Recording vocals is no easy feat unless you have the right selection of microphones in your setup. In any project, the recording production process involves clear raw vocals, combined with tracking, mixing and mastering. Choosing the best studio microphone is significant in this process as without it, the whole process becomes useless.
Professional recording engineers know that the right mic is an essential element of every vocal recording. As there is a large variety of studio microphones to choose from, one can get easily confused between the type and model available online.
When setting up a home studio or professional studio, it is wise to invest in the best microphone available at a reasonable price, because a low-quality microphone can quickly lead to a frustrating recording session. You need a recording microphone that can accurately record high-quality audio.
If you have some studio recording experience then you must know that some microphones can record specific instruments well. Also, there are other factors involved when choosing a mic, such as mic placement and room acoustic.
Since there are too many types of studio mics to choose from and too many factors involved in recording with microphones, this guide will provide you with the basic knowledge of the types of microphones for recording with their applications and help you select the best option.
Also, if you are looking for a simpler USB microphone instead, be sure to check out our guide on the best USB microphones.
Also Read: – Best USB Microphones
Different Types Of Microphones
Microphones convert sound waves into electrical signals so that the pre amplifier can amplify and record them for storage. Fundamentally, the microphones for recording are categorized differently based on variable sound characteristics.
The two most common types of vocal mics are dynamic and condenser.
• The Condenser Microphones
Condenser vocal mics are the most popular types of microphones for recording studios. As they are very sensitive and accurate, they are the preferred choice for people who wish to use only one microphone for recording.
If you were to record in the same room, condenser mics might even pick the sound of the whirring of your computer’s hard drive in the room. They can also record a wide frequency range, which is why condenser mics are best for use while recording vocals and narration for rich sound.
Compared to dynamic vocal mics, Condensers respond better to the “speed” and sound waves nuances. This mechanical system consists of an elongated stretched conductive diaphragm placed near to a metal disk. Such a system creates a capacitor that receives charge from an external voltage source (battery or dedicated power supply or phantom power provided by the mixer).
The mic diaphragm vibrates slightly in response to the sound pressure, causing a change in capacity and a voltage variation – mic output. Condenser mics are available in solid-state and tube variations and also vary in shape and size.
The most important advantages of condenser mics are:
- Compared with dynamic mics, the diaphragm module is light, so the movement efficiency is higher, and it can record high-frequency range.
- The flat frequency response and extended frequency range are easy to implement.
- The design of the condenser mic may be smaller in its footprint.
• Dynamic Microphones
In dynamic vocal mics, the audio signal is generated by the movement of the conductor in a magnetic field. In most dynamic microphones recording, a very thin and light diaphragm moves in response to sound pressure. The movement of the membrane causes the voice coil suspended in the magnetic field, thus generating a small current. Comparatively, condenser mics are more sensitive than dynamic mics and a bit expensive as well. These are ideal for vocal recording including electric guitars and drums.
Dynamic mics are best for stage performances and often seen singers using them. They usually use a cardioid pattern that can capture sound from one axis (that is, from the front or side of the microphone). These are best for use while focusing on the singer’s voice and rejecting signals from other angles.
The main advantages of dynamic mic:
- Rugged and able to cope with high sound pressure levels, such as those produced by electric drums.
- Ensure that the mic has excellent sound quality in all operating areas.
- They are relatively cheap vocal mics.
- They can operate without power.
The main disadvantages include:
- Dense membranes and mic coils restrict component movement, which in turn limits the frequency and transient response of the mic.
- In comparison to condenser mics, they are not suitable for high frequency and harmonic recording instruments such as violins.
Understanding Factors When Buying A Studio Microphone
Condenser and dynamic mics are classified according to their capsule size. Traditionally, it is divided into two categories: large and small diaphragm. Medium-diaphragm mics (relatively new developments) can be considered a hybrid combination of the two.
The large-diaphragm model is a bit quieter and is used to flatten the recorded sound, while the small diaphragm has a better off-axis response and is more close to the original sound. Vocal mics with larger diaphragms, they allow sound from top and sides also, making the whole recording experience dynamic.
Larger diaphragm models are most popular among studios, while the small diaphragms are the absolute first choice for recording vocals, especially where the precise sound is needed.
However, both types can succeed in both cases, and if you only have one microphone with a large-diaphragm, it may sound good when recording acoustic guitars. Similarly, the model with the smaller membrane may sound great on the vocals, although it does not generate sound as flattering as one with the large diaphragm.
You may also find that the large-diaphragm model has a built-in low-frequency roll-off function to offset an increase in bass when singing close-miking, but the small diaphragms usually have greater bass characteristics.
• Polar mode
Polarization mode describes how the mic captures sound, more precisely the location and direction of the sound relative to the mic position. The cardioid of the mic is best used in vocal recording.
Other modes (for example, Figure 8 and Omni) can capture more ambient sounds, and can also be used to record singing groups or multiple sound sources.
• Frequency response
It indicates the intensity of the mic response to different frequencies and is usually displayed in a graphical form, which shows the specific frequencies emphasized and de-emphasized.
The sound produced should be as completely neutral and flat as possible, but some people prefer subtle colors, such as extra warmth and lower volume. Singers with low pitched voices appreciate high frequencies below 200 Hz as they can reproduce sounds better.
• Pop filters
The pop filter is a “windshield” that prevents excessive airflow while allowing sound to pass through. Sudden “p” sounds may cause unwanted volume jumps and even signal overdrive, which is undesirable in vocal recording settings. Many vocal mics have pop filters built-in – but the quality of filters is still a concern for some.
• Sound Pressure Level (SPL) and pad
This represents the total volume calculated in decibels, that a mic can sustain without distorting the signal. This is not a major problem when recording vocals, but if there is a need for a multi-function mic that can be used for bass drum instruments (such as drums and amplifiers), then the mic with the highest maximum SPL is best suited.
• Phantom power
Currently, most audio interfaces, mic preamps, and studio mixers can provide phantom power, but if in case of an old interface, a separate mic preamp or channel strip that can power the condenser microphone is used. Some condenser mics may not work with phantom power but have a dedicated power source to provide them with the required power.
• Microphone versatility
Dynamic mics with the highest SPL usually work best with loud instruments such as drums and speakers cabinets, while condenser mics may also record acoustic guitars and other acoustic instruments. The idea is to consider other musical instruments for recording vocals and obtain the best microphone for use in low costs.
The Best Studio Microphones For Recording Instruments, Vocals, And Podcasts
Selecting the best microphone depends on many factors, including price, demand, and situation. Check out this list of the best studio microphones that you can buy right now.
This is an upgraded version of the AT2020 studio mic. The Audio-Technica AT2035 has a large-diaphragm condenser with high-quality features. It comes with a custom shock absorber mount.
Apart from recording vocals, this mic can also work with other sound sources, thanks to a maximum sound pressure level (SPL) above 148dB average; -10dB pad, and switchable frequency roll-off. It has a cardioid capacitor with a – 80 Hz high-pass filter.
In addition to its rugged design, the AT2035 also provides excellent consistency from model to model. It is equipped with a protective bag and a shock absorber bracket.
The mic captures all frequencies at response 20 to 20,000 Hz and impedance of 120 ohms. It requires 11V to 52V DC phantom power for operation. The Audio-Technica AT2035 is best for project studios, dubbed work, and streaming media.
- A high-value microphone for recording vocals.
- Clear and balanced sound, and comparable to expensive studio microphones.
- Reliable with a metallic appearance.
- Pop filter and shock mount are two added features.
- The sound can sometimes become dull or excessively sharp, especially for words with “sh” sound.
- The package doesn’t include an XLR cable.
2. AKG C636
As a condenser microphone, the C636 is inherently more complicated than its dynamic counterpart, which incurs costs in both R&D and production. AKG C636 has impressive built-in equipment and is considered one of the best recording microphones. The C636 has a 24-carat gold-plated box with a diaphragm, a uniform heart-shaped directional pattern, a double suspension system, and a multi-layered protection system.
It is designed to reduce the most common problems of stage mics such as noise, cracking/twisting, and other harmful sounds. Some low-cost condenser vocal mics will display or attempt to mask this peak through general HF frequency reduction.
It can be adapted to support SPL 150dB. The AKG C636 weighs 321 grams and requires + 48V phantom power. Its built-in exhaust system eliminates any crackles and inconsistencies. The C636 capsule is placed on an absorbent rubber bearing that disconnects the microphone from the body. To prevent the “P” sound, AKG used a three-layer system, including a grill, a foam layer behind the grill, and a computer model grid connected to the top of the capsule using a computer.
- The response is clear and well balanced.
- Excellent off-axis attenuation.
- Noise-reduction solutions.
- High priced vocal mic.
The RE20 dynamic cardioid recording microphone has industry level standards and is widely recognized by broadcasters, podcasts, and sound engineers around the world. Its Variable-D design and durable internal pop-up filter are best for close-range recordings, while the internal cushioning reduces noise caused by vibration.
The switch on the main body of the microphone provides a high pass filter, also known as the “bass tilt-down switch”, which reduces the low-frequency response to 45Hz-18kHz about 2.25 dB / octave and has an impedance of 150 ohms.
The flat frequency response of RE20 remains flat even in very close proximity. Each RE20 acoustic opening is equipped with a built-in blast and wind. The filter shock mounts the components of the mic, thereby reducing the transmission of vibration from external sources.
The RE20, being a dynamic mic, does not need phantom power. However, it requires about a 55-60 dB boost at the preamp.
- Great balance of reliability and high-quality vocal mic.
- Best microphone for both live and studio recording.
- Size and weight make it difficult to use in specific applications.
- Many complain of a lack of bass.
When it comes to vocal mics, the Neumann brand is considered among the best studio microphones within a decent range, while many of their models usually exceed $1,000. Due to its relatively small casing and streamlined construction, the Neumann TLM102 provides sleek design and sound at a more affordable price.
The microphone is equipped with a large-diaphragm condenser and is fitted with a transformer-less capacitor. The Neumann TLM102 frequency range extends from 20 Hz to 20 kHz (-3 dB) and has a high sensitivity of 11 mV / Pa at 1 kHz under a 1 kΩ load, and the equivalent input noise level (A-weighted) is 12 dBA.
A slight boost above 6 kHz strengthens the vocal presence, while the frequency response below 6 kHz is extremely linear for a clearly defined bass range. The capsule has a flexible suspension to minimize structural noise, and the integrated pop screen in the grille helps suppress plosives sounds in both audio and recording vocals.
- Neumann TLM is the least expensive mic in the series.
- Best for both home studio and professional studio.
- Compact size.
- There is no storage case except the cardboard box.
- The shock mount is not included.
5. Rode NT1
The NT1 carries the tradition established by today’s Rode NT2 and is considered one of the best in the range. Its body is made up of 6061 aluminum and nickel plates to provide corrosion resistance. Finally, using the advanced electrostatic deposition technology developed by Rode, a durable military ceramic layer is coated on it to give an extremely durable coating that prevents scratches.
The Rode NT1 is a professional studio microphone with a capsule shock mounting system and the cardioid polar pattern and 4.5 dBA low self-noise levels. The transducer itself is suspended inside the microphone using Rycote’s industry-leading Lyre system, thus minimizing external vibration at the capsule level.
The capsules are then used in conjunction with advanced electronic equipment designed to provide the lowest noise level of all existing studio mics.
- Clean, very quiet, high-end microphone.
- Incredible dynamic range and versatile.
- Well engineered.
- Heavy weight.
6. Shure SM7B
KSM44A is an improved version of the popular KSM44 Shure recording microphone. Both are multilayer FET with large-diaphragm condensers, with low-noise amplifier circuits. The Shure SM7B mic has a flat 50 Hz-20 kHz frequency response and the Switchable Response is designed for spoken words, in addition, it can add body to thin sounds and can handle loud rock/metal vocals.
The large diaphragm with side-address design makes it best for vocal use, with the internal pop filter, transformer-less output, and advanced Prethos preamplifier technology.
The switchable 15 dB pad is designed for handling high sound pressure levels (SPL). Other functions including a 3-pole dual-diaphragm mode, switchable damping pads, and optional high-pass filter reduce the undesirable stand vibration noise and counter proximity effect. The microphone requires a phantom power supply and works best at 48 V DC.
- Flattest and most precise sound.
- Super quiet operation and sturdy tank reliability with ease of use.
- The neutral sound of the mic is a problem for some new singers.
- Positioning adjustments are occasionally required.
The Aston Origin may have a competitive price, but it has absolute originality which is uncommon among other vocal mics in this range. Origin is a capacitor with a fixed (cardioid) mode, which is the smaller of the two Aston mics: Spirit’s larger is a multimode capacitor with an additional 10dB pad. The stainless steel housing has two switches: a 10 dB attenuator and an 80 Hz low-pass filter.
The Aston microphone Origin has a frequency response of 20 Hz to 20 kHz (+/- 3dB). In a studio setting, this mic can provide a very intimate sound. The mic has a built-in 10dB low-pass filter switch. The XLR connector is located on the bottom of the mic, as is the mounting socket for the microphone holder (5/8 inch with a 3/8 inch adapter). The latter function means that a mic clip is not needed, although this limits the choice of angle to the function of the stand. The outer spring/mesh acts as a capsule shock absorber, followed by a stainless steel wire mesh.
- Affordable and includes Rycote shock mount.
- Durable design with shock isolation.
- Best for most vocal recordings and acoustic instruments.
- Low-cut filter.
AKG offers impressive vocal mics in all price ranges. Their P420 dual-diaphragm is an excellent condenser microphone for less than $200. It looks similar to the P220 and uses a large-diaphragm condenser. In addition to improving detail and clarity, it also provides multiple polar patterns: standard cardioid, omnidirectional, or octal mode.
The frequency response of P420 is from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. It also has a switch for the -20dB pad and a bass-cut filter; the latter allows cutting off -12dB at 300Hz, thus increasing the versatility of this mic. The shock-absorbing pad allows using the microphone for recording vocals that require high SPL. The P420 is located in the second camp with only one switch and 3 different pole patterns.
In addition to the steep cut below 50 Hz and the slight boost between 2000 Hz and 12000 Hz, it also has a relatively flat response. This mic works best in all situations. From vocals to bands, home studio mixing, the mic can be used without affecting the sound quality.
- The mic is versatile at a reasonable price.
- Best for home studio recordings, live, or to capture acoustic instruments.
- Rugged and sound of high quality.
- There are few concerns about its internal noise and sensitivity.
With every style of recording, there is a need for a particular type of equipment to produce the perfect content. The above list can be the perfect guide for anyone looking to get top quality microphones at an affordable price.
If you are setting up a home studio then the ideal choice for a noise resistant, durable and affordable microphone would be the Neumann TLM 102 with its compact size and good quality. For a professional studio, it would be better to go with the Audio-Technica AT2035, perfectly designed to deliver precise sound output.
Choosing the right studio microphone is a critical investment. It should be wisely chosen, taking into consideration personal preference, budget, and recording needs. A tiny feature can make a great difference!
If you’re getting a studio microphone to record podcasts, check out our guide on the best podcasting equipment to learn more about the other gear that makes up a complete podcasting setup.
Jeremy has been running several online businesses behind his laptop for the past 5 years and he has worked as a freelance web developer previously. A trained marketer by profession, he also has Ruby on Rails and web development knowledge. His forte lies in eCommerce, SEO and content marketing. He’s been featured on Vice, Thrive Global, YFS Magazine, Forbes and several other publications. He prefers to connect with people on LinkedIn.