The Top 10 Microphones for Vocal Production
“The only thing better than singing is more singing.” – Ella Fitzgerald
Microphones for vocal production are the absolute first piece of contact in the recording chain. Recording vocals is a great way to define your sound and an even better way to capture organic samples that no other producer has access to.
Voice recordings exist in various forms, including voice-overs, podcasts, voice notes, and musical performances. Since there are so many microphones on sale today, we are often overwhelmed by the options.
Some mics are better suited for recording instruments while others are good for vocals. This article helps you to narrow down the vast list to a select few of our favorite microphones that will get the job done.
The 3 Different Types of Microphones
Before we get into the list of our favorite microphones, I wanted to start by covering the three main types of microphones. The three microphones are:
- Dynamic Mics
- Condenser Mics
- Ribbon Mics
Each microphone has its own unique strengths, benefits and negatives.
And if you learn how to use each type of microphone correctly, with purpose, you can make your recordings sound substantially more professional.
Dynamic microphones input sound waves that cause a movable wire or coil to vibrate in a magnetic field and thus induce a current.
Technical jargon aside, this just means that these microphones are tough and durable. They are extremely versatile and can be used with almost anything.
Just remember, because of this toughness, they usually won’t sound as pretty as a condenser microphone, which is totally ok because you can usually make up something of that coloration via additive EQ & saturation.
Condenser microphones are much more fragile than dynamic mics. They produce a more “colored” sound than other microphones because they are more sensitive to both lower and higher frequencies.
In short, if you ever want to pick up room noise or general ambiance, a condenser microphone will be the best bet for the job.
These guys were popular in the 50s and 60s and are the most fragile of the three types of microphones for vocal production.
They are also super expensive, so most beginners and even intermediate producers will stay clear of these Ribbons.
Tier 1: Cheap Microphones
1. iPhone/Mobile Phone
I bet you didn’t see this one coming! But hey, iPhones are pretty incredible and most importantly, are the size of your hand, fit compactly into your pocket, and can store up to 200x as much data as the first iPod.
On top of that, it captures audio fairly well. Mobile phones in general are perfect for capture ideas on the go, recording atmospheres to bury deep in your mixes, or even to record demos and first takes. All in all, the iPhone is hands down the most versatile and easy to use microphone on this list.
2. Blue Yeti or Rode NT USB
Yes, USB microphones have their shortcomings compared to traditional microphones but they are cheap, easy to setup, don’t require an interface, and if you’re just getting started in production, a perfectly acceptable first microphone.
Plus, if you’re trying to record samples, sometimes it can be really nice to use lower quality microphones to capture a unique, almost dirty flavor to your sounds.
That said, the Blue Yeti sounds quite natural. It is worth noting that some other mics at its price point may sound quite unnatural because of the attempt to add shine or sparkle to a vocal.
The Blue Yeti, on the other hand, adds that brightness subtly, so your voice still sounds natural while showing the mic’s unique sound.
A solid alternative would be the Rode NT, which has low enough self-noise for you to clearly record your voice or any samples you are trying to capture. That said, this microphone is optimized for speech so it is a favorite among podcasters and voice-over specialists.
Tier 2: Basic Microphones
This Rode mic has a full-body metal build with a nickel satin finish. As you would expect from a rode mic, the frame feels very solid and it’s guaranteed to serve you for a long time.
With the NT1A, you work with what you have, since there are no switches or filters on the mic. This also means fewer options in some cases.
This mic stands out because of its incredibly low self-noise. As one the world’s quietest studio microphones, this low noise makes it an ideal vocal microphone as well as a perfect fit for recording guitars and percussion.
Rode NT1A is useful for almost any kind of vocal work; both musical and non-musical. Also, in the case of a musical recording, the voice sits well and shines through the rest of the other instruments.
4. Shure SM58
This legendary Shure mic is the only handheld mic that is on this list. If you know this mic, you’ve most likely come across it in a live setting.
Shure SM58 is a handheld dynamic microphone. It is rugged, solid, durable and any other word you can think to describe toughness. The steel mesh grille at the top is very strong. If the mic drops, all you need to do is pick it up and keep using it.
It is suitable for all forms of vocal recording because of its clear and crisp sound. Since it’s designed primarily for live use, it has a near-perfect off-axis sound rejection.
This can be good for you if your recording space is not as quiet as you would want. However, you may need a mic with a wider frequency range if you need room ambiance in your recording.
5. Shure SM7B
When it comes to microphones for vocal production, this is our absolute favorite. If you’re doubting the capabilities of this mic, it might help to know that its older version was used in recording many of Michael Jackson’s songs.
It’s one of the few studio mics that come with a specialized mount. If you want to avoid any issues with mic placement or positioning, the SM7B will be good for you.
This mic has a clean, flat, yet crisp sound. You can make the sound even crispier by adding some mid-range boost — often very necessary, especially when recording vocals or getting creative with sampling.
At the end of the day, we recommend this microphone above all others. And at approximately $400, it’s quite affordable.
Tier 3: Professional Microphones
6. Neumann TLM 103 or Neumann U87
Neumann mics are really in a class of their own in the world of microphones for vocal production. The TLM 103 was created based off of the legendary U87.
The wide frequency range of the TLM 103 covers pretty much everything you need when recording the human voice, and it has a warm characteristic sound with some presence boost that adds clarity to your recording.
You can control the balance between warmth and brightness in your sound by changing the distance between the speaker and the mic. Move closer to the mic if you need a warm sound, and move a bit farther away to have a brighter recording.
7. Mojave MA-200
The MA-200 is the culmination of 20-plus years of custom microphone design from the founder of Mojave, David Royer.
The large-diaphragm MA-200 gives warm, full-bodied reproductions of vocals and instruments without the shrillness and high-frequency grunge so often encountered with modern condenser microphones.
Try the MA-200 on lead and background vocals, voice overs, piano, acoustic instruments, drum overheads, orchestra, spot miking…really anything.
You’ll agree with the engineers who tested this mic that it evokes the characteristics of some of the best-loved vintage European microphones.
8. Telefunkin u47
To be frank, this microphone is expensive, but something to seriously consider if you are an splurging hobbyist or full-time professional.
Its authoritative mid-range and extended low-end response have made it the “go to” standard for any serious recording studio.
This microphone is a recreation of the U47 large diaphragm tube microphone in exact detail, down to the historically accurate BV8 output transformer and M7 capsule.
9. Sony C800-G
If you’ve ever worked with this exceptional mic, you already know this microphone is arguably one of the top microphones ever created. It captures the silky breathiness of vocals without a hint of shrillness.
It’s also a revelation on acoustic guitar. In fact, the C-800G’s effectively non-existent noise floor and high sensitivity let you use it on almost anything with astonishing results. The vacuum tube — a hand-selected 6AU6 — has its own onboard cooling system.
The large dual-diaphragm capsule features electronically selectable cardioid and omnidirectional polar patterns. If you have the budget for an ultra-high-end microphone, the Sony C-800G deserves your serious consideration.
10. Manley Reference
The Manley Reference is another microphone in a class of its own. Since its 1990 introduction, the Reference Cardioid has become another industry standard for capturing vocals.
With its lavish tonal balance and liquid midrange, the Cardioid Reference is a first-call mic for guitars, drum overheads, saxophone, and of course, vocals.
Some Basic Accessories
Instead of leaving you high and dry, we thought we’d also run down some basic accessories you’ll need to grab when you invest in any microphone from this list in tier 2 or tier 3.
When you speak into the mic, there are bursts of air when you pronounce sounds like ‘p’ and ‘b’. This air can make your recording unpleasant.
A pop filter prevents the unpleasant effect of having air hit the mic capsule too strongly.
High-Quality Microphone Cables
Cables are important in the recording chain. High-quality cables last longer and preserve the quality of your recordings. Some cables can introduce noise into your recording after using them for just a few months.
Portable Vocal Booths
A vocal booth includes a shield that prevents reflections, the mic and pop filter all on a stand. This way, you can have a recording environment that is a bit isolated from your immediate environment.
Here is where you place your mic, pop filter, and even vocal shield. Your mic stand will depend a lot on what you’re placing on it.
However, it is best to go for a tripod stand with a ¼” screw-in top. This will work with most, if not all mic clips.
For voice-over artists, podcasters, and even classic vocalists, you need a mic holding system that will prevent movements like touching the table from being captured by the mic.
A shock mount will help you achieve this. This way, the occasional bump does not ruin your recording.
Some Final Thoughts
When it comes to vocals for vocal productions, it doesn’t matter the end goal — I’m sure the mic you need for your specific task is listed above.
Check the list carefully and find the one that fits your needs and budget. Each of these microphones will serve you for a long time.
Also, most of the mics on this list can be used for different purposes even if it wasn’t mentioned specifically. Have fun recording!