Choosing a vocal microphone is difficult. There is a lot of money involved, and you don’t want to make a wrong decision. On the other hand, for most small home studios, the vocal mic has to play double duty as an all around microphone, recording vocals, guitar, drums, and more.
I’ve taken the liberty to write up a top ten list of vocal microphones to provide a jumping off point when looking for a quality vocal mic for a new home recording studio. What you’ll find below are my thoughts on 10 mics that are well suited for vocal recording.
Please know this – the price ranges drastically, but sometimes price is not the final arbiter of the sound quality. Sometimes a medium or even lower end mic will give you what you want, when a top dollar one is something a little different.
Here’s what I recommend. If you are looking to buy a single vocal microphone to get your studio rolling, do not buy super expensive and do not buy cheap. Get middle of the road. Why? This way you are paying for a good quality microphone that will be versatile. Get the cheaper ones as a second one. For my first mic, I bought an Audio Technica AT4050 (see below). It is an amazing all purpose mic that I still use all the time.
What you don’t want is a cheap vocal mic that makes you sad each time you use it. It’s worth paying a bit more up front to get quality, because there is a quality different between a $100 mic and a $600 mic. That’s my recommendation.
The list below is tailored for people who want vocal microphones that work well for other uses as well. I tried to keep this realistic – the prices range from $100 to $1000, with the Neumann U87 thrown in because it is just world class and needs to be on any top 10 list.
At the bottom of the list is a special feature of this page – a place for you to share raves about your favorite vocal mic. Click here to go straight there.
How to use this list
I’ve divided this list up into categories by price, and sorted them descending (highest price first). Please smile and read the info about the U87, even though it’s out of the budget for pretty much any small studio. But it’s a sweet mic. Each vocal microphone has some info about it to help you think about them.
The Vocal Microphones
This is a classic studio mic. It is the “go to” mic for many different purposes. The quality is second to none. Sound is amazing. In short, if you can, get this microphone – you won’t regret it.
Remember, these are the ones to get if you at all can.
This was my first microphone, and has served me well for over 10 years. It just works – I’ve never had any problems. I love the sound – present and full. It doesn’t do any fancy things with trying to make the output sound flattering. It just pumps the sound through. I use it as a vocal microphone, but it is a studio workhorse – it’s also known as an acoustic guitar mic. It has a switchable pattern, meaning it can be set to cardioid, omni, or figure-8 mode. I can’t say enough good things about this, so I’ll let you decide for yourself.
The SM 27 is one of the vocal microphones by Shure (we’ll meet more below). This one is falls in the bottom end of the middle range. It sports a condenser capsule, with a fixed cardioid pattern. The capsule is designed from the Shure KSM series, a higher end line, and placed on the SM 27. It is a multi-purpose mic, at home with the vocal microphones or many other categories. It nicely complements an SM 57 or 58.
The Low Range
The Shure Beta 58a is an upgraded version of their wildly popular SM58 (below). It features a dynamic capsule with a hypercardioid pattern. That simply means that it is a directional mic, and a bit more directional than a standard cardioid. It is good for stage use, but quite at home in the studio as well. The frequency response of the Beta 58a is engineered for vocals. It brightens the midrange and rolls off the bass, to eliminate the proximity effect.
The Audio Technica AT 2035 is a large diaphragm condenser mic designed and budgeted for small studios. First, it is a condenser mic, not a dynamic mic as most of the vocal microphones down here are. However, here is the caveat: cheaper means more affordable, but not as good quality. This is one mic that I would save for a second or third mic, after you have a better one. The AT 2035 is a cardioid mic, and can accept high levels of sound.
Possibly the world’s most popular microphone ever, the SM 58 is here to stay. It features a dynamic capsule, lacking the condenser part that allows upper end condensers to provide the clear sound that they do. The SM 58 is used in live sound applications a lot, but has found a place in the recording studio. It is a vocal mic, but much more – another workhorse.
Last but not least, the AT 2020 microphone. It brings up the rear of this list, meaning it’s at the bottom. However, that doesn’t mean that it is no good – it has its place. As one reviewer put it, this is a good mic for a starting home recording engineer. At $100, the price is right. You can buy cheaper, but the quality isn’t there. Don’t expect the AT 2020 to perform like the AT 4050 above, but it will work for you. It is a large diaphragm condenser that can handle loud sounds and a wide dynamic range.
Again, when looking at a vocal microphone, get the highest quality one you can afford. You will not regret it, and your sound will be better. Remember, the microphones are the ears of the studio. Your vocals will never sound better than your vocal microphones will allow. And you can’t polish mud.
But also remember, a good microphone is the first step towards a good sound. Using it properly the whole way through the recording process is a necessity.
The nature of this list must exclude some microphones that are very good and deserve to be here. It is a top 10, not a top 50 list. But there are others that have just as good a chance be mentioned here.
YOUR Best Vocal Microphone
If you have used microphones before, you know what it’s like to have one that just works. Why don’t you share your best vocal microphone choice.
The rest of this page has two parts. First is an easy form to build a new web page automatically. Below that you’ll see the raves that other people already posted about their favorite vocal microphone. Join in the fun!
A picture is worth a thousand words, so why not add a picture of your mic, or maybe of you (or someone else!) singing in it?
If you see someone else has already posted a rave for your favorite mic, you can post a comment to that page, or create a separate page if you have some new thoughts.
Quick guidelines: keep it real – make it personal. Say what you can about the microphone – don’t just say “The AT 4050 works great for voice.” Think about how it may help other people viewing this page.
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