What’s the Best Microphone for Vocals | Music | Streaming | Podcasting?

Best Microphone for Vocals Music Streaming Podcasting

In part one of our article on microphones, we processed a huge range of information. We looked at the physics behind microphones, the different types of microphones and how they may benefit your setup depending on whether you’re a vocalist, musician or gamer.

While this information is all well and good for knowledge – who needs it right? – we didn’t get into the specific information that I know many of you want to skip straight to.


What Microphones Should I Consider?

Recording Song Mic

As mentioned in the previous article, there are a number of different elements and thought processes that should go into your purchasing decision.

You may only need a microphone for streaming games to ten of your friends, or, you may be building a state-of-the-art recording studio that requires fifteen mics serving totally different purposes.

It is really important to think about what your goals are with this purchase so you don’t end up with buyer’s remorse.

As long as you keep the above in mind, this should be an enjoyable experience.

So, get your cups of tea/coffee, a biscuit, and strap yourself in as I take you through the elaborate, exciting and so-expansive-it’s-almost-suffocating world of contemporary microphones.

Budget Microphones

Shure SM57 / SM58 – The King of Versatility

Shure SM-57

US: ( What Retailer to Buy From )
Sweetwater Guitar Center Amazon

Type: Dynamic

Polar Pattern: Cardioid

Functions: Essentially everything: loud amps, live vocals, acoustic instruments, live performance etc.

Review: Even the smallest venture into microphone research will bring you up to speed with the Shure SM57/58 range.

A staple of the music industry for 50 years, the Shure’s are incredibly famous due to their reasonable pricing relative to their performance.

They are extraordinarily versatile, capable of high-fidelity recordings for nearly every musical, podcasting or streaming application imaginable.

Note: The Shure SM57 and SM58 are internally the same and share the same cartridge design. The only difference is the design of the microphone grill.

The SM57 has a smaller grill size, which is great for recording instruments, while the SM58 with its ball grille is perfect for vocals.

There are, of course, microphones that do specific things better than the Shure SM57/58 (for example, recording vocals and general audio fidelity) but in terms of functionality and durability, very few microphones match the prestige and quality of these mics.

Nobody is accusing the Shure series of being the most accurate microphones you will ever hear, but as far as cheap workhorse mics go, they reign supreme. Buy a couple of these and you simply won’t be disappointed.

That being said, it is worth noting that the sound quality of an SM57/58 – particularly for sensitive recordings like vocals or acoustic guitars – can be heavily dictated by the preamp it is running through. A really good preamp will bring the best out of a 57, whereas a poor one may occasionally leave you wondering ‘why all the hype?’.

It’s worth researching microphone placement, audio interfaces and preamps when purchasing any microphone, not just a Shure.


Audio-Technica 2020USB – One of the Most Popular USB Mics

Audio-Technica 2020USB

US: ( What Retailer to Buy From )
Sweetwater Guitar Center Amazon

Type: Large Diaphragm Condenser

Polar Pattern: Cardioid

Functions: Ideal for those without an audio interface. Good for streaming/voice purposes, vocals, and acoustic guitars

Review: AT2020’s are fast becoming the most popular microphones among entry level musicians.

Not only does the USB functionality offer an easy access point for those on a budget (unable to afford an additional audio interface), the AT2020 provides a condenser’s typically detailed audio response at a cheap price.

Audio-Technica are a well-respected brand in the audiophile community who manufacture a range of popular audio gear (and we’ll see more of them later), making their AT2020 an instant success with consumers. They boast a very decent frequency response and audio quality for their price point.

For a beginner, this microphone comes highly recommended. Its accessibility – due to its USB compatibility – makes it a winner for many portable recording circumstances.

However, when moving into the amateur prosumer market for home musicians, it is likely you will own an audio interface and can better spend your money elsewhere.

Don’t get me wrong, picking up a cheap second-hand AT2020 can be a handy addition to your setup, but these microphones aren’t world-beaters and have limited durability and versatility in comparison to an SM57/58.


Behringer C1 – The Cheap Condenser

Behringer C1

US: ( What Retailer to Buy From )
Sweetwater Guitar Center Amazon

Type: Large Diaphragm Condenser

Polar Pattern: Cardioid

Functions: Entry-level vocals and podcasting/YouTube videos

Review: Look. This microphone is not even $100. While sometimes value can be found in the musical gear world, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.

With that said, for that price? The C1 is a serviceable mic. It’s going to sound better than a Guitar Hero microphone, or a laptop’s in-built mic, which might be all you need.

The C1 will give you a relatively clear reproduction of both female and male voices, rendering it a suitable starter mic for those on a budget or without much of a desire to expand their music studio.

Cheap dynamics usually bode better than condenser microphones because of these two words I keep using – versatility and durability.

You generally will get more bang for your buck out of a dynamic than a condenser at this price range. However, the Behringer C1 will bode better for most vocal applications, be it streaming or amateur/demo vocals than non-condenser alternatives at this price point.

There are certainly worse microphones one could purchase than the Behringer C1. If you have the money to do so, I would probably invest it in a more expensive mic than the C1, but if your budget is around the $50 mark, look no further.

Low-Mid Tier Microphones

MXL 2003A – A Solid Inexpensive LDC

MXL 2003A

US: ( What Retailer to Buy From )
Amazon Guitar Center B&H Photo Video
UK & Europe:
Amazon UK

Type: Large Diaphragm Condenser

Polar Pattern: Cardioid

Functions: Vocals, acoustic guitars, drum overheads

Review: Upon its release, the MXL 2003A was boasted as one of the cheapest mics to have an extremely flat frequency response. This is of course ideal for sound engineers, as replicating audio as close to its natural source as possible allows – generally – for a detailed recording that is easily mixable.

Of course, this type of claim for a 200-dollar microphone does seem a bit far-fetched, particularly when you consider the ofttimes less-than-stellar reviews MXL’s previous LDC’s garnered.

As usual, the truth lies somewhere in between. The 2003A isn’t the greatest mic of all-time for its price (big surprise there…) but it’s also an incredibly serviceable condenser that has a great sensitivity and flatness for its price point.

Another interesting feature of the MXL 2003A is the switches that come on the mic.

One switch allows for a bass roll-off of any recordings that may be affected by annoying bass rumbles, and the other provides a -10db pad, which is particularly useful for recording loud amplifiers.

These additional features allow the 2003A extra versatility that other similar and cheaper LDC’s may not provide.


Cascade Fat Head – A Much-Loved Affordable Ribbon

Cascade Fat Head

US: ( What Retailer to Buy From )
Amazon B&H Photo Video
UK & Europe:
Amazon UK

Type: Ribbon

Polar pattern: Figure 8

Functions: Instruments – particularly strings, brass and amplifiers.

Review: Though ribbon microphones aren’t quite as popular as their dynamic and condenser contemporaries, they hold an important place in any microphone collection/music studio.

Perhaps someone who was just starting a home studio, or who planned on solo streaming or YouTubing would find little use for a ribbon mic, but budding musicians and engineers looking to expand their microphone collection need to give some consideration to the Cascade Fat Head.

Only really being 30-40 dollars more than the listed ‘budget’ range of mics, the Fat Head is a strong value performer.

Ribbon microphones can occasionally prove to be a little elusive, but the Fat Head’s popularity means that it is accessible both new and used from sites like reverb.

As expected from a ribbon microphone, the Fat Head employs the Figure 8 polar pattern (a point of difference to the previously listed microphones, which have all been cardioid) and has a dark, warm audio response with enough detail for it to sit nicely in most mixes.

Many don’t recommend a Fat Head as a solo vocal mic, but suggest it is an extremely powerful ‘blend mic’, as a Fat Head paired with a mic like an SM57 can bring a sense of fullness and depth to a recording – particularly that of a loud analog instrument like an electrical guitar, drum overheads or a horn.


Rode Procaster – More Than Just a Podcasting Mic

Rode Procaster

US: ( What Retailer to Buy From )
Sweetwater Guitar Center Amazon

Type: Dynamic

Polar Pattern: Cardioid

Functions: Vocal applications – particularly broadcasting, streaming, gaming and content creation, but is also decent for recording singing

Review: As the name suggests… the Rode Procaster is perfect for the modern world. Designed to have a high-level of vocal detail, roll-off low-end rumble and heavily reject side and back audio responses, the Procaster is a useful tool for streamers, YouTubers and podcasters looking to upgrade their equipment.

Unlike the other featured microphones – which are manufactured with the intent of fitting into a music studio – the Rode Procaster has a frequency response of 75 Hz to 18 kHz.

This is different to the typical 20 Hz to 20 kHz you’ll find on majority of condenser and dynamic mics. This means that there is less distortion, plosives and generally nasty sounds that get introduced into live applications like live podcasting and live streaming.

As the mic is designed for vocal applications, it makes sense that the Procaster can be used for more than just live streaming and podcasting. It would be a more than dutiful performer for vocal recordings and may even translate into being a solid instrument microphone for acoustic guitars.

However, being designed primarily as a broadcasting mic means that the Procaster is intended to sound good, not accurate, which can bode as an issue for applications outside of streaming, etc.

Particularly when using this microphone in a home studio, the unfaithful nature of its frequency response can lead to untrue representations of sound and difficulty in producing a mix to your liking.

That aside, the Procaster is a very solid microphone that will fulfil most of your broadcasting desires.

Mid-Tier Microphones

Audio Technica 4033a – The Bluegrass Microphone

Audio Technica 4033a

US: ( What Retailer to Buy From )
Sweetwater Guitar Center Amazon

Type: Large Diaphragm Condenser

Polar Pattern: Cardioid

Functions: Vocals, acoustic guitars, stringed instruments, overheads, bluegrass ensembles

Review: The Audio Technica 40xx series is very well known and respected among studio musicians. Different models have different, unique colors and characteristics, meaning that you can’t go wrong really trying any of the AT40xx.

A newer model, the AT4040, has been released and can generally be found for cheaper than the AT4033a. A more general and neutral sounding mic than the AT4033a, most users find the AT4040 sufficient for a multitude of recording tasks, from vocals to drum overheads to acoustic guitars.

It doesn’t have the same low-end warmth the 4033a has, so female vocalists or those with a wispy, dreamier style of singing may still prefer the AT4033a.

But for the price and its flexibility, the AT4040 is a great alternative from the ever-impressive Audio Technica ’40xx’ line of microphones.

I’ve chosen to look specifically at the 4033a as its price point means this mic stands as a happy medium between recording high-quality audio and affordable cost.

Traditionally, the AT4033a has been known as the industry-standard for bluegrass ensembles, and many such examples of the AT4033a’s recording quality for bluegrass ensembles can be found on YouTube.

Reviews suggest that the mic is especially potent for recording female vocals or higher/softer male vocals. Sufjan Stevens used an AT4033a on many of his earlier recordings.

The biggest drawback of this microphone is that some users believe it to be weaker for low-end applications compared to other microphones in the AT40xx series – making it less suitable for deep, baritone male vocals. But for most other applications, the AT4033a is a strong contender for its price point.


Shure SM7B – Best Known as MJ’s Vocal Mic

Shure SM7B

US: ( What Retailer to Buy From )
Sweetwater Guitar Center Amazon

Type: Dynamic

Polar Pattern: Cardioid

Functions: Like most dynamics it is versatile, however the SM7b has one prime application: vocals.

Review: The Shure SM7B is an absolute classic for vocals. Paired with a good preamp and knowledgeable sound engineer, the SM7B can replicate the quality of recording of, say, a certain Michael Jackson record.

In truth, Jackon actually used the original SM7 instead of an SM7B, but the B is simply a reissue of the 7 and they sound very similar.

Perhaps most famed for its use on the seminal pop album Thriller, the SM7B is designed as a vocal mic and is therefore superior to most mics in its price range for… you guessed it, recording vocals.

While its fame as a vocal mic is well-deserved, like pretty much every other mic, its power and suitability for any given artist nearly entirely depends on their style and vocal range.

An SM7B might’ve been perfect for Michael Jackson, but might be completely useless for your purposes. It is, if possible, best practice to test the microphone yourself before buying, and failing that, to peruse YouTube reviews and mic shootouts.


sE Electronics sE2200 – One of China’s Most Respected Mic Brands

sE Electronics sE2200

US: ( What Retailer to Buy From )
Sweetwater Guitar Center Amazon

Type: Large Diaphragm Condenser

Pattern: Multi-pattern

Function: vocals, acoustic guitar, high-reverb electric guitar, cymbals

Review: Though the price of the sE2200 is the same as the above microphones new, the reality is you can find one of these mics second-hand for much cheaper than the others, making it the best value purchase of the three mid-tier microphones.

The biggest calling-card of the sE2200 is its multi-pattern polar pattern. Containing a switch on its face that can vary the polar pattern between cardioid, omni-directional or figure 8, the sE2200 is an amateur sound engineer’s holy grail.

Such versatility allows for a huge range of unique and effective recording techniques for any number of situations. Need a figure 8 pattern for recording a string ensemble, or an omnidirectional pattern for gang vocals?

The sE2200 has you covered.

In terms of sound, the sE2200 lives up to its price point, and then some. It is a strong performer for most common musical applications and would easily double as a powerful mic for streaming or creating YouTube content due to the versatility of a switchable polar pattern.

Overall, any of the microphones in this category would serve you well going forward, either as your main microphone or as a valuable addition to your mic locker.

As I’ve mentioned countless times, I can’t recommend one of these mics over another – it all comes down to user preference. Try them out, listen to them and read reviews because at this price point, most microphones are gonna be pretty damn good for the majority of amateur applications.

High-Tier Microphones

Royer Labs R-121 – The King of Ribbons

Royer Labs R-121

US: ( What Retailer to Buy From )
Sweetwater Guitar Center Amazon

Type: Ribbon

Pattern: Figure 8

Functions: Orchestral instruments, guitars, kick drums, snares, overheads

Review: Yes, I know. There’s a huge difference in price between the mid-tier and the high-tier microphones, however this reflects a truth in the market.

A 6–700 dollar microphone will most likely be a fair bit better than a 300 dollar one, but the real difference in quality comes as you ascend above the 4 figure mark for microphones. The Royer R-121 is one of the kings of ribbon microphones. It is warm, musical and quite accurate in its tone.

Unlike some sensitive condensers, the R-121 has the useful ability to handle extremely loud sounds, allowing the R-121 to be a fantastic guitar/keyboard amp mic for any number of genres, from heavy metal to pop.

Much like other ribbon mics, the R-121 is one of the most recommended mics for string and other orchestral instruments, making it a staple of any serious music studio.

Though it may be outside the price point of amateur artists and hobbyists, the versatility and quality of this mic make it a worthy addition to anyone’s mic collection so long as they can afford it.


Neumann U87 Ai – The King of Microphones

Neumann U87 Ai

US: ( What Retailer to Buy From )
Sweetwater Guitar Center Amazon

Type: Large-diaphragm condenser

Pattern: Multi-pattern

Functions: Everything. Seriously, everything and anything.

Review: So, remember above how I said there’s a huge difference in price between good and exceptional mics? Well, I may have failed to mention there’s also a huge difference in price between exceptional and The Best. I know most people can’t afford to dish out this amount of cash on a microphone, but if you can you won’t regret it.

Essentially every single professional music studio is armed with a few of these Neumanns, and a huge proportion of vocal and instrument tracks, from indie rock to radio pop, have been recorded using a U87 Ai.

It’s versatile – not only because it has a multi-pattern polar pattern – accurate, high-quality and durable. This microphone simply sounds good.

The thing with a microphone of this calibre is that even though you’ll nearly always find an exceptional application for some instruments, just because it’s THE industry standard mic doesn’t mean it’ll be THE mic for you.

Several thousand dollars is an investment that won’t go awry due to its versatility and extreme high-fidelity, but it is still a bit steep for a microphone that may not be perfect for your vocal style when you’re recording vocal-heavy music.

Conclusion

The skill of microphone manufacturers has increased greatly over the years, but even with that being the case, many second-hand old microphones are just as powerful and effective as newer, more expensive models.

This list of microphones isn’t even remotely exhaustive – there are just so many good mics that exist in the musical hardware world that creating such a list would be impossible.

Though these recommendations only tickle the tip of the iceberg of potential mics for your musical and audio purposes, it is my hope that it is effective in more than just suggesting a few good mics for you to get.

This list is designed to instill certain questions and thoughts into you as you embark on your musical journey; to acknowledge the pros and cons of certain equipment, and to understand the significance of trying it out for yourself.

Fiend review sites, ask questions of pros on Gearslutz and SoundOnSound, listen to YouTube videos, annoy your local Guitar Center employees.

Doing all of this will ensure that when you make your decision, you can rest easy knowing you made the right choice for yourself.

If you only take away one thing from this article, make sure it is this: What is one musician’s trash may be another’s treasure.

About the Author – Ben Knight

Ben Knight author

Hailing from the depths of the world — aka Australia — Ben Knight is a passionate pianist, cellist, songwriter and engineer.

With a Master’s in Writing and Editing, he combines his love for music with his knowledge of the written word to make sure he has the funds to keep buying unnecessary pieces of musical equipment for his home studio.

You can check out his band Mellow Daze on all the major streaming services.


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