If you’re a singer-songwriter, a beginner sound engineer, or a producer, or you simply enjoy experimenting with vocals and instruments in the studio, you’ll need some quality equipment to make sure you get the best possible sound. If you’re setting up a home recording studio and don’t really have the room or the budget to get various microphones dedicated to each instrument or project, you’ll want to do some research.
Some vocal microphones can work on musical instruments, as well, while others are better at capturing live sound. You need to figure out what you need and how you plan on using your microphone to make an informed decision, and that’s where we come in. We want to help you out by rounding up our picks of the best vocal microphones on the market right now, so keep reading to see some great options.
Things to consider when buying the best microphones for vocals
When deciding which microphone is best for your specific needs as an artist, you need to consider what matters to you most. For live performances, dynamic mics are the best option, while condenser mics are better for clarity and studio recordings. You should also make sure that compatibility is not an issue, and that your new microphone will work with the recording equipment you already have, as well as the recording environment (stage, home studio, professional studio).
Another aspect to consider when choosing a vocal mic is the polar pattern. This basically defines how much of the sound signal will be picked up by your microphone from different directions. If you want to avoid capturing sounds from certain parts of the room or unwanted sources, you’ll want to look into what type of polar pattern works best for you. An omnidirectional pattern will capture sound from all directions, while a cardioid pattern focuses on the main sound source, reducing background noise, which might work better if you record in a home studio with lots of background noise from neighbors or the neighborhood.
Can you use a vocal microphone to record musical instruments?
While it’s perfectly ok to use a vocal microphone to record musical instruments, as well, if you want to capture the best possible sound, this might not be ideal. Vocal mics are designed specifically to capture the delicate nuances of the human voice, and they might not reproduce other sounds quite as well, as musical instruments like acoustic guitars or drums have different frequency responses than the human voice.
Dynamic microphones can handle such instruments if you can’t afford to buy different microphones for vocals and your musical instruments, while condenser mics work well on a wider range of instruments because of their extended frequency response. However, if you want the best quality sound you can get, it’s best to use microphones the way they were intended, and make sure that the mic you buy can handle the different instruments you usually use in your music.
What about portability?
If portability and ease of use on the road or on the go are major factors for you, then you’ll need to do a little bit of research, because not all vocal microphones are that easy to carry around. Most mics require an external preamp, as well as a recording interface to work when you’re on the go, and carrying all this equipment around might be a real hassle. Instead, you can look for vocal microphones with USB connectivity, which have built-in preamps and don’t require any separate equipment to work.
What are the different types of vocal microphones?
Before diving into our picks of the best vocal microphones currently available on the market, let’s go over the different types of mics you should know about. Depending on what you’ll be using them for and in which environment, you’ll have to pick between a dynamic mic, a condenser mic, or a ribbon mic.
Dynamic microphones are incredibly robust, they can handle high sound pressure levels without distortion, and they are not as sensitive to background noise as other types of mics. This makes them an excellent choice for live performances or recording loud instrumentals featuring drums or electric guitars. Popular examples include the Shure SM58 or the Sennheiser MD421.
Condenser mics, or capacitor mics, are known for their extended frequency response, high sensitivity, and top-class audio quality. This makes them an ideal choice for capturing vocals, acoustic instruments, and recording podcasts or audiobooks with great detail. Popular examples include the Audio-Technica AT2020 and the NeumannU87. The only downside is that they’re not the best in terms of portability, as they require an external power source to work.
Ribbon microphones are best used in professional recording studios or home studios, as they’re very sensitive to background noise, physical shocks, or even strong air blasts. But they are great at capturing both vocals and instrumentals, and known for providing a warm, vintage, rich sound. They’re not exactly portable, and they’re also quite delicate, so they might not be the best option for an emerging artist always on the go who needs versatility and portability. Popular ribbon microphones include the AEA R84 or the Royer R121.
The best vocal mics currently available on the market
The following is a list of our top picks for the best vocal microphones available on the market right now. While the decision ultimately depends on your specific needs as an artist and personal preference, these microphones will get the job done and will reproduce vocals and instrumentals in high quality, without breaking the bank.
1. Shure SM7B
The Shure SM7B is one of the most popular vocal microphones out there - it was even Michael Jackson’s favorite - and for good reason. It’s a great all-rounder microphone, perfect for home studio recording, podcasts, and even recording instruments. It features in-built protection against electromagnetic hum and it’s great at isolating background noise, making it ideal for a home studio where external noises are quite common. The Shure SM7B boasts a cardioid polar pattern which helps it reject background noise while capturing detail and the soft nuances of the human voice. The build is also quite rugged, so it can withstand being handled and moved around as needed, making it a solid option for artists on the go. It’s no wonder that it’s a favorite among many successful artists, sound engineers, broadcasters, and podcasters.
2. Aston Microphones Spirit
The Aston Spirit is another great option for singer-songwriters looking for a high-quality microphone that can capture vocals and reproduce them at a professional-grade level. It’s a condenser microphone that can be set up to use a cardioid polar pattern, a figure-of-eight pattern, which picks up sound from the front and rear of the mic, and an omni pattern, picking up sound from all directions, which is great for capturing the room ambiance or backing vocals. It also works wonderfully for recording vocals, but also instruments, like acoustic or electric guitars, drums, or keyboards. The Aston Spirit manages to capture the fine details and tonalities of the human voice, but without the usual harshness that some condenser microphones tend to add.
3. Rode NT1
The Rode NT1 condenser microphone is amazing for studio recording, as it produces incredible quality sound, given its extremely ultra-low self-noise and tight cardioid polar pattern. It’s basically great for any genre, be it hip-hop, pop, rock, and works incredibly well for podcast recording or voice-over projects. It’s also reportedly one of the quietest mics on the market, and comes with a high-quality suspension shock mount, a removable pop shield with two axes of adjustment and a telescopic arm, and an XLR cable.
4. IK Multimedia iRig Stream Mic Pro
A great budget-friendly option is the IK Multimedia iRig Stream Mic Pro, a compact, multi-pattern mic with a stereo/4-channel audio interface. It’s a small, portable microphone that packs a lot of punch, and works with your iPhone, Mac, iPad, PC, or Android device without much fuss. It boasts switchable cardioid, figure-eight, and omnidirectional polar patterns, and features an adjustable high-pass filter that eliminates background noise and rumble. All of its features can be controlled through a single control knob with LED level indicators, so it’s easy to use on the go and in any conditions. It’s a great option for beginner musicians or those who are always traveling and want something portable.
5. Neumann U87 Ai
A highly sought-after condenser microphone, the Neumann U87 Ai is known for its exceptional sound quality, and it’s popular among sound engineers and music producers around the globe. It features three switchable polar patterns: cardioid, figure-of-eight, and omnidirectional, which means it’s easily adaptable to any recording environment. It boasts extended frequency response, low self-noise, and high sensitivity, making it ideal for capturing vocals or acoustic instruments and for recording podcasts or spoken word materials, as well. The Neumann U87 Ai is reliable, well-built, and creates professional-level sound, which is why it’s considered one of the best vocal microphones on the market today.
6. Audio-Technica AT2020
If the Neumann U87 Ai is on the pricey end of the spectrum for your needs, then you might want to look into the Audio-Technica AT2020. It’s a top-quality cardioid condenser microphone that brings quality, professional studio-level quality to your home recording studio. It’s a budget-friendly vocal microphone that doesn’t skimp on quality or features; it’s highly durable and portable, which is great for emerging musicians who are always on the go. However, it’s not the best at mitigating plosives or fricatives, but for $99, you can’t really complain, and you can attach the pop filter included in the kit.
7. AKG C414 XLII
This condenser microphone is incredibly well built and will be your trusted companion for years and years, no matter what you’re planning to use it for. While it’s on the pricey side, it’s totally worth it if you have the budget for it. It’s incredibly versatile, and it works perfectly to record vocals, guitars, keyboards, and even drums, through a total of nine pickup patterns. You can also combine two different polar patterns if needed, which means there is really no limit to what you can use this microphone for. Fun fact: AKG’s C414 line of microphones has been used by the likes of Freddie Mercury, Tom Waits, Common, and RZA.
8. Sennheiser E935
If you’re looking for a decently-priced, versatile microphone that you can use to record vocals, but also different instruments, and obtain a professional-level sound, the Sennheiser E935 does a pretty good job. It’s a dynamic, natural-sounding mic, and provides a clear, crisp sound, even in the harshest conditions like a live venue. Many artists enjoy using the Shure SM7B to record in the studio, and switch to the Sennheiser E935 for live performances, because this dynamic mic does a great job at isolating vocals, no matter the environment. It’s well-priced and offers a lot of bang for your buck, and it’s definitely worth a try.
9. Behringer TM1
The Behringer TM1 is a great microphone to use either for recording in the studio or during live performances on stage, providing versatility and portability at a convenient price. This large-diaphragm condenser mic captures vocals and instruments with amazing sensitivity and accuracy with the help of its cardioid polar pattern and wide 132 db dynamic range. It comes with a heavy-duty shock mount with an integrated pop shield, a dedicated dust cover, and a professional-grade microphone cable, so it’s ready to put into action straight out of the box.
10. Rode NTK
Another solid contender when it comes to buying a quality vocal microphone for your artistic needs is the Rode NTK. This is Rode’s flagship mid-range condenser mic, and it boasts great features and a sturdy design at a decent price. An added bonus to this mic is the twin-triode 6922 valve, which gives a warm, vintage quality to your vocal recordings, making it a great choice for rock’n’roll, RnB, hip-hop, and any other genre. It has a built-in power supply and comes with the SM6 shock mount with a detachable pop filter.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which is the best vocal microphone for singing?
The best vocal microphone for singing can vary depending on the singer's voice and the intended application, but one widely acclaimed choice is the Neumann U87 Ai. This versatile condenser microphone offers exceptional clarity, a wide frequency response, and the ability to switch between cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure-8 polar patterns, making it suitable for a wide range of vocal styles and recording environments. It has been a go-to microphone for many professional studios and artists for decades due to its ability to capture vocals with unparalleled detail and warmth. However, it's essential to consider your specific vocal characteristics, budget, and recording context when choosing the best microphone for your singing needs, as there are many excellent options available at various price points.
Which are the best microphones for live singing?
Some of the best microphones for live singing include the Shure SM58, renowned for its durability and reliability, the Sennheiser e935 for its smooth and clear sound, and the Audio-Technica AT2010 with its excellent feedback rejection. The Electro-Voice ND767a is also highly regarded for its versatility and crisp vocal reproduction, while the Shure Beta 87A is a top choice for artists seeking studio-quality sound in a live performance setting. Ultimately, the best microphone for live singing depends on individual vocal characteristics and the specific requirements of the performance, so it's essential to try different options and find the one that complements your voice and style the most.
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