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Few sounds, musical or otherwise, are as deeply familiar to the human ear as the human voice itself—and it takes a good microphone for vocals to make sure they stay that way. When recording vocals for any purpose, capturing a lifelike and high-quality sound is the key to translating this familiarity. Doing so requires a microphone that effectively replicates vocal frequencies and dynamic range. There’s a broad variety of vocal microphones on the market today, with some designs ideal for streaming and podcast use and others designed for versatility in musical applications. In this article, we’ll break down what to look for when shopping for the best microphones for vocals in every creative situation.
Apart from considering their specs on paper and basic designs, we evaluated a range of vocal microphones primarily based on their durability, sensitivity, and frequency smoothness (that is, if there’s variation in volume between highs and lows). Differing feature sets make each suitable for specific tasks. For example, high durability is desirable for long-term podcasting and streaming use, but sensitivity and smoothness are more important for candid vocal reproduction and usually require more delicate designs. We’ve had many of these mics in the studio, and the ones we haven’t are ones we selected based on a combination of peer recommendations and real-world user impressions.
The microphone market comprises an enormous range of designs, each suitable for different tasks, but we focused on two for vocals: condensers and dynamics. Condenser microphones use thin membranes of mylar and other materials to capture sound, which gives them unparalleled sensitivity and helps them excel at reproducing a high level of detail—and makes them ideal for acoustically optimized spaces like studios. Dynamic microphones use moving coils, which makes them great for recording in loud public spaces or untreated rooms.
Why it made the cut: The portable Neumann TLM 102 packs a robust and detailed sound rivaling that of much larger condenser microphones.
The Neumann TLM 102 is one of the best microphones for vocals overall. A large-diaphragm condenser microphone that shares a lineage with the Neumann U87 and some of the most legendary microphones in music history, the TLM 102’s design offers detailed audio reproduction and smooth high-end response in a relatively small package.
While the TLM 102 has a frequency response and sound pressure level limit that makes it suitable for capturing even louder musical sources like a drum kit or electric guitar, it boasts a high-frequency boost beginning around 6 kHz that’s ideal for capturing the natural presence of the human voice. Its cardioid, or heart-shaped, pickup pattern limits the microphone’s sound sensitivity to the front and sides, and the design has an integrated pop screen for quick setup and pristine vocal recording.
The TLM 102 is arguably one of the best vocal microphones for the money, but it doesn’t come with switchable pickup patterns, equalization, or volume pads, so the sound it gives you is the sound you get. If you’re looking exclusively for a vocal mic, this shouldn’t be a problem. Still, your space should be able to accommodate flexible microphone placement or have some level of acoustic treatment if you want to use the TLM 102 on other musical sources successfully.
Why it made the cut: A high sensitivity combined with a wide array of adjustable settings make the AKG C414 XLII one of the most versatile microphones on the market today.
If you have more to spend and want to get the most bang for your buck, a more versatile condenser microphone like the AKG C414 XLII is a foolproof option that will perform well in almost every situation. The C414 XLII has an SPL limit of 158 dB and an extended frequency range of 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz, making it a great all-rounder microphone for vocals, guitars, drums, and just about anything else you can throw at it.
The sound of the C414 XLII is modeled after AKG’s legendary C12, one of the most-used studio condensers in music history, and it has a relatively neutral frequency response with a smooth top end that shines not only on vocals but on drum overheads, orchestral instruments, acoustic guitars, and more. Built for modern studio usage, the C414 XLII is set apart from more niche options by its wide range of onboard switches that include a three-position low-cut filter, a volume pad for louder sources, and a whopping nine switchable pickup patterns. This flexibility offers users an endlessly customizable array of creative options, which makes the C414 XLII a good investment for pro studio use.
Like all condensers, the C414 XLII is relatively sensitive and may not perform well in noisy environments or untreated rooms. Still, some of this can be mitigated by engaging its more narrow hypercardioid polar pattern. Its large array of options makes it one of the most flexible mics on the market, but this may also present a steep learning curve for some users, so there’s a bit of a trade-off there.
Why it made the cut: The Telefunken M80 packs condenser-style vocal tone in a design that’s tailored for use on the road and on stage.
The Telefunken M80 is a unique dynamic microphone in that it’s designed to offer condenser-like sound and performance in a stage-friendly form factor, making it one of our favorite microphones for live vocals. Thanks to its relatively thin internal membrane and a vocal-friendly EQ profile that skews slightly bright, the Telefunken M80 captures more nuance and detail than traditional dynamic mics, allowing vocals to sound full and natural while soaring over dense instrumentation without the need for much post-processing. The microphone also features a very narrow supercardioid pickup pattern that allows for excellent feedback rejection, giving it an edge over other stage mics and allowing vocals to be pushed louder. A custom-wound internal transformer also gives the Telefunken M80 the ability to automatically match impedance across a variety of systems, giving it reliable and consistent sound no matter where you perform.
Why it made the cut: This condenser microphone-software combo mimics some of the most famous vintage mics at a fraction of the cost.
A beefy cylinder, the Townsend Labs Sphere L22 modeling mic system houses two internal capsules that allow it to capture both mono and stereo signals, fed to compatible recording interfaces with 48V phantom power through its included dual-output XLR cable. This dual-capsule design allows the Sphere L22, which has been around since 2016 but recently welcomed into the Universal Audio product family, to capture more acoustic information than a single-capsule microphone, a detail that’s key to the system’s distinctive ability to model the physical traits of other microphones, including polar patterns (Cardioid, Omni, Figure-8), proximity effect, and off-axis response.
This customizability takes place in software, however—on the mic itself there’s just an ON switch and a toggle for -10dB or -20dB pads. It’s once you dig into the software side of things—available in AAX, VST, and AU formats—that you get to the granular controls, which allow you to take the pleasingly lush baseline sound in any direction imaginable. As a standalone mic, the Townsend Labs Sphere L22 is hi-fi and modern-leaning yet well-rounded, which is the perfect foundation for overlaying the recognizable sonic character of mics that cover a wide range of recorded music history. The effect is uncanny and the stereo instance of the Sphere DSP plugin allows users to model two different microphones for the left and right channels. And that only scratches the surface of the mic’s capabilities.
Retailing at $1,499, this flagship Townsend mic isn’t a casual purchase, but its rugged build, stereo performance, and dry sound quality alone would make it a fantastic value for studios of every size. Then you add in all the other features, and it’s a “bargain” no-brainer, considering it’s way easier and cheaper than assembling a vintage mic locker from scratch. The only other drawback to the Sphere L22 system is that you’ll need a powerful computer/digital audio workstation setup and to further buy into the Universal Audio ecosystem if you want to get the most out of the L22, like latency-free monitoring and live emulation features.
[Editor’s note: On Jan. 11, 2023, Townsend Labs parent company Universal Audio released the UA Sphere DLX Modeling Microphone, a functionally identical hardware-software system (except for a fixed -20 dB pad in place of the L22’s selectable -10 and -20 dB pads). While the remaining L22 mics will continue to be sold, the links in this section guarantee availability of a similar system once the L22 stock is depleted. In addition, a new, more compact kit, the UA Sphere LX, offers 20 mic emulations (no 180 stereo miking options) for $999.]
Why it made the cut: The all-in-one design of the Blue Yeti X makes it extremely appealing for streaming use, portable use, and other minimalist recording setups.
Blue is one of the best-known manufacturers of studio mics, and the company’s Yeti X—like its older brother, the original Blue Yeti microphone (click to learn more about the differences)—is arguably one of the most well-known USB condenser microphones on the market. Like most USB microphones, the Yeti X acts as its own computer audio interface and preamp, functioning with a single USB cable and requiring no extra gear beyond a laptop and a pair of headphones.
The Yeti X is a condenser microphone that uses an array of four capsules to capture sound and can change the pattern of sound it captures via a knob on the rear. A multifunction knob on the front allows for adjustment of input gain, headphone volume, and signal blend, and it’s surrounded by 11 LEDs that offer a visual indication of audio level and overloads. The microphone’s frequency response stretches from 20 Hz to 20 kHz and has a slightly pronounced presence bump that’s great for a natural vocal sound.
While it’s compact and built for versatility, the Blue does require a bit of software setup to get the most out of the mic. It’s compatible with two downloadable control interfaces that grant users access to broadcast effects and other microphone controls. The body of the Yeti X can stand alone thanks to its integrated desk stand. Still, the microphone doesn’t include a carrying case or a windscreen, so users will want to grab these accessories to achieve optimal sound quality and safe handling.
Why it made the cut: Found in recording studios and broadcast environments worldwide, the Shure SM7B is a durable mic that captures smooth, natural vocal sound.
The Shure SM7B is a storied dynamic microphone that features a yoke mount, a rugged housing, and an internal shock mount that keep mechanical noise from handling and adjusting to a minimum. An extra-thick removable windscreen also helps keep vocals pure and unhindered by noise in close-talk applications.
Built by Shure engineers as a souped-up version of their popular SM58 vocal mic, the SM7B features extended low-end response and two rear switches for bass cut and mid boost EQ adjustments. The included onboard EQ is a great way to tailor the microphone sound on the fly and work with various voices, as well as musical instruments like electric guitars and bass drums. Thanks to its ability to deliver highly consistent vocal sounds in even the most undesirable acoustic spaces, the SM7B is one of the best vocal microphones for podcasters, streamers, and other content creators who want a reliable and predictable microphone to rely upon.
To get the most out of the SM7B and record a usable signal, users will need a microphone preamp with above-average gain or a booster like the Cloudlifter CL-1. It’s also fairly heavy and designed only for use on a stand or boom arm, so users will need equipment that’s at least as robust as the mic itself. It’s not the only microphone Shure makes that can work for podcasters, and there are challengers to the throne, but the SM7B remains an icon justifiably.
Why it made the cut: A counterpoint to the more expensive and sensitive studio condenser designs available, the Audio-Technica M8000 is a durable, affordable vocal microphone optimized for handheld use.
Similar in design and frequency response to the Shure SM58, the Audio-Technica M8000 is a lightweight dynamic microphone that uses a moving coil to capture sound and has a relatively high SPL of 145 dB. It has a hypercardioid pickup pattern for incredibly focused sensitivity and good rejection of outside sound. Its full frequency response range is 50 Hz to 14 kHz, with small bumps around 2.5 kHz and 10 kHz that aid in enhancing vocal presence.
A no-frills design and durable construction make the M8000 great for live and rehearsal sessions, as well as all-around studio use, especially when you’re on a budget. Apart from being a vocal go-to, it’s also suitable for some high-volume applications like close-miking of drums and guitar amps. And, thanks to its low price point, the M8000 can be put through the rigors of active recording studios and mobile applications and you won’t feel too bad if it’s damaged.
Being a budget microphone, the M8000 includes a single mic clip but doesn’t come with any sound-adjustment options, a shock mount or zippered storage bag. Its focused and somewhat “sterile” sound make it great for capturing basic speech, rock vocals, and electric guitars, but there are better, more sensitive options on the market for critical applications like intimate voiceover or acoustic guitars.
The best broadcast microphones for vocal use are typically built differently than live sound microphones. They emphasize eliminating ambient noise, handling noise, and other disruptive environmental factors that might otherwise interfere with the recorded sound. For the best podcasting and streaming vocal sound possible, go with a mic like the Shure SM7B that has heavy-duty housing, swappable windscreens for close-talk applications, and an internal shock mount. If you want USB functionality in your broadcast mic, you might also consider the Shure MV7 or the Samson Q9U (reviewed here).
If versatility is important, you’ll probably want to use a condenser mic. While dynamic microphones are great for guitar amps, drums, and other loud sources, condensers provide a level of detail and sensitivity that makes them much better suited to all-around duties. If you’re looking for the main studio microphone for recording vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, and other instruments, investing in a condenser mic, such as the AKG Pro Audio C414 XLII, eliminates the potential need to buy more microphones as more needs arise.
Not all vocal microphones are portable, and most require some form of external preamp and recording interface to function on the go. Vocal microphones with USB connectivity hold all the necessary tech you need to record on the go, which makes them a great choice over traditional designs when you’re packing light and looking to optimize your workflow. For maximum convenience, choose one like the Blue Yeti X USB microphone that comes with its own built-in desk stand.
If you’re working on a budget with a ceiling of $100, it’s hard to beat the Shure SM58 dynamic mic for vocals. In addition to being a durable handheld design and having an industry-standard sound, this mic also comes with a mic clip and a zippered bag. It’ll work in a pinch on drums and guitar amps, plus it’ll last forever with a little bit of care.
If you’re looking for the best microphone for recording vocals and guitar, the choice comes down to the type of guitar in question. If you’ll be primarily recording electric guitar through an amp, a dynamic microphone like the Shure SM7B will perform double duty very well, thanks to its durability and high SPL handling. If you’re looking for a vocal mic that also works well on acoustic guitar, go with a sensitive condenser mic like the AKG C414 XLII or its less expensive counterpart, the AKG C214.
Whether you end up with the Audio Technica M8000 from our list or a robust workhorse like the Shure SM58, the best microphones for live vocals are undoubtedly dynamic microphones with handheld designs. Dynamic microphones are used for live sound more than any other microphone design, as they can take a fair amount of abuse and are great at rejecting ambient noise from other instruments in the immediate area
Whether you’re leaning toward a dynamic microphone or a condenser microphone for vocal recording, it’s undeniable that the quality of a vocal recording has an enormous impact on how content is perceived. Choosing the best microphone for vocal accuracy and reproduction is the key to capturing a lifelike recording that’s easy on the ears and clear enough to understand. A dynamic microphone is the best choice if you’re working in an untreated acoustic space due to its relatively low sensitivity, smooth transient response, and good ambient noise rejection. If you’re looking for the absolute best microphone for vocals, however, condenser microphones deliver superior detail and are the ideal design for critical vocal applications. Whether you’ll be using a dedicated audio interface for your microphone or leaning toward the convenient all-in-one design of a USB microphone for vocals, we hope this list has helped thin the herd.
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