The best microphones for recording cover a lot of ground. Whether you’re looking to record instruments, vlogs or voice-overs, there will be a studio mic that fits your bill. Where to start though? With so many potential options it can be thoroughly bewildering. We can help with this guide to the best microphones for recording available 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 mics are created equal, as we’ll outline here. It also pays to invest in the best studio mic that your budget will allow. That said, there can be excellent value found at all price levels.
In this guide to the best microphones for recording, 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 are best suited to 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. We've got some useful buying advice at the bottom of the page, too.
So, read on to discover our top choices for the best microphones for recording musical instruments and beyond. We’ve featured these mics in price order to help you find the right one for your budget.
Best microphones for recording: Our top picks
The recording microphones we’ve rounded up in this guide 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 single out 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 (opens in new tab) continues to impress. The depth of sound and quality of construction far exceeds the price tag, making it an easy one to pick out from our selection. Likewise, we love the clarity and accuracy of the AKG C636 (opens in new tab). Overall, however, the best microphone for recording is the one that does the job for your particular project or needs. 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 for recording under $/£200
The Solo is a well-weighted, solid microphone; light hand-held mics suck. The grille has a flat front which we much preferred to the usual 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
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.
Buying one of the best budget USB microphones on the market now is easier than ever, but we’ve opted for the IK Multimedia iRig Mic Studio. We found that its simple setup, decent sound and access to a suite of apps for recording and production makes this mic a strong choice for anyone who needs a great mic on a budget.
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.
Read the full IK Multimedia iRig Mic Studio review
Best microphones for recording: $/£201-400
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, which we found features 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
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 than 10cm long), so is perfect for discrete use in a live environment.
During testing, we found that the weighty brass casing and top grille felt robust, and the screw-tight rubberised clip should see off any wandering drumsticks 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
Shure have long been one of the first names pro musicians look to for their microphones. Shure's range doesn't just cover those options for musicians, however - as the MV7 is a great option for those looking to record crisp speech on a budget.
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
- Today's best Shure MV7 deals
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.
We found that the Aston Origin sounds pretty pure and clean. It's not a wholly characterful microphone, but that's one of the things we liked so much during our testing. If you want a solid, safe-sounding reproduction of your sound, then the Origin is one of the best,
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
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.
We found the C214 to deliver a pretty vast frequency range, and while the higher frequencies of your sound can be accentuated a little more with this microphone, this means that the common issue of muddy, mushy-sounding low end is a thing of the past.
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
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 for recording: $/£401-800
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
As one of the best-respected names in recording 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.
We found that the TLM 102 offers crystal clear reproduction across the frequency range, with a nice bump around the 6 kHz mark, and 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.
Read the full Neumann TLM 102 review
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 for recording $/£801+
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
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
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. As a vocal mic 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
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 for recording: Buying advice
As with any piece of audio gear, the first question you need to ask yourself is, ‘what sound am I looking for here?' Establishing your sonic objectives early on in the production process will enable you to choose the right kit for the job, including microphones. It's unlikely you'll have a precise notion of how the final recording will shape up, but even a vague idea of the direction you want to take will enable you to make a good start, which is half the battle.
How do microphones work?
To fully understand how to choose between one recording microphone and another let's take a quick look at how they work. Essentially, sound waves generated by a vocalist, an acoustic guitar, a flute, a pregnant elephant or whatever else you're trying to record will hit a flexible diaphragm inside your microphone. As the diaphragm moves it generates an electrical signal that travels down a cable to your amplifier, desk or recording interface. Nine times out of ten this signal will end up at a studio monitor, or pair studio headphones, where it causes a speaker cone to fluctuate. These movements cause the air pressure to change, generating sound waves that match your original source. Yes, it still seems like magic to us too.
OK, there's a bit more to it than that, but if you think about it the microphone and speaker work in a very similar way. The mic's diaphragm and the speaker's cone are doing pretty much the same thing but in reverse. One is converting sound into an electrical signal and the other is converting it back again.
The way in which a mic's diaphragm handles the conversion will impact the characteristics of our sound, so we need to make sure our microphone choice aligns with the sonic ambition we set out in step one. Two types of diaphragm, and their associated electrical gubbins, account for the vast majority of microphones found in studios today – the dynamic mic and the condenser. Let's take a closer look.
Dynamic vs condenser
Life is pretty darn simple for the dynamic mic. It's little more than a conductive coil, sat in a magnetic field, that’s attached to the rear of a diaphragm. As sound waves enter the microphone the diaphragm flexes, moving the coil which generates an electrical signal. The process is crude and insensitive but it works surprisingly well.
Dynamic mics are just the ticket for live use. Their no-nonsense build means there's little to go wrong and, in order to support the coil, they're equipped with relatively hefty, robust diaphragms. They're also passive devices, which means that, unlike condenser mics, they don't need phantom power in order to operate. These attributes make them well-suited to the rough and tumble of life on the road.
Their insensitive nature, a product of the thick diaphragm, does limit their frequency response, but that's not entirely bad news for live use. The last thing you need is a mic so sensitive that it picks up every bit of background sound and handling noise. They also excel at miking loud sound sources that would damage most condenser mics.
Condenser microphones are far more sensitive and substantially more complex because they rely on capacitance to generate an electrical signal. Two conducting plates are needed to generate the signal, so the condenser mic features a rigid backplate in combination with a thin diaphragm, which acts as the second conducting plate. As the diaphragm moves the distance between it and the backplate alters, which causes a variance in electrical charge or capacitance, resulting in a signal.
The diaphragm can actually be incredibly fine, a quality that enables it to vibrate very freely, very fast. This gives condensers a wide, relatively colourless frequency response, which is perfect for reproducing sounds extremely faithfully.
They are especially good at picking up delicate sounds higher up the frequency spectrum, areas that dynamic mics just cannot reach. That's why you'll find condensers miking up acoustic guitars, hi-hats and vocals.
Due to their complexity, condenser mics tend to be much pricier than dynamic mics. Generally speaking, they're also less robust and better suited to life in a warm dry studio than the back of a damp Transit van. They need phantom power in order to operate but this does give them higher output levels, so they don't need as much potentially noisy gain at the preamp to generate a decent signal.
Large diaphragm condensers, especially the tube variety, have a reputation for warming up vocals in the most delightful way. In contrast, small diaphragm condensers are usually very transparent, making them the go-to mics for strings, hi-hats, drum overheads and any other instrument where colouration isn't desirable.
Neither type of mic is better overall, but a dynamic will be best suited to some applications and a condenser more appropriate for others. Every mic model has a unique frequency response curve, which defines whether it will colour the sound source dramatically or barely at all. If you're lucky enough to own a few mics, recognise their characteristics and learn to use them to your advantage.
Understanding polar patterns
The area or direction from which a microphone captures sound may be very wide or extremely narrow. This directivity, known as a polar pattern, is useful when you need to include or exclude certain sounds. It also affects tone too, so you can use different mics to experiment with what is captured and how it's coloured.
Omnidirectional mics, or omnis, pick up sound from all directions. They sound open, with a gorgeous bass response, which makes them a wonderful choice for vocals. Unfortunately, they are susceptible to room noise and prone to feedback, which makes them a poor option for live use.
Cardioid mics are most sensitive to sounds in front of the mic, and capture very little from the rear. This makes them very popular for semi-isolating vocals or other sound sources, both on stage and in the studio. They are susceptible to the proximity effect, which is a boost in bass frequencies as the mic is brought closer to the action, but this can be desirable depending on the result you are trying to achieve. Radio DJs and voice-over artists often favour the proximity effect because it can make them sound smoother, but some instruments just end up sounding muddy.
Supercardioids and hypercardioids have increasingly narrow patterns, which makes them perfect for isolating vocalists on stage, provided the talent doesn't move outside the pickup area! The proximity effect is even more evident but feedback risk is almost non-existent.
USB vs XLR connections
USB is ubiquitous, most of us probably have a box full of USB cables of one sort or another lying about the house, and all modern computers will feature some flavour of USB. It's the convenient choice.
XLR cables and connectors are less commonplace for domestic appliances but they are the mark of pro audio equipment. XLR connectors are superior because they are 'balanced', which means they offer protection against unwanted noise. They can also carry 48v of phantom power and are built to take some serious abuse.
In short, there's nothing very wrong with USB, but an XLR mic is the pro's choice.
How much should I spend on a recording microphone?
The old adage 'you get what you pay for in life' holds true when it comes to investing in the best microphones for recording, but with some important caveats.
Dynamic microphones can be substantially cheaper than condensers, and yet they can perform better for some applications such as capturing live performance. If you have limited funds then you may be better spending your money on a really decent dynamic mic, like a Sontronics Solo at circa $135/£99/€111, rather than a 'cheap' condenser. There's nothing to stop you using a good dynamic mic in the studio.
Iconic condenser mics are a sight to behold and objects of desire to covet. We'd have a mic locker full of them if we could, but they can cost thousands and thousands. We've found that for most 'bedroom' producers something like an Aston Origin at circa $299/£199/€299 really isn't that far behind in terms of recording quality. So, if you're working out of a home studio you may be better off spending your hard-earned cash on sound treatments and training rather than lusting after a famous mic. The law of diminishing returns means that you'll need a really good studio space in which to hear the subtle difference between a good condenser and a really good condenser.
How we test recording microphones
We test recording microphones in a variety of ways and with a lot of different material to test their strengths and weaknesses. Obviously if a mic is designed with a certain instrument in mind then we focus on that type of recording. It may be that a mic has been designed with a specific frequency response for vocals, for example, so we obviously won't use it to record kick drums but, where possible, will try it on similar material if appropriate.
We compare the recordings we make with those made with some of the standard reference microphones we have in our studio, being sure to have them set up in the same way and distance from the source being recorded. We will always try to be fair by comparing like with like – ribbons, condensers, dynamics and those with similar polar patterns – and models of a similar price. That said, it's often interesting to compare a cheap mic with some vastly more expensive microphones to hear just how close they can get. You'll be surprised at how good some cheaper models are against classic and vintage microphones as, just like every other music gear category, technology has also improved in microphone design.
Some microphones, condensers in particular, are sold as good all-round studio mics, jacks of everything if you like, and if that is the case we will test them on as much material as possible explaining in our tests where they particularly excel or fall down. Finally we look at overall build quality, polar pattern responses, any software bundle options and alternatives within price categories.
Read more about how we test music making gear and services at MusicRadar.
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