A few companies who seem to produce some ok stuff that's inexpensive for someone like you or me who is dipping our toe in the water but doesn't want to fork over the bucks is Behringer, ART and Marshall/MXL. I've got stuff from those companies, and you are right - I don't think they do much R&D and it's mostly cloned stuff made to a lesser standard. I'm not going to feel too badly about taking advantage of products that are already out there. I own some of the better stuff too, so I suppose it balances out. I just put down a vocal track using an MXL V67G Large diaphragm studio condenser. It's no Neumann U87, but it also costs about $3300 less than a Neumann U87, and for my purposes it seems to be just fine.