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, there are a handful of microphones that are unanimously beloved and trusted within the recording industry.
Today we will be taking a look at a handful of these microphones, from the most sought-after to the most overlooked.
So, if you’re confused as to which vocal microphone to invest in next or just curious to see what else is out there, hopefully this article can help to point you in the right direction.
These are the best studio vocal microphones you can buy:
Neumann U87 Ai
The best vocal microphone
If you’re at all familiar with microphones, the Neumann U 87 might be the first microphone that comes to mind when you think of vocal mics. The U 87 has been one of the most iconic microphones since its introduction in 1967. Chances are that most of your favorite songs were recorded with this exact microphone.
One of the things that makes this microphone so special is its remarkably flat frequency response. Essentially, the microphone can capture any sound with virtually no coloration or change to the overall character of the sound.
This is great for mixed engineers when it comes to finding the perfect balance for a vocal in a song’s mix. It’s also 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.
The U 87 is also capable of toggling between omni, cardioid, and figure-8 polar patterns, making it easy to find the best sound for the singer in conjunction with the space you’re recording in.
The SM7B is amongst the most popular dynamic microphones when it comes to vocals. Like many other Shure microphones, the SM7B is a workhorse that you can use in a wide variety of different applications.
However, its popularity among vocalists is due to its incredibly flat frequency response (this will be a pattern). Its sharply focused polar pattern is perfect for close proximity recording, producing warmth, bass, breath, and clarity.
Its low-end response is also fairly extended, making it ideal for vocalists whose performance may be in need of more heft. Likewise, singers who have a tendency to mouth the mic may benefit from the way the SM7B handles close proximity effect.
For anybody who’s interested, just know that the SM7B is a little gain hungry. So, while many modern audio interfaces may be up to the task, it might be worth your time to look into buying an external preamp to power it.
Originally designed for broadcast, the RE20 is one of the best microphones when it comes to recording vocals. Much like the other microphones that we’ve listed so far, the RE20 has a phenomenally flat frequency response.
In fact, it was specifically designed for recording vocals. 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, but it’s designed for little proximity effect. Meaning that you can get right up in the grill without negatively affecting the sound of your vocals.
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 RE20 is also great for maintaining a consistent tonality throughout a performance, even when the singer starts to move away from the microphone.
Better than it looks
For those of you on a budget, the AT2020’s performance is far better than its modest price tag would suggest. The condenser has a cardioid polar pattern, as well as a max SPL of 144 dB, making it great for capturing loud sound sources.
Yes, whether you’re a belter, a screamer, or a fire engine, the AT2020 is well capable of handling most anything you throw at it. The AT2020 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, skill, or talent.
AKG C414 XLII
She is beauty, she is grace
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 capturing vocals, strings, and orchestras.
The C414 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.
The Rode NT1-A is an exceedingly popular microphone due to a number of different reasons. For starters, it delivers a warmth and extended dynamic range that other microphones simply aren’t capable of. Also, it has a high SPL making it capable of handling extremely loud sound sources.
The NT1-A Is 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.
The NT1-A comes with a pop filter, a shock mount, a cable, and a dust cover, allowing you to jump right into recording right after opening the box.
The MXL 990 is a cheap condenser microphone, 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, we think that this mic deserves far more credit than it often receives.
It has a bit of a boost in the high end, although it isn’t harsh-sounding by any means. Actually, this high and boost can really help your vocals cut through a mix.
The microphone sells for about $100 new, but they’re often found used at Guitar Center or local music gear shops for much, much, much less. Sometimes, you can find MXL 990s for $30.
So, as long as you’re OK with using a microphone that might bust after a year or two of use, or has had the spit of another person land up on the grill of the microphone, it’s a phenomenal choice and you should buy it.
While this is by no means a definitive list, we hope that the microphones mentioned in this article give you enough of an idea as to where your next investment should lie.
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 we mentioned here are somewhat expensive and well-trusted, some of the best results often come from taking the road less traveled.
We 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.