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15 best microphones 2021: our expert pick of the best mics for every application - from vocals and instruments to podcasts

15 best microphones 2021: our expert pick of the best mics for every application - from vocals and instruments to podcasts
(Image credit: Future)

The best microphones cover a lot of ground. Whether you’re looking to record instruments, vlogs or voice-overs, there will be a mic that fits your bill perfectly. Where to start though? With so many options it can be a bit bewildering. Allow us to help, with this guide to the best microphones on the planet right now.

Essentially, you need a recording microphone capable of accurately capturing a quality audio signal – that's a basic for any record producer or musician. But not all recording mics are created equal, as we’ll outline in this guide. It also pays to buy the best your budget will allow, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value to be found at all price levels.

In this guide to the best microphones, we’ll explain the key differences to look out for when choosing among the different recording mics available, and we'll aim to give you a clear idea of which mics suit which applications. The microphones we’ve chosen sit across a variety of budgets and ability levels, and we’d happily use any microphone on this list in our own recordings. 

So, read on to discover our top choices for the best microphones for recording musical instruments, vocals and podcasts to add to your recording studio setup. We’ve ordered these mics by price to help you find the right one for your budget.

For all the buying advice you’ll need, click the button above. If you just want to check out our top picks, keep on scrolling.

Best microphones: Our top picks

The microphones we’ve rounded up below each excel in their own field, whether that’s accurately recording the unique tonality of a vintage acoustic guitar or grand piano, embellishing the sound of a great vocal performance, or providing that velvet-smooth broadcast voice track. As such, it’s difficult to choose an overall ‘best in class’ mic, as everyone’s requirements will be different. Instead, we’ve highlighted a couple of high performers for your consideration.

The Aston Microphones Origin continues to impress. The depth of sound and quality of construction far exceeds the price tag, making it an easy one to recommend. Likewise, we love the clarity and accuracy of the AKG C636. Overall, however, the best microphone for recording is the one that achieves what you want it to achieve. Invest in something decent as soon as you can and you’ll reap the benefits of a higher quality recording microphone for years to come.

Best microphones under $/£200

Best microphones: Sontronics Solo

(Image credit: Sontronics)

1. Sontronics Solo microphone

The best microphone if you need a Shure SM58 alternative

Price: $135/£99/€111 | Type: Dynamic | Pickup pattern: Cardioid | Application: Vocals, instruments | Connection: XLR | Powered: No

Full-bodied, clear vocal sound
Off-axis rejection is excellent
Well-weighted, solid construction
Not as compact as others 

The Solo is a well-weighted, solid microphone; light hand-held mics suck. The grille has a flat front which we much prefer to the bulbous type: it not only gives a more consistent distance guide when up close, it is also less likely to knock your front teeth out in a rowdy club gig. 

The output impedance is higher than the average dynamic microphone, and this is reflected in the healthy level at the preamp. This bodes well for controlling noise and feedback in live event gain staging, as well as studio usage. A beefy output is useless if the sound doesn’t pull its weight, which in this case it does. 

Read our full Sontronics Solo review

Best microphones: IK Multimedia iRig Mic Studio

(Image credit: IK Multimedia)

2. IK Multimedia iRig Mic Studio

The best microphone for streamers and podcasters

Price: $149/£160/€155 (each) | Type: Condenser | Pickup pattern: Cardioid | Application: Speech | Connection: Micro USB

Easy to set up
Decent sound
Great included software
Not geared towards pristine audio

Not every budget can stretch to pro-level prices, yet the burst in popularity of streaming and podcasting has seen a surge in demand for decent quality, simple bus-powered microphones. There are plenty of great options on the market now, but we’ve opted for the IK Multimedia iRig Mic Studio on account of its simple setup, decent sound and access to a suite of apps for recording and production.

The iRig Mic Studio is equally at home on a portable device as a laptop or computer, and the price-to-performance balance makes this a very attractive option for anyone on a budget looking to get into recording.

Best microphones: $/£201-400

Best microphones: Rode NT1

(Image credit: Rode)

3. Rode NT1 microphone

The best affordable condenser mic

Price: $229/£239/€269 | Type: Condenser | Pickup pattern: Cardioid | Application: Vocals, instruments | Connection: XLR | Powered: No

Low noise
Sound quality
Integrated shock mount
Not a lot

Rode's original NT1 was released around 20 years ago, followed by the NT1A a few years later. Now the company has gone back to the old name with a recently-released NT1 model that looks very similar to the NT1A but has actually been completely redesigned from the ground up – the only component in common with the NT1A being the mesh grille. 

So, what does that redesign involve? First up there's the new HF6 capsule, designed to feature a sound signature similar to vintage favourites but exhibiting extremely low noise. Then there's the fact that the transducer is suspended inside the microphone using Rycote's Lyre system, which should minimise external vibrations. Rode also claims that the NT1 is the world's quietest 1-inch cardioid condenser mic due to the high-grade electronics keeping the self-noise level down to 4.5dBA.

Read our full Rode NT1 review

Best microphones: Audio Technica AE2300

(Image credit: Audio Technica)

4. Audio Technica AE2300 microphone

The best mid-priced alternative to the Shure SM57

Price: $269/£249/€268 | Type: Dynamic | Pickup pattern: Cardioid | Application: Instruments | Connection: XLR | Powered: No

Tailored frequency response
Optional low-pass filter
Rubberised screw tight clip
Reasonably pricey for a dynamic mic
Size precludes use as a handheld

The AE2300 is a broad-application high-SPL cardioid design, so should be ideal for percussion, drums, guitar amps and brass. It’s also pretty compact (less then 10cm long), so is perfect for discrete use in a live environment. The weighty brass casing and top grille feel robust, and the screw-tight rubberised clip should see off any wandering drum sticks while providing some mechanical isolation. 

Overall, it’s a beautifully designed and manufactured mic. The proprietary double-dome diaphragm improves high-frequency and transient response. The off-axis frequency response is also reasonably linear up to 120 degrees, and not bad even at 180 degrees off-axis, which could certainly be beneficial when setting up a multi-miked drum kit. 

Read our full Audio-Technica AE2300 review

Best microphones: Shure MV7

(Image credit: Shure)

5. Shure MV7

The best microphone for content creation

Price: $279/£249/€269 | Type: Dynamic | Pickup pattern: Cardioid | Application: Speech | Connection: USB and XLR | Powered: Both

Dual output adds versatility
MOTIV app is genuinely useful
USB-C connection would have been preferable

Shure have long been one of the first names pro podcasters, vloggers and streamers look to for their microphones, and with the MV7 it’s easy to see why. The MV7 is ideal for these applications, with a few neat tricks on hand to make the recording experience as simple and rewarding as possible. We particularly like the complementary MOTIV app, which allows you to choose specific vocal presets to give your sound a professional sheen.

This isn’t going to be the mic musicians or singers will look to. Sure, it can handle these applications at a push, but this is a speech-specific microphone and, at that, the MV7 is a highly capable option indeed.

Read the full Shure MV7 review

Best microphones: Aston Microphones Origin

(Image credit: Aston Microphones)

6. Aston Microphones Origin

An excellent low-priced condenser mic

Price: $299/£199/€299 | Type: Condenser | Pickup pattern: Cardioid | Application: Vocals | Connection: XLR

Fantastic price
Boutique appearance
Very few

The Aston Origin may be competitively priced, but it possesses a degree of originality that is uncommon in this range. The Origin is a fixed pattern (cardioid) condenser and is the smaller of Aston's two mics: the larger Spirit is a multi-pattern condenser with an extra 10dB of pad available. There are two switches on the stainless steel casing: 10dB pad and 80Hz low-cut filter. 

The XLR connection is on the underside of the mic, as is a mic stand mounting socket (5/8-inch with a 3/8-inch adaptor included). This latter feature means there's no need for a mic clip, though this does limit angle choices to the capabilities of the stand. The wave-shaped outer spring/mesh acts as a shock absorber for the capsule, and behind it sits a stainless steel wire mesh shielding.

Read our full Aston Microphones Origin review

Best microphones: AKG C214

(Image credit: AKG)

7. AKG C214

A great option for recording guitar amps

Price: $299/£275/€299 | Type: Large diaphragm condenser | Pickup pattern: Cardioid | Application: Amps, acoustic | Connection: XLR | Powered: No

Works well with a variety of sound sources
Superb design
Higher frequencies can be exaggerated at times

While some of the mics we feature in this guide serve one specific purpose, there’s always room for a good all-rounder. The AKG C214 is a large diaphragm condenser which will excel at everything from guitar amps to acoustic instruments, pianos and vocals.

Build quality is exceptional, with an all-metal body and pleasing heft, while there’s in-built attenuation thanks to a switchable 160 Hz bass roll-off. For home studio owners keen to invest in a solid, general-purpose studio microphone, the AKG C214 represents excellent value for money. 

Read the full AKG C214 review

Best microphones: sE Electronics sE2200a II

(Image credit: sE Electronics)

8. sE Electronics sE2200a II microphone

The best multi-patterned mid-range mic

Price: $399/£335/€385 | Type: Condenser | Pickup pattern: Cardioid, omni, figure-8 | Application: Vocals, instruments | Connection: XLR | Powered: No

Well made and good looking
Flexible multi-pattern design
Bright but solid sound
Price increase from MK1 version

Like many large capsule condensers, omni mode on the sE2200a II is unlikely to be this mic's forte, and the MkII's response shows a noticeable dip (6dB) around the 5kHz mark. However, in use this wasn't that obvious, and is possibly compensated slightly by the gentle boost above 7kHz. Either way, both patterns are useful inclusions, and save you the trouble of buying or setting up another mic, should you want to try out different patterns. 

Overall, sE's upgrade is a success, and combined with the multi-pattern option, the 2200a MkII is more desirable than ever. OK, the multi-pattern capability has pushed up the price a bit, but there's always the fixed cardioid version if your budget's tight.

Read our full sE Electronics sE2200a II review

Best microphones: $/£401-800

Best microphones: AKG C636

(Image credit: AKG)

9. AKG C636

A great handheld condenser and the best microphone for master reference

Price: $499/£339/€399 | Type: Condenser | Pickup pattern: Cardioid | Application: Vocals | Connection: XLR

Clear, well balanced response
Superb feedback rejection
Excellent off-axis attenuation
You have to pay for quality

As a condenser mic, the C636 is inherently more complex than its dynamic siblings, a complexity that comes at a cost in both R&D and production. Issues with feedback rejection and handling noise have to be balanced against tradeoffs in sound quality. 

Behind the simple black exterior and lightness in hand, the C636 boasts serious design chops to give it the ‘Master Reference’ moniker, but is it deserved? In short, yes. The sound is clear and full, far more linear and ‘real’ than its dynamic mic counterparts. 

The high frequency range is present and well defined, without the harsh hype and phase-shift peakiness that some (cheaper) condenser mics either display or attempt to mask with an overall HF pull-down. 

Read our full AKG C636 review

Best microphones: Neumann TLM 102

(Image credit: Neumann)

10. Neumann TLM 102 microphone

The best microphone for recording vocals on a mid-range budget

Price: $699/£450/€584 (each) | Type: Condenser | Pickup pattern: Cardioid | Application: Vocals | Connection: XLR

Superb vocal performance
Exceptional clarity
None!

As one of the best-respected names in microphones we were expecting good things from the Neumann TLM 102. This large diaphragm condenser promises superlative performance for vocals, and it does not disappoint. Offering crystal clear reproduction across the frequency range, with a nice bump around the 6 kHz mark, the TLM 102 is a specialist mic which will do wonders for your mixes. 

That’s not to say it can’t do other applications though. It features a relatively high sound pressure threshold, so recording loud sources like drums and guitar amplifiers isn’t out of the question. All told this is an ideal investment for anyone looking to upgrade their recording gear and take their tracks to a new level. 

Best microphones: Rode NTR ribbon mic

(Image credit: Rode)

11. Rode NTR Ribbon Microphone

Need a ribbon mic? Then here's your best microphone for recording

Price: $799/£589/€888 | Type: Ribbon | Pickup pattern: Figure-8 | Application: Vocals, instruments | Connection: XLR | Powered: No

Natural smooth and silky sound
Figure of eight pattern
Built-in shockmounting
Very little

Electronically, the NTR is active, running from 48V phantom power and has a built-in transformer that offers a high output so that the mic is not so finickity about preamp requirements as other ribbon mics and can, a fact borne out by our tests, be used with a wide range of preamps without having to turn the gain up to noise-generating levels. 

Internal shock mounting results in there being no need for an external suspension cradle, which helps with placement and, even though this is quite a heavy mic, the included compact mount which attaches to its base works great at holding it at any angle on a mic stand with little pressure needed to firm it up. 

On a variety of sound sources we found the mic to deliver a very natural representation of whatever was put in front of it with plenty of low-end and a clear top with a natural roll off, rather than the often overdone brightness designed into some condensers.

Read our full Rode NTR review

Best microphones $/£801+

Best microphones: Lewitt LCT 640 TS

(Image credit: Future)

12. Lewitt LCT 640 TS microphone

The best microphone for innovation

Price: $899/£879/€899 | Type: Condenser | Pickup pattern: Omni, wide cardioid, cardioid, supercardioid and figure-8 | Application: Vocals | Connection: XLR, mini XLR

Flexible
Five pattern options
Selection of attenuation and roll off
Second output is quite fragile

Although visually similar to Lewitt Audio's LCT 640, its new LCT 640 TS sports a twin diaphragm capsule and incorporates Lewitt's integrated capsule matching system. The TS stands for Twin System: it works either in regular multipattern mic mode, or in dual mode, providing independent access to both diaphragm outputs. This allows adjustment of the pickup pattern after recording and also opens up some stereo recording options. 

In dual mode the second diaphragm output is accessed via a miniature three-pin connector on the side of body, and in the carry case there's a mini three-pin XLR breakout cable as well as accessories such as foam windshield, suspension cradle, mic pouch and a rather nifty magnetic pop shield. All told, it's a well put together and stylish package.

Read our full Lewitt LCT 640 TS review

Best microphones: Slate Digital VMS

(Image credit: Slate Digital)

13. Slate Digital VMS

The best microphone for virtual modelling

Price: $999/£1,099/€1,299 | Type: Condenser | Pickup pattern: Cardioid | Application: Vocals, instruments | Connection: XLR | Powered: No

Accurate sounding models
You only need one mic
No HP filter in the analogue chain

Classic large capsule condenser microphones are without a doubt amongst the most sought-after and expensive items on anyone’s wish list. With an original Neumann U47 commanding up to $10,000, most of these mics are out of reach for the average studio owner, and certainly only possible for a tiny minority of home studios. So in theory, if you can emulate them with software then you should be on to a winner. 

There have been a few plugs over the years which have claimed to give one mic the character of another but, given the limitations of the original mic, coupled with any number of mic pres that could have been used, plus the quality of the interface that recorded it, most of them have been pretty disappointing. Slate Digital have taken that idea and built a complete system which removes as many of those variables as possible. 

What you get with the VMS is a high-quality, large capsule condenser mic, a dedicated ‘ultra linear’ mic pre and a plug-in which contains the modelled mics. The only variable is that you have to use your own A/D converter to get it into your DAW.

Read our full Slate Digital VMS review

Best microphones: Sontronics Aria

(Image credit: Sontronics)

14. Sontronics Aria microphone

The best valve microphone around

Price: $1,199/£899/€1,092 | Type: Condenser | Pickup pattern: Cardioid | Application: Vocals, instruments | Connection: XLR | Powered: 12AX7/ECC83 tube

Smooth non-hyped sound
Very well made
The classic mic and cradle styling
Not ideal for quiet sources

With everything plugged up, the first thing that's obvious with the Aria is just how natural it sounds. There's definitely a slight presence lift, but this is in the upper mids rather than right into sibilant territory. Beyond this there's no high frequency hyping, or the brittleness that plagues mics of that ilk. So, one's attention is drawn to the lows and low mids. These feel solid and although there is a small proximity effect, it's not at all overbearing. 

In use we feel the cardioid polar pattern is pretty broad both in horizontal and vertical directions. So the sweet spot is large, which is particularly useful for vocals and acoustic guitars. On vocals the Aria delivers a faithful sound, and when you dig in with more forceful delivery it responds very well. With acoustic guitar it's easy to capture a non-boomy sound, and once again the non-hyped sound is great. The smooth response also lends itself to complex sounds such as guitar amp, strings and percussion.

Read our full Sontronics Aria review

Best microphones: Audio Technica AT5040 microphone

(Image credit: Audio Technica)

15. Audio Technica AT5040 microphone

Need a high-end condenser mic? Then this is the best microphone for you

Price: $2,999/£2,999/€3,111 | Type: Condenser | Pickup pattern: Cardioid | Application: Vocals, instruments | Connection: XLR | Powered: No

Stylish, functional and well made
Natural open sound
Big output level and very low noise
Expensive
Requires careful positioning

With a new large diaphragm condenser mic there's rarely anything unusual to discuss. After all, the focus is typically on the general frequency response, pick up pattern, build quality and sound. Audio Technica's AT5040 ticks all the boxes of a typical high end phantom powered condenser mic with its discrete component design, low noise, high SPL handling and decent shock mount. Look closer, however, and you will find some special touches. The noise figure is exceptional and the quick release cradle beautifully designed (more later). 

Also worth mentioning is the advanced internal capsule decoupling mechanism and the fact that it's 100 percent hand built and inspected. The really big deal here – bigger than that whopping price tag – is the capsule: a four-part rectangular design delivering over ten square cms of surface area (roughly twice that of a one inch capsule). Put into perspective, a circular design with roughly the same area would have a diameter of 3.6cm.

Read our full Audio Technica AT5040 review

Best microphones: Buying advice

Best microphones: Vocal recording

(Image credit: Future)

As with any piece of studio gear, the first question you need to ask yourself is, ‘How will I be using this?' This question is crucial for a number of reasons. Each of the models featured in this guide to the best microphones naturally has its own strengths and weaknesses. Some work wonders for recording vocals, yet wouldn’t last five minutes on a sweaty stage. Others could survive a lot of wear and tear, but wouldn’t capture all of the delicate nuances of a symphony orchestra. So the type of mic you choose has a huge impact on your recordings, and it pays to choose wisely at the start.

Types of mic

Fundamentally, the two most common types of recording microphones are dynamic and condenser. Dynamic microphones are perfect for performance, thanks to their inherent robustness and durability. This is down to their construction, with few moving parts to go wrong. 

Dynamic microphones excel on stages or in louder environments, and are often seen in the hands of singers, adjacent to kick drums or propped up against guitar amp cabinets. Often, they’ll feature a ‘cardioid’ pickup pattern, which takes audio from a single axis, i.e. the front or side of the mic. This enables them to focus on a singer’s voice, for example, while also rejecting signals from other angles. This also makes them attractive to outdoor users, where the pickup pattern can effectively filter out the ambient noise while focusing on your chosen sound source.

Condenser microphones, on the other hand, can be mostly split into two distinct camps. Firstly, large diaphragm condenser mics bring flavour and colour to a sound, and are perfect for vocals, speech and acoustic instruments. Conversely, small diaphragm condensers are superb choices for tonal accuracy, and produce a more consistent result across the frequency spectrum.

You’ll see small diaphragm condensers used on cymbals, or as overhead or ambient mics to fill out an overall mix, for example. Condensers can offer a range of pickup patterns, from cardioid through to omnidirectional.

Ultimately, the best microphone for you will be dictated by a number of factors, including price, needs and situation.