Searching for the right vocal microphone for vocals can be overwhelming. There is so much on offer and many terms to become familiar with. You must take into consideration a number of factors such as budget, compatibility and objective when finding the right microphone for your setup.
In this article we will review the best microphones of all price ranges which can be used in the studio.
In some cases certain microphones are better suited to home computer studios than professional analogue ones. Also we will take into account the versatility of the microphone in question. Not all microphones are built to comfortably suit all recording situations. Some are quite specific and limited while others are versatile workhorses.
Top 10 Best Studio Microphone Reviews for 2020
Here are the best microphones for recording vocals 2020:
- AKG C12 VR
- Shure SM58
- Shure SM57
- Neumann U 87 Ai
- Audix OM3
- Sennheiser e 835-S
- Sennheiser MD 441-U
- Behringer B-1
- Electro-Voice RE20
- Audio-Technica ATR2500-USB
AKG C12 VR
Our pick of the bunch is the AKG C12 VR. This is an enhanced version of the legendary C12 which featured on so many number 1 hits of the 1950’s and 1960’s. This is a high-end condenser microphone with quality in mind.
AKG have supplied the C12VR with no less than 9 polar patterns to choose from, including the standards such as cardioid, omni-directional and ‘figure of eight’. These settings can be controlled remotely which is a huge boon in large studios when trying to find the right sound.
This is a beautiful vocal mic which is specifically designed for such instruments including brass and orchestra too. The frequency response is not as wide as the Neumann U 87 Ai though. This mic has a 30Hz to 20kHz range which is optimal for the majority of instruments.
A high-quality condenser like the C12VR is ideally suited to large or small vocal ensembles and brass sections. It might not be wise to use this $5000 microphone on certain bass drums! There’s a pre-attenuation pad at -10 and -10dB so you can set it according to the source level. Many publications put the AKG C12VR at the top of the list when it comes to studio microphone reviews.
In second place, and the winner of the low budget microphone for vocals it’s the Shure SM58.
Shure are one of the leaders in microphone manufacture throughout the world. Their SM58 is possibly the most popular microphone out there. The reason for its popularity is that this microphone is renowned for being reliable, durable and producing high quality.
This is a dynamic microphone so it is simply plug and play. There’s no need for batteries or phantom power here. Like most of the microphones on this list, all that is required is a good XLR cable and something to record to.
The SM58 is a popular vocal mic especially in live situations. It’s certainly one of the best microphones for vocals on stage. It has a strong rounded grille which helps to keep plosives down to a minimum. This is very convenient, as you can imagine, in vocal recording situations.
The SM58 has a cardioid polar pattern which means it is ideally suited to one or even two voices. Bear in mind that they will have to be singing into the mic front to be captured fully and clearly.
The frequency range of the SM58 is from 50Hz to 15kHz. This means it can cover much of the low end in a voice but not the sub range where kick drums and bass guitar dwell. In certain situations the SM58 can be used on all instruments but clearly it has its limitations when it comes to frequency response.
This is a great microphone for the home recording enthusiast as it is great value for money, durable and versatile. For this reason it’s no surprise that you will find Shure SM58’s in most studios and venues all over the world.
Like the SM58, the Shure SM57 deserves a mention. While this is not typically thought of as a vocal mic, per se, it can do a job here too.
The SM57 is the brother of the Shure SM58 and was designed to cope with instruments such as guitars and guitar amps or even snare drums. In some cases you will find SM57’s being used on vocals. This is largely a question of personal taste.
The main difference between the SM58 and the SM57 is the shape and design of the grille. While some say the SM57 is not the best microphone for singing, it can still do a very good job.
The grille on the SM57 is smaller and so allows for a closer proximity when performing. There is not as much padding in the mic head which means that it is less sympathetic to vocal plosives.
That said, the SM57 does have a larger frequency range than the SM58. It covers a frequency range of 40Hz to 15kHz. This extended bass range means that the SM57 will capture more of those bass frequencies that are found in many drums, or bass guitar amps.
As a vocal mic the SM57 is perfectly usable although it will take a little more care when recording. You have a smaller grille which means that you can get a lot closer to the components and this means extra sensitivity.
If you have a vocal artist that is quite dynamic and likes to move around a lot in the vocal booth, then maybe play it safe and go for another mic.
Both the SM57 and the SM58 have the added benefit of being within most budding musicians’ budgets. They can be purchased for around $100 in most stores and online.
Singer/guitarists will be interested in the SM57 as it works well for both instruments. If you’re in a band, then that’s also good news, as the SM57 is a favored microphone for capturing snare drums and bass guitar amps.
Neumann U 87 Ai
The Neumann U 87 Ai is a popular high-end studio microphone. This mic will set you back over $3000 new. The U 87 has been used on countless records and from legendary artists such as Frank Zappa to modern day pop stars.
The Neumann U 87 is a versatile microphone, which you might expect for this kind of money! It has switchable polar patterns so you can adapt to the situation. As a vocal mic they don’t come much better than the U 87.
Its frequency range is 20Hz to 20kHz so this mic is capable of a lot more than just vocal recording. Should you wish to record other instruments and louder sound sources, you can avail of the 10 dB attenuation switch which is located on the rear of the microphone. This enables the microphone to handle sound pressure levels up to 127 dB without distorting.
The Neumann U 87 Ai ships with a sleek looking wooden carry case too which will protect it against the elements of a studio.
Adjustable polar patterns are a common feature with some of the classier high-end studio microphones. The Neumann U 87 Ai functions well in different recording situations for this reason.
Capturing singular spoken word is easy with cardioid settings or alternatively you can choose another bi-directional setting to capture a larger ensemble such as a choir or string quartet.
The Audix OM3 is a sub-$150 price range microphone which is popular in both live and studio situations. The OM3 has a typical cardioid polar pattern with a frequency range of 50Hz to 18kHz. This is a wider frequency response than both the Shure SM58 and the SM57. Altogether this is a brighter sounding microphone. The brightness depends a lot on how Audix have shaped the sound characteristics.
In a head to head with the SM58, the OM3 differs in a number of ranges. There is slightly more bass in the SM58 at around 150Hz and also at 1kHz. Moving up the spectrum there is a noticeably higher response in the OM3 at around 5kHz to 10kHz.
The shape of the microphone is closer to an SM58 than an SM57. This mic is cardioid but the shape of the grille combined with the more prominent frequency response between 5kHz and 10kHz means that it can be more prone to feedback on stage. If you are planning on using this mic solely in a studio setting then this is nothing to be worried about.
Sennheiser e 835-S
The Sennheiser e 835-S is a competitively priced entry level microphone. This mic is dynamic and comes with an on/off switch.
The shape of the e 835 is like a cross between a Shure SM58 and the Audix OM3. It’s quite lightweight yet feels solid enough for the money. This microphone usually retails in or around the $100 mark but can sometimes be found for less on discount.
It has a standard cardioid polar pattern, making it ideally suited to vocals. It takes a standard XLR connection cable to work with a typical recording desk setup.
The frequency response is 40Hz – 16kHz so it does not cover quite the range of a Neumann U 87 Ai or the AKG C12 VR. It’s not as responsive as the pair of Shures or the Audix OM3 but it is cheaper in price than them all.
This mic would suit someone on a budget and perhaps if you are also looking for a microphone with a switch. On/Off switches are popular especially in public speaking settings when the ability of the user to mute is of importance.
The e 835-S also comes with a soft carry case and a mic clamp for use with a traditional microphone stand.
Soundwise the e 835-S is good but not on a level with an SM57 or SM58. The mid-range sounds a tad ‘boxy’ and the high-end is a touch brittle. This is the type of mic to suit a certain voice better than an all-rounder like the Shures or the Audix.
Sennheiser MD 441-U
Next we move onto one of Sennehiser’s MD441-U. The Beatles used a similar iteration of this microphone, namely the MD 421. The MD 421 was used by Paul McCartney and can be heard on many of his live recordings too. Having legends like The Beatles use your model of microphone is sure to garner the attention of the world.
The MD 441-U is a more modern version of the original MD 421. Sennheiser will tell us that they have built on the technology of the MD 421 and created an enhanced and more responsive version of the classic.
The signal/noise ratio is top drawer and this is where the MD 441-U really earns its crust. Softly spoken word and aggressive vocals are equally handled with ease and the MD 441-U works just as well on most tenor instruments too.
This mic retails at around $900 and for that you get a studio quality supercardioid polar pattern which is very feedback resistant. But it’s not just in live situations that the MD 441-U excels.
This mic is a great all-rounder in the studio. It has a broad frequency response, from 30Hz to 20kHz, and produces crisp, clear vocal takes. It’s also suited to brass sections and strings. Really, there’s nothing you couldn’t capture with this mic.
For a dynamic microphone it’s certainly one of the most impressive out there. It really comes into its own when used with cymbals such as hi-hats. The character of the MD series really shines.
The Behringer B-1 is one of the best cheap condenser microphones on the market today. Behringer do a wide range of beginner microphones which range in price all under $100. The B-1 can be purchased for around $90 although the cheaper Behringer C-1 is only around $50 to buy.
The B-1 is ideal for home recording whether that be podcasting or vocal tracking. It has a -10dB switch for recording louder instruments too. This mic is a nice place to start if you want to get into condensers microphones and don’t want to spend too much.
It runs on phantom power (+48V) so you will need a desk or audio interface which has such capabilities. Many modern audio interfaces come with a phantom switch but some don’t so make sure if this should be of concern to you.
Visually, the B-1 looks thick and sturdy on first appearances but the quality of the build is not of the highest. This mic feels a bit flimsy compared to some competitors.
Behringer have made the package into a bundle with a few extras. Included with the B-1 is a sturdy hard case, windscreen which acts to reduce vocal plosives, and a suspension mount with which to hold the microphone.
It’s no surprise that this is a popular buy and remains one of the best-selling microphones in this price range.
This is a great mic for vocals and spoken word in particular. It’s a common mic of choice between radio hosts and podcasters alike.
The frequency range is between 45Hz and 18kHz but there’s also a bass roll-off switch if you need to do any customizing. For a dynamic cardioid this is one of the best in its class.
It retains the clarity of frequency when used in proximity and from distance. This is highly beneficial when working with dynamic singers.
Being dynamic it will need to be driven fairly high in contrast with a typical condenser. This also means that the EV RE20 is a great mic for louder instruments too. You can use in on loud guitar and bass amps, as well as drums such as a kick drum.
From bottom to top this mic captures brilliantly and enhances the richness of a natural human voice.
This brings us to the last of our list of the 10 best microphones for recording vocals in studio. The ATR2500-USB is Audio-Technica’s offering for budding studio engineers everywhere. As the name title might suggest, this microphone is USB and best suited to computer recording setups.
This mic has lots of benefits for the user. It is practically plug and play with either PC or Mac. Once installed, you can use the ATR2500-USB with your favorite DAW.
There are controls on the side of the microphone which allow you to change settings such as the volume of your headphone mix. Headphones can be plugged into the mic directly using a small mini-jack connecting cable.
This is an ideal mic for home recording users that want a cheap condenser. The mic itself has a cardioid pattern so it’s perfect for singing vocals or spoken word.
Audio-Technica have also supplied the ATR2500-USB with some cool extras such as a USB cable, a tripod and a stand mount with which to harness it. The ATR2500-USB is a great entry-level condenser microphone for the money.
How to Choose a Mic for Your Home Studio
It’s important to know a little about the different microphone types that we may encounter when searching for the best studio vocal mic.
Microphones come in many shapes and sizes and have differing capabilities such as sensitivity and directionality. Let’s cut to the chase and discuss some of the important factors to look out for when purchasing.
Dynamic vs. Condenser
Most microphones are dynamic. This means that they are not powered by another power source. On the other hand condenser microphones are powered. They can be powered either by an internal source, such as a battery, or an external source such as phantom power from a recording console.
When it comes to price, in a lot of cases condenser microphones are more expensive than their dynamic counterparts, but this is not always the case.
Condensers are also usually not as robust as dynamic microphones. This is because they often contain a lot more delicate components internally which can be damaged if not treated carefully.
Typically put, it is common to see dynamic microphones in live gig situations where it is important that the equipment can put up with the strains of touring. Dynamic microphones are common in recording studios where they are relatively safer from harm.
Many engineers will favor condenser microphones when it comes to recording low level instruments such as the human voice, piano or acoustic guitar.
That said, you will still find dynamic microphones fetching thousands of dollars as the sound is still highly sought after.
Microphones also come with different polar patterns. The polar pattern is a shape which represents the area of sensitivity that the microphone is honed towards.
Cardioid is the most common polar pattern with microphones. Cardioid is a heart shaped pattern which is perfect for picking up a sound source coming from one direction. Typically most vocal mics will be cardioid or super cardioid.
There are many other polar patterns such as hypercardioid, omnidirectional and bi-directional. You can find these mics in other situations such as television and radio studios.
With this review we have focused mainly on the aspect of vocal recording. For example, omnidirectional is useful when trying to capture the audio from a room of people. This could be in a podcast interview or similar.
In such a situation, a typical cardioid microphone may not perform as well. Cardioid is designed to be sensitive in one direction mainly, not in a 360 environment.
One big benefit of cardioid polar patterns is that they allow you to focus the sound and avoid pitfalls such as feedback.
Feedback occurs mainly in live situations when the audio signal from speakers is picked up again by the microphone and creates an infinite loop. In the studio feedback is rarer but can occur in a vocal booth with an extremely high headphone mix.
There are many options out there for the budding consumer. Be aware of what you would like from a microphone and how you intend to use it.
If you are going for strictly a vocal mic and do not intend to use it for other instruments then make the investment in a good condenser. A good condenser microphone will last you a lifetime if taken care of.
It’s quite easy to look after a microphone which is only going to be used for one purpose. Mics tend to pick up scratches and bangs when they begin to be transported about a lot and used for multi-purposes.
All these mics are built for touring and give great live vocal sounds. They can be used in the studio and are versatile enough to work in several situations from loud guitar amps to thumping drum kits.
Also a dynamic microphone such as the SM58 has the advantage of being simply plug and play with all setups. There’s never a need to supply +48V phantom power or go searching for replacement batteries.
It’s worth noting that many condensers are not ideally suited to live setups so bear that in mind before you make your purchase. Condensers are sensitive and can produce excellent results when used correctly but can be damaged when abused or used in unsuitable scenarios.
Be careful that the condenser is properly suited by checking the specs on the product before recording. Certain microphones are prone to damage if exposed to extremely high volumes for prolonged periods.
When it comes to the high-end studio microphones it is wise to treat the investment with the future in mind. A high-end vocal mic does not only have to record vocals.
These mics are specifically designed with flexibility in mind so they’ll quite often cater to other sound sources just as well, if not better. Engineers are constantly finding new and exciting ways in which to use mics on instruments that had not before been considered.
Play around with your settings, positioning and room types and keep an open mind!