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Can You Make a Cheap Mic Sound Good?

In a previous post I did a microphone shoot out between the Heil PR40 and the Rode Procaster microphones run through various preamps and software plugins. The point was to show that it may not be the most expensive mic that works best for your voice.

Afterwards I got some great comments here and over at LinkedIn (I sent a link to the post to one of the groups I follow). In one of the comments I mentioned that I just might do a post that shows you how to take an El Cheapo microphone and make it sound like a more expensive one.

Okay, let me qualify that statement. I’m not going to show you how to take a $30 microphone and make it sound like a Neumann. But I will show you that with some free plugins I found on the web, you can make a decent sounding mic. I’m thinking this would be especially helpful if you’re just getting started and short on funds.

In any case, it makes for a fun test.

I won’t reveal which mic I’m using for this test until later. Suffice it to say, I didn’t spend a lot for it.

A couple of cons for this mic right out of the gate:

  • This thing is plosive happy. I literally was at a 45 degree angle to the mic in order to record this track.
  • There’s an audible 125hz hum that fades in and out. I’ve heard this noise on multiple computers. It’s in the mic.

Test Number One

This is nothing more me reading a paragraph of text into the mic. The mic was on a short desk stand and had a spit mitt on it. I spoke about three inches and at a 45 degree angle to the mic. No effects at all are on this track. It’s just the raw sound of the microphone.

Take One: Dry Mic Sound
GuitarBand Test-RAW

Pretty thin, right? This is definitely a cheap mic. And most likely one that you wouldn’t consider using for your podcast.

Test Number Two

Okay, let’s up the ante. I’m using the iZotope Nectar plugin. The setting is from the Alternative & Indie section and it’s called, In Your Face. No other effect is running.

Take Two: Same Take, Adding Nectar Plugin
GuitarBand Test-Nectar 1

Well, that’s a lot better. We’ve got some bottom end punch and enough high end to cut through. You can still hear that 125hz hum, though. But, hey, it’s a cheap mic.

Test Number Three

Now, I’m assuming you don’t have a spare $249 to drop down on the iZotope plug in, so let’s see if we can replicate the sound with some free plugins.

I’m recording these tracks on a Mac using GarageBand. So let’s look at the AUGraphicEQ plugin first.

The problem with having that 125hz hum is that we need to strip out up to 12db just to make the sound go away. What we also do is remove any punch the track had in the first place. So, executive decision time – worry about everything else and then see if it’s worth trying to take out.

In the image below you’ll see I first bumped up around 100hz and used that as my point to trail off the sub lows. This removes and rumblings and low frequency noises that usually crop up.

I scooped the mids slightly at 315hz and added some sizzle to the sound by popping up 3db at 5khz.


Next, I opened up my MCompressor plugin (a free download from MELDAproduction).

There aren’t a lot of presets to this plugin, but the setting for VOICE is pretty good.


Now let’s take a listen to what we’ve created.

Take Three: Adding Free Compression and EQ
GuitarBand Test-Free Stuff

Not bad. Pretty close to the Nectar plugin. In fact it seemed to mellow some of the harshness in the mic. I think I almost prefer this version over the Nectar plugin settings.

The original question was, can you make a cheap mic sound good? You can get a usable sound out of inexpensive equipment. You just need to start working with what you have or what you can find online and become comfortable with that.

Oh, and the microphone I was using? Click here to find that out.

About Jay Walsh

With a combined 25 years of design, marketing, podcasting, video and social media knowledge, Jay created with the goal of helping you make a better podcast.

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