When it comes to choosing the best microphones for your studio, not much has changed in the recording industry. Even though plenty of new microphones are constantly being designed and introduced onto the market, the best mics have all but stayed the same.
To help you in your recording journey, we’ve concocted a list of the best microphones of 2021. Many of them may be familiar to some of you, but if not we hope this list can guide you in the right direction.
1. Shure SM57
You’d be hard-pressed to find a studio that didn’t have at least a dozen or so of these mics on hand. It has held its title as one of the most solid and reliable microphones on the market since its inception in 1965.
The SM57 is a low-impedance cardioid dynamic microphone, and its strengths lie in its flexibility. They’ve essentially become the default mic of choice when it comes to recording drums, guitars, and even vocals in more unconventional settings. If you don’t already have at least one or more of these lying around, we advise you to hop to it.
2. Shure SM58
Not only is the Shure SM58 arguably the most recognizable microphone of all time, but it’s the best-selling microphone in the world. Considered the industry standard when recording live vocals, this mic has been a staple in audio engineering for roughly half a century.
The SM58 was revolutionary in regards to the designs of its diaphragm, transducer, and its shock mount. All that is to say that its sound is well-balanced across the frequency range, its frequency response is consistent regardless of its orientation, and it can be tossed around and slammed without damaging its sound quality.
If you need a dependable microphone, look no further than this bona fide classic.
3. Shure SM7B
The broadcast hero
The Shure SM7B’s flat yet wide-range frequency response has made it a favorite in the studio. These mics are extremely durable, and their performance is delicate.
Chances are you’ve probably seen this mic dangling in front of a myriad of notable podcast hosts and radio guests. The microphone has proven itself in a wide variety of applications, whether that be to record intimate dialog, booming kick drums, reedy saxophones, or massively distorted guitar amps.
4. Electro-Voice RE20
Electro-Voice’s RE20 is a front-address, cardioid pattern mic, which was originally designed for applications in broadcast and voiceover. It’s since shown to have plenty of uses in the studio from guitars to vocals and even recording kick drums.
Due to Electro-Voice’s Variable-D technology, the RE20 is virtually impervious to proximity effect. This means that it can be put extremely close to sound sources without losing any form of clarity or definition. This makes it a perfect candidate when it comes to recording loud guitars or vocalists who tend to veer towards screaming.
This isn’t its only strength though, and we should mention that the microphone functions just as well in more intimate settings. It’s an absolute workhorse of a microphone and you’ll probably find yourself reaching for it in far more recording sessions than you might expect.
5. Sennheiser MD 421-II
Here we have yet another large-diaphragm dynamic microphone, the Sennheiser MD 421-II. In many ways, this mic is comparable to the RE20 and SM7B. However, this mic tends to favor loudness in a way that the other two don’t.
In situations where you might think an SM7B is favorable yet want a higher output, the Sennheiser is the perfect option in scenarios such as these. It’s not nearly as gain hungry as either the SM7B or RE20, so you won’t have to drive your preamps or boost as much in post to get the same volume.
In other words, this mic is perfect for anybody who wants to play like a gorilla without suffering any loss of definition in their recordings.
6. AKG C414 XLII
The most versatile
The AKG C414 XLII sounds great on just about everything. It offers nine polar patterns, three high-pass filters, and three pre-attenuation switches making it suitable for nearly any application and environment.
It doesn’t really matter where or what you’re recording as long as this mic is in your arsenal. It sounds fantastic on guitars, vocals, saxophones, orchestras, and it even works well as an ambiance mic for drums. This mic is a jack-of-all-trades, so to speak, but its versatility doesn’t come at the cost of its performance.
7. Shure Beta 52A
The best kick mic
Here we have the kick mic to end all kick mics. Just as we touched on the SM57 and SM58 earlier, coming in at number seven on our list is yet another industry standard microphone by Shure.
The Shure Beta 52A is a phenomenal kick mic, and performs just as well in front of a bass cab. They’re incredibly durable and can take quite the beating whether on the road or while placed inside of a kick drum. You’ll usually find at least one of them lying around professional studios, so what are you waiting for?
8. Coles 4038
The ribbon mic of choice
For the first ribbon microphone on our list we have none other than the Coles 4038. This mic has a clear wide-range frequency response, has little transient distortion, and is highly sensitive.
The 4038 is an incredibly dark and fat-sounding mic. They tend to shine on rock records placed in front of guitar cabinets, or placed as drum room mics or as overheads. Their sound is highly textural, providing warmth without forsaking definition. Steve Albini once said that if he were to own one mic, this would be it.
Now that we’ve covered all of those, let’s move on to our three honorable mentions. Realistically, all of these mics belong on the main list but to keep the main list well-rounded we pushed these mics aside considering their performance and price.
The best first microphone
Last on our list might not be the greatest microphone, but for those of you on a tight budget, it’s a great option to consider. This mic sounds great on vocals, guitars, and acoustic instruments.
While the AT2020 isn’t industry standard by any means, its versatility and price point make it the perfect “first” microphone. If you have little to no experience with recording, it’s important to find a microphone that can be suitable in a wide variety of applications while not breaking the bank. Save your money until you get the hang of things and grab one of these.
Sontronics Delta 2
The best mic for brass
The Sontronics Delta 2 is a ribbon mic that sounds especially great on guitars and brass instruments. It particularly won the attention of Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien, who claims it as one of his favorite microphones of all time.
The Delta 2 provides all the intimate subtlety and detail you would come to expect from a ribbon mic, but its design is tough enough to capture high volumes without getting overloaded.
Sontronics ribbons are actually the only ribbon mics to feature RFI filters within the circuit in order to prevent radio interference from entering the signal. This makes the Delta 2 more than suitable for live applications where interference tends to be an issue.
While this is truly a fabulous microphone, it may be considered a little too niche for some.
Neumann U 87 Ai
The gold standard
What is there to say about this legendary mic that hasn’t already been said before? They tend to be pretty expensive but if you ever find yourself having the chance to buy one – do it.
The U 87 Ai is the upgraded version of the original U 87, whose production ceased in 1987 once the Ai replaced it. The differences between the old and new aren’t terribly noticeable to the untrained ear, the main thing to note is that the Ai has a bit more presence in its high-end.
These microphones are known to be the gold standard of vocal mics, and they sound amazing on just about everything else. The only reason why we’re putting it as an honorable mention is its extremely high price point, but please – get it if you can.
There are so many great microphones out there with so many variations in their sound, style, and application. To address every single one would take a lifetime, so we hope this list is enough to get you started. Good luck and happy recording!