Choosing the best vocal mic is a hugely personal thing. The style you opt for, and the way in which you use it, depends entirely on the voice it’ll be capturing. And, with so much in the way of choice, it can be daunting to know where to start. It’s easy to look to our favourite recording artists and see the gear they used, before a look at the cost of high-end recording equipment brings us back down to earth with a crash.
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There are, however, plenty of superb quality mics out there that will excel at recording vocals without the five-figure price tag. Let’s look at some of the best vocal mics in the world today for a variety of situations and budgets.
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Best vocal mics: MusicRadar Recommends
When you’re looking for a vocal microphone, one of the main considerations for your shortlist should be the sound. Capturing an accurate representation of your voice is the sole job of a microphone, and for this reason we’d happily put our name behind the Shure SM7B. When balancing performance with cost, the Shure came out in front on account of its glorious, rich vocal sounds and high levels of build quality.
We’d also highlight the exceptional performance on offer from the Aston Spirit. This new British brand is producing microphones with a level of class which far belies their relatively low price tag.
Best vocal mics: buyer's advice
The first thing you’ll want to consider when searching for the best vocal mic is where exactly will you be using it? Vocal performances on a stage and in a studio require quite different tools. On a loud stage, with lots in the way of ambient noise, a dynamic mic will provide more robustness, while the slight decrease in sensitivity of the mic’s pickup means it won’t be damaged by sudden changes in volume or humidity.
For capturing vocals in a studio environment, however, the condenser is king. Condenser microphones are more sensitive than their dynamic counterparts and, as a result, are capable of picking up much more nuance from a human voice or acoustic instrument. In a studio environment, this equates to a cleaner, more detailed signal which will result in your recordings sounding as good as they can possibly be.
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Also of huge significance is the pickup pattern of the microphone. This essentially dictates where the mic will pick up its signal. Omnidirectional mics pick up audio from all around, meaning the signal will be the same no matter which direction you sing into it. Figure-8 mics pick up strongly from the front and back, but poorly from the sides, while cardioids pick up sound from one specific place.
These mics have a set axis, and moving off this axis results in a loss of signal. Pickup pattern is important for a number of reasons; if you’ve chosen a specific room to record in because of its reverb or ambience, an omnidirectional mic will probably be a solid choice, while if you’re performing on a loud stage or in a booth, you’ll likely favour a cardioid mic.
There are plenty of brands you’ll come across, the larger of which – Shure, AKG and Rode – have decades of history and can be relied upon to deliver quality mics. There are a good number of younger brands vying for your attention though, with names like Aston and IK Multimedia providing excellent alternatives. Here are some of the best vocal mics for your consideration.
The best vocal mics you can buy today
As an all-rounder vocal mic, the Shure SM7B takes some beating. Over the years it’s been adopted by some of the music world’s biggest names – Michael Jackson swore by them – while its rich, balanced tone has found it adopted more recently by the podcasting community.
For home recording it’s a great choice as it features in-built protection against electromagnetic hum, meaning your computer monitor isn’t going to interfere with your signal. It’s also, as with all the Shure SM range, built to withstand all manner of performance situations without letting you down.
As the most expensive mic in the line-up, the AKG C414 XLII has a lot to live up to. It’s also just about one of the most versatile microphones we’ve come across, excelling at everything from speech to vocals, via acoustic instruments and even drums.
A total of nine pickup patterns are available, including combining two different patterns, meaning there is no application where this mic won’t suit, while the overall levels of quality, durability and construction are exemplary. Oh, and it sounds incredible too.
Australian brand Rode is one of the best-known microphone specialists operating today. The Rode NTK is their flagship mid-point condenser, delivering exceptional performance for vocals and other speech-related applications. Part of the NTK’s magic comes from the twin-triode 6922 tube, which adds a touch of vintage warmth to recordings.
We particularly liked the build quality of the Rode NTK, which offered easy access to replace the tube, should you need to. As with the rest of the Rode range, there’s a lot of quality on display here at a great value price point.
Aston Microphones has quickly become one of the music equipment industry’s rising stars, on account of a growing portfolio of high quality, yet affordable, microphones. Made in Britain, the brand has picked up multiple NAMM ‘Best in Show’ awards for its gear, and we’re huge fans here at MR.
The Aston Spirit, the company’s flagship model, boasts a 1” gold-evaporated capsule, along with a variety of pickup patterns. What surprised us most, however, was the price. For a shade under $500 you get an incredibly well made, great sounding microphone. Highly recommended.
The Shure Super 55, known affectionately as the ‘Elvismic’ on account of its most famous user, proves microphones don’t need to be dull. The Super 55 is a sturdy, eye-catching dynamic microphone built for a lifetime on stage.
A mic has to sound good though, and there are no complaints from us regarding its audio performance. The lack of an off/on switch will irk some, and the sheer weight of the thing will give roaming vocalists something to think about, but as a hard-as-nails workhorse, the Shure Super 55 is definitely worth your consideration.
Not every vocal application involves singing. Some of us, naming no names, have singing voices which resemble the noise a burning pet shop might make. If you can picture that scene. Yet there are plenty of other scenarios where a quality vocal microphone is required; think podcasts, voice-overs, speeches and broadcast. For this, the AKG C636 is a superb choice.
The AKG C636 features a uniform cardioid pattern, designed to accentuate only what it’s meant to, while its design is geared towards reducing the vibrations caused when hand-holding the mic. Sure, music and singing situations may require a different tool, but for speech tasks this is a great choice.
It would be remiss not to include the Shure SM58 in this list, right? We did consider omitting it, but couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. After all, for a large number of live performers this mic has been the go-to choice for decades now. You don’t become one of the best-selling vocal mics in the world by accident.
As a specialist live performance mic, the Shure SM58 offers the perfect combination of reliability, performance and durability, and all for a price which sits very nicely under $100.
Rounding off the list, we nod to the growing list of condenser microphones designed never to leave the comfort of your home. The IK Multimedia iRig Mic Studio is a large diaphragm, bus-powered condenser mic which performs well in a variety of situations.
We liked the way it was equally at home on a computer or with a tablet device, making it an ideal solution for portable recording studios. The USB mic market is becoming ever more saturated as streamers, YouTubers and the like seek ways to elevate their performances, but the iRig Studio stood out for us on account of its compact size, clear sound and bundled software.