It does the same things your Focusrite Liquid Sapphire Sapphire does… Has the same if not less I/O… Both have great mic pres and excellent sounding converters. I think having the ability to have all of those things in addition to run/use/mix with UAD’s stellar plugins is fantastic. I think being able to print to tape/DAW THROUGH said plugins with no latency is revolutionary AND MONEY SAVING (I think the majority of their stuff like the 1176’s and LA-2A’s sound as good as the hardware, making it unnecessary to spend more money on hardware).

        I don’t understand whats “overkill” about having an Apollo. You should be stoked and happy to have one. Don’t tuck your ail between your legs because you teach the philosophy of “The Wizard > The Wand” AND have some nice gear. After decades of learning, going to school, recording, working, mixing, etc. you’ve picked up some nice gear along the way. Thats fantastic. As you should. You’ve earned and deserve it. Be pumped. Just bc Herb may think an Apollo’s unnecessary or contrary to your microphone beliefs, does in no way shape or form mean you should think its overkill. This blog post isn’t titled “Is a $1000 Interface (or $2000-2500 Apollo thats changed the way WE can record at home ITB) really 10x better than a $100 interface?” There’s no shame in having nice things if they get used and get used properly.

        I think its the perfect piece of gear for your needs. You’re one of the hardest working, most talented, humble, honest, and kind guys/musicians/audio-engineers around. Rock it proud, homie. If you earn something, you have every right to enjoy it. Sorry to jump into a convo that might not be my place… Just had to say my bit. IMO, you deserve it, bro! 😉

        • Graham

          I appreciate the kind words bro 🙂 And don’t get me wrong, the Apollo is sweet. Just kills me knowing that I don’t need it. I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t want more than he needs, and the Apollo is that for me 🙂

          • Pete Woj

            Im just speaking the truth 😉

            But fair enough, though. I get where you’re coming from. And I def respect your ethos. Your response to Herb actually got me thinking. If you can’t tell by now, Im a bit of a gear head and I’ll be the first to admit it. But my gear in no way defines ME or makes my recordings or mixes better. It only makes them better if my technique and application is correct.

            I was thinking about buying another Universal Audio LA610 MkII, as I use it allll the time. Its one of my fav channel strips ever. But then I thought, “how many times do I record overheads through it, or stereo mic an acoustic guitar with a colored tube mic pre??” The answer was not often. So I stopped myself. If WE aren’t using the heck out of what we already have to make a lot of music then there’s no point in buying more studio gear. I still say keep and use that Apollo 😀 Haha.

            Now instruments on the other hand are different. If someone doesn’t have a Tele, but needs a Tele sound for a project/recording, then nothing else will cut it than a Tele. But the best mic pre, Gibson, boutique amp, etc isn’t going to get you the sound of a Tele. Im a believer that having more instruments than studio gear will get you farther making more music in the long run every time.

            Most important thing is the song. Second most important thing is how well that song is performed. Third most important thing is how well that performance is captured via mic placement…. in my humblest opinion, of course 😉

  16. Rob

    Cars, power tools, electronic and studio depreciates big time once you get out the door so, again, dont buy new gear, and no, you absolutely do not have to buy the high end stuff, especially if you are a small time home studio guy, i.e., you dont have an investor.

  17. Rob

    @ Jason, I think you got it right. I think the point is, most of us are home studio guys/gals so it doesnt make sense breaking the bank on gear, especially if your ear and technique arent developed and your doing it more or less as a hobby.

  18. Vincent

    Totally agree.
    I tend to think that a microphone is a microphone.
    A small condenser is a small condenser. No matter the price.
    I may be wrong, but that allows me to get things done and not buy too much stuff.

  19. Adrian Hare

    Great post Graham, and couldn’t agree more. There have been more times than I could count when I have done mic shootouts in the studio and everyone has gone with the NT-1A time and time again – even when up against some serious contenders from the like of AKG and Neumann. And this is a mic that gets some serious hatred from “pro audio” forums – I’m sure you all know the ones I’m talking about ;0)

    The same forum where everyone hates the TLM103 that I consistently get amazing results from…….

    Keep up the good work and truth-telling – we all need reminding from time to time!

  20. Steven Hsieh

    $1000 mic is not twice as good as the $100 one, it’s about 3-5% better. Maybe it’s giving the same feel of clarity without having a built in EQ curve or maybe it has better transient performance.

    But the determining factor of how professional a music sound, it comes down to proper micing and good mixing work. Not even mastering is that important in my opinion as it adds the icing on the cake but there has to be a great cake in the first place.

    Why do people use $1000 mic? It makes those watching you record thinking you are a real professional and stop questioning your ability. It provides 10x better psychoacoustic.

  21. Rob

    In another twist of irony, I was listening to some Madonna CDs the other day and thought many of the recordings were, uh, crap. Well, draw your own conclusions.

    • Dave

      It’s amazing if you go back in your music collection to all the old analog recordings. Many times the production values are shockingly low compared to today’s standards. They had some amazing and expensive gear, but with the limitations of the process, they chose to cut some pretty severe corners sometimes. I always tell people that a good engineer can get better production values out of $10,000 of modern gear than a million dollar studio from 1980.

      • Rob

        Absolutely. Ideally, the music is great to begin with and rhen you have a great engineer and appropriate gear. The high end gear is better than the econ stuff, but is it 10x betyer these days? I dont think so.

        But if the music isnt happening it doesnt matter and too many amateurs are wasting way too much $ in gear these dYs to justify their investment. We’re really spoiled in the USA thougb, when it comes to consumer gear avaability. Not so in the rest of the world.

  22. Dave

    Speaking of cheap mics…

    Does anyone here have experience with the 12 gauge microphones?

  23. Edson

    Nice Post, but… does the Mercedez Benz which costs 100K are 5 times better than a Ford Fuzion which costs 20K?
    is quite subjective!

  24. Jonathan

    Preamps make rhe biggest difference. If you use a 10,000$ mic on m-audio fast track it won’t sound better than a Studio Project B1.

    • Mike

      Nope! Acoustics make the biggest difference. Then mic placement. Then monitoring. Then microphones. Then preamps. Last in line only effects. But with the effects wrongly used you can ruin an otherwise perfect signal.

  25. Herb

    Jason is completely right also when he points out that it is in fact the complete signal chain that makes the big sound. But: The true “signal chain” not only consists of microphone, cables, preamp and interface… More importantly you should add to the signal chain: mic placement(!), room acoustics(!!), musical performance / sound of the instrument, singer whatever(!!!), know-how and experience of the engineer(!!!!). The latter points so much more contibute to great sounding recordings, and what Graham wants to say (and he often enough said) is that the differences in mic quality 1000 bucks / 100 bucks is sooo small compared to all of these factors. And that´s what so many people are doing wrong, they try to optimize the small factors first, because it´s so much easier and cooler! Buying one mike (as soona as you saved enough money) is just a click away…. right now i am forcing myself NOT to buy a better mic but optimize my room acoustics first (which unforunately is much more work and not quite as cool as buying a Neumann U87) and keep learning and practicing…

    • Dave

      It’s good to think of the first half of the signal chain… we can control that (within our budgets).

      Don’t forget the second half of the signal chain…
      The rendering of mp3s from WAV files…
      the reencoding and streaming from the web on spotify, pandora, rdio, or iTunes…
      The playback from some media app on a smart phone to something bluetooth or on some $10 ear buds.

      >90% of the time that second half of signal chain will negate the diminishing returns Graham is talking about (and more). The way most people listen to music (especially as background noise) the average listener wouldn’t notice the difference between a $5,000 mic in a $15,000 signal chain and a $10 logitech computer mic.

      That said, yes I do want to take pride in my work and make it as good as it can possibly be. But for those 2 or 3 people that are going to listen to my recording as audiophiles on $5,000 stereo systems, do I really need to spend 2x to 10x as much on my recording equipment? Probably not.

  26. robert moehle

    I disagree with this a bit. I’ve recorded for close to fifty years and recorded a lot of classical music. It’s there that you see the differences between cheap and expensive mics. I’ve used Neumann U-67 and KM84s, Altec 21B (a real oldie!), AKG C451 and C414 mics among others, and some inexpensive mics, both dynamics like Electrovoice 635s, Shure 67s and Sennheiser 421s and recently, a lot of the Chinese condensers.

    The main differences between the expensive and inexpensive mics are sensitivity to distant sound and an almost indefinable charcateristic I think of as “focus. “Focus” is the ability of a mic to produce a clear sound that has, on a pair of good monitor speakers, a compactness or tight image. Some mics, even some of the expensive ones make a recording that sounds huge, but is slightly “soft,” with the finer detail in the high frequencies beoing less clear. The more “focused” microphones, on the same speakers, have an image that is pinpointed and actually sounds smaller than the “huge” sounding mics. But when you listen for the details in the sounds of individual instruments, you have no trouble picking out those individual instruments in recordings made with those more “focused” microphones. I will admit that close miking instruments may tend to “blur out” the fine details of most sounds, but I can’t help thinking that the resolution of the finer details of a sound is present even in a close-miked sound, and it’s that which more experienced ears can hear, ahd why many engineers choose the more expensive mics.

    • Joesi

      It’s not only about all the things you mentioned. What I haven’t read yet is a thing called “transparency” This is something I can really hear. I’m from Vienna, the headquarter of AKG is just 15 minutes away if you go there by car – so I have a certain preference for that Austrian brand. I used the C414 for a lot of recordings and I don’t want to miss this transparency.
      I agree with Graham if you see it from a simplified point of view. BUT! You have to calculate that in a different way. One track with an expensive mic is like 0.5x better. Two tracks is 1x better, three tracks 2x, four tracks 4x, 5 tracks 8x..and so on and forth…What so many accepted regarding plugins – that small steps sum up to something bigger and better -seems to be completely forgotten for microphones!
      Transparency is the key why even the stock EQ of your DAW still sounds good enough to work with. One of my first recordings I made during my education to an audio engineer was a singer/songwriter project. One vocal track, one guitar track, both of them recorded with a C414 from the studio’s mic park. When I listen to it nowadays I’m still blown away from that “realness” of the sound. You have to experience the difference to understand what transparency really means to a signal. Cheap microphone: Crash= metallic curtain (soundwise), expensive mic: Crash=detailed as hearing millions of needles hitting the floor.
      Yes, you CAN make huge recordings with cheap mics (I own enough myself)but imagine what your mix could sound like if you slapped your skills on a signal that went through those “holy grails”…

    • Miguel

      I agree if you mess with a Neumann 2000 dollars or with a Rode 100 dollars you will notice the difference when it’s time to mix, there’s nothing you can do to have the Mic sonics and saturation, the pro feel of the song come to play there is no High profile music making money with a 100 dollar mic

      (sorry about the english)

  27. Rob

    In a related area discussion, i have the droid razr from a few yrs back and had been taking nature photos for fun and I and my friends have been blown away at the quality such thay they are saying I should be selling the stuff. Now, another friend is a pro photographer who says the droid pics dont have the color spectrum, etc, as a good camer, which is probably correct, but another pro photographer friend cant stop raving about the pics im gettingbfrom the thing. I dont think the 10x priced real cam is 10x better than my droid cam, period. But, they did something special w the droid cam as its better than other smart phone cams ive seen, like the iphone. I also have a good artistic sensibility so thats at least 1/2 the battle. Hey, if people buy it, well, its workin’, at least until i get the ‘real’ cam.

    • MrPete

      That’s a pretty good analogy, particularly because the answer in the camera realm is: it all depends on your goal.

      To put it simply: a phone camera has a small sensor, while a pro DSLR has a large sensor. The small sensor can take wonderfully sharp landscape photos in bright daylight. The large sensor can do that, but it can also capture a bird in flight at sunrise with narrow depth of field so the background has a nice creamy blur. Impossible with a small sensor, period (due to physics.)

      I tend to think of the $1000 vs $100 as affected by the law of diminishing returns. Removing another 0.1% of noise gets very very expensive each time you do it. Not a big deal for only one mic, but with ten or fifty mics that tiny bit of noise adds up, as noted by a classical recordist above.

      I’ll put it in a global context: getting people worshiping around the world… takes only one percent as much $$$ to do that for half the world, while here in the “west” it takes 99% of $$$, due to the various costs. Is that 99% better? Not really. But it just costs more to get the job done here.

      If you will be laying ten or fifty tracks on top of one another, it’s going to take some pricey gear to get the job done. But for the home/project recordist? Seems like Graham’s on to a good thing 🙂

  28. Rob

    Most people are listening to music w earbuds off their smartphonex anymore so its all compressed anyway, lol. So, unless youre a big time pro, there isnt much point in spending 2 months rent on a pc of gear.

  29. Rob

    As a live performer, i cant say how many times ive played live shows where they have some real good gear but the dang sound guy is a tone def rookie who ruins the whole thing. Happened just the other nite, actually, like dude, turn down the low end, my teeth are shaking! Happens all the time. A good live engineer is a gem.

  30. Dave

    Great discussion everyone…..which leads me to paying big bucks for a Pop Filter?

    I have an Audio Technica 4040 Cardioid Condenser large diaphragm mic.
    I see pop filters from $10 to $200. Some are cloth, some are metal, some have two screens, etc. Not interested in making my own.

    What Pop Filter do you use and why?

    • Joesi

      Don’t pay the money. Take a wire hanger and some nylon pantyhose. Done. And don’t laugh. try it.

      • shane

        As long as it’s only for personal use. If it isn’t, then do you really want your clients seeing that?

    • Joesi

      Hi Shane!
      Me? No. I have Sontronics filters. But I see Dave asking why and what pop filters…do you think he has to care about clients opinions? 😉

  31. Josh

    I bought an SM7B recently for ~$350 – as a guy who does a lot of rock music, this thing is definitely worth 3.5x the price. I’ve got some cheaper mic’s and they just don’t sound as good without heavy and time consuming processing.

    One thing that needs to be considered is how much is your time worth?

    If I buy a mic that sounds really good off the hop and then sounds great with nothing more than some quick EQ and compression, I’m going to save a lot of hours over time that would have been spent fighting my crappier mic’s to get their recorded sounds to the same level of quality – if that’s even achievable (i.e. the SM7B proximity effect adds great presence!)

    If I value my time at $25/hr, I only need to save 10 hours of screwing around with vocal tracks to make back my investment vs. a $100 mic. Something to think about.

  32. Martin

    I’m in agreement with this. Like in your previous videos, we associate things that are more expensive with being “better”, which might be the case, but a cheaper microphone is sometimes better suited to a sound source than it’s pricier counterpart.

    In this day and age, the boundaries have been blurred quite considerably between cheap and expensive equipment. Cheaper equipment is getting better and better, to the point where anyone can make great sounding music in their bedrooms now, unlike 20 years ago where you needed to go to a professional studio to get professional results.

  33. Blues Bird

    ” I can say from experience that the only difference between a $1000 microphone and a $100 microphone is the price.”

    Really? No difference in building quality? No difference in sound? Sorry but your statement is just plain wrong.
    Even the start point of you argumentation is wrong: Nobody with a sane mind expects that a $1000 mike is 10x better then a $100 mike. Of course there is no such a simply ratio between price and quality, not for guitars not for food or clothes and not for recording gear. But of course there a certain relation between price and quality of goods. Sure, sometimes there is a certain hype too, but the relation still exists.

    I can see where you are coming from: trying to encourage people to rely more on their abilities then on their gear, making and mixing music instead reading gear reviews and lusting for gear. That is good. But making broad and unbalanced statements is bad and will only hurt you reputation in the long run.

    • Graham Cochrane

      Hi Blues Bird… the point of this article is to get people to think. My entire site is about this “revolution” we’re living in where affordable gear now sounds on par with expensive gear. Not the same, but it can hang.

      Too many people convince themselves they can hear a great enough difference to justify expensive mics. All I’m saying is it’s not a good reason to go for it, especially if you have no top label clients to impress.

      My site won’t seem “balanced”. It’ll seem one sided…with my opinion 🙂 Welcome to the wonderful world of blogs.

      • MrPete

        Hi Graham, love what you’re doing here 🙂

        A gentle suggestion: maybe it would have been judicious to say “I can say from experience that the only difference IN SOUND between a $1000 microphone and a $100 microphone is the price.”

        My expertise is in other areas of electronics. I once compared a $200 WiFi extender antenna to a five cent (!) one made of cardboard and aluminum foil (WindSurfer,

        They had identically great performance, sitting on my porch to give me access to a WiFi transmitter half a mile away. But in the morning, an overnight fog had destroyed the cardboard and my nickel antenna was No More.

        Bottom Line: it all depends on your purpose! (And in my case, upgrading from five cents to 25 cents worth of plastic and exterior glue solved the problem 😉 )

        His Blessings,

  34. Will

    I want to believe this but every time I listen to a shootout I can easily pick out the expensive mic. Is it better? I dunno but I can hear a difference and usually prefer the expensive mics sound. Maybe I just have good ears though cause I can hear the difference between wavs and mp3s (and other compressed formats) ironically every time I blind test that I can differentiate between the formats but prefer the compressed mp3s and aac files

  35. Mike

    After years of nothing but a big YES to everyting you published this is the first time I disagree. Fundamentally and totally.

    Yes, I agree on everything you said about unneccessary spending, about the nonsense of being a gearslut, and about the irrational tendency of spending to much on gear and not spending more time using it properly, so far.

    But regarding microphones I still believe in the principle you get what you pay for.

    And I have a good friend who is a microphone fetishist with a fast knowledge about microphones. Sure he has an impressive collection. That means I had the chance of many AB comparisons, where we made surprising discoveries.

    One of them is: A 3000 Dollar Neumann can sound extremely crappy if used inadequately. In the same situation a Rode NT2 sounded better. We could not believe it. But we had to accept it.

    A long time I myself struggled with horrible vocal recordings though they were recorded with a 1000 Dollar Neumann. Till I realized that an SM 57 was doing a better job in that situation. What was wrong? The Neumanns? No!!!!!! It was the acoustic space that was far from being ideal.
    Thats why the SM 57 was far better in that situation, where the super cardiod character was able to eliminate the acoustic desaster as much as possible.

    Regarding the 3000 dollar Neumann we discovered that it sounded phantastic (and phantastic is not enough to describe it) in connection with an Avalon 737 VT preamp. It sounded crappy with cheap preamps. But it was shining far above everything else with a first class preamp and first class acoustics. And if all else is ideal you even start to notice the difference between a normal mic cable and a vovox cable.

    Only one component that is less ideal eg the acoustic space can make a brilliant microphone sound bad in the end.

    That is why the professionals are using the expensive microphones. Not because they are supersilly or superrich so that they like to spend unneccessarily or get tax exemption or deduction, but………. because they have everything perfectly set to get the most out of these microphones.

    My last example to prove what I am saying: My friend once told me about Gefell microphones. I never even heard that name. And he was praising them like anything so that I felt shy to admit that I did not even know them.

    They have the thinnest membrane ever made to my knowledge. Why is that good?

    Well, I heard it first, when I recorded acoustic guitar!!! Shining highs with a soft transparency that I never heard on my recordings before. And of course the reason why the acoustic guitars sound soooooooooo amazing on all the Alison Krauss tracks.

    If you dont believe it, compare cheap PA speakers with expensive ones especially regarding the high frequency resolution. Same thing.

    I love the Rode NT Series. I really do. They sound phantastic, though they are not costing much. But there is a difference.

    Any bet, that you are not able to beat a Gefell acoustic guitar recording in an ideal acoustic space with a decent preamp with a 100 dollar mic. You cannot even come close.

    God bless

    • Graham Cochrane

      I have many friends who are highly respected in the industry who love their expensive microphones and preamps. They would never sell them. I don’t expect them to, and I certainly don’t think they are silly or money wasters to do so.

      If you have something that sounds great and works great for you, stick with it. I’m just a bit nutty and like to spend as little as possible to get a great sound…because we can these days!

  36. MBLAK100

    I 100% Agree, I’ve used different Mics from the $800.00 range down to the $200.00 range and I must say pound for pound, my $200.00 Sterling Audio ST55 sounded no different than some of the neumann mics that were being used. If you couple a “budget” mic with a good preamp then you can make a great sound for under $500.00

  37. Morten

    I think Blues Bird has a point… I’ve always tried to get the best out of whatever gear I have. A decent mic and a good preamp will bring you far… But I’ll probably never spend a 1000$ on a mic, even though it’s most likely will sound great. Right now I’m satisfied with my Røde NT-1a for vocals.

  38. shane

    What i think isn’t addressed is the signal path. It’s the same when building your home stereo. If you spend most of your money on great speakers, they will reveal the inadequacies of the components (CD player, pre/amp).

    If you invest in the signal chain of your DAW beginning with a great DAC/ADC, then build on up (as well as learn your system and how to utilize it to its fullest) until you determine that your system will draw the best out of the microphone, then at that point you will notice a difference. The difference will be in the characteristics of the microphone. Guys lke Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo of Daft Punk can tell you the differences between mics, and why he chooses one over the other. A lot of engineers can do that. I may not be able to hear it on the album, however I will feel it in the song.

    When I was DJ’ing I had the absolute joy of realizing that my intense practicing (beat-matching vinyl) taught me how to listen, and that lead me to understand how to hear the differences in the gear. While being a software engineer allowed me to understand the importance of sound engineering and how to build a rig for shows. Start with the source material and work my way up.

    e.g. I had the opportunity to listen to a set of Turbosound speakers driven by my Allen+Heath DJ mixer into my Allen+Heath MixWizard 16ch mixer. The Turbo sound revealed the flaws in the production quality of the tracks I was auditioning the system with. Therefore, as a DJ/Promoter the Turbosounds were too good for DJ events which is in essence about reproduction and not re-enforcement (live bands). So I dialed it down to the Mackie Fussion system.

    Having understood the basics of the signal chain and my rig, I believe I made the right choice rather than spend extra money on a better speaker.

    Same with picking a microphone. All aspects of my rig hopefully complement each other. If you have a great mic, great audio interface, yet a piss-poor preamp well what aspect do you think you’ll be hearing?

    • Andi

      Agree- except that you’d be pushed these days to buy a piss poor preamp unless you really tried. At worst you’d be likely to get an “adequate” one, more likely a “pretty decent” one. The trick then, as you say, is to understand the signal chain and use the tools appropriately – so don;t expect to get 70dB of pristine gain froma $50 pre, but hyou’ll probably be ok wiht 20dB from it.

      Re converters, I’m less than convinced. Yes, there’s a difference, yes I can hear it – but how much difference do I think they make in the real world, and is that difference necessarily better? Not so sure.

      • Dave

        I’m pretty sure that any gain you could possibly get from one DAC to another would be negated by the listener’s end (with the possible exception of going to vinyl). The listener gets a digital file (most likely an mp3 or aac) which then goes through a consumer grade DAC to their crappy earbuds or car stereo or bluetooth speakers. Even audiophiles couldn’t pick out which version had what DAC on it on an iTunes track played on an iPhone with Apple earbuds.

        I have some bluetooth headphones I use with my smart phone and they actually pitch and time shift as if you have a non-speed-regulated reel to reel playing it back. Something goes wonky in the buffering and/or streaming and/or DAC in the headphones. Bluetooth is an audiophile’s nightmare… yet it is becoming more and more popular for speakers and headphones.

  39. Dan Hicks Mixing

    Either making gear from scratch or modding cheaper gear to make it better could also be good. If you are electronically inclined this could be an option, even if you have no electronics skill what-so-ever. There are articles online that you could learn the knowledge from. Then it’s all down to practice!

    • Mike

      I love them too. But, hands down, anyone who is not able to deliver a decent recording with an SM 57, will not be able to deliver anything.

      And all the discussions about the low noise factor are useless if you don´t have a control room. Even Laptops produce noise with their small fans that is higher than that in the mic spec sheets, specially if you don´t have a big room.

  40. Andi

    Here’e an interesting one – take 2 mics, record anything you like on one – I used spoken word because it’s very revealing but whatever you like then repeat on the other. Now, on the recordings use a spectrum matching eq to “match” them. If yours is the cheaper mic then rejoice.

  41. David Beneke

    I normally agree with your points, but this time I have to disagree. For a newbie starting out, a $100.00 mic is good, and yes you can get an SM 57 or 58 for $100.00. When it comes to condensers, there is a big difference, especially when it comes to my field, Voice Overs. You really have to search far to get a $100.00 mic that has the noise floor, tonality (most Chinese Mics have sub par capsules, which attenuate the highs), low grain, head basket ring. and on and on. They may sound great on a certain instrument, but if you want something that sounds better, on a wide variety of material, you can mod a $100.00 mic, which I have done many times (I have a collection of 11 modded mics) or spend a little more. Under $500.00, the CAD E100S is a superb mic, very high quality control, lowest noise for under $8,000.00. The KEL HM 2D a little less than $200.00 is another good choice, although it has a bit higher noise floor. The RODE’s are very good, but I have a modded NT1a, the capsule swap made it a less strident mic. On the higher end my AKG C414 XL II was well worth the $1,000.00 I paid for it, versatility, low noise and fidelity all there, with no sub par switches and quality that will last for decades.

    The chain has to be good with good mics as many above have stated. Put a cheap mic on a good pre, you’ll hear the flaws in spades, with a better mic, the quality will be more apparent.

    The goal, to me, is to have great sound right into the DAW, so you don’t have to play that much with EQ, noise reduction, de essing and so on.

    The most important piece of equipment anyone can have, is a great sounding room. A badly treated room, will make a u87 sound horrible. Mic technique, equally as important, and I’m talking from 37 years or recording and engineering experience.

  42. David Beneke

    What $100.00 mics do you think sound on par with a $1,000.00 mic? Curious, because I wouldn’t mind using one.

    • Mike

      I think I understand Grahams actual point: A Rode NT 1 with a good mic placement will definitely sound better than a Neumann with a mediocre mic placement.

      If I had to select only one mic for everything to record I would chose the Rode NT 1 (maybe NT 2, because of versatility), provided the place to record is well treated acoustically.
      In a small boxy room, means with only parallel walls (maybe even untreated)and a game PC with extra cool cooling fans in the background I would prefer an SM 57 to any other mic, check it out, it will definitely outperform even 3000 Dollar large diaphragms into 10000 dollar preamps into 100000 dollars of reverbs, psycho acoustics, eqs and phase shifting widening horror effects, that you need to get the boxiness and the noise out of the recordings that has been nicely captured by the quality recording equipment.

  43. Tim

    I say get what inspires you! If a $100 mic blows your head off, then great! But if it takes a $1000 mic to get that feeling, then so be it–provided you can afford it. Nothing sucks more that working with crappy gear.

  44. Tom Sarracino

    I just bought a $1000.00 AKG 414 XLS mic and it made all the difference in the world.
    Now you right its not 10x’s better! But it was that little bit extra I needed. Lalala

  45. Tom

    It’s NOT the $100 mic

    It’s NOT EVEN the $1,000 mic, lol!

    It’s THE MIC that sounds the best, paired with your voice / source + the signal chain (preamp – audio interface, plugins chain, and vocal production style).

    I spent a better part of a year buying and selling all kinds of mics from venerated standards, like AKG 414 to Neumanns and even audio technicas.

    In the end, I ended up with an MXL V69 Mogami Editon, with an after market mullard tube.

    It cuts right through and sits on top of the mix, but also has an amazing lower mid range warmth and punch, with detailed clarity that flatters my voice .

    There are precise mics OUT THERE. What most engineers don’t REALIZE is that THOSE mics ONLY USEFUL when you have an exceptional well trained singer…like Whitney Houston.

    That’s is less than 5% of singers



    vocal recordings are the only similar source, I have found.

    Everything else like synths and / or acoustic guitars / drums…

    It is the “good singer” syndrome:

    A faithful neutral mic to captures the real source’s audio fidelity. I suggest something like an AKG 414 or an At5040

    So no…it’s understanding the principles. NOT A BLACK AND WHITE 100 or 1,000 dollar line

  46. Lucas Biral

    Nice post man. I really like your last quote about budget gear, I have just started into sound recording myself, and I try to keep away of the expensive stuff for now. Sometimes it adds more to your learning getting a 16/8 track portable recorder than a Mac, it is very hard to achieve the sound people get out of computers though, at least for now I suppose.

  47. Brian

    Solution: buy the $400 microphone…lol. Just kidding, but not really. Just purchased AT4033CL and I am very happy with the results. I could not imagine (at this point in my life, financially) spending $1000. Thanks for the post Graham!

  48. Andre

    Just an awesome read! There is this Overall market rule “if it is cheap it cant be any Good” which Applies to a Lot of Things like maybe a knife, or other Tools but on some Things it is just crazy…like your Example Shows.

  49. Jack H

    I really don’t know how you could measure say 5x or 10x as good. I can say from an engineering point of view I can use an AKG c12 or Beezneez James 60 and tell you that comparing these to lets say a $100 there is no way a qualified engineer could not tell the difference. 5x better? What defines 5 or 10x? The price of a client going to another studio and paying them or staying in your studio and getting the better product? The lack of the need of EQ on the top end mic alone keeps the mic mix cleaner with a lower noise floor. I mean this is really what we are taking about right? Actual sound that you can use instead of needing other gear to “enhance” the recorded track. Why not then just use 16bit 24khz sample rate recordings? Hardware that make up a mic have a price tag, the higher quality the higher the price tag, different metals for instance resonate differently, I mean do you think a $6000 mic is $5900 in profit?

  50. Dennis Ryckman

    I had the opportunity to do a 25 mic shoot-out for work using my vocal and my acoustic guitar ( ). We auditioned everything from $69 to $2000 Ld Condenser mics. My favourite was a $375 mic, Blue Baby Bottle. To my ears, with my voice and acoustic guitar it sounded better than WAY more expensive mics, including the AKG414 and Neumann TLM103. I liked the $375 mic so much, I bought it instead of the 414 I’d been drooling over!

  51. Mark Clear

    I started out with the Rhode NT1A $200. Thought I sounded good. So I figured if I spent double and bought the Rhode NTK my vocals would sound twice as good. Wrong. So then I bumped up to the K2 $$$ Wrong again. Ended up
    with Mohave FET which really sounded great with my Apogee. Then I bought the UA LA610 MKII.
    The Mohave wasn’t a fit (too dark/thick) so I went with Telefunken AK47 MKII and found a match. Mics are personal. What works for one persons vocally may not work for another.

  52. Matthew Tanner

    Nice post – agree with you up to a point but what about instruments? $100 guitar vs $1000 guitar? I know which one I’d choose?

  53. David Beneke

    There is also the psychological factor when recording talent or selling your studio services. Talent in the know are going to want to be miced with a higher end unit(s), you fill in the blanks. Also if you put on your services page what mics you have, and you list MXL 990’s and Behringers as your go to mics, the producers are going to go with studios with the better gear, it’s a simple cold hard fact.

  54. Rob

    Well, if you make $10k with a recording with the $100 mic and 1$ from a recording with the $10k mic, then the former is 10k times better, right?

  55. Ben

    Hi Graham, I do understand your point but I do not fully agree this time. First off, I highly appreciate the job your are doing here and all the in depth information that you are giving out for free! Thanks you very much for this!

    To me it seems that the money goes in some extra, say 10% of quality and also a specific tone one would like to have. There are tons of compressors out there that can do the same job as an LA-2A, yet the LA-2A has this distinctive tone that is just great. Its up to one self to decide if he/she is willing to pay the high price for that extra. Me personally for example I love the sound of the Brauner Panthera. I do not care about the specs so much, it is the sound that I want. It is currently not on the top of the must have list but I will get it.

    On the other hand, and there you are right, I remember this guy asking me to record his guitar demo. He gave me a MD with his own preproduction and he had an incredible guitar sound on that. I asked, what mic did you use, he said I don’t know really its a mic that was included with my dads tape deck when he bought it. ?!? … . So I told him to bring that mic, since it simply was the perfect match with his guitar amp and delivered the sound he wanted to have. So we recorded all the guitars with that microphone. On a more general perspective I would say, yes you can live quite well with affordable gear these days, if you want some extra (depth, clarity, warmth whatever), then the price rises quickly. Also it can be trap wanting the more expensive gear but then buying a cheaper almost as good product, just to find yourself buying the more expensive gear later anyway because that’s what you wanted in the first place. In the end you did spend more money.

  56. Chris

    Hi Graham,

    I somewhat agree to an extent, and disagree as well. Some mics have remarkable value for 100$ and some mics are crap in a box for the same money. It really all comes down to doing some research and getting the best gear you can afford without breaking the bank, but that doesn’t mean the most expensive gear. I have T-Bone RM700 ribbon mic that is just plain great for a 100$ mic, and sounds as good as any ribbon mic in the 100-1000$ price range. In so many words, it works. It’s all about what gear you really need in order to release great results, and 100-200$ mics get the job done, so it’s all good. That option was hardly there 20 years ago when I started out.

  57. Kevin

    I think you could make a point about 400$ vs. 1000$ mics, but when it comes to a smooth top end (this is something my ears only started picking up this year), I have yet to see a mic much below 400 that doesn’t sound too “raspy” on the highs for my liking.
    But as I said, I never noticed it before this year (I’m still somewhat of a beginner), so maybe in a couple more years, I’ll swear by some quality only 1000$ mics can get you…

  58. Whereismymind

    I didn’t read all the comments but everybody seems to agree with you Graham more or less and i usually do agree with you myself but not this time. I personally own a AT 2020 (about 90€) and a Neumann TLM102 (645€) and frankly the difference is huge and can be clearly heard even using my Saffire Pro 40 preamps. The Neumann is a lot lot better, whatever the source is. The AT2020 is muddier, more agressive in the high end, has a huge proximity effect and doesn’t take as much SPL as the Neumann. To me, it worth the price and my recordings improve a lot with this mic.

    We certainly don’t need an AKG C12 to make good recording but there’s a minimum.

    • Pete Woj

      Such a sticky topic. Sooo many “IF’s” and “BUT”s”… The majority of $100 LDC’s (and I stress LDC/SDC/CONDENSER… I think there’s a ton more leeway with Dynamic and Ribbon mics) don’t even come close to the majority of LDC microphones in the $550 (Shure KSM32/Miktek C1), $800 (Miktek C7, Mohave, Neumann TLM-102), and $1000+ range. I think there’s a massive difference between an awful, harsh, Chinese made $100 whatever and an American/German made $800-1500 Large Diaphragm Condenser microphone. Not because expensive equals better. Not because the Neumann name sounds a lot better than Behringer in the Audio Community. Because, in my humblest opinion, they sound better. (keep in mind if I didn’t own quite a few microphones or have the experience with them, I wouldn’t be in the position to give my stern opinion).

      Where I DONT see the huge improvements are in the $1000 to $5k and up range. There’s soooo many phenomenal sounding LDC’s in the $600-$1500 range, its staggering. I’m only speaking from experience. I can only attest to what my ears hear and mic’ing techniques produce. The statements I just made were general. To be specific for a moment, is a Neumann KM84 going to sound better, properly positioned, on a great sounding acoustic guitar, played by a great guitar player, in a great sounding room over an AKG Perception 170? YES. Every-single-time-yes. Is that “better” sound worth more to some people in the form of dollars and algebra?? Absolutely.

      BUT: vocals are the caveat. Now, here’s the 12 to 6 curveball…. Anyone worth their salt knows a vocal mic (dynamic, condenser, or ribbon) essentially has no rules. We’ve all heard the stories of Bono and countless others recording hit records on SM-58’s and 57’s… $100 mics over $10,000 mics…. Michael Jackson, Anthony Kiedas, Jeff Tweedy, and JOE GILDER (heh heh) using SM7’s… Thom Yorke (and myself!) loving and using the EV RE-20… With vocals, what matters not is the price tag, but all of the aforementioned things with the previous acoustic guitar scenario… Does the mic work for/flatter the vocalist singing? Here, price is irrelevant. What matters most is if the recording environment is acceptable, if the mic positioning is correct, and if, the almighty IF THE VOCALIST CAN SING.

      I’ve heard singers sound killer on $100 microphones, but I’ve NEVER heard an acoustic guitar sound better, recorded properly, with a $100 Samson C01U than a $600 Miktek C5. BUT, Graham makes a good point that I respect, just may not happen to always agree with. Some folks don’t feel a more expensive microphone sonically justifies the price tag, and thats perfectly okay. At the end of the day, WHAT MATTERS MOST is how good the song is, how well the artist performed the song/take, and the mic PLACEMENT of those microphones capturing the performance 😉

  59. Graham Cochrane

    Some great points being made all around, and they all are covered on this site: the sound of your room is critical, mic placement is critical, matching the right mic to the source is critical, etc. This post is just one small point in a sea of many important ones. The goal is take it all in, be honest about what you really “need” in your studio and then get to work. Cheers.

  60. Pete Woj

    Such a sticky topic. Sooo many “IF’s” and “BUT”s”… The majority of $100 LDC’s (and I stress LDC/SDC/CONDENSER… I think there’s a ton more leeway with Dynamic and Ribbon mics) don’t even come close to the majority of LDC microphones in the $550 (Shure KSM32/Miktek C1), $800 (Miktek C7, Mohave, Neumann TLM-102), and $1000+ range. I think there’s a massive difference between an awful, harsh, Chinese made $100 whatever and an American/German made $800-1500 Large Diaphragm Condenser microphone. Not because expensive equals better. Not because the Neumann name sounds a lot better than Behringer in the Audio Community. Because, in my humblest opinion, they sound better. (keep in mind if I didn’t own quite a few microphones or have the experience with them, I wouldn’t be in the position to give my stern opinion).
    Where I DONT see the huge improvements are in the $1000 to $5k and up range. There’s soooo many phenomenal sounding LDC’s in the $600-$1500 range, its staggering. I’m only speaking from experience. I can only attest to what my ears hear and mic’ing techniques produce. The statements I just made were general. To be specific for a moment, is a Neumann KM84 going to sound better, properly positioned, on a great sounding acoustic guitar, played by a great guitar player, in a great sounding room over an AKG Perception 170? YES. Every-single-time-yes. Is that “better” sound worth more to some people in the form of dollars and algebra?? Absolutely.
    BUT: vocals are the caveat. Now, here’s the 12 to 6 curveball…. Anyone worth their salt knows a vocal mic (dynamic, condenser, or ribbon) essentially has no rules. We’ve all heard the stories of Bono and countless others recording hit records on SM-58′s and 57′s… $100 mics over $10,000 mics…. Michael Jackson, Anthony Kiedas, Jeff Tweedy, and JOE GILDER (heh heh) using SM7′s… Thom Yorke (and myself!) loving and using the EV RE-20… With vocals, what matters not is the price tag, but all of the aforementioned things with the previous acoustic guitar scenario… Does the mic work for/flatter the vocalist singing? Here, price is irrelevant. What matters most is if the recording environment is acceptable, if the mic positioning is correct, and if, the almighty IF THE VOCALIST CAN SING.
    I’ve heard singers sound killer on $100 microphones, but I’ve NEVER heard an acoustic guitar sound better, recorded properly, with a $100 Samson C01U than a $600 Miktek C5. BUT, Graham makes a good point that I respect, just may not happen to always agree with. Some folks don’t feel a more expensive microphone sonically justifies the price tag, and thats perfectly okay. At the end of the day, WHAT MATTERS MOST is how good the song is, how well the artist performed the song/take, and the mic PLACEMENT of those microphones capturing the performance 😉

  61. Nathan Ponzar

    I disagree that vocals are a different ball game from acoustic instruments. It’s all about what sound you are after. Recording isn’t all about capturing the sound source as accurately as possible. I love the sound I get in my recordings of an acoustic guitar mic’d up with a stereo pair of behringer c-2 microphones. I think they are like 55$ for the stereo pair. I have a friend who recorded an entire album with only the built in microphones on his mac book into garage band and it’s incredible. I suppose if you want to capture the sound as close to the actual sound of the instrument as possible, the budget mics may make the task more challenging, but I’ve heard some people do it.

    • Pete Woj

      (“Its all about what sound you’re after. Recording isn’t all about capturing the sound source as accurately as possible.”)

      Well, I guess our jobs/tasks are different. I understand your point, I just don’t always think thats applicable. When a client comes into my studio and we’re at the point of tracking acoustics in the session, they want their acoustic guitar to sound as good as possible. That always equates to getting the acoustic to tape/DAW sounding as good (accurate, or with some flavoring such as tube mics, tube mic pres, or a Neve/API/SSL sound depending on what the song/style of music calls for) as possible. They don’t want their acoustic to sound like an electric. They don’t want their acoustic to sound like a banjo. They want it to sound like a killer acoustic guitar.

      If you want your acoustic guitar to not sound like an acoustic guitar, then that totally up to you. But the word BETTER is in the title of this blog, and BETTER to me is clearly one thing… BETTER to YOU might be different. Tomato, Tomaaaato.

      I never said you CANT get a decent recording out of a pair of Behringers…. I just said theres other microphones that WILL get a better recording. “Better” is a totally subjective word. Im simply giving my opinion in my comment.

      Anywho, the most important part and POINT of my comment is the last sentence…. I’ll reiterate it. I said, “At the end of the day WHAT MATTERS MOST is how good the song is, how well the artist performed the song/take, and the mic PLACEMENT of those microphones capturing the performance.”

  62. Reuven

    The difference is in the sum of each single process and gear .
    10%-30% better in each gear you own make a BIG difference at the end, from your monitor section, speakers, mics, preempts, Eqs, converters etc…. this is a biz of inches … and the difference in quality do not goes proportionally to the price you pay…but at the end all sounds way better…of course if something that cost 4 times more the other brand you are expecting to sound 4 times better …well that is not going to happen in Hardware gear.

  63. Carlisle Greaves

    I don’t have a lot of gear, nor have I used a ton of different mics. But, my sense is that sometimes the little things make the biggest difference. My mixing got ten times better from learning to make subtle adjustments in EQ that add up over the whole track. Graham has made that argument, that small changes and small differences add up, and I think that the same holds true with gear. A 1k mic may not sound 10 times better than a $100 mic, but combined with all of the other elements in the mix, the 2% it adds can make a world of difference. I agree with Graham that you can get so overwhelmed with all of the options that you never get to making music, and at one point I was guilty of that myself. It’s better to just make music with what you can afford. You can make great sounding stuff with budget gear if you know what your doing, but I think that you can make the best sounding stuff with expensive gear if you know what your doing. If you don’t know what your doing, it doesn’t matter what you have. But, I think that Graham is speaking to people who are project studio guys who can best afford budget gear not people who can afford whatever gear they want. We can still make great, radio quality music if we know what we are doing. A $1mil. studio, in the hands of a good mixing engineer doesn’t sound a 100,000 times better than a $1k studio. It will only sound a little bit better, but sometimes a little bit better, makes a 1,000 times the difference.

  64. matteo

    maybe it is true for commercial recording, but when you get to the recording of some instrument like a steinway and you want to catch his original timbre well…you cant use a sm57
    it may sounds good to the standard listener but this doens’t mean that you’ve done a good job

  65. MichelleNH

    I’m a woman and I play acoustic guitar with a very good internal pickup and I sing. My voice is on pitch but not powerful. Last year I did a few home recordings using a Snowball USB mic plugged into my Mac using Garage Band. It was an okay start but the learning curve was frustrating and very time consuming. I just bought a BR800 recording device. It doesn’t take my Snowall USB. I’ve spent 4 days on Amazon looking for a mic in the $100 range that I could use for recording into the BR800 and also use for coffee house and open mic performances. I’m learning that there are ribbon mica, condensers and dynamic mica and for my peroxide many people suggest a condenser mic. I work alone so cardioid is fine and probably preferable. Please advise. I’m very open to learning from the experiences of others.

    • Dave

      Take a look at the GLS audio 57. I like it better for recording than the Shure SM57 because it has a flatter, wider response. It will be good for recording voice and for live performance. Bonus: it is under $40 on Amazon.

    • MichelleNH

      Please excuse the typos above. Mica should be mica. I don’t know how the spell checker decided on “peroxide” but it probably should have said “recording” or BR 800.

  66. Daniel

    You should tell Celine Dion to use a $100 condenser mic for her next record as it makes no different

  67. Joshua Krell

    I think that in a topic like this the most important question is not, “Does an expensive mic sound better then a cheap mic.” I think the important question is, “Is the price of the more expensive a worthwhile investment FOR ME.” An expensive mic will always sound better then a cheap mic. One of my great teachers has a saying that goes something like, “When it comes to audio work, money does buy you happiness.” And I believe there is some truth in what she says. I can always tell when a singer recorded into a cheaply made microphone. However the question is, do you really need a mic that sounds really great, or can you be content with a mic that’s just good enough to where you don’t cringe every time you hear it. If you don’t need a great microphone, then a great mic is not worth the money for you. However if you can tell the difference and you do really think you would benefit from a great microphone then my thought is, “Save your money, find a good deal and invest in a mic you will you use for the rest of your earthly life.” A cheap mic will never capture the true character of an instrument or vocal, only a shadow of the reality. If you listen to Nat King Cole and others of the greats, you will immediately notice the difference in warmth, richness, depth and airiness that is lacking in so many cheap microphones today! Thanks for pushing people’s minds to think for themselves, Graham. You are leaving a legacy not just in the way you are helping aspiring music producers. But more importantly you are pushing them to think and decide for themselves what they believe is truly good. I may not agree with every single thing you say 100% of the time. But I do agree 99% of the time. All respect to you sir!

  68. oska

    Not disputing your audio experience analyzing & realizing popular myths, your maths & economics are in a quandary.
    First, the law of diminishing marginal utility applies universally, so the $1000 mic shouldn’t be expected to be 10x better than the $100 mic. Then there is also the problem when you say that the expensive one should be at least 2x better than the cheap one, but how are you quantifying ‘good sound’? To say something like ‘that is 2x better’, we will need the scale, measurement and standards of whatever you are quantifying.
    Also, the law mentioned above has different behaviors and in many cases, the utility, like ‘loudness’ has an exponential/logarithmic measure which says that loudness has to be at least 10 times (10 db SPL) for us to perceive twice the sound volume.

  69. Joesi

    Hi Oska,

    When I read your post it looks like you really love to overthink things…and that you dig physical laws. In this regard let me tell you that it’s wrong to state that “10 times” is mathematically equal to +10 db. Nope. 10 db means doubled loudness (for human hearing)as you mentioned yourself: it’s logarithmic. But if you have e.g. 50db(a) SPL “10 times” would mean 50×10=500 db. (Even this ain’t correct, actually it is exponential, and the result is next to absurd) Either it isn’t correct to say it necessarily has to be 10db “SPL”. “dB” is the measurement unit for a relation between to given values. Which means even +10dbV,dbW,dbFS is perceived as doubled amplitude.

    STOP THINKING. mount a mic on an stand and start making music. 😉


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  71. Jay

    I think it depends on the mix to a great degree. The FX available on your DAW and a couple other small details like the instrumental you are rapping over if you’re a hip hop artist and then of course just the mastering and sound levels. I’m a “tweaker” meaning I never learned technically how to edit, mix, and master vocals but I just listen with my ear and tweak accordingly until it sounds good. I’ve used four different mics in my life. Blue Snowball, Blue Bluebird, MXL 2001, and a Behringer B2 Pro. It depends on what type of song you’re making. Some mics are more dynamic and others are more noise cancelling. Some are very “low” and others are more “mid” sounding. For me, a person who never went to school or learned how to edit and master technically I can make some great sounding songs with any of those mics besides the Behringer B2. I don’t know if it just a damaged Mic but it doesn’t professional.

    So I think depending on the specific recording and the symphonic accompaniment of instruments or instrumentals and then your mixing ability to a great degree can make up for equipment that is on the lower end of the spectrum. For instance the Blue Snowball is about $70 on Amazon roughly and it’s a great mic. I sold mine eventually, and will probably buy it back on day because it’s a great all around mic. But I’ve made songs with this mic that sound better than songs I made with my Blue Bluebird which is a $300 mic. Same with the MXL 2001. Some songs I’ve made are better than others I made with my most expensive mic. But then some songs I’ve made with the more expensive mic are far and away more clear sounding and great for that particular song. So it depends, which is why audio engineers and record producers will keep a closet full of different mics for different applications. If you really want to get serious about your recording you will try out different mics to see which one sounds the best on a particular song. That is, if you have the patience for all that re-recording.

    But over all I use my more expensive mic the most, but at the same time I think need to do more testing myself on a few of my songs to try with different mics. At least for a rapper, the particular instrumental makes a huge different in the particular song I’m making.

  72. Roustam

    I can only assume three things for now. First thing – most probably are very lucky to have an opportunity to get used professional microphone for reduced price. Second thing – you are genius for you make crappy equipment work fantastic. Third thing – you are sir absolute audio moron.

  73. greg

    A lot seems to get lost on the point of this article. 1st just as true in any form of art what will be better or best will always depend on how you use it and what is your goal. we are not talking about a great sound engineer using an expensive mic here vs a great sound engineer using a cheap mic. expensice gears are not “aboslutely” better and cheap gears are not “absolutley” inferior. there is no such thing as “absolutley” better. the point is it all depends on how you use it. there are numerouse amounts of times where a sm58 and 57s beats the hell out of the u67 and 86 in a shoot out (im thinking of smashing pumpkins) and vise versa. as to why? cause its doesnt matter how much your gear worth is what matters is the what would sound better in a specific scenario.

  74. taoufik

    yes 1000 $ for a mic is a waste of money in my mind too even if i can afford it. but this doesn’t mean that you should buy a 100 $ like RODE mic that every rap kid have it when you can afford an awesome 600 $ mic as AUDIO TECHNICA

  75. Bobby Watson

    Thanks, Graham,
    It’s nice to hear other folks say what has been my feeling for years. There’s no reason someone on a budget can’t get the job done with what they can afford. Kind of like having a Harley and a Vespa. They’ll both get you to town and back with the same results. 😉

  76. Martin Stavrovsky

    In the Recording Engineer’s Handbook I particularly liked one thing – the importance of the recording chain, starting from the most important to least important:
    1. The player – how does the person perform, is the performance itself any good?
    2. The instrument – does the instrument itself sound right?
    3. Room acoustics – does the room have a nice/usable echo or does it sound like a box?
    4. Room placement – did you try to find the sweet spot in the room?
    5. Mic placement – did you find the sweet spot of the source you are recording?
    6. Mic type

    So there are at least 5! more important aspects of your recording. Now why would you want to spend 900$ more on something that is only 6th in the whole chain. Especially if you know you can get a 100$ mic that has minimal (if any) difference to the 10x more expensive one.

  77. Mark

    I agree man… If I can get “pro sounding” results, on “budget” gear then why not….?
    I’d rather spend 30,000 on a few awesome budget items than spend 30,000 on one interface or microphone…
    Don’t get me wrong though, I do like the expensive gear. But I ears are everything in this game…
    Great stuff Graham

  78. LN Vain

    This is the second time I’ve found myself reading one of your posts, only to leave it thinking your a bit of a tool.

    I don’t want to be mean, but you’re just not qualified to write with the authority and confidence you seem to possess.

    It’s not that your opinion isn’t valid. It’s that you seem to think that it’s more valid than a lot of people you are disagreeing with. You take the position in your writing of that little voice of conscience whispering the real, true truth into one’s ear and, I’m sorry dude, but you ain’t it.

    You and you alone do not possess the secret to making tracks sound great, or getting the best gear on a budget. In one post, you said people have been “brainwashed” and the name of your blog implies that a revolution is both possible and, presumably, necessary.

    Be careful. It only starts with people like me thinking you’re full of shit. Eventually, everyone else will think you’re full of shit too.

    • Graham

      Thanks for the comment LN – and no, I don’t think you’re being mean.

      I’m just as qualified as anyone else who has recorded with really expensive microphones and budget microphones to give my opinion (which of course what this entire website is, my opinion, my view of things).

      And don’t mistake my writing with confidence as arrogance or being full of it like you mentioned – I truly believe in what I’m teaching, so I write with confidence. Now, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me (believe me, I they don’t), but that doesn’t deter me from sharing passionately what I believe to be true.

      No, I do not alone possess the “secret” to making tracks sound great. I’ve never espoused that notion.

      I have learned so much from so many people. I just try to teach everything I know so that others will learn it as well.

      Yes I do believe many have been brainwashed into thinking that more (or better) gear is the answer. It’s everywhere in our industry. The revolution that I talk about is not about US as it is about how quality gear is now truly affordable. Thus we live in an era where anyone with talent can make pro recordings. Gear is no longer holding us back.

      I don’t think everyone will think I’m full of it. Some do, but others don’t. That’s the beauty of the web, you don’t have to listen to me if you don’t like my point of view.

      Thanks again for your thoughts.

  79. Henrik

    The only difference is the price? If that’s your honest opinion then I’d really question your hearing.

    I know you can do good stuff with cheap gear, I’ve done so myself. But that doesn’t mean that more expensive gear won’t make it better or not be worth the extra money.

    I have tried pretty much every $100 LDC out there by now and they all have characteristics that I consider cheap and nasty sounding. Sure I can try to cover up some of it in the mix, but that means extra work every time and it still won’t give me a good enough result that I would feel proud of.
    A more expensive mic will usually give me a recording that sounds better right away and is more reliable easier to work with.
    Just stepping up in the $500-700 range is generally a vast improvement.

    That said, if your home studio budget is $1000 I would not recommend spending $700 on a mic.
    And yeah, it’s easy to get caught up in the quest for the perfect setup and forget about what’s actually important. I have done so myself too many times. But that doesn’t make high quality gear irrelevant.

    • Graham Cochrane

      Your last couple of lines are spot on – and the point of this article. The $1000 is not a good use of most people’s money, especially if that is their entire budget for a studio.

      And no – expensive gear is not irrelevant. I agree. Nor is there anything wrong with owning expensive gear.

      Just not necessary anymore.

  80. gears

    I have spent the past 30+ years working only in major studios. and have spent the time modifying
    those cheap microphones. so I have compared the expensive $1000->$10000 with the budget microphones quite a lot. there is a really huge difference.. if you are not a good engineer with an experienced ear. you may not realize it on random listening tests.

    but after you record and mix for a few years, you will hear the difference,
    so many of the cheap condensers have the top end unnaturally boosted and that gets old.

    if you take your time and do a proper a/b in a good studio.
    it’s pretty obvious.

    however. you can make great recordings with the budget gear. people do all the time.
    and it works for them just fine.


    • Graham Cochrane

      Thanks for the thoughts! I have spent a lot of time with both cheap and expensive mics but I don’t think there is really that much of a difference. In some mics, maybe.

      Yes, some $100 LDC’s have way too much top end boost, which builds up if you use it on every track. But there are many that don’t.

      Again, I’m not AGAINST expensive gear. I’m against the notion that you NEED expensive gear to get great results. Big difference.

  81. Bryan

    Holy epic comment section! The discussion is great though. When I started I used quite a few cheaper mics running through cheaper (presonus FP10) preamps as it was all I could afford. When it came time to mix it down, it sounded bad… mainly because the mics and the preamps were too grainy, no matter what I did, the mix sounded like mush. Thats when I started to really realize the value of good preamps and good microphones. You can get great deals out there and don’t have to spend a ton of money for great quality gear. If your handy Seventh Circle Audio has some of the best preamps for the buck, including NEVE and API clones. Oktavamod does a phenomenal job with cheap microphones, as well as If you surf eBay you can find AKG C414’s for around $600, and neumann u87 microphones for around $2000. While this isn’t cheap, they don’t loose their value – so in 20 years, you can still sell them for what you bought them for. Whereas if you had spent $500 on 5 different cheap mics, they’ll be worth about $5 in 5 years (if they still work). Shure SM57 and Sennheiser MD421 are studio staples and these are reasonable to obtain. Want a phenomenal cheap vocal mic – sm7b has been used for decades for big stars, including Johnny Cash. Sometimes a cheap mic fits the singer too. Bono, from U2, almost always records with a SM58 for his vocal. That’s a $100 microphone. So I guess I’m saying, its good to have what you need to get the best sound possible. In my experience, a set of great preamps, and a few high quality mics (that I can use on anything and everything), are all I really need. Budget accordingly and I think you’ll be very happy.

  82. Brian

    I never thought that the idea was that a $1,000 mic should be 10x better than one that cost $100, and I’m not saying a mic is better simply because it is more expensive either. Generally, I feel that as mics get more expensive, the finer the improvements are likely to be. It’s more about attention to detail than it is about a complete overhaul of the mic design. It’s the little things you pay for sometimes, and sometimes the difference may seem downright unnoticeable until the mic is used in a particular application.

  83. MikeVO

    I love the discussion that is going on here! So thank you very much, Graham, for igniting the gun powder here.
    As a professional voice artist, I upgraded from a Rode NT1000 that I bought used at ebay for 150 € to a new Neumann TLM 49. I did a lot of research and auditioned the TLM 49 also. My goal was to keep the basic sound flavor but to make it more elegant and feeling worthy. Just like the difference between IKEA and some boutique scandinavian furniture designer. The TLM 49 did just that for me and as I am keeping my mind and ears open since I use it, it stays that way. Yet I liked the NT1000 and earned good money and stellar feedback on the sound quality with it. I wanted that extra 10% in smoothness, transparancy and honeylike attitude and was willing to pay that extra 1000€ .
    I have to admit that brand snobbery had its part here. A name like Neumann reflects your position and ambition in the market. Neumann is the name that clients will most likely know when it comes to top notch microphones. So they trust it and so they trust me when they expect a voice recording that is on par with industry standards. So, my Neumann might get me the job and helps me earn money. It is not only the great sounding microphone for my baritone voice that it is. It is also an investment that pays back. It is part of my marketing strategy. And also: It gives me confidence because I think it helps making me sounding my best.
    As it has been said, the gear needs to fit the budget any the purpose and one might be stretched according to the other.
    Honestly I am surprised that one thg has not been mentioned earlier on: Many of the very cheap microphones (gear in general) are made in China under questionable circumstances to make your mentioned 100$ happen. If you built that exactly same microphone in the US or in Germany where I come from, it would cost at least 400$ just because of pricier production circumstances. That is on my mind also when investing in my business. Because of course I want to be paid properly for proper work as well.
    I think Graham’s article is great and very valuable for the home- and project studio community because it might put the focus back on the work itself. As a Swabian saying says: “When you have problems with swimming, dont’t blame your bathing suit.”
    But it fails in showing the whole picture. But thanks for a very lively discussion and all the friendlyness in this thread that the notorious and known forums tend to lack from time to time.

    Greetings, Mike

    • Graham

      Great thoughts Mike. You’ve got the spirit of what I’m trying to say and you made a good decision for your needs!

  84. VICTOR

    I own several microphones (CAD, MXL, Audix, etc), and I used to have one U87, but I dropped it and it died. I then got a Rode NT2 which is fantastic. I got a client that insisted that we used a u87, so I rented one for his session. I had a chance to compare all mics connected to my avalon pre, and I really could not tell the difference between a CAD E-300, the Rode NT2 and the u87. If anything the CAD had more base and was a bit better for my taste.

  85. Mike Holmes

    Graham, you’re right about brand snobbery. Friend of mine had a $100,000 API board in his commercial recording studio. He said he could have produced the same results with a Peavey console. But, he said, clients don’t want to see a board they could buy themselves when they come here to pay me $100 an hour to record.

    Further, even pro engineers are lemmings. Walter (can’t remember his last name) who had the oldest recording studio in NYC and who had Avalon replace all the channel preamps in his Neve console, wrote a great piece about how we started with tube consoles that sounded fabulous (why does all that ’60s stuff sound so full, hm?), but then the germanium transistor was invented and somebody put them into a console, and the engineers dumped their tube consoles, which now fetch kings’ ransoms because of their sound, and got germanium xistor boards that sound bad. Then silicon xistors came out and the recording world had to have consoles with them. Then digital recording came along. Walter said that was the ultimate abomination, and that’s been proven by all the retro-designed tube gear that’s come out in the last 20 years. People use it to warm up their front end b/c recording straight to digital produces recordings with no life.

    While I agree that certain people can sound wonderful on $100 mics, I don’t compare them to $1000 mics. I compare them to $2000-$10000 mics. I went thru a bunch of them — RE20, MD 421U, $1000 CAD, TLM 103, AEA R84 ribbon, KSM32. Got a $2000 Lawson tube, an L47MPII. An engineer friend calls its sound “Disney.” I added a preamp made by Peter Montessi called an A Designs P1, which is the preamp from the Quad 8 console from the ’60s and on which thousands of hits were recorded. I hear my commercials on their air with commercials on either side made with RE20’s or SM7’s, and mind sound like the Queen Mary while they sound like ferryboats. And those RE20’s and SM7’s, which are hundreds of dollars, are industry standards. There are voiceover people who use the Lawsons who won’t tell anyone what they’re using because it gives them a competitive edge. Only took me 15 years to find it, ha.

    I absolutely do not believe any condenser that’s a few hundred up to a thousand sounds anything like natural. They boost the highs and lows and are very exciting in the way a roller coaster is exciting, but you wouldn’t want to take a trip on one. A truly great microphone sounds like you, not you-through-a-microphone. That’s why people who’ve not used a truly professional instrument, upon first hearing one, will say “This sounds dull and boring” because they are used to that unnatural sparkly top end and boomy low end and think it makes them sound like pros. What they’re really hearing is their own voice as others hear it with no microphone. And they don’t realize that, if they’re doing voiceover for sale, engineers don’t want something that has unnatural high or low emphasis, but something as flat as possible. Cheap mics aren’t flat at all, although again (and as was reported in another post in this thread) you can find a happy match between a certain voice and microphone and it will sound good regardless of cost.

    But in the main, there’s a marked difference between expensive studio recording instruments and inexpensive mics, especially inexpensive condensers. They just don’t have it. If I have $600 or less to spend, I’ll get an industry-standard dynamic such as the EV RE20 (not the 27!), a Shure SM7, or Sennheiser MD421U. These have been around for 40 years and continue to sell well even with all the new low priced condensers coming out. Again, low priced condensers create a false excitement with their sizzle and boominess, but they do not sound natural.

    I just hired two VO people, a “grandmother” and a middle aged “son”, and I could hear the low prices in the mics they used. I asked the “grandmother” what she used and it’s an Audio-Techica, which is not cheap, and it sounds thin. The guy used something that was boomy. When you put them together, you don’t get a result that sounds like two people in the same room but rather two people in different houses in different towns (!) and that’s what engineers don’t like and won’t hire you again if you don’t give them a flat response product. And you can’t “fix” it with EQ. I tried to do that for a long time before my slow brain figured out the way to get a good sound is to start with an industry standard microphone and use it for no less than a week, preferably a month so you can see how it responds in a variety of projects.

  86. Mike Holmes

    Sorry for the typos in the above post, I’m on a laptop I’ve never used and the posting software on this site doesn’t provide for editing.

    Walter’s last name was Sear, the guy who had NYC’s oldest recording studio, Sear Sound Studio.

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  88. Ben

    Cool website! I’d agree for the most apart, though I would say, in my experience anyway, high dollar vocal mics often produce and are priced such for a reason. Not always, no hard fast rules. My last name is Neumann too, maybe biased?? 😉

    • Henry Frampton

      I stumbled across this ongoing discussion and felt compelled to add to what Mike Holmes has quite rightly pointed out. First let me explain the relevance of my post here!…

      I am a professional singer songwriter and studio engineer/owner but have recently moved away from working my studio business full time to concentrate more on my own music. Having run a large commercial residential recording facility in Italy I am now based in the South of France where I have recently installed some of my studio kit in much more humble premises! I am currently looking for a new mic/pre combo mainly for my own vocals as I am about to finally get down to recording a selection of the ridiculous amount of songs I have written over the years to make a debut CD album to bring on tour with me next year.

      I don’t have a large collection of vocal microphones in the studio. I have a fair few Neumann mics including a choice of three U87s and various mic pres amongst others including Millennia, Avalon, Drawmer and Apogee (Trak 2) However I have recorded my own vocals over the years through an old AKG Solid Tube condenser that I bought on a whim back in the day for £300. I found that it sounded best through the mic pre on the Trak 2 (Apogee) and I have always liked its initial raw recorded signal on my voice. However I know from recording many different singers in the past and the countless vocal records the world over that it has been used on that the venerable U87 is a sure bet to a good vocal sound. Even though I like the initial sound of the AKG it has always been a constant battle to get the vocal to sit right in the mix. Having said this I have never had the luxury to pay another engineer to record my own vocals and he would no doubt be able to manipulate the tracked signal to my satisfaction. (This is actually touching on a point I go into more detail with below). I may indeed drop my current quest for a new mic/mic pre and spend my current budget on a sound engineer instead! I have a lot of experience recording others but I think half my psychological battle here is based upon the fact that I am trying to record myself: a simultaneous task which is definitely uninspiring and confounding for the artistic spirit when it comes to capturing an inspired vocal performance! However recently the AKG mic has been misbehaving and probably its “spluttering” is a sure sign its diaphragm needs cleaning! As much as I have always liked the tone of this mic it does have a “sweet spot” which in the enthrals of that inspired vocal performance sometimes, frustratingly, gets lost as one moves away or towards the mic. Hence I have decided to seek out an alternative scenario. I do have a budget of £2000 but that does’nt necessarily mean I will be spending all of it! If I happen to just find a mic that works well with one of my current mic pres for £100 – so be it! Contrary to this I may spend the whole budget on a different mic pre instead of a cheap new mic!

      Getting back to to the OPs general question about £100 mics vs £1000 mics it is worth noting that it is the combination of the mic and mic pre that yield the correct result for any given recording. However the OP has focussed on mics so hear me out!….

      Manufacturers of microphones are out there to make money! they price their microphones according to consumer confidence like any other product. Similarly vintage mics like the Neumann U67 are expensive to acquire not only because they are “vintage”!This said, the users choice wether he is a full time professional or a “project enthusiast” (for want of a better description!) wants to find the microphone that can best capture the performance.

      However as Mike Holmes kind of hints at here: the OP’s post is a little bit of a moot argument because a professional’s goals are very different from an amateur’s. I say this because it is the way the professional uses these more expensive mics that bring out their clear advantage over the budget ones.

      A true professional sound engineer has to get consistent professional results using his experience of the whole studio trick. To this end the right microphone and it’s initially captured sound is the most important aspect to consider but not necessarily from a strictly tonal perspective. That initial recorded signal needs to have a quality to it that can be manipulated with ease by EQ and compression as needed when it comes to mixing. The OP may be surprised to know that there are also inexpensive as well as very expensive microphones out there that have become “go to” studio vocal mics to present to an artist at the start of a recording session for this very reason. Indeed some may be surprised to hear that Sade for instance happens to record all her studio vocals with an SM58! Similarly, like her or not, Taylor Swift apparently now uses a $500 Avantone CV-12 tube condenser in the studio. All voices are different. One also may consider that a lot of the time it is the artist who actually decides which mic he or she likes (“feels the vibe with”) the sound of in their headphones while tracking. Professional vocal artists are rarely knowledgable of how expensive/inexpensive a microphone presented to them in the studio is: they just tell the engineer when they like what they hear! There is of course a compromise sometimes if the engineer finds that the tracked sound is lacking technically somehow or he feels, with his own experience of using this particular mic, for this clients voice and the soundscape it will eventually have to sit in within the track, it may prove tricky to blend in at the mixing stage. He then has to convince the artist to sing through a different mic and work a little harder on their monitor mix! Again that mic may well happen to be one much cheaper than the one initially presented to them.

      My point is that in a professional studio where professional commercial results are imperative to achieve the price of a microphone is irrelevant: it’s finding the microphone that best suits the vocalist for that particular project. Period. Sade’s case is a little unusual but obviously the producer and engineer are used to using the SM58 with her particular voice that simply works! This could be paralleled to the home studio enthusiast who get’s used to using a particular budget mic. There’s nothing wrong with using a budget mic if it achieves the results you want! Generally however it is the more tried and tested expensive microphones with their higher quality components that a pro sound engineer will reach for because the sum of those build quality details simply make it easier to achieve a superior sound.

      Another important factor is the skill of the sound engineer. Put a £10,000 U67 (current ebay prices! Crazy agreed!) or a £100 MXL V67 in front of any singer and both will sound crap if recorded or mixed incorrectly. A good engineer is one who can make the best of the tools he has access to. Sometimes even in a pro studio those “go to” mics are not always available and one has to compromise bearing in mind there may be a little more work to do later on when it comes to blending the vocal in at the mixing stage. As skilled as some of the great sound engineers are however, all engineers prefer to avoid an army assault course to conquer at the mix stage and that’s where the subtleties presented by the more expensive mics win the majority of the time.

      …. AND THIS IS MY POINT… …

      …! A pro is paid by the hour to do a quality job in the least time possible. The reason why microphones from the likes of Neumann and such are expensive is because over the years they have proved to be the ones that do not labour a sound engineer with as much work later on in the recording process, are actually easier to monitor mix with, keeping the artist inspired during their vocal performance, and yield the best sonic result! The engineer can usually rest happy that the basic sound is captured correctly: sometimes to an amateur this basic sound may seem “dull” and sometimes it indeed does sit “dull” amidst the backing track prior to mixing but the engineer knows that it will be a much easier task to adjust it later than if he was to use an “unknown” mic at the start of the session.

      Technically speaking it is very true that a lot of budget condenser mics out there do not produce a natural sound or having some variation in the audio spectrum or are built with cheaper components that yield a sonic flaw that can often prove difficult to iron out later on. For non professionals using these budget microphones, some fantastic results can indeed be achieved; but non professionals are not under commercial pressure to achieve those results with different singers day in day out. It is possible to get to know a budget microphone and become accustomed to taming its idiosyncrasies at the mix stage but again the consistency of the results compared to using an industry standard mic are simply not the same. Indeed my own music project falls into the latter where, to my detriment, I have got used to going through the rigmarole of having to work hard at the mixing stage with my AKG on most songs. In fact I will be starting to re-record most of my vocals with my new mic-pre combo! It’s a lot of work vocally but I know the mixing stage will be a lot easier to achieve and the sound will be that much sweeter! And besides I want the very best vocal reproduction for my songs.

      Mic pre’s are increasingly impressive at the budget end these days but again I prefer to go with something that has been tried and tested over the decades. With my pro studio cap on I should really purchase something that other pro sound engineers would expect to see in my studio racks and also something which is a solid investment for the studio when it is running at full professional capacity from time to time: so I will probably be buying a Neve pre and go back to using the Neumann 87 through it.

      So in conclusion to the OPs question “Is A $1000 Microphone Really 10x Better Than A $100 Mic?”…

      My answer is YES! One could argue that some genres of music lack the sonic fidelity in their musical style/arrangements to warrent the superior vocal capture achievable by the more expensive microphones but generally speaking the more expensive microphones do yield much more consistent quality results in the right hands: if only because they ease the labour needed to complete the recording process which is often a blessing that inspires the engineer to achieve that superlative sound. In a non professional situation it is possible to get good results with any of the myriad of budget microphones out there as long as you have the appropriate recording know-how! However if you are indeed experienced at recording and you want the very best sound for your music and you have the budget for a £1000+ mic you will already know that it will always give you an easier ride to achieving this.

      It’s a little early I know! but I wish everyone seasons greetings and hopefully some comparative peaceful respite at the end of a year that has seen so much unrest in the world.

  89. Duane Brocious

    It is a poor craftsman who blames his tools for his shoddy workmanship.

  90. Scott Leacox

    The mic is both most most and least important tool in the chain.

    When looking at what is involved in making a track, The material, the musician, and the instrument are all more important than the mic.

    When looking at the recording chain, the Mic is the most important piece of the chain.

    The intersection of the two is mic placement. A well placed cheap mic make s a a better track than a poorly placed good mic.

    As a result, knowing your mic’s well and taking the time to place them right is very important. Many people know how an SM57 and U 87 work. Are they they best….often not. Knowing how to work with them makes them staples of the industry. People can get things done faster with familiar tools.

    The single most important lesson of recording 1000’s of track is taking the time to put on headphones and walk around with the Mic’s while the source is going. Go find the good sound with what you have.

  91. Kenny Croes

    I found this article to be very helpful. I’ve recorded four CD albums with an MXL 990 and a Shure KSM 27. I’ve recorded the raw tracks using a Tascam DP24SD, then transferred the tracks into Sonar for processing and mixing through Alesis Monitor One’s, all budget stuff. Though I’ve been very pleased with the results, there’s been this little voice in the back of my brain saying I should invest in at least one expensive mic to be truly “professional”. After reading the comments, it seems unless I’m prepared to upgrade the entire chain (which I’m not), it’s likely I would not experience a drastic improvement with just an expensive “high-quality-well-earned reputation” mic. Perhaps now I can relax a little and appreciate the sound I’ve been able to coax out of my modest set up.

  92. Moises (mlyrics)

    For me it’s about different colors. You can definetly get great results with cheap gear; I’ve produced albums with Presonus Channel Strip pre > Rode NT-1a and mixed by Grammy award winner recording and mix engineers who get impressed at the character and sound I’ve achieved recording vocals with that setup. I would invest in a better pre before changing a mic. At the end, more than the gear, the results will depend on who is the person making sure to get the best sound for the project.

  93. Utomo

    Microphone manufacturer need to consider bigger condenser, try to double the size and see the different.
    as in other technology bigger can detect more. such as cameras sensor and others

  94. RealityThatHitsYouInYourFace

    Yes, it is does sounds 10 times better. It’s pretty much like there are sound engineers who cost 100$ and those who cost 1000$ and those who cost 10000$ and more…Quality comes at a price. The reason you try make people believe otherwise is the same why you running blog instead of making million dollars records – you’re not good enough to hear and make real quality.

    Sorry, but this is beyond lame. I understand your reasons, but statements like this one just make you liar and dabbler. There are reasons why top pros record on top-end gear and if they could make the same quality on low-end gear they’d happily did, nobody would want to invest hundreds of thousands dollars into studios, people would just buy cheapest gear and recorded Grammy winning albums one after the other wouldn’t they?

    And for people who read this – stop wasting you time on this newagemumbojumbocrapgear pseudo-philosophy and go do some real learning and real practice.



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