21 microphones for recording vocals
16th May 2011 | 15:00
When it comes to buying a microphone for recording vocals, there are myriad options out there, so how do you choose the best one for your needs?
You can spend thousands on some of the highest-end models, but unless you’ve got a purpose-built studio for recording vocals, with a dedicated vocal booth and outboard equipment costing a small fortune, you’re unlikely to truly benefit from a mic of this nature.
For that reason, the recommendations we’re making here are for great lower-priced and mid-range vocal mics that will deliver decent results without breaking the bank or requiring the perfect recording room.
We’ve listed the mics in ascending price order so that you can quickly browse to the models that fit your budget, and you’ll find a description of each mic that explains its strengths and weaknesses.
NEXT: AKG D 5
AKG D 5
Polar pattern: Supercardioid
A direct competitor to Shure’s famous SM58, this full and detailed dynamic microphone is a good choice if you want something that’s equally at home on the stage as it is in the studio. Its supercardioid pickup pattern helps tame feedback, too.
Polar pattern: Cardioid
This inexpensive small-diaphragm condenser is an all-rounder, being equally good for recording vocals and instruments. It can also run off phantom power or a 9V battery, making it highly portable and a strong choice as a versatile first mic.
This affordable mic is a regular feature of the live music scene, especially for vocals. This is due to its near-indestructible construction, internal pop filter and resistance to feedback. It’s also a good beginners’ mic for home recordists, especially male rock singers, though it lacks a little in the top end, rolling off at 15kHz.
With a mild lift in the presence region and a small bump around 120Hz, this is a flattering though still impressively neutral-sounding vocal mic. Its renowned for its quietness, which translates to a signal-to-noise ratio of 88dB.
MXL V69 ME
Avant Electronics Avantone CR-14
Polar pattern: Figure-8
This affordable, retro-style mic is packed full of character, with a warm, ‘dark’ tone that responds well to EQ boosting in the top end. Being a ribbon mic, though, it needs to be handled with care.
sE Electronics sE2200T
Type: Valve condenser
Polar pattern: Cardioid
Building on sE’s successful sE2200A condenser, this tube version boasts a slightly hyped top end that makes it ideal for recording vocals - and at this price, it’s hard to beat if you’re after your first valve mic.
Maroon Audio MT100
As you’d expect from a decent tube condenser, this is a very warm-sounding mic. It comes with a rather hefty cradle and power supply unit, so it’s not exactly portable, but its adjustable polar pattern makes it a real class act at this price point.
AKG C 214
Audio-Technica’s mics aren’t usually called ‘classics’, but we’d have to argue that this model produces just as characterful a sound as the others included here. The main thing that stands out is its warm low end, which makes it ideal for backing vocals, though it can be used for lead vox if a little EQ is used to sweeten the top end.
sE Electronics sE4400a
This distinctively retro, large-diaphragm condenser can adapt to a variety of applications thanks to its multiple polar patterns. When it comes to vocals, its clear and transparent sound makes it absolutely ideal for EQ and compression treatment.
A bit of a hidden gem - billed as a broadcast and studio mic for spoken voice, the SM7B is particularly good for rap vocals. It has an unusual hanging yoke mount and ‘air suspension’ shock isolation to reduce mechanical noise.
Newmann Retro MkII Tube
This gorgeous, hand-built valve condenser produces a lovely sense of depth and clarity. It’s also pretty decent at taming sibilance and responds very well to EQ, making it a great choice for recording vocals.
AKG Perception 820 Tube
The flagship model in AKG’s Perception range, this tube mic is well built, offers an extremely smooth sound and comes with a remote control for switching polar patterns and engaging the filters/pads - useful for tweaking things without moving the mic.
Violet Design The Wedge
The distinctive shape and retro style of this mic will instantly appeal to some, and its crisp top end makes it a fine choice for recording vocals, with a slight presence lift being an added boon. Good value for money.
Lauten Audio Horizon
Considered by some to be on a par with the vastly more expensive Neumann U 87 and AKG C 414, this retro-style, large-diaphragm condenser boasts a full, smooth yet airy sound that’s brilliant for both lead and backing vocals.
M-Audio has designed this tube mic with both the relatively bright AKG C 212 and the warmer Neumann U 47 in mind, and the results are very smooth indeed. It can be a little dull at the top end on occasion, but it responds kindly to an EQ lift in this region.
sE Electronics G3500
This high-quality condenser is great for recording vocals, as it’s full of depth yet also pleasingly crisp and detailed in the top end. It also doubles up nicely as a go-to mic for recording a variety of other sound sources.
Violet Design The Junior Flamingo
Best suited to vocals, this gorgeous mic presents an articulate and detailed sound with slight hyping in the top end. It’s very good for recording instruments close up, making its price tag a little more justifiable.
AKG C 414 XL II
Polar pattern: Multi
Although the list price might seem astronomical, this can be found for much less online (around £700 to £800), and it really is a professional studio standard for vocals. A highly detailed, crisp sound with very little colouring.