So, you may be a producer or singer, and because of that you might not want or even care about any microphones other than ones for recording vocals and singing. This article is an easy solution for that, providing you with detailed reviews of the best vocal mics available for you to purchase in 2020.
Here are the best microphones for vocals:
- Neumann U 87 Ai
- Warm Audio WA-47
- Shure SM7B
- Telefunken M80
- Rode NT2-A
- sE Electronics X1 S
- Audio-Technica AT2020
- Shure SM58
- Neumann TLM 102
- Manley Reference Gold
1. Neumann U 87 Ai
The classic studio condenser
Neumann is probably one of the most well-known, best-selling vocal microphone companies in the world. Being that this is the case, the Neumann U 87 Ai is one of the most popular top-end large diaphragm condenser microphones in the world.
It features 3 different polar patterns, a switchable high pass filter, and a 10 dB pre-attenuation pad. Not only that, but it also is extremely versatile and ideal when recording a wide range of sound sources as well as using different techniques. Do note that it requires phantom power.
For vocals, the U 87 Ai is exceedingly brilliant. The U 87 Ai is not a microphone that gives you a completely flat response – there is a slight boost in the mid highs to give your vocals some presence, but the mid range is all flat, and you have the high pass feature built into the mic if you need to use it. Not all voices will sound great with the slight presence boost, but usually that scenario is few and far between.
Getting into the features, the U 87 Ai has three polar patterns: omnidirectional, cardioid, and figure 8. Omnidirectional allows you to record with the microphone in any position, cardioid with the audio source right in front of the mic, and figure 8 with the sources in the front and back of the microphone. This allows for plenty of flexibility when recording vocals, whether it’s a solo singer or a whole choir.
As for the high pass filter and mic attenuation, the pre-attenuation pad cuts the mic’s signal down several dB, allowing it to accept audio from much louder sources, like a guitar amp, hard hitting drums, or even brass instruments. The high pass filter is especially handy for cutting out rumble and mud from the signal without having to EQ it out in your DAW. This can be great if you have a vocalist with a bass heavy tone.
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The U 87 Ai from Neumann is a great choice for a studio microphone for vocals. Although expensive, it has a classic sound that is unreproducible elsewhere and is ultra high quality, great for any vocalist of any age.
2. Warm Audio WA-47
The best vocal mic under $1000
The Warm Audio WA-47 is one of the best vocal microphones with a classic, bold sound you don’t want to miss. The WA-47 is a large diaphragm tube condenser mic made in the 60s and was a favorite choice among many artists, namely Frank Sinatra and the Beatles.
The WA-47 features nine polar patterns, low self noise, a huge frequency response, and transformer balanced vacuum tube circuitry. Thanks to the nine polar patterns (cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure 8 along with 6 in-between patterns), the WA-47 has a ton of flexibility, making it great for recording with different techniques and scenarios in the studio.
Built with premium components, you get nothing but top-quality audio from the WA-47. Its bold sound and subtle warmth means that it doesn’t have an especially flat response range, but it does go from 20 Hz to 20 kHz which is very wide for a good microphone.
Vocals with this thing sound so natural thanks to the vacuum tube, it’s almost like you don’t even need an EQ (although EQing should always be part of your production process). While there are no fancy features like a high pass filter or attenuation pad, the WA-47 makes up for that with great sound and proves that by being one of the highest-rated professional vocal microphones.
The WA-47 is suitable for singers of any genre but could easily fit as one of the best vocal microphones for rock or metal. If you want a vintage sound, the WA-47 will give you just that with plenty of vividness, saturation, and warmth.
|Image credit: Warm Audio Check Price on Amazon||
The WA-47 from Warm Audio is an astounding mic for recording vocals. It sounds bold and rich and definitely can compete with the Neumann microphones on this list.
Having a slight frequency curve, it will sound pleasurable with almost any singer’s voice and give you enough presence to allow for minimal EQing so you don’t have to spend hours upon hours finding the right settings for your voice. Heed the advice of the classic artists who used this microphone and add it to your studio today.
3. Shure SM7B
The mic that made Thriller
Although the Shure SM7B is more of a microphone for dialog, it is a well equipped vocal microphone for singing as well, and was even Michael Jackson’s choice microphone for recording his hit album, Thriller.
Shure makes especially durable microphones, and this dynamic mic is no exception. While it is primarily used in the studio, the SM7B can be used for live performances as well, although it may not be as sturdy and equipped for the road as some of Shure’s other mics are.
Getting into the features, the SM7B lets you tailor it to match a wide variety of voices and applications if you need to tone down a high, shrill voice or take away some body from a bass heavy voice. These dual tone controls make it ultra versatile and easy to accomplish these things. There is a dual band passive EQ for low cut/high pass as well as to add a presence boost. The presence boost is great for female voices and the low cut is great for male voices.
Because it’s a dynamic mic and not a condenser, the SM7B can handle higher volume audio sources quite easily. The design of the mic is quite complex; there is an internal suspension and shock mounting system. This eliminates vibration and collision noise during handling. It also has electromagnetic shielding to keep humming from getting into your audio signal, which can definitely be an issue in studios with a lot of electronics.
An integrated pop filter prevents plosives from getting through while recording or performing, making it an ideal mic for less than ideal situations if you don’t have a pop filter. The SM7B has a cardioid pattern, so although you can’t switch up different polar recording patterns with it, it’s still extremely effective at capturing sound in great detail and with accuracy.
|Image credit: Shure Check Price on Amazon||
The Shure SM7B is a great microphone for vocals, and it’s an amazing mic for under $500, so you’re sure to love how easy it is on your wallet and how good the quality is, both of the build and of the sound you’ll get out of it. I especially recommend it for those of you who have a professional studio.
4. Telefunken M80
Condenser performance in a dynamic mic
The M80 dynamic mic from Telefunken is an ideal choice for performing live. Dynamic mics aren’t as sensitive as condenser mics and block out pretty much all sound that isn’t right in front of it, whereas condensers pick up every little sound in the room. It’s easy to get studio-quality vocals while on stage with this dynamic microphone.
The M80 is very sensitive for being a dynamic mic and doesn’t have a lot of midrange (unlike many popular mics), so you’ll definitely be getting a flat and transparent response as well as an accurate evocation of emotions and detail when performing with this mic. Even though it is more affordable than other mics on this list, the quality is still extremely high and the M80 is durable enough for live performances.
The Telefunken M80 is a very consistent mic for live vocals. It has a custom wound transformer that automatically matches the impedance of whatever audio interface or preamp you’re using, meaning you’ll get a consistent vocal sound no matter what sound system and mixing board you use.
The M80’s technology also helps to get rid of the proximity effect. Because the M80 isn’t midrange heavy, it can be used with instruments as well as vocals. If you end up only using it for vocals, you’ll be getting a fast, uncolored response that also captures all the nuances of your vocals, giving it a well-balanced sound. It also has a pretty wide frequency response range for a dynamic mic, starting at 50 Hz and ending at 18 kHz.
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The Telefunken M80 is easily the best microphone for performance vocals on this list, and with a classic transparent sound, it’s an amazing choice that I strongly recommend to anyone.
If you want a dynamic mic with shielding, I suggest something else, but if not, definitely go with this one. I also suggest it as a good vocal microphone for rap or hip hop. It’s also an amazing budget option since you won’t find such a top-end dynamic mic for so cheap that’s under $300.
5. Rode NT2-A
The best microphone for screaming vocals
The Rode NT2-A is one of my personal favorite microphones, even up against some of the even higher-quality mics like the Neumann U 87 Ai.
The Rode NT2-A is a large capsule condenser mic that is amazing for vocals. It is flexible due to its great features and has high-quality design that won’t let you down. These features include a variable pick up pattern, a variable high pass filter control, and a variable pad selector.
There are 3 switches located on the body of the microphone that allow you to activate its features. One switch allows you to change the pick up pattern (figure 8, cardioid, or omnidirectional), one switch allows you to activate a high pass filter (between the choices of a flat response, 40 Hz, or 80 Hz filter), and another allows you to add an attenuation pad (between 0 dB, -5 dB, or -10 dB).
The NT2-A is designed to have a response that complements the modern recording techniques of today yet still be able to evoke the smooth sonic character of microphones made in the 50s and 60s. Thanks to the new transducer and dual diaphragm capsule in the design, this microphone has those qualities, making it good for any genre, but especially for metal music and screaming vocals from what I’ve found during recording sessions with artists, probably due to the pad and filter.
It is also very accurate, well-balanced, and natural-sounding, and has a wide frequency response range from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. There is a slight bit of extra brightness to the sound depending on the singer’s voice, but if you’re recording for R&B and hip-hop, those EQ qualities are usually more desired.
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The Rode NT2-A is a great mic overall, with plenty of capability to record everything from screaming vocals to jazz crooning, as well as instruments. I love this microphone and recommend it to anyone since it’s pretty affordable and can effortlessly go toe to toe with even higher-priced mics.
6. sE Electronics X1 S
A workhorse condenser
If you need a condenser that is extremely versatile, the sE Electronics X1 S condenser is definitely one to consider. It’s a cheap option under $200 that will blow you out of the water when you hear vocals recorded with it.
The sE Electronics X1 S is a high-quality, handmade cardioid pattern microphone that is reliable and provides clear and vibrant audio. It features a two-position pad and a two-position low cut/high pass switch to help you sculpt the tone and volume of your vocals (or other instrument) before any editing and mixing happens in your DAW.
sE Electronics keeps the X1 S simple other than that, ensuring that you don’t end up paying for features you likely won’t use. The X1 S has only one polar pick up pattern, cardioid, which may not seem like much to some producers, but because of the cardioid pattern, the X1 S is more consistent, resulting in more clarity and an ultra low noise performance. The cardioid pattern also excelled at picking up an audio signal that is off axis.
The X1 S is great with both male and female vocals, providing a smooth and forgiving sound that brings out a richness no matter the vocal style.
As for the features, the low cut/high pass filter is great for cutting out the boominess or mud from the audio source and also helps get rid of the proximity effect when you set up your mic very closely to the audio source. An attenuator pad allows you to cut the dB by 10 dB or 20 dB to allow for more headroom when recording especially loud sources. This mic sounds pretty balanced and transparent and definitely compares to more expensive mics.
|Image credit: sE Electronics Check Price on Amazon||
The sE Electronics X1 S condenser mic is a good-quality, affordable choice if you want a microphone that can hold its own against more expensive mics. It’s a workhorse of a microphone and sounds absolutely fantastic. I’d suggest it for beginners and intermediate producers and vocalists who want something that’s higher-quality but not going to put you in debt since it’s under $200.
7. Audio-Technica AT2020
Cheapest but not the weakest
If you’re really pinched on cash and need a microphone that’s reliable, good-quality, and best-rated on many music websites, the Audio-Technica AT2020 is a great microphone under $100 for your studio recording needs.
If you’re familiar with the classic Audio-Technica sound, you already know what you’re going to get out of this mic; if you’re not familiar, you get a great amount of detail with a smooth, clear sound with a wide dynamic range.
The AT2020 is a side address microphone, so you can comfortably stand or sit while recording into the mic with a gooseneck mic stand or even just a normal stand. In terms of design, it has a low mass diaphragm that allows for extremely fast transient response and an extended frequency range.
The AT2020 shines with all sorts of vocalists, however there are no controls on the microphone for an attenuation pad or a high pass filter. It also does not have any built-in noise suppression or an internal pop filter or shock mount, and it can be a little noisy at times. This can be solved by getting a preamp that is more powerful; something like the Focusrite Scarlett preamps isn’t going to have enough power for the AT2020.
Don’t forget that you’ll also need a soundboard or preamp that has a phantom power (+48 V) button to power the amp since it is a condenser. All the same, it is a great-sounding mic even if it is simple, and simplicity isn’t bad at all as long as the finished product sounds great.
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The Audio-Technica AT2020 is an ideal beginner’s microphone. That being said, it doesn’t sound or feel cheap at all and is definitely sturdy and sounds great. It would fit well in a home studio, bedroom studio, or project studio, but probably would not be high enough quality for a professional studio.
There is also an AT2020 USB mic for vocal and instrument recording through USB rather than an XLR if you don’t have an audio interface. It’s a bit more expensive but still well worth it if you’re just starting out.
8. Shure SM58
The world’s most popular vocal mic
I can bet that you’ve seen a Shure mic at least once in your life. Shure’s microphones have been everywhere – from on TV to in movies and even used at speeches made by the president and other important figures. The Shure SM58 is easily the most popular microphone that the company has, and understandably so.
The SM58 is single-handedly the most durable microphone around and also sounds great. While the frequency response range of this microphone isn’t as wide as other dynamic mics, it captures all the necessary frequencies and does not give up details and nuances in vocals or any sonic qualities and characteristics. The SM58 is tuned to be a warmer yet clear microphone; this accentuates all the right frequency areas of a voice; there is a brighter midrange and a bass roll off.
The mic features a spherical filter that is built in and minimizes plosives and wind, and the cardioid pattern picks up only the isolated sound source right in front of the mic, minimizing background noise. It also has a built-in pneumatic shock mount system to reduce handling noise. This makes the SM58 perfect for both live performances as well as studio work.
The SM58 is extremely rugged and reliable. It was designed to withstand everything from being dropped, tossed, getting wet, overheating, and more. An SM58 usually has a pretty long life in general, but if it’s treated with care it will last extremely long.
The SM58 is a favorite among many vocalists and although it may be simple, it just has this quality about it that keeps making people want to choose it as their go to microphone. It just sounds so good and is so worth giving a try if you haven’t already gotten a chance to use a microphone like this one.
|Image credit: Shure Check Price on Amazon||
The Shure SM58 is a microphone that you need. I really do recommend that everyone who makes music and uses a microphone to record should at least check out the SM58. It’s a mic that’s easy to fall in love with because of the sound and because it’s so affordable. If you don’t have this mic, you’re missing out.
9. Neumann TLM 102
Tiny microphone with a giant sound
At first glance, the TLM 102 by Neumann stands out due to its size, so much so that you might even question if it’s a Neumann microphone. Don’t let the size fool you though, this thing packs a lot of power and quality into a compact design.
The TLM 102 is a large diaphragm mic with a cardioid pattern capsule specifically designed for a new generation of Neumann mics that were made to be great for a ton of different applications. While the TLM 102 sounds great with instruments, it sounds incredible with vocals and definitely excels in that area due to the 20 Hz to 20 kHz frequency response range.
The TLM 102 is a very low noise microphone and reproduces audio sources accurately without adding much color. While the frequency response isn’t flat, there is a method to this madness. The response is boosted a little bit after 6 kHz to add some presence which makes it sound much sweeter. The smoothness enhances the vocals and adds more dimension.
The compact design of the TLM 102 is also a valuable factor when it comes to recording in a studio as it’s small enough that it doesn’t obstruct your view from your recording engineer if you record in a windowed booth.
The TLM 102 has extremely low noise and a ton of clarity. This is thanks to the design not having a transformer; it has an electric circuit instead that prevents interference. This condenser also has a built-in pop filter and shock mount system which is not something you typically see in condenser mics, you normally see those features in dynamic mics since they are more often used for on stage performances. All the same, it just adds to the versatility of this microphone.
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The Neumann TLM 102 is the perfect compact mic for the studio. It’s in the upper mid range in terms of price, but the mic is definitely a powerhouse and well worth purchasing. It would fit well in professional and hobby studios for an intermediate to advanced producer.
10. Manley Reference Gold
A holy grail audiophile microphone
If you want a tone that’s balanced nicely between vintage and modern, look no further, the Manley Reference Gold is the ideal mic for the job.
The Reference Gold is a large diaphragm, multi pattern tube condenser mic. Accuracy and clarity are the main focus in the design for the Reference Gold. It’s considered to be a holy grail mic because it can easily record audiophile-quality recordings that sound transparent and true to the source.
This microphone is one that you can use in the studio and learn something about your vocals in the process and hear all the nuances. The Reference Gold shines (no pun intended) on vocals. Even though the RG adds a ton of clarity to your recordings, it doesn’t add color to your audio.
The shimmery sound that is signature to the Reference Gold is due to it being a high-quality mic, and it adds intimacy to otherwise distant vocals and also happens to be a desirable characteristic among R&B artists today. Usually tubes give a warmer quality to audio and this stays true with this mic’s dual triode tube.
Getting into the features, the RG has 3 polar pick up patterns: omnidirectional, cardioid, and figure 8. It also features a 10 dB pad to tailor the proximity effect to your desired sonic outcome. The mic also has a very high output and virtually no noise, so you won’t necessarily need a preamp depending on the source you’re recording.
The Reference Gold is made with the materials of the highest possible quality. The mic grille is made out of stainless steel and the body is brass (great for shielding from EMF interference) that has been plated with 24 karat gold.
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The Reference Gold from Manley is an ideal microphone for those of you who are already good singers whose tone doesn’t need any midrange coloration. I definitely wouldn’t call this microphone a beginner mic due to the quality and cost. This is the type of microphone that belongs in a professional industry studio and I strongly recommend it for that use.
How to choose a vocal microphone?
This guide is here to help inform you on different microphone types, their purposes, and give you a rundown on how to choose the most ideal microphone for your needs.
Things to consider before buying
There are quite a few factors that go into purchasing the optimal mic for what your needs are. You’ll need to consider these factors when doing research.
- Application (purpose/needs): What will you be using this mic for? Do you intend to use it in a studio, or do you plan to use it for live performances on a stage?
- Singing vs. talking: Are you (or someone else) going to be singing into this microphone, talking into it, or both?
- Microphone type: Do you need a condenser or a dynamic mic? This depends on your purpose.
- Portability: Do you want to be able to travel with this microphone, or do you want something that will stay in your studio at all times?
- Price: How much are you willing to spend on the perfect vocal mic?
- Connections: Do you want something with USB capability or is a mic with a normal XLR connection right for you? What about a wireless mic?
- Versatility: Do you want a microphone that has a lot of flexibility, one that excels in many situations, or do you want something simple?
- Features: Do you want a mic with an attenuation pad or high pass filter built in? How about an internal shock mount system? What about multiple polar patterns?
Different types of microphones
There are a couple different types of microphones; it comes down to these two:
- Dynamic mics
- Condenser mics
Dynamic mics typically are used for live performances, whether it’s in a studio setting or on a stage. More often they are used on stage due to their background noise cancelling abilities and how durable they are. They are able to withstand lots of rough use, things like being dropped or thrown, as well as getting wet or dirty. They also usually have an internal shock mount.
They are usually less sensitive than condenser mics and have a smaller frequency response range. If that’s something you care a lot about, you may not want a dynamic mic. Dynamic mics do not require phantom power to operate, so you won’t need a power source. Dynamic mics are usually handheld and allow for more flexibility and movement when performing.
Condenser mics are more often used for recording in a studio. They are way more sensitive than dynamic mics and do not cancel out background noise. Instead, they pick up every little detail and nuance in your voice. This is great for high-quality recordings, but if you don’t have a noise gate plugin or if your studio isn’t set up in a very quiet area, you may not want to get a condenser since they are so sensitive.
Condenser mics require a power source to operate, from either a battery or phantom power. Phantom power is a feature on many audio interfaces, mic preamps, and mixing boards so you should have no problem finding it. Condenser mics also usually are stationary in a studio and ideally should not be held while recording.
Remember, there are also dynamic mics that do exceptionally well in studio settings and there are condenser mics made for the stage.
XLR vs. USB vs. Wireless Connections
Most dynamic and condenser mics use an XLR cable to connect to an interface or mixer. However, there are plenty of decent USB microphones for vocals out there. From what I’ve seen, a lot of them are better or even meant for things like podcasting and streaming, but if you don’t have an audio interface to plug into, a USB mic will work fine.
Wireless mics are also an option. They usually have an internal antenna that connects to a transmitter. The transmitter connects to your sound board and emits radio frequencies. When the mic and transmitter are on the same frequency, you’re good to go.
Wireless mics very obviously provide a lot of freedom and room for moving around whereas wired mics can force you to stay in one spot if the cord isn’t long enough, or even be a potential tripping hazard. Wireless mics can sometimes be laggy and cut out if the frequency being used gets interrupted.
Many mics come with features that make recording and mixing much easier and help the audio source to sound much better. Common microphone features include:
- Internal shock mount system: This system prevents rumble in the audio signal caused by handling the microphone. It is most commonly found in dynamic mics but is not unheard of in condensers.
- Electromagnetic interference shielding: EMF interference shielding helps prevent any humming or other interference that may occur in the audio signal when a microphone is around a lot of electronics. I’ve seen it more often in dynamic mics than condensers.
- Attenuation pad: An attenuation pad cuts down the input volume by a certain amount of decibels (dB). It allows for extremely loud audio sources like guitar amps and brass instruments to be recorded without overdriving the mic’s signal.
- High pass or low cut filter: A high pass/low cut filter is used to cut out unwanted low frequencies below a certain frequency point to help reduce the boominess or muddiness of an audio source.
- Multiple polar patterns: Polar patterns are what determine where the audio enters the microphone. Common polar patterns include omnidirectional (from all directions/sides), cardioid (from one direction/side, usually the front), figure 8 (front and back sides or two opposite directions), and stereo (left and right directions/sides. Depending on the polar pattern of the microphone you choose, you may be able to record one vocalist or a whole choir.
How much should you spend?
Frankly this is up to you. Whatever you feel comfortable spending is the right answer. If you can find a microphone with all the features you need that fits your budget, go for it. In this article, I’ve included mics from a bunch of different price points, so let that be a bit of a reference.
If you want a straight answer, the lowest-quality mics will almost always be the cheapest, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a low-priced mic is always bad-quality. Dynamic mics are usually pretty affordable, anywhere from $500 and less, whereas condensers can easily reach into the $1000s or higher. Usually the more well-known a brand is, the better the microphones are, but some brands do have a wider range of prices.
Now that you are prepared, it’s time to go out and test some vocal mics and make your purchase. Make sure to refer to this guide and the reviews provided if you get stuck, and don’t forget to scour audio forums and official manufacturer websites as well as resources like YouTube. Good luck!
Jordan is a music producer, content creator, writer, and session musician. He has been producing music and engineering live performances for over 7 years. He is an experienced guitarist and enjoys listening to and playing many different genres of music.