The internet has made music gear more accessible than ever. It has provided musicians and recording enthusiasts with more options to buy and sell their second-hand equipment.
Should you buy used microphones?
If you know what to look for, purchasing used microphones is a great way to save money. It’s also a great way to enjoy vintage mics that perhaps aren’t produced anymore. Indeed, buying second-hand mics is a risk, but in most cases, it is a great option if you’re on a budget.
With the advancements in digital recording equipment and the increasing popularity of home studios, microphone production has skyrocketed.
There are so many budget and high-end mics to choose from, that it can be difficult knowing where to start. In this guide, you’ll learn what you need to look for when buying used mics, and how to ensure that you choose high-quality options.
The Advantages Of Buying Used Mics
The obvious reason that buying used mics is a good option for musicians and audio engineers is the reduced price tag. As soon as a microphone has been used, its monetary value decreases, unless of course, it’s a rare, vintage device that is highly sought after.
When you’re assembling your recording setup, you want to ensure that you’re getting the best value for money from every acquisition you make. The more money you save on individual items, the more equipment you can amass. This results in you having a variety of tools at your disposal to enhance recordings or live performances.
- In many cases, used mics are at least 20% cheaper than new models.
This cost reduction is dependent on the condition of the microphone in question, along with the demand for it. It’s not uncommon to find used microphones at half the price of their brand-new equivalents.
Another advantage of buying used mics is that it is more sustainable than buying new ones.
The more that musicians and recording engineers recycle equipment between them, the less old microphones go unused. This also impacts mass production and prevents the unnecessary use of materials in the long term.
In addition to cost and sustainability, buying used mics is also great for networking. Most musicians love to share their insights and knowledge about the equipment they use. This dialog can help you to connect with like-minded people who share a passion for recording.
Second-hand microphone sellers are generally not trying to push their product upon you, and therefore you can ask them questions about the mic and you will likely receive an honest, informed opinion.
Here’s a breakdown of the main advantages of buying used mics:
- Significantly lower price
- Access microphones that are no longer in production
- Communicate with like-minded people
- More sustainable and prevents equipment from going to waste
Before you head straight to a second-hand music gear store to buy a bunch of microphones, we need to address some of the potential downfalls.
There is an undeniable element of risk involved when buying any equipment second-hand. Although many microphones are exceptionally robust, you still need to be aware of what to look for.
Take a look at this video that discusses buying used microphones.
Condensers, Dynamic and Ribbon Mics
The reliability of used microphones heavily depends on their type. The three main categories of microphones used for recording and live performances are:
Each of these three microphone types works in very different ways. They include varying inner components, and as a result, some are much more fragile and prone to breaking than others.
Before buying a used microphone, you must research the individual model you’re considering. This will provide you with an understanding of how durable, robust and reliable that particular microphone is.
In general, if you’re buying a used dynamic microphone, there is very little risk involved. This is largely due to the construction of dynamic mics. Many are still able to function perfectly after decades of use, providing they have been cared for relatively well.
Dynamic microphones are designed to be multi-purposed. For example, the legendary Shure SM57 is one of the most popular and versatile dynamic microphones to ever be produced. It is notoriously roadworthy and can withstand years of heavy use, without its performance suffering.
Used condenser and ribbon microphones are much riskier purchases than the dynamic variety I just described.
This is because the inner components of these mics are significantly more complex and fragile. They tend to be used for a specific purpose, such as recording vocals or acoustic instruments.
Inside a condenser microphone, there is a pair of charged metal plates. One of the plates is fixed (the backplate) and one is slightly malleable (the diaphragm). These two combine to form what is known as a capacitor.
When sound enters the grille of the condenser mic, it comes into contact with the diaphragm. This causes the distance between the two plates to fluctuate, and capacitance is changed. The variation of the spacing then produces an electrical signal which corresponds to the sound it has received.
The table below highlights the key aspects of each microphone type that you should consider when buying second hand:
|Condenser & Ribbon
Condenser and ribbon microphones tend to degrade over time.
In some cases, this results in their recording capacity being compromised. You can replace certain components to restore these microphones, but that is not always guaranteed to solve the problems.
Therefore, you must do plenty of prior research if you’re buying a used condenser or ribbon mic. Ideally, you’ll need to answer the following questions:
- When was the microphone made?
- How many owners has it had?
- Have any components been replaced?
- Are the manufacturers reputable?
- Are the XLR connectors in good condition?
Used Microphone Prices
Another factor that will determine whether you should buy a particular microphone used or new is its price.
- If you’re shopping for budget microphones that cost around $200 or less, then it might be a better option to opt for a new model.
New microphones are usually under warranty, which provides you with peace of mind for the first couple of years or so that you use them. Conversely, when you buy a used microphone, you run the risk of it breaking a month later and not being able to recoup your money or swap it for a working model.
- On the other hand, if the microphone you’re thinking of purchasing is a high-end model that is quite costly, buying it used is a great option.
This is partially down to the money you’ll save compared to buying the mic new, but also for several other reasons.
In general, users of high-end microphones know what they’re doing, and are likely to respect the equipment and maintain it properly. If they’ve invested a substantial amount of money in a microphone, it’s unlikely that they would neglect it and allow it to degrade.
Therefore, you can pretty much guarantee that an owner of a high-end microphone is knowledgeable on the way it works, its capabilities, and how to get the best performance out of it.
They’re likely to be happy to answer any questions you have and provide you with guidance on how to use the microphone to the best of its ability.
Also, premium quality microphones can be serviced and repaired.
Oftentimes, manufacturers sell the individual parts and components of expensive microphones, so that they can easily be replaced if they malfunction.
This is in contrast to budget recording equipment, which is generally more difficult to service due to a lack of replacement parts. It’s simply not worth paying for a replacement part when you could probably replace the microphone for a little extra cost.
This is not true of every microphone.
Using the SM57 as an example once again, this mic would be considered “budget” due to its low price but is likely to outlive many more expensive models. That’s why it’s so important to research the exact microphone you are thinking of buying used.
Budget microphones are made using the cheapest materials possible, and therefore, are much less likely to stand the test of time than their more expensive counterparts.
Related Questions On Buying Used Microphones
What are some of the best websites for used microphones?
There are many reputable online stores for used music equipment, but two of the best are Reverb and eBay. Both of these stores have a wide selection of used microphones and a great community of musicians and recording enthusiasts.
Which used microphones are the most reliable?
Shure’s SM57 and SM58 microphones are considered to be two of the most reliable and durable on the market. These dynamic mics are used all over the world, for a range of purposes including live performances and recording.
Are the inner components of condenser microphones easy to replace?
If you’re experienced in the field of electronics, then replacing the parts in a condenser microphone shouldn’t be too difficult. However, the safest option is to use the service of a reputable microphone repairer to avoid damaging it.