This article is an overview of the best affordable microphones that have made my cut for daily use as a biographer, interviewer, and presenter. I’m not an audio expert, but do use voice recordings every day in my work. Also, I experiment a lot. My hope is to help writers, people doing family history, and businesspeople quickly zero in on nice microphones for the right job, and at a good price. I’ve tried a lot of cheap but good microphones (also some terrible ones) over the years. Whenever I get something new I compare it with the others in my kit, and the top microphones stay. Quite a few have ended up in the trash – especially flimsy headset mics. Hence, this is my personal summarized list of the quality recording microphones that remain in my toolbox today. This page is updated regularly and is part of a detailed series:
(Disclaimer: This page contains a few affiliate links which means if you purchase a product on Amazon with our links, we make a small commission. We really appreciate it! This is a tiny part of our income, but every bit helps.)
Quick list of my top microphones:
Here is an overview of the quality recording microphones that have made my cut for daily use. Scroll down through the article for a short write-up on each. The links in this list take you to Amazon product pages:
- PowerDeWise lavalier microphone
- Sennheiser SC45 Business headset
- Sony OmniDirectional lavalier microphone
- Audio Technica uni-directional (carotid) lapel microphone
- iPad Pro (no external microphone)
- Olympus WS-852 (this links to a full review of my favorite digital recorder)
- Blue Yeti USB podcast microphone
- MAONO portable amplifier microphone
- Olympus TP-8 call recording microphone
Overview of how I use microphones:
So you know my angle on this stuff, below is a summary of how I use audio. Music, theater and broadcast quality are all outside my wheelhouse (and budget) but if you want to capture conversations, interviews, or oral history then you’re in the right place. Here’s a quick list of what I do:
- Oral history interviews in person
- Oral history interviews over the phone
- Voice memos and audio journals
- Dictating transcriptions
- Narrating videos using Animoto and Adobe Spark
- Recording short video clips with my phone and iPad
- Teaching live
Video – a side-by-side sound check in a quiet room:
Sennheiser headset vs. PowerDeWise lavalier mic
The video above shows how various microphones check out in a relatively quiet room. Scroll down to read more about each mic, but in summary, I really like the how PowerDeWise lavalier microphone records in a quiet room. Did you notice, however, that you could hardly hear the plastic bag crumpling when I was wearing the Sennheiser business headset microphone? That brings us to the next test because the Sennheiser is a standout when there is background noise.
Below is an audio file in the car with a lot of background noise. The clip below compares the Sennheiser headset to the PowerDeWise lapel mic in the car. What a difference! It was a rainy day so the windshield wipers are making this loud squeegee sound, and I have air blowing. The result is that the Sennheiser headset was the clear winner in this noisy environment, whereas the PowerDeWise sounds nicer in a relatively quiet room. And of course, a lapel mic would make more sense even if it didn’t sound better, simply because it would be weird to put a headset mic on your subject.
Keep in mind that the PowerDeWise comes in at under $30 on Amazon, while the Sennheiser is about $50.
PowerDewise lavalier mic:
- The PowerDeWise lavalier mic is billed as professional grade. It is very reasonably price, and it works directly with a cell phone or tablet with no adapters needed. It is a nice microphone with GREAT sound; I find it is much better than just talking into my Android phone or my iPad’s built-in mic.
- They include a really nice kit with an adapter, longer cord, extra foam covers and a carrying case.
- Note that I have two other similarly priced Sony lapel mics, and I like the recording quality of this one better when it is plugged into my phone or iPad, but not with my digital recorder (read the note about 3.5 mm connections below). How do I know I like it better? I spent a whole afternoon running side-by-side sound tests with all my microphones in different configurations. Two audio clips are below.
Important note about 3.5 mm phone connections
In in the pic above of the PowerDeWise kit, notice how there are two different connector jacks. These 3.5 mm male connectors are called “mini” jacks, by the way. In the photo, two of the jacks have three black lines, and there is also an adapter with two black lines. The ones with three black lines are called TRRS connectors, while the one with two black lines is called TRS. What this means is that even though your mic might fit into a recorder or phone, it might not work. (This drives me nuts!) Hence, the PowerDeWise lavalier mic records beautifully with my phone, but it only works with my favorite Olympus WS-852 digital recorder by using the adapter included in the kit. And then I also have to change the recording setting from 128 kpbs stereo to MP3 64 kbps mono. By using the adapter, it did work, but there was a big loss of sound quality.
Beware: every time you add an extender cord or an adapter connection, you lose quality and may add scratchy sounds, especially if the components are cheap. I have learned this the hard way! Expensive microphones with cheap connections = cheap sound. In summary, when I did a side-by-side test with the PowerDeWise + adapter + digital recorder, the sound was degraded enough that it was better if I just put my digital recorder recorder on the table with no microphone at all. The takeaway is that if I want to clip a lapel mic on somebody, I need to use TRS connector (two lines) with the digital recorder. The PowerDeWise is for my phone or iPad.
So…if I want to use a lavalier microphone with my Olympus WS-852 digital recorder, I use a Sony OmniDirectional mic. Scroll below the Sennheiser headset for my review/audio test of that configuration.
Sennheiser business headset microphone:
- The Sennheiser business headset microphone is a ROCK STAR for recording into my phone while I am on the go, such as dictating voice memos on the fly. Why? Because it does such a great job of blocking out background noise.
- Also, I have been using it daily for months and it has held up to abuse. I tend to be rough on equipment, so I do carry this in a hard case to protect it. (Not included – I had one from a different headset.)
- Since it picks up beautifully, and the mic is close to my mouth, it also saves my voice from getting strained. It sounds quite intimate, even in the car. I will say that if background noise isn’t an issue, the PowerDeWise lavalier mic sounds richer.
- In summary, this Sennheiser is my all-time best option if I want to record voice journal entries or voice memos in the car, or while on the go. It’s also my favorite option if am taking a call at my desk and want to type at the same time.
- Note that a while back I had several headsets and this was by far the best. The others were flimsy and sounded bad.
- However, note that this headset microphone does NOT work directly with my digital recorder. However, it DOES work if I use the Power DeWise adapter plug that came with that set.
- For all these reasons, I really, really love this nice microphone. At around $50, it was more expensive than the lavalier microphones, but for daily use to preserve my voice and capture clear sound it is an essential part of my workflow.
Sony OmniDirectional Lavalier Microphone (lapel mic)
- This inexpensive Sony omnidirectional lavalier microphone enhances the recording quality when I use it with my favorite digital recorder, the Olympus WS-852.
- What I like about it is the price, and that it does capture clearer audio than when a recorder is sitting on the table. This is helpful if someone has a quiet voice. Also, if my purpose is to run a file through Dragon, loudness makes an enormous difference in the quality of the transcription. For that application a little distortion is fine. (see the next note below)
- What I do not like is that it sounds slightly distorted/digital/electronic. I’m not sure what the correct terminology, but it’s a bit like the audio has been edited. If it were a photo, I would call it pixelated. For this reason, I have stopped using this microphone for professional applications. It was fine as a starter microphone and for the price point, but I have since upgraded from this inexpensive microphone to one costing closer to $100.
- Here is a quick overview of the settings and configuration: This Sony lapel microphone has a TRS connection (two stripes on the jack), which is what the recorder needs.
- Below are two sound check audio files. The first at 128 kbps stereo and the second at 64 kpb. Each sound check compares the recording with the mic and without. In both cases it sounds better with a microphone than without, but 64 is the winner overall, in my opinion.
Audio Technica Lavalier microphone
I have recently upgraded from the inexpensive Sony (just above this review) above to this Audio Technica lavalier microphone. Its price point is closer to $100, so it’s not exactly a budget mic for family use. It is billed as “highest quality.”
I have, indeed, been impressed with the quality and durability of all the components. It sounds great. (See sound check audio clip below).
It is quite sensitive, so I am finding I need to adjust settings on my digital recorder as a result, so I don’t get distortion if I speak loudly. Click here to view the microphone on Amazon.
Here is a sound check of the Audio Technica compared to the Sony mentioned above.
Wind screens for recording outside:
Pro tip: If you are recording outdoors, such as at a family reunion, get one of these little fuzzy covers that act as a windscreen to fasten over your lapel microphone. These reduce popping noises from wind.
Blue yeti USB microphone for desktop computer
- The Blue Yeti is a Podcast grade microphone that I use for narrating videos at my desk. It’s not super low cost, but it is near-professional quality and a lot less expensive than others in its class.
- It connects to my computer with a USB.
- Before buying it, I researched and found this baby to be highly recommended by people who do podcasts because it has wonderful sound. There are certainly more expensive recording microphones, but this one does a great job for what I need.
- It has served me very well for the price. Watch the end of the main video above to see how it sounds compared to the small, inexpensive lavalier microphones tested in this article.
Olympus TP-8 – telephone pickup microphone
- My list of best affordable microphones would not be complete without this Olympus TP-8 earbud mic (TP stands for telephone pickup). I use it to record calls. Note that I use this as my secondary/backup method because I prefer TapeACall as my primary recorder. This is because TapeACall records better sound quality by far. However, there is a service cost involved.
- Hence, The Olympus TP-8 is a good, inexpensive option if you prefer hardware instead of a phone recording app. I certainly do. I tried phone apps for recording calls and found them to be quirky, unreliable, and in most cases they record all calls automatically. Who would want to record every call? That’s just weird! So, I ditched call apps and went for a service + hardware.
- As a backup or as an inexpensive method to record calls, the TP-8 works great. And as a side note about backups, I am a stickler to always have a backup because I can’t tell you how many times my main recording method has failed!
- Here is how it works: You put the earbud in your ear, and connect its male 3.5 mm microphone jack into your digital recorder’s microphone port (not the headphone hole!) Then you put your phone up to the ear that has the earbud inside. Hit record on the digital recorder. Then talk and listen normally. The digital recorder will pick up your voice and also the conversation from inside your ear canal. What??! Yes. It works. The sound is a little muffled, but usable.
Amplifier microphone headset
This MAONO portable amplifier microphone is not a recording device, but rather, is for making my voice louder. This is the microphone I use when I am teaching live classes so all students can hear me. I bought it out of desperation when I was recovering from a cold and it saved my life. I’ve been using it ever since, even in relatively small rooms.
Hisonic portable PA system
This Hisonic PA system is a great portable unit to end my list of best affordable microphones. Alas, this piece of equipment ended up being overkill to project my voice for teaching classes and has mostly been replaced by the MAONO above.
It is rechargeable, comes with a handheld mic as well as a headset, and can connect via bluetooth. The bluetooth feature is great if I need to project the sound from a video on my laptop. The only time I use it now is if I need to project the sound of my computer into a larger room, speak at an outdoor event, or if I were ever to teach in a large space without a podium mic (that’s rare). I am including it, however, because it’s a quality unit and it might be just the ticket for somebody.
I hope you have enjoyed this summary of my best affordable microphones!
- Oral history interview questions and audio resources
- Transcription tools and resources
- Tools for writers – how to write your story
- Take a class to tell your story, including through oral history and online courses
Rhonda Lauritzen is the founder and an author at Evalogue.Life – Tell Your Story. Rhonda lives to hear and write about people’s lives, especially the uncanny moments. She and her husband Milan restored an 1890 Victorian in Ogden, Utah and work together in it, weaving family and business together. She especially enjoys unplugging in nature. Check out her latest books: How to Storyboard, and Remember When, the inspiring Norma and Jim Kier story. To read more to to try my templates, click here:
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