Today, you can find an array of great microphones for vocals at various price points.
While having so many options is a blessing, choosing the microphone that’s right for you can also feel like a daunting process—not to mention, what’s truly “best” will vary based on your unique needs, budget, and artistic preferences. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the 13 best microphones for recording vocals in 2023, and discuss what makes each option a worthwhile consideration.
How we chose the mics on our list
Before we start, here’s a quick rundown on how we chose the mics on this list. First, we’ve organized the microphones by price point (as sold new by major vendors for consistency, though looking for seasonal deals and used gear is definitely an option too), because for many of us budget will be the single most determinative factor. Within each section, we also tried to include industry staples that you should know about—like the SM58 and U87—as well as lesser-known picks—like the MXL 990 and E100Sx—sourced by our in-house vocalists and engineers.
After these entries, you’ll also find some ideas on what to look out for if you’re singing, rapping, using the mic in a home studio, using the mic for live performances, etc. Finally, we’ll conclude with some frequently asked questions on microphones.
With all of that out of the way, let’s dive in!
Our top picks by budget
We chose to divide the microphones on this list into four categories: microphones under $100, microphones between $100 – $200, microphones between $200 – $600, and microphones over $600.
Best microphones under $100
1. Shure SM57 and SM58 (~$99)
One thing you’ll notice if you’ve read anything about budget microphones is that the SM57 and SM58 are mentioned without fail. These microphones are durable, versatile, and high-quality, suitable for use on just about anything from lead vocals to kick drums. You’re sure to find a few of these in every professional studio.
The SM57 and SM58 are dynamic mics, meaning they’ll record slightly less detail than a standard condenser. However, in many situations, this can actually make them a more desirable choice. For example, if you’re recording vocals at home, the SM58 is a great option because it’ll pick up less of the reflections emanating from your acoustically sub-optimal space.
It’s worth noting that the SM57 has a slightly smaller grille design that doesn’t incorporate a windscreen, while the SM58 sports the classic ball grille that acts as a pop filter, which can be particularly relevant for vocals.
2. MXL 990 (~$99)
The MXL 990 is recommended by record producer and engineer Sylvia Massy (Tool, Red Hot Chili Peppers) as an unexpected and underrated microphone for vocals. The mic is fairly neutral in how it captures sound, which is great for those who don’t want something that colors their vocals too much. This makes the MXL 990 a solid choice for applications like VO and podcasting as well.
What’s more, it’s also able to be modded with ease, if that’s something you’re interested in. It’s an all-and-all versatile but thoughtfully crafted condenser microphone that punches well above its weight.
Microphones between $100 – $200
1. AKG P220 (~$175)
The price is right for this all-purpose condenser that delivers solid, no-nonsense results for under $200. If you’ve got a reasonably quiet environment where you’d like to record the best possible vocals, the P220 is a great choice with solid build quality.
While it might not have the sheer versatility of the likes of the SM58, this microphone dutifully delivers the classic AKG sparkling high-end. Some reviewers aren’t fans of this sound, but if you’re looking for that ‘shiny’ treble, it’s a hard one to beat at this price point.
2. Equitek CAD E100Sx (~$199)
Another solid option for bright and punchy vocals is the Equitek CAD E100Sx. Equitek prides themselves in the smooth, articulate, and vintage tone that the E100Sx delivers, in line with the traditions and expectations set by their other products.
Meanwhile, reviewers generally adore the mic for its solid build quality and how it excels for both singing and VO. The one thing to note about the build is that the E100Sx is a bit on the heavy side, so you’ll want to make sure your boom (if you’re using one) can handle the weight of the mic and its built-in shock mount.
Microphones between $200 – $500
1. Audio-Technica AT4040 (~$300)
A fan favorite from Audio-Technica, the AT4040 is a condenser mic that’s popular for its ability to capture the little details, thanks to its high frequency response and low noise. Some unique features it boasts include an externally polarized true condenser design and a large diaphragm that’s tensioned specifically to provide accurate and natural sonic characteristics.
In addition to vocalists, many livestreamers also enjoy the AT4040 for its minimal proximity effect and ability to pick up whispers and low-volume voices.
2. Aston Spirit (~$350)
The Aston Spirit delivers a detailed, open sound with sparkling harmonics. Its standout feature that solidifies its spot on this list is its switchable polar patterns (omni, cardioid and figure-eight), which can be hard to come by at this price point.
3. Shure SM7B (~$400)
Without doubt, the Shure SM7B is one of the most well-known dynamic microphones on the market. Its iconic air-suspended shock isolation does a great job at attenuating mechanical noise and breathiness, and its detailed profile and smooth sound make it great for musical performances as well as broadcasting and podcasting. Its low-mid frequency response in particular has also made the Shure SM7B a favorite for heavier genres that involve screaming.
Microphones over $500
1. Telefunken TF11 (~$900)
The Telefunken TF11 is a phantom-powered FET condenser mic that delivers an “Austrian” sonic footprint that’s reminiscent of the likes of the C12. If you want a crystal-clear vocal sound, the TF11 delivers with its fast transient response and bright tone. The robust build quality also makes it usable for both live sound and studio work.
2. AKG C414 XLII (~$1,300)
AKG claims that few microphones are as widely considered a “de facto part of any professional engineer’s mic locker as the C414″—and they’re right. This large diaphragm condenser mic has seen it all, from leading broadcast facilities to the stages and studios graced by the world’s most renowned artists. Its impressive nine polar patterns allows the AKG C414 to adapt to an expansive range of situations, and its slight presence boost and spatial reproduction are reminiscent of the legendary AKG C12.
3. Neumann TLM 103 (~$1,500)
While it was initially introduced as a more affordable alternative to the U87, the TLM 103 has become a studio staple in its own right. A transformer-less cardioid condenser microphone, the TLM 103’s clear and low-noise sound feels like a modern update to the Neumann experience. Its direct yet refined character is perfect for helping vocals stand out in the mix.
4. Neumann U87 (~$3,300)
Speaking of which—the Neumann U87 may be the single most beloved high-end microphone. Its smooth sound is as iconic as its design, and its unrivaled clarity has won over the hearts of countless singers, voice actors, engineers, and everyone in between.
The U87 sports an instantly recognizable combination of linearity and character, and its three polar patterns (omni, cardioid, figure-8) work flawlessly and add even more versatility to the mic’s already adaptable character. If you can afford it, many people consider it to be a no-brainer addition to any setup.
5. Neumann M49 V (~$8,500)
Last but certainly not least, the M49 V is a pick worth considering if budget truly isn’t a concern. One of the most respected tube microphones to exist, this large diaphragm condenser also has a rich history as the first studio mic with a continuously variable directional pattern. While the original mic is incredibly hard to come by, the ‘V’ reissue has convinced even the top mic gurus of the world of its 1:1 performance against vintage models.
Hear some top vocal mics in action (and get a free template)
At the end of the day, a listen is worth a thousand words—in the video below, we demo how a couple of the microphones above sound, and also explore a few other options (that are all under $500) that aren’t on the list:
If you’d like to experiment with the Pro Tools vocal template from the video, you can download it here.
How to pick based on usage
Now that we’ve identified an array of microphones by budget, you may be wondering which ones suit your specific musical goals. While there are no hard rules here, below are a few guidelines to consider depending on your needs as a vocalist.
For your home studio
If you’re looking to find a microphone specifically for use in a home studio environment, a condenser mic might be preferable for capturing the higher frequencies and more delicate sounds that are often desired in a polished recording. The AKG P220, AT4040, and U87 are a few of the many condenser mics we covered in this article.
That said, there are exceptions—as we mentioned in the SM57 / SM58 section, you may strategically choose a dynamic mic to smooth over some of the unwanted details of your space. If they’re coming from a particular direction (like a window), you could also attenuate them by being clever with a directional polar pattern.
For live vocals
On the other hand, if you’re looking for an option for live vocals, a dynamic microphone will likely be the natural choice. This is because dynamic mics are usually more sturdy in their build, and are better equipped for handling higher sound pressure levels (SPLs). The SM57, SM58, and SM7B are all well-respected dynamic mics.
Condenser mics are generally what rappers also reach for, as they prioritize intelligibility and clarity across the full range of the frequency spectrum. They excel at accurately capturing the nuances that contribute to each rapper’s distinct style and delivery.
That said, if your sibilances are naturally harsh, counteracting that with a dynamic mic could be an interesting idea. The SM7B is a popular choice among many rappers despite being a dynamic mic as well, and could be a good pick if you’re looking to add a bit more body to your vocals.
Last but not least, if your focus is around singing, any of the above mics could be a great pick for you, since this is the specific use case we curated the list around! The important thing is to think about your voice’s natural qualities and needs, and how you want to complement them.
Are clarity or high-end detail at the top of your priorities? If so, the likes of the AKG P220 or U87 could be a good choice. Do you want to use the same mic for both studio recording and live performances? Perhaps take a look at the SM58, SM7B, or Telefunken TF11. If you’re a singer-songwriter, do you want to also use the microphone to record your guitar or other instruments? A mic with different polar patterns may help you address a broader variety of scenarios.
All of these factors, layered with your budget, will help you narrow down options and identify your ultimate choice.
Frequently asked questions about microphones
While we’ve already touched on some of these ideas throughout this article, here’s some concentrated info on different microphone types and what they excel at.
What are dynamic mics best for?
Dynamic microphones are known for being durable, relatively inexpensive to manufacture, and capable of withstanding high SPLs without distorting. This makes them ideal for live performances with a variety of sound sources. However, there’s a tradeoff—lower sensitivity and frequency responses make it more challenging for a dynamic mic to pick up finer details when compared to other mics.
What are condenser mics best for?
Condenser microphones have a high level of sensitivity and are more detailed in their frequency response, which make them great for recording pretty much anything at high quality. However, they typically require phantom power, and their more delicate build also means condenser mics are generally more expensive, more fragile, and more susceptible to distortion in louder environments when compared to dynamic mics.
What are ribbon mics best for?
Ribbon mics are among the earliest forms of recording technology, and played a major role in the early days of classic radio broadcasts. Their primary advantage is their signature vintage sound that’s difficult to reproduce; their natural frequency response has also been compared to our own human hearing. However, ribbon mics need to be handled with even more care than condensers due to their delicate transducer, which can break if dropped or exposed to high SPLs.
As we mentioned in the beginning, there’s no universal answer when it comes to picking the best microphone for vocals. However, hopefully this article equipped you with some solid options to get you started on your search, as well as a bit of knowledge on how to evaluate other microphones. It’s also worth noting that all of these mics are by no means exclusively for vocals, either—you can use them on a variety of instruments and get great results as well, which is certainly a welcome bonus.
Have you used any of these mics before, and if so, what were your thoughts on them? Do you have any favorites that weren’t on this list? Start a conversation with other vocalists, producers, and engineers on the Splice Discord.
Take your music further with the fresh sounds, plugins, and tutorials available in the Splice Creator plan—until April 28th, 2023, you can use code splice2apogee for two months free:
February 9, 2023