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The 6 best vocal microphones for studio recording in 2024

When it comes to vocal production, oftentimes the most important decision is which microphone to use.

While the perfect candidate depends largely on the singer and the style of music, my personal experience has shown that there are a handful of microphones I consistently rely on and trust for their exceptional performance in the recording studio.

Quick recommendations

After years of recording with a plethora of groups and singers of different genders and styles, I believe the Neumann U 87 Ai is the best studio vocal microphone out there.

This large-diaphragm condenser is often the first microphone I reach for when recording vocals, offering consistent performance and exceptional sound quality.

For those looking for a dynamic microphone, the Shure SM7B has proven itself to be an incredibly reliable and high-performing option. Just make sure you have a solid preamp to run it through.

Finally, for those on a tight budget or just starting out on their journey, the Audio-Technica AT2020 is my favorite affordable solution.

I’m quite a fan of this microphone for its affordability and reliability. It’s fairly versatile and can prove itself useful in many applications.


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Why you should trust me

Brandon Schock, writer at Higher Hz

I’m a producer and audio engineer with over 15 years of experience in the music industry.

Throughout my career, I’ve recorded a wide range of vocalists, groups, and choirs across various genres.

My personal experiences with these mics, along with insights from fellow engineers, serve as the primary foundation of this guide.

Each microphone has been chosen based on practical, real-world applications and performance, ensuring you can make a well-informed decision.

How I chose and tested

When selecting these microphones, I considered a few factors such as:

  • Frequency response: What frequencies the microphone is capable of capturing. As a rule of thumb, a frequency response of 75 Hz – 15 kHz is ideal for capturing vocals, give or take.
  • Versatility: Can it be used in a variety of genres and singing styles? Bonus points if it can be used in applications outside of vocals.
  • Price: While many of the top vocal microphones tend to lean on the more expensive side, I chose to include some budget options that are more than usable.
  • Recognition and reputation: Aside from having used all these microphones myself, I’ve also taken into account what other friends and fellow engineers have said about them.

Keep in mind that the best vocal microphone ultimately depends on your personal preference, voice, and the desired result.

Here are all the vocal microphones I recommend for studio recording:

Be sure to check the Honorable mentions for microphones that didn’t quite make my top list but are still worth mentioning.

Best condenser mic: Neuman U 87 Ai

  • Microphone type: Condenser
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid, omni, figure-8
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
  • Max SPL: 127 dB
  • Self-noise: 12 dBA (cardioid)
  • Perfect for: Male vocals, pop
Neumann U 87 Ai with shockmount
Neumann U 87 Ai condenser microphone | Image: Neumann

If you’re at all familiar with microphones, the Neumann U 87 might be one of the first that comes to mind in regards to recording vocals. Chances are that a great deal of your favorite songs have been recorded with it.

The U 87’s frequency response is basically flat, capturing sound with virtually no coloration or change to the overall character of the source, albeit for some resonance in the upper-mids (more so on the U 87 Ai whereas vintage models tend to be more even).

In my experience, the sound is unimpressive in isolation but tends to sit extremely well in a mix; that upper-mid resonance also helps it to poke through a little bit.

That said, it’s very kind to any sort of EQ or compression that you might want to add to a vocal track, considering that the signal itself will be next to perfect.

It is also capable of toggling between omni, cardioid, and figure-8 polar patterns, making it easy to find a good sound for the singer in conjunction with the space you’re recording in.

All that being said, the honesty in which the U 87 is able to reproduce sound can also come as a liability.

Before investing in a $3k microphone, you should make sure that your studio is properly treated, and that the clientele you’re putting in front of the mic are up to snuff.

If you have a bad vocalist in a bad sounding room, the Neumann U 87 Ai will do a great job at highlighting this.

Read my full Neumann U 87 Ai review for more details and test results.

What I like

  • Incredibly flat response.
  • Extremely reliable.
  • Legendary status.

What I don’t like

  • Quite expensive.
See current price at: SweetwaterAmazon

Best dynamic mic: Shure SM7B

  • Microphone type: Dynamic
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency response: 50 Hz – 20 kHz
  • Perfect for: Male vocals, hip-hop, rock/metal, screaming
Shure SM7B vocal microphone
Shure SM7B dynamic vocal microphone | Image: Higher Hz

The SM7B is amongst the most popular dynamic microphones when it comes to vocals, and deservedly so in my eyes.

Like many other Shure microphones, the SM7B is a workhorse that you can use in a wide variety of different applications. However, its popularity amongst vocalists is due to its incredibly flat frequency response.

The SM7B also has a sharply focused polar pattern that is perfect for close-proximity recording, producing warmth, breath, and clarity. Its low-end response is fairly extended, making it ideal for vocalists whose performance may be in need of more heft.

Likewise, singers who have a tendency to eat the mic may benefit from the way the SM7B handles the proximity effect. I often reach for this microphone when dealing with rock, pop, and R&B singers.

For anybody who’s interested, just know that the SM7B is rather gain-hungry. So, while most top audio interfaces may be up to the task, I highly suggest investing in a quality external preamp beforehand.

Read my full Shure SM7B review for more details and test results.

What I like

  • Flat frequency response.
  • Extended low end for heft.
  • Warm and clear.

What I don’t like

  • Gain-hungry.
See current price at: SweetwaterAmazon

Most versatile mic: AKG C414 XLII

  • Microphone type: Condenser
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid, wide cardioid, omni, hypercardioid, figure-8
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
  • Max SPL: 140 dB
  • Self-noise: 6 dBA
  • Perfect for: Female vocals, pop, rock
AKG C414 XLII closeup
AKG C414 XLII condenser microphone | Image: AKG

This microphone was born out of the AKG C12, which was often used in recording sessions with some particularly famous lads from Liverpool.

Its high sensitivity and presence makes it perfect for vocals, strings, and orchestras in pop and rock settings.

The C414 XLII has taken much of the formula behind the design of the original C12, but has heightened its performance with some more modern alterations.

One of which is its choice of nine separate polar patterns to choose from, turning it into something of a studio Swiss Army Knife.

Switch to cardioid for solid vocalists, bi-directional for duet harmonies, or omni to capture the sound of the room.

Read my full AKG C414 XLII review for more details and test results.

What I like

  • Extremely versatile.
  • Super-sensitive.
  • 9 different polar patterns.

What I don’t like

  • Nothing to note.
See current price at: SweetwaterAmazon

Best budget mic: Audio-Technica AT2020

  • Microphone type: Condenser
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
  • Max SPL: 144 dB
  • Self-noise: 20 dBA
  • Perfect for: Pop, screaming vocals
Audio-Technica AT2020 microphone stand
Audio-Technica AT2020 microphone | Image: Higher Hz

For those of you on a budget, the AT2020’s performance is far better than its modest price tag would suggest. I’m quite a fan of this mic myself, as it was one of the first microphones I bought when I was starting out.

The Audio-Technica AT2020 has a cardioid polar pattern, as well as a max SPL of 144 dB, making it great for capturing loud sound sources.

Whether you’re a belter, a screamer, or a fire engine, the AT2020 is well capable of handling most anything you throw at it. It also has a slight bump starting at around 5 kHz, which helps vocals slice through the top of your mix.

Also, for those of you who aren’t the most seasoned veterans of audio engineering, the AT2020 comes in both XLR and USB forms. It’s a great choice for everybody, regardless of experience or skill.

Read my full Audio-Technica AT2020 review for more details and test results.

What I like

  • Fairly versatile.
  • Slight presence peak to help cut through a mix.
  • Super-affordable.

What I don’t like

  • Nothing at this price.
See current price at: SweetwaterAmazon

Best broadcast mic: Electro-Voice RE20

  • Microphone type: Dynamic
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid
  • Frequency response: 45 Hz – 18 kHz
  • Max SPL: 148 dB
  • Self-noise: 18 dBA
  • Perfect for: Hip-hop/rap vocals
Electro-Voice RE20 microphone closeup
Electro-Voice RE20 dynamic microphone | Image: Electro-Voice

Originally designed for broadcast, the RE20 is one of the best microphones when it comes to recording vocals, in my opinion.

Much like the other microphones that I’ve listed so far, the RE20 is phenomenally flat. The lows and mids are clean, transparent, and pronounced, but without sacrificing any of the high-end crisp.

This microphone needs quite a bit of gain to run, so a solid mic preamp is a must.

The microphone employs Electro-Voice’s Variable-D technology which is designed to eliminate the proximity effect. Meaning that you can get right up in the grille without increasing the bottom end.

This is one of the reasons in particular why it was so popular amongst radio DJs and broadcasters, who have a propensity to speak with their lips touching the microphone.

The Electro-Voice RE20 is also great for maintaining a consistent tonality throughout a performance, even when the singer starts to move away from the microphone.

I’ve used this microphone in countless settings for pop, rock, metal, hip-hop, singers of all genders, and so on and so forth.

Read my full Electro-Voice RE20 review for more details and test results.

What I like

  • Super-flat response.
  • Round sound.
  • Little proximity effect.

What I don’t like

  • Hungry for gain.
See current price at: SweetwaterAmazon

Most innovative mic: Lewitt LCT 1040

  • Microphone type: Condenser
  • Polar pattern: Cardioid, wide cardioid, omni, supercardioid, figure-8
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
  • Max SPL: 137 dB
  • Self-noise: 10 dBA
  • Perfect for: Various types of voices/artists
Lewitt LCT 1040 on a microphone stand
Lewitt LCT 1040 microphone | Image: Higher Hz

The LCT 1040 is a unique microphone which offers engineers the ability to blend between tube and FET circuitry for custom sound.

This flexibility, along with the high-quality build of the microphone itself, make the LCT 1040 one of the more innovative and standout microphones on the market to date.

While it’s definitely one of the cooler microphones I’ve had the pleasure of working with, it is much more modern-sounding than is my usual preference.

The tube side of things helps to soften the edges but it isn’t as mellow as some of the other classics on this list.

Then again, you should let your personal taste dictate whether or not it’s a good fit for your singing style and music genre.

Read my full Lewitt LCT 1040 review for more details and test results.

What I like

  • Excellent sound quality.
  • Amazingly versatile.
  • Feels premium.

What I don’t like

  • Quite expensive.
See current price at: SweetwaterAmazon

Honorable mentions

While the six microphones above are, without a doubt, my top picks for recording vocals in the studio, here are a few other mics worth mentioning.

  • Neumann U 47. Leans more hypercardioid than the cardioid U 87, meaning you’ll pick up a bit more room with the U 47. This microphone also has a slightly higher max SPL of 147 dB, making it a better choice for louder singers.
  • MXL 990. It’s a cheap condenser and may be somewhat of a controversial pick to include on this list. However, for what the microphone is capable of, given its price tag, I think it deserves far more credit than it often receives.
  • Shure SM58. This dynamic microphone requires no introduction. The SM58 is reliable, durable, and does not disappoint.
  • Sennheiser MD 421-II. Often overlooked, but just as viable an option as any other microphone on this list. Great for some voices, solid midrange response, and is very quiet.
  • Rode NT1. This is an exceedingly popular microphone for a number of reasons. It delivers a warmth and extended dynamic range that other microphones simply aren’t capable of. It has a high SPL making it capable of handling extremely loud sound sources. It’s also extremely quiet. It has a transformerless design as well as a self-noise level of 5 dBA. In other words, you can record a pin drop and not pick up any outside noise besides the pin hitting the floor.

Recent updates

  • May 31, 2024: I’ve published an updated selection; the Neumann U 87 Ai is still my top pick for recording studio vocals. I’ve moved the MXL 990 and Rode NT1 to the Honorable mentions and added the Lewitt LCT 1040 to the main list.
  • May 30, 2024: I’ve updated the text for accuracy, added quick recommendations, and explained the picking criteria in more detail. Additionally, I’ve made a few minor changes to the article structure.
  • March 6, 2024: I’ve verified the accuracy of my picks. No changes in recommendations.
  • July 28, 2023: I’ve updated the text for clarity, added quick features and pros/cons lists for your convenience, and explained the picking criteria. I’ve also added more photos from my tests.
  • January 2, 2023: I’ve checked all the recommendations to ensure all the microphones are still widely available on the market.
  • August 17, 2022: I published the original selection of the best vocal microphones based on my experience recording with different artists.

Final thoughts

While this is by no means a definitive list, I can attest that I have personally used all the microphones mentioned with various singers and vocal styles, achieving excellent results across the board.

The truth is that there is no one “correct” microphone. In fact, even the cheapest, grimiest, and ugliest-sounding microphones can be used to outstanding results given the right performance, context, treatment, etc.

That being said, even though a good handful of the mics I mentioned here are somewhat expensive and well trusted, some of the best results often come from taking the road less traveled.

I encourage you to experiment, and to take chances. This may not always work, but recording audio is an art form at the end of the day, and it’s an art form that requires all of us to take risks.