The Best Microphones For Recording Vocals | The Ultimate Guide
Are you a home studio musician in search for the best vocal microphone that suits your budget while covering all your needs?
We’ve put together a complete buying guide that will teach you everything you need to know about vocal microphones, along with eight recommendations of some of our favourite vocal mics out there.
Though it is true that you will always get what you pay for, and that a microphone’s price will reflect the quality of the sound it can reproduce, the market is loaded with some fantastic lower and mid-range priced vocal microphones.
You can spend thousands of dollars on a world class microphone but unless you’re working in a well-treated vocal booth and have someone with extraordinary talents mixing your tracks, you’re highly unlikely to benefit from this type of investment.
The lead vocal is unarguably the most important component of a song. Sure, every production is unique. But the lead vocal carries the melody, the message, and translates the overall emotion of a piece of music.
In reality, the quality of a vocal performance is going to outweigh the quality of the microphone used (or any piece of gear for that matter) literally all of the time.
The RØDE NT1-A Cardioid Condenser
The RØDE NT1-A is one of the most popular microphones in its class, well-known for having an outstanding price to performance ratio. Its extremely low self noise makes it one of the quietest microphones on the market—even when pushed hard through quality preamps. It is a true condenser cardioid microphone with a 1” capsule, a relatively frequency response of 20Hz-20kHz and has a maximum SPL of 137dB.
For years it has been a home studio staple and while it performs exceptionally well on all sound sources it is widely used on vocalist of all ranges; giving a warm, detailed, and complimentary reproduction.
If you ever watch video of a live radio broadcast, you are likely to spot a Shure SM7B. It is used worldwide in a variety of media applications as it is built specifically for vocal recordings. Any major studio will have this high quality, low cost microphone in their mic cabinet and it is certainly getting plenty of use. It is a durable cardioid dynamic microphone with a flat frequency response of 50Hz-20kHz and an effective internal shock isolation system that eliminates the need for a shockmount and removes all mechanical noise transmission.
It is constructed with a pop filter on it and does not require an additional one at all. A rear panel features bass roll-off and presence boost switches displayed as a graphic EQ. The Shure SM7B is a world-class dynamic microphone that is a fraction of the cost of its competitors. If you’re looking to achieve top results but aren’t looking to pay top dollars, this mic is easily one of your best bets in getting there. Want to learn more?
Shure SM7B Dynamic
AKG C 214 Cardioid Condenser
AKG make some of the finest studio products at every price point. The AKG C 214 is a large diaphragm condenser microphone that replicates the performance and sonic accuracy of AKG’s renowned C 414 at a more affordable price. It offers a highly detailed, upfront sound with a frequency response of 20Hz-20kHz, an SPL of 156dB, a 20dB pad, and a switchable low pass filter at 160Hz. The AKG C 214 is a home studio multitool that will perform well on not only vocals but drums, horns, percussion and guitars exceptionally well. It is build tough with a dent resistant metal mesh covering the components and is sure to be a key player in your mic cabinet for years to come.
The Audio-Technica AT2020 is easily one of the best general purpose microphones in its price range that has long been pleasing singers of all varieties for its gentle presence boost and wide dynamic range. This affordable, no-frills cardioid condenser microphone has a frequency response of 20Hz-20kHz and a SPL of 144 making it a great choice for literally anything you put it in front of—be it percussion, guitars, vocals, or drums. Its impressive bass extension reproduces a surprisingly warm sound free from boominess and hype. If you are on a budget and need a durable multitool microphone, this is it. Want to know more?
Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser
Electro-Voice RE20 Dynamic
The Electro-Voice RE20 is another staple cardioid dynamic microphone that you will find on stage, in the studio, or in any live broadcast setting. It performs exceptionally well on vocals but is often found on guitar cabinets and horns. Its flat frequency response is wide from 45Hz to 18kHz and features a 4.5dB attenuation switch from 400Hz-100Hz to prevent any proximity effect during close miking. An internal pop filter eliminates the need for an external one and it effectively reduces plosives, sibilance, and its internal shockmount reduces external low end noise.
The Electro-VoiceRE20 has been in the game for years and years because it simply just works. It is straight forward, durable, and capable of handling some of the loudest sounds you have to throw at it. It has long been tried, tested and true, pleasing an entire industry of audio professionals.
If you’re on a budget and are looking to grab something with some features then you’ll be very pleased with the AKG P420. It offers a choice of cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure 8 polar patterns so if you’re looking to record multiple singers at once this will be a great choice. This also makes it useful when tracking ensembles, woodwinds, brass, and more. It has a frequency response of 20Hz-20kHz, an SPL of 155dB and a 20dB attenuation pad, and a low-cut filter removing 12dB/octave at 300Hz. If you want some versatility and the option to play with room acoustics and record a variety of sources at the same time then you’ll love the AKG P420.
AKG P420 Condenser
MXL V67G Large Capsule Condenser
The MXL V67 series of condenser microphones are gorgeous, sound great and are super well priced. The V67G emulates old tube performance and is impressively built with high quality circuitry. It is a cardioid condenser microphone with a frequency response of 30Hz-20kHz and has a maximum SPL of 130dB. Be sure to look at the others in the series as they are all great condensers with varying features—all very well priced.
Sennheiser’s MK series are an impressive collection of condenser microphones that offer great warmth and clarity. Here we’re looking at the MK4, a cardioid mic with a relatively flat frequency response of 20Hz-20kHz and a mild boost in presence. It has a maximum SPL of 140 so it will suit vocalists from all styles and at all volumes and works wonders on pianos and guitars. Podcasters and voiceover artists will love it for its transparent response. Wanna learn more?
Sennheiser MK4 Condenser
Vocal Microphone Buying Guide
Discover Your Brand
Manufacturers of microphones have been doing an excellent job reproducing many of the features found in more expensive, highly sought-after models, making affordable alternatives that reproduce excellent quality audio.
That being said, the properties and characteristics of microphones can differ dramatically from one another. A best choice for one singer may be a horrible one for another, and two different vocal microphones used on the same person can produce noticeably contrasting coloration of his/her voice.
There are tons of great microphones for recording vocals out there, so how do you choose the right one for yourself?
Understanding the various functions and features, along with having a good understanding of your intended use of the microphone will help you make the right choice. Are you recording your voice? Someone else’s? How many voices will you be recording at the same time?
The eight recommendations we have put together range from lower to mid-priced mics, many of which do a fantastic job at recording more than just vocals and truly serve as a home studio multitool—ready for whatever recording tasks the future may have in store.
Dynamic Microphones are the most common type of microphone. They are typically less expensive, more versatile, and built more rugged than other microphones. These mics perform well for both live and studio applications, and have a high SPL-handling capability (more on this later). They are less sensitive than condenser mics which should not at all be considered a bad thing. It makes them great for recording loud audio while leaving plenty of headroom on your input.
Dynamic microphones are geared toward vocal applications, but also perform well on instruments. They are typically built with a cardioid polar pattern which captures audio from a single direction and are commonly manufactured with an internal shock mounting technology that reduces vibrations from the environment, making them better for being handled.
Inside these microphones, the audio signal is generated by the motion of a conductor voice coil connected to a lightweight diaphragm placed within the field of a permanent magnet. This diaphragm moves in response to sound pressure, causing the voice coil suspended in the magnetic field to move, thus generating a small electric current that varies the voltage the coil produces.
Condenser microphones offer higher fidelity than dynamic microphones and respond better to the more subtle nuances of a performance. On the other hand, they are typically more expensive and their sensitivity can be somewhat of a nuisance. If a room is not sufficiently sound proof then they tend to pick up a lot of background noise.
These microphones are fragile. Recording at too high a volume can distort the sound and potentially damage the microphone altogether. They require an external power supply, internal batteries or +48V phantom power supplied by the audio interface to be used.
For use in a controlled environment and with a vocalist with good mic technique, a condenser microphone could be an optimal choice. You won’t be able to get much use of it outside of the studio, but within you’re bound to find plenty of uses for it.
In a condenser microphone, a thin stretched conductive diaphragm is located close to a metal disk called a backplate. This arrangement creates a capacitor which is supplied with a small electric charge by an external voltage source— either from phantom power or from a battery. The diaphragm vibrates slightly in response to sound pressure, changing the distance between it and the backplate, thus causing variations in the output voltage. This varied output represents the signal output of the microphone.
A Sense of Space
Polar pattern is the direction from which the microphone captures and ignores sound. Plain and simple. It is a microphones “directionality” or sensitivity to sound from various directions. Some microphones pick up sound only from one direction while others pick up from all or a combination of directions. Capeesh?
We could beat this topic on the head, but if a microphone for recording vocals is what you’re after then you won’t need to know more than the following:
The most popular preferred polar pattern for individual performances. This is ideal for recording a single vocalist. Cardioid means it is focused directly in front of the microphone in the shape of a heart and rejects sounds from 180 degrees opposite the direction the mic is aimed. There are also super-cardioid and hyper-cardioid which are very slight variations of cardioid but with added sensitivity behind the microphone.
This pattern captures a 360 recording of an environment to recreate the experience of actually being there. This can be great for recording several vocalists or a choire. If you’re looking for a microphone for podcasting, this could be a good microphone to conduct live interviews with.
Some microphones feature the option of selecting one of several polar patterns available on the same mic. This is typically done by a switch and adds lots of versatility to the microphone.
Frequency Range indicates the span of audio frequencies a microphone can detect and reproduce. Frequency Response is the Frequency Range versus Amplitude.
In other words, if you were to take a microphone and record audio of all frequencies at a consistent input level, certain frequencies along the Frequency Range may actually produce more or less output than what’s being inputted. This would show as a peak or a valley at a given frequency along the Frequency Response Curve (FRC) depicted on a Frequency Response Graph. You with me?
Microphones differ in how they respond to frequencies. One model may deliver a boost in a particular frequency where another may cut. This is usually based on the purpose for which the microphone was designed. A “flat response” is the case in which a microphone doesn’t alter any frequencies at all.
Frequencies are measured in Hertz (Hz). The generally accepted standard range of audible frequencies is 20 to 20,000 Hz, although this will vary from person to person and is greatly influenced by environmental factors. Vocal microphones tend to roll off bass frequencies under 200 Hz as these frequencies are typically undesirable and produce a “muddy” sound. Additionally, they tend to have what are called “peaks” in the 1 kHz – 9 kHz range as it is mainly within these frequencies that the human voice sits.
Is Bigger Better?
The diaphragm is a piece inside the microphone that receives the sound waves. Condenser and dynamic mics are classified according to the size of their diaphragm. The size of the diaphragm will contribute five key attributes:
- Self Noise – the inherent noise of the microphone itself
- Max SPL – stands for “sound pressure level” and is expressed in decibels (dBs). It describes the maximum volume that a mic can handle.
- Frequency Response – see above
- Frequency Range – see above
- Dynamic Range – difference between the loudest sound the microphone can handle without distorting significantly (<1%) and the level of noise that inevitably pollutes the audio signal even when no sound is present.
Diaphragms of all sizes have their place in a recording studio. In your efforts to equip your home studio with a microphone for singing that could also carry over well into other recording applications, you can use large-diaphragm condenser mics to record just about anything.
The accessories you’ll need will depend on which microphone you buy. Mic stands, cables and mounts are the obvious necessities . Other items such as pop filters, windscreens, shockmounts, and isolation screens may also be critical, depending on how and where you are using your mic. These are especially useful when using a condenser mic which is prone to picking up unwanted noise from both the performer and the environment.
Well that about wraps up our vocal microphone buying guide. Is there anything you feel we have missed? What’s your favourite model? What do you like about it? And what are you using it for? Let us know what’s working for you in the comments below.
Enjoy this buyers guide? Check out the others in our series to learn how to successfully equip your home recording studio.
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