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The modern mic market is filled with hundreds, if not thousands of vocal microphones. Vocal microphones are the backbone of the recording industry, and are often the central piece in both home and professional studio set ups. The human voice, after all, is one of the best instruments available to society, and it makes no sense not to invest in capturing it at its best.
To truly find the best mic for vocals might be close to impossible, since every performer, sound engineer, producer, and listener has their preferences. Still, there’s a ton of variety available today. While certainly a good thing, it also makes finding your preferred microphone for vocals a little more complicated than it should be. The best live vocal microphone won’t always be a good fit for the studio, and vice versa.
Luckily for you, we’ve put together a list of what we think are the best live vocal microphones and studio microphones available today. We’ve got mics at a range of prices, some for stage use and some for professional studios. The unifying factor is that they’re all high quality mics that would be a credit to mic cabinets and recording set ups everywhere. Read on and find the mic that’s right for you.
If price isn’t a factor in your mics and you want to invest for the long term, then you need a Neumann U87 AI. The U87 AI is the latest iteration of the fabled U87, and recreates that legendary performance while adding a modern spin. It has a lush, vibrant character with a balanced response and three different polar patterns, which means you get the perfect tone exactly how you want it.
There are a billion and one different sounds in this world, so why is picking a microphone exclusively for vocals so important? Put simply, the human voice is your first and most convenient instrument. There are tons of factors that can affect a recording, but the right vocals can elevate it into something fantastic. If you’re looking for that magic factor, a good vocal microphone can get you there.
To start with, vocal mics are versatile. Sure, most vocal mics tend to have a little color, so they might not all be appropriate for different sources. But the right kind of model with the right kind of features and tweaking can be a fantastic replacement if you don’t have an instrument pic. Vocal mics are generally adaptable, and can be used for recording soloists, choruses, live performances, and more. A best live vocal mic, for example, can be used both onstage and in a professional or home studio.
Put frankly, no mic cabinet is complete without one. Sure, there are mics optimized for speaking, outdoor use, instruments, and other recording sources or situations, but at the end of the day you’ll always need a good microphone for vocals. Even if you’re gunning for a simple, home studio set up, vocal microphones are still worth the investment.
Finally, it’s important to look into buying good microphones because they’re some of the most reliable equipment you’ll have. Instrument microphones can be finicky and expensive, outdoor microphones won’t always have the richness you need, and podcasting mics can lack certain features. At the end of the day, a quality vocal mic can give you consistent, reliable performance no matter what.
While deciding that you need a good vocal microphone can be easy, getting there is a whole other ball game. Figuring out what features to invest in or whether you’re willing to pay higher can take a lot of thinking, especially if you’re new to the microphone game. Here’s a short list of things to look out for.
The first thing you’ll need to look at is the frequency response. This is one of the deciding factors that determine your mic’s overall performance. Frequency range can be dependent on engineering— condenser microphones, for example, are more likely to give a flatter response. Flatter frequency responses are more versatile, but some may prefer mics that offer a little bit of presence boost. Look for a mic that’s optimized for the human vocal range, which is typically from 85 Hz to 255 Hz, although it can vary.
The pickup or polar pattern determines the “active” area of your microphone, or what parts of your microphone will be recording. If you have a microphone for recording vocals, this is typically set to cardioid, which is preferred since it offers great background noise rejection. Not all recording situations are the same, however, and cardioid won’t always be the appropriate setting. A figure 8 pattern might be better for a choral group, or omnidirectional for duets. Some mics even offer a mix of different patterns.
With vocal microphones, having enough dynamic range and headroom is essential. Dynamic range, which is the difference between the lowest recordable level and highest recordable level on your microphone, can differ among models. Some microphones may have a weaker bass response, for example, or lose space in the high end. High quality condenser mics can give you consistent performance across the entire dynamic range.
No two vocal microphone models are exactly alike. There are generally three main types of microphone: dynamic, condenser, and ribbon. For recording vocals, you’ll usually have either a dynamic or condenser microphone.
A dynamic microphone works a little bit like a speaker in reverse, and amplifies the sound.
Condenser mics need a little more equipment and require external or phantom power, which travels through a preamp to power up the microphone.They’re generally used for recording vocals in a studio setting.
How to Use A Dynamic Microphone On Stage
How to Use A Condenser Microphone
|Neumann U87 AI||• Update to the Neumann U87 |
• More open and airy high end with a rich, lush sound
• Industry standard
|Warm Audio WA-87||• Neumann U87 tribute |
• Detailed, bright tone without being too overwhelming
|Warm Audio WA-47||• Homage to the Neumann U47 |
• Balanced, warm sound
• 9 polar patterns
|Røde NT2A||• Studio workhorse |
• Neutral sound
• Lots of features
|Neumann TLM 102||• One of the most affordable Neumann mics |
• Rich sound without losing detail
• Top studio mic
|Warm Audio WA-251||• Homage to Telefunken ELA M 251 |
• Smooth, rich sound
• Multiple polar patterns
|Neumann KMS 105||• Precise, rich, natural sound |
• Able to handle sounds up to 130 dB SPL
• Expensive and quality build
|Audio-Technica AT2020||• Affordable yet top tier performance |
• Warm, solid sound
• Perfect for home studio set ups
|Shure SM58||• Industry standard |
• Rich sound
|Sennheiser E835||• Simple yet robust |
• One of the best stage mics around
• Solid and reliable
With a natural sound, strong presence, and affordable price, it’s no wonder that the Sennheiser E835 has made such a splash since its debut. A favorite for both podcasters and musicians, it has a simple yet robust build quality that might be surprising given its affordable price.
Originally designed for stage use, the E835 puts in one of the best vocal performances for live musicians around. A dynamic mic with a balanced low end, bright response, and solid performance, it’s probably one of the best choices for live vocals. Plus, with a little bit of adjustment it works just as well with home studios, making it a mic that shines both on and off the stage.
Despite its cardioid pattern, the E835 is forgiving even when the sound sources move off-axis. Plus, its high SPL allows it to work well with loud sounds like kick drums or percussion. It also works on batteries, so you don’t have to worry about complicated set ups with phantom power. Overall, it’s a solid, reliable microphone, and an asset to any musician on the road.
ARTISTS WHO USE SENNHEISER E835 – Lady Antebellum
If popularity is your main jumping-off point, then there’s no better place to start than the Shure SM58. One of the best microphones for live vocals around, the SM58 is the quintessential dynamic mic. With its iconic silver, ball-shaped metal grille and black barrel, it’s no wonder that this is the first mic that comes to mind when you think, well, “microphone.”
More than its iconic look, however, what makes the Shure SM58 so universally beloved is its performance. Priced affordably at less than USD$ 100 SRP, it nevertheless is able to produce a sound that brings richness and depth to live performances. With a frequency response optimized for vocal performances, it also has a warm, natural mid range that flatters most voice types. For top results, a pop filter is a great investment, although the SM58 does well without. In terms of build quality it exceeds expectations, with a shock mount system that makes it perfect for the stage.
Overall, you’d be hard-pressed to find a vocal mic that achieves the same quality as the Shure SM58 for an equally affordable price. There’s a reason that this mic has had such enduring popularity for over half a century— it’s simply worth every penny.
ARTISTS WHO USE SHURE SM58 – The Killers, Patti Smith, Public Enemy
Carefully engineered and meticulously designed, the Audio-Technica AT2020 the beginner’s ultimate cardioid condenser microphone. A favorite for home studios everywhere, it’s cold hard proof that affordable microphones can sometimes outperform more expensive options.
The AT2020 is one of, if not the best vocal mic under 200 US dollars. It has a warm, solid sound with a cardioid pickup pattern and high quality build. One of the condenser microphones with a condenser that’s on the smaller side, it’s nonetheless able to put in studio quality sound in even the humblest home studio. Setting up is easy, as it comes with a secure shock mount that’ll keep your mic safe during daily use. Add in a pop filter and you have yourself a recording experience that’s convenient, affordable, and high quality.
Audio-Technica’s AT2020 is an all rounder that can capture any sound source from drum overheads to the human voice. In fact, it’s so good that it’s almost a necessity in every home studio set up. Its clean, warm sound makes it a natural choice for recording vocals. Definitely a must have for home recording studio set ups.
ARTISTS WHO USE AUDIO-TECHNICA AT2020 – Mac DeMarco, Billie Eilish
But if you really want to talk about the jewel of live performances, you’ll have to turn to the Neumann KMS 105. Neumann microphones are famously expensive, but any sound enthusiast will tell you that they’re well worth the price. The KMS 105 has captivated audiences since its release in 1999, and it’s not hard to see why.
The KMS 105 stands out because of its incredible sound quality. Precision, richness, and natural sound: this microphone has it all. It’s also able to handle a sound pressure level of up to 130 dB, making it a top performer no matter what the sound source. Plus, the KMS 105 has the classic Neumann quality build that means it’s designed to last.
With its wide frequency response, transparent sound, and natural character, it’s not hard to see why the KMS 105 is still a favorite choice despite its high price point. While this microphone is certainly a bit of an investment, you won’t find as many microphones that offer the same, timeless Neumann quality.
ARTISTS WHO USE NEUMANN KMS 105 – David Gilmour, Matthew Bellamy
Sound engineers know that nostalgia is one of the top selling points in the modern sound industry today. Many manufacturers spend up to millions of dollars in research and development in order to recreate the classic sounds of the 20th century. Few, however, do it quite as well as Warm Audio. Warm Audio is a company devoted to creating the perfect homage mics, and the Warm Audio WA-251 is one of their best.
The WA-251 is based on the beloved Telefunken ELA M 251. It aims to bring the same classic sound at a more affordable price. An all vacuum tube, large diaphragm condenser microphone has a smooth, rich sound that flatters the human voice. It has a natural presence and a buttery sound, making it a great choice for recording vocals.
One of the top choices for studio recording, the WA-251 is a powerhouse mic that can handle both instruments and vocals. Still, it shines brightest when recording voices, and remains one of the best vocal mics available on the market. Plus, its multiple polar patterns like cardioid omnidirectional, and figure-of-eight give it a flexibility and versatility that not many microphones can offer.
ARTISTS WHO USE WARM AUDIO WA-251 – Fitz and the Tantrums, Garth Brooks
While Neumann has built a reputation for expensive microphones, the company’s put in the work to make their microphones available to more people. The Neumann TLM 102 is one such microphone. Certainly the company’s most recognizable, affordable condenser mic, the TLM 102 also has the honor of being one of the best studio vocal mics around.
This mic has a build that’s on the smaller side, but still made of the same top quality Neumann materials. It has a fixed cardioid pickup pattern that nonetheless offers top performance for instruments and human voices. It can hold up to high sound pressure levels without distorting or losing clarity, and has a rich sound that doesn’t lose detail. Vocalists don’t have to worry about tricky plosives, because the TLM 102 is designed with an integrated pop filter to ensure optimum performance.
If you’re looking for microphones for recording vocals that offer top quality without breaking the bank, then the TLM 102 might just be it. Clarity, definition, and rich sound are all par for the course for this mic. If excellence is the name of the game, then the TLM 102 is winning.
ARTISTS WHO USE NEUMANN TLM 102 – Mac Ayres, Andy Othling
One of the best condenser mics on the market today, the Røde NT2A is a fantastically versatile dual-diaphragm mic. A studio workhorse, it offers enough features to do the work of five mics, with options to spare. This mic is a prime example of Røde going bigger and better. It’s not hard to see why this would be a welcome addition to any mic cabinet.
The NT2A comes with a three-position variable high-pass filter, a three position pad, and three pickup pattern options. It has a smooth, neutral sound and an impossibly low self noise level of 7 dB. This allows it to capture the subtleties of the human voice without engineers need to resort to post-processing.
With its incredible range of features, it’s a given that the NT2A is a popular choice for recording vocals in studios all around the world. Its transparent, neutral sound makes it easy to adapt to different vocal styles, and when it comes to overall flexibility, no other mic even comes close.
ARTISTS WHO USE RODE NT2A – Crywolf, Conor Maynard
The best thing that mics can create is a sonic legacy, and the classic Neumann U47 did just that. Warm Audio decided to recreate that timeless warmth almost seamlessly with their Warm Audio WA-47. If the U47 defined a generation of music, the WA-47 is bringing that back right into the 21st century.
What sets the WA-47 apart from other vocal mics is its warmth. This mic keeps close to its inspiration while creating a unique tone on its own, and the effort shows. Studio vocals on the WA-47 are beautifully balanced, with a subtle distortion that adds character as the source gets louder. It has a detailed midrange, and with a low range that’s subtle but not too muffled.
Warm Audio’s WA-47 also allows for more flexibility, with a whopping 9 polar patterns including cardioid, omni, figure 8 and six additional mixed patterns. You can also adjust patterns remotely at the power supply instead of going between your sound source and the mic. While the magic of the original U47 mic might be something else, the WA-47 turns homage into an art form.
ARTISTS WHO USE WARM AUDIO WA-47 – Chris Thile, Margaret Glaspy
Despite Warm Audio’s relative youth as a company, it’s quickly become an industry favorite. It’s not hard to see why, as it’s consistently put out incredible quality products for affordable prices. Warm Audio aims to bring classic favorites into every studio, and that’s exactly what it does with the Warm Audio WA-87.
A tribute to one of the greatest condenser microphones of all time, the Neumann U87, the large diaphragm tube condenser WA-87 brings vintage sound to a new generation. Put frankly, it’s the closest you can get to that legendary mic without shelling out thousands of dollars. The WA-87 has a tone that’s detailed and bright without being in your face, with three polar patterns including figure 8.
The WA-47 can record a range of different sources such as string instruments, percussion, and of course vocals. It updates the U87 tone for the modern ear, retaining a vintage warmth in its tone but adding brightness and smoothness. Overall, the effect is a fuller output that puts a 21st century twist on nostalgia.
ARTISTS WHO USE WARM AUDIO WA-87 – James Bay
While the WA-87 makes a fantastic homage for those on a budget, in the end you can’t beat lineage. Users looking for that Neumann quality can turn to the Neumann U87 AI, the latest version of the world’s favorite large diaphragm condenser microphone. The U87 is the classic microphone line, and the U87 AI is just one more mic in a long legacy of great mics.
While a successor to the U87, the large diaphragm U87 AI is a fantastic mic all on its own. It replaces the U87’s 48V phantom power with a DC-DC converter, for one. The end result is a high-end that sounds more open and airy. It’s also got fantastic versatility, good for micing instruments and vocals. The U87 AI has a balanced audio response and a sensitivity that allows you to get up close and personal with your source. It’s also got that fabled U87 warmth, creating a recording that’s rich, vibrant, and lush.
Even without the U87 pedigree, the U87 AI is just one of the highest quality studio microphones around. It’s the crown jewel of any recording set up, coming with its own pop filter and shock mount for more convenience. It’s one of the best condenser microphones available today. While it’s certainly an investment, it’s one that you’re going to be pleased with for decades to come.
ARTISTS WHO USE NEUMANN U87 AI – The Beatles (U87), Ray Charles (U87), Amy Winehouse (U87)
|Image||Model Name||Sound Quality||Design||Features||Price||Total Rating||Check Price|
|Neumann U87 AI||10||10||9||9||9.5|
|Warm Audio WA-87||9||10||9||10||9.5|
|Warm Audio WA-47||10||8||10||9||9.3|
|Neumann TLM 102||10||9||8||9||9.0|
|Warm Audio WA-251||9||8||9||9||8.8|
|Neumann KMS 105||9||9||8||8||8.5|
Picking the best vocal microphone can take a lot of work and research. Not all microphones are created equal, and finding the right model that creates exactly the performance that you need can be a struggle.
Buying any kind of microphone is an investment, so it’s important to take the time and effort to study your options. The above list is just a small sample of all the different models available today. Hopefully, it goes a way towards helping you pick the best vocal microphone for live performance and best microphones for recording vocals.