When it comes to recording vocals, you need a microphone that captures all of the fine details of the human voice. Some mics are better suited for use in the recording studio, while some are specifically designed for live purposes. Ideally, you'd want a microphone which has the capacity to do both.
In the following list I’ll delve into the best mics for capturing vocals in both a live and studio setting, and examine their individual qualities.
12 Best Vocal Mics for the Money
Table of Contents
- 12 Best Vocal Mics for the Money
- Polar Patterns & Recording Vocals
1. Shure SM58S
The Shure SM58 is a thing of legends amongst vocalists and recording engineers. Originally intended to be used as a live vocal mic, it has become an increasingly popular choice for recording vocals in the studio or in a performance setting.
Being a dynamic microphone, the SM58 is great at highlighting the natural warmth of a singer’s voice. Thanks to the spherical filter installed within the mic, the unwanted plosives and wind noises are kept to a minimum.
Where the SM58 truly excels is in its ability to isolate vocals with impressive clarity. Because it was designed to record vocals in live performances with other instruments nearby, it has a cardioid pickup pattern which hones in on the desired sound source.
The difference between the SM58 and the SM58s is that the latter is fitted with an on/off switch. If you intend to primarily record vocals in a studio setting, you probably don't need the on/off switch but it is a handy addition for live recordings at shows.
Of course, like the SM57 and most other Shure microphones, the SM58 is built like a tank. Renowned for their durability and roadworthy design, you can guarantee that this microphone will stand up to the bumps and scrapes of recording or touring.
If you’re looking for a quality handheld vocal microphone at a reasonable price, the e 835-S by Sennheiser is a good option. Built to withstand powerful live vocals, this dynamic mic has brilliant feedback rejecting ability.
Similar to the aforementioned SM58, this Sennheiser microphone is robust and rugged. It has a low handling noise so your vocal recording won’t be marred by unwanted frequencies.
Microphones made for live recording purposes need one attribute above all others – the ability to handle high SPLs. The e835 will take all of the volumes you throw at it, with an impressive ability to handle more than 150db SPL.
Although this makes the e835 perfect for recording guitar amps, drums, or other instruments at high volumes, it shines the most when recording vocals. The cardioid pattern rejects any background noise and focuses on the primary sound source.
Perhaps the standout quality of the Sennheiser e835 is its versatility. It’s the kind of microphone that lends itself to any application that may arise when in the studio or on the stage.
Neumann’s extensive range of studio microphones has cemented their place in the top-tier of vocal recording, and with the KMS-105, they have translated this quality into a handheld model.
With a trio of metal basket layers providing robust resistance to plosives and pops, the KMS-105 captures vocals with stark clarity. The elastic shock-mounted super-cardioid capsule further enhances the crisp detail of the recordings.
The lightweight design of this handheld condenser microphone makes it ideal for quickly maneuvering around a recording studio or the stage. In the modern world where home studios are fast becoming the norm, having such a mobile and versatile microphone is very handy.
There’s no off-axis coloration either, so you can be sure that the KMS-105 will reproduce your vocals without changing the main characteristics of the singer’s voice.
The only criticism of dynamic microphones is that they generally don’t pick up the small details of a vocal take. The M80 by Telefunken combines condenser performance with the reliability and convenience of a dynamic mic.
The M80 combats the common issue of midrange-heavy handheld microphones by employing a thin membrane and low-mass capsule to maximize its attention to detail.
The custom-wound impedance matching transformer means that the quality doesn’t diminish regardless of the location you’re recording in.
The overall response of the M80 is wide and well balanced. This is largely due to the specifically designed super-cardioid polar pattern. Telefunken chose this to limit any unwanted boom from the recordings while fighting against feedback.
Not only is the Telefunken M80 great for recording vocals or backing vocals, but it also lends itself well to guitars, snare drums, or keyboards. With a frequency response ranging between 50Hz and 18kHz, there’s no sound source it won’t successfully record.
Next up on our list, we have a high-quality vacuum-tube condenser microphone by Warm Audio. The WA-47 was inspired by the revered 47 microphones that have been used for decades in top-end studios all over the world.
What's so special about large-diaphragm tube condenser mics? Well, there are a few notable qualities that make them so popular for vocal recording. The most apparent is their ability to produce warm, authentic-sounding recordings that are brimming with character.
The original ’47 microphone that Warm Audio has based the WA-47 on was used on some of the most iconic recordings of all time, including The Beatles and Frank Sinatra. By closely following the circuit design in that classic model, Warm Audio has produced a modern and more affordable version.
With nine polar patterns, the WA-47 provides exceptional flexibility. You can use it to record any audio source, but vocals are where it shows its class.
The polar patterns include cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure-8, with others in between patterns combining the qualities of these popular options. These possibilities mean that you can record anything with the WA-47, no matter the instrument or vocal style.
SE Electronics has built a reputation as a quality manufacturer of entry-level and affordable microphones. The V7 is a handheld dynamic mic with a super-cardioid polar pattern and heavy-duty metal construction.
The custom-designed aluminum voice coil produces clear and open recordings that maintain the natural tone of a vocalist. You can crank the gain up high before this mic starts to feedback, making it perfect for recording live takes on the stage.
Isolation is no issue with this handheld microphone. Even during dynamic performances where you move around frequently, the V7 will highlight the vocals while blocking out any external noise from other instruments.
To further improve the sonic stability of the V7, SE Electronics has integrated a shock mount that decouples the capsule of the microphone, minimizing rumble or other commonly associated problems.
The internal windscreen combats plosives and wind noise so that the vocals remain accurate even when performing outdoors. In the studio, you can install one of the external pop shields that come with the V7. There's a black and red option included so you can choose whichever suits your preference.
The V7 is constructed from durable zinc alloy and can withstand heavy usage both on the stage and in the recording studio. With a gold plated XLR connector and a steel mesh grille, there's no danger of it breaking anytime soon.
With its retro design and concise profile, the AKG C414 XLII is a reinvention of the classic C414 model that is a favorite among recording engineers worldwide.
To improve that classic model, AKG has increased the number of polar patterns to an impressive nine. With modern components also added in, this condenser boasts crisp recording ability and versatile performance.
In terms of sound quality, this microphone provides a slight presence boost thanks to the reproduction of the spatial capabilities of the legendary C414. Even in a crowded mix, the mic can hone in on your vocals and capture them accurately.
With its signature upfront sound, the C414 XLII also makes a great room mic for capturing drum ambiance or the general sound of a live band.
Along with the 9 detailed polar patterns, this condenser mic also has three different bass cut filters and three pre-attenuation pads. These can be used to reduce the dynamic output by -6, -12, or -18db.
The addition of a clipping LED light on the face of the C414 XLII makes it easy to see when the mic is being pushed to its limits.
Electro Voice's ND96 sets out to help vocalists compete with the loud volumes of guitar amps, drum kits, and bass amps on stage. By maximizing the gain that this mix can handle before feedback occurs, it’s the perfect option for cutting through a crowded mix.
How has Electro-Voice achieved this boost is the headroom? By using a flat-top dynamic design and a useful presence switch, you can push the vocals above the rest of the mix while retaining crisp and clear recordings.
The ND96, like most ND-series mics, has a state-of-the-art EQ curve that focuses on high-end details so that vocals are accurately captured and reproduced.
Additionally, there’s a Memraflex grille to reinforce the microphone. A noise-rejecting shock mount has been internally installed to boost this mics durability even further.
Although the ND96 is best suited to studio vocal recordings, it’s also capable of recording both acoustic and electric guitars, drums, and ambient sounds. The large-diaphragm gives it a richness that sounds great for a variety of purposes.
When it comes to vocal mics, the AT4050 by Audio-Technica is hard to beat. The transformerless design ensures a low-noise output, and the various polar patterns make it a versatile choice.
The extended frequency response of this condenser mic is boosted by the dual gold plated internal large-diaphragm elements. These are complemented by the floating element which isolates the recordings and reduces any vibrational noises.
The AT4050 gives you a blend of rich low-end clarity, sparkling highs, and well balanced mid-range frequencies. With advanced engineering further improving the acoustics of the microphone, you'll be impressed by the clarity of its recordings.
At the heart of the AT4050s versatile ability is the three switchable polar patterns. Choose from either cardioid, figure-of-eight, or omnidirectional settings to make the microphone better suited to your vocal or instrument recordings.
The gold diaphragms have been subjected to a specific treating process so that the quality of the microphone's performance doesn't diminish over time. This five-step aging process boosts the consistency of the AT4050.
10. Rode M2
The Rode M2 provides crystal clear, studio-ready vocal recording and reproduction in a handheld microphone. The super-cardioid pickup pattern coupled with an internal shock mount design limits any feedback issues and improves the clarity.
It can be hard to find a microphone that strikes the perfect balance between live performance and studio recording. The M2 bridges this gap, with all of the qualities you'd expect from a dynamic stage mic in a condensed package.
There are also locking on/off switches so you can kill the sound when on stage, and a built-in windscreen protects the inner mechanisms of the microphone. It's resistant to plosives and pops thanks to this screen, too.
Indeed, the best quality of the Rode M2 is its versatility. Equally suited to the stage to the recording studio, it can serve a range of purposes making it a highly useful addition to your setup.
The Origin by Aston Microphones has a unique appearance. With a wave-form mesh head and built-in pop shield to protect the internal components of the microphone, it combines style with durability.
This high-performance large-diaphragm condenser is fitted with a 1-inch gold-evaporated capsule. With a cardioid polar pattern, it captures all of the human elements of a vocal take and stays true to the natural tone of the singer.
There’s also a 10db pad and a high=pass filter at 80Hz, so you can tailor the microphone’s performance to suit multiple purposes in the recording studio. Along with clear vocal tracks, the Origin is also brilliant and capturing acoustic guitars.
Aston Microphones are renowned for their sturdy construction. For the Origin, they combined durable construction with high-end transformer-less circuitry made up of top-quality components.
The treble-capturing ability of the Origin is astonishingly accurate. There's no harshness to the recordings, as is the case with other budget condenser microphones. The custom-molded end cap has an interchangeable mic stand thread adapter, too.
12. AKG D5
To conclude our list of the best microphones for recording vocals, we have the affordable AKG DG. This dynamic vocal mic is perfect for lead and backing vocals on stage, especially when there’s a lot of other noise to contend with.
At the heart of the D5s performance is its super-cardioid polar pattern. This allows a vocalist to push the microphone's gain up to the max without feedback occurring. The result is a crisp and clear sound that positions the vocals where they should be, at the top of the mix.
AKG used an interesting design technique when formulation the D5. The microphone’s laminated diaphragm varies in thickness across its diameter and the deep drawing process allows it to be fine-tuned.
With a frequency range of 70Hz to 20kHz, the D5 picks up the entire spectrum of the human voice and more. When positioned in from of a guitar amp, it will provide a focused recording without breaking up or clipping easily.
The dual shock mount of the D5 reduces any of the potential mechanical noises that sometimes slip into a recording. Whether you intend to use it for live vocals or the recording studio, this mic will do the job.
Polar Patterns & Recording Vocals
When looking for the perfect vocal mic to add to your recording setup, you might have noticed that the term “polar pattern” gets frequently mentioned. But what exactly is a polar pattern, and how does it affect the performance of a vocal microphone?
A polar pattern essentially indicates how sensitive the microphone is to sound concerning the angle or direction from which the sound is projected. Put more simply, it describes the ability of the microphone to pick up sounds from different directions.
Although some mics boast many polar patterns, the most common are cardioid, super-cardioid, and omnidirectional.
Perhaps the most commonly found polar pattern on vocal mics, cardioid is highly sensitive at the front of the microphone and less so at the back end. Cardioid microphones are great at isolating a single sound source from unwanted background noise, making it the perfect choice for close up, intimate vocal takes.
Compared to cardioid microphones, those with super-cardioid polar patterns pick up a narrower range of sound and reject outside noise more aggressively. Due to their feedback-resistant nature, super-cardioid microphones are great for recording a single sound source in a loud, chaotic environment like the stage.
As you've probably guessed from the name, omnidirectional microphones can pick up sounds from all angles. This even spread of capturing capabilities is not usually used for vocals, unless two people are sharing a microphone for backing vocals.
Because omnidirectional mics can't be angled away from unwanted sound sources, they are better suited as room mics than single sound source capturers.
Finding Your Voice
In my experience of recording vocals over several music genres, I've found that different microphones seem to capture my voice more effectively depending on the style that I'm singing.
The truth is, all microphones have good and bad qualities. That’s why it’s important to decide on the style you would like to record in, and then research which attributes will enhance your vocals the best.
Hopefully, you've identified the right option for your needs after reading through this article. I wish you many hours of fun experimenting with the new addition to your studio setup!