The human voice is a complex instrument; whether you’re singing for a crowd and need your voice amplified, or you’re recording a bedtime story and need the subtleties of your voice to be noticed, choosing the right microphone is important. Some mics are designed to highlight the frequencies of the human voice, and this list of the top five best mics for vocals will ensure your voice is heard.
Editor’s note: this list of the best vocal microphones was updated on January 14, 2021, to include information about the Shure MV7.
The best vocal microphone is the Shure SM58
The Shure SM58 is an XLR mic designed to highlight the vocal frequencies and limit the proximity effect. Its patented Pneumatic shockmount serves to limit handling noise, and, because it is dynamic with a cardioid pickup pattern, it does well at and withstanding loud inputs and rejecting unwanted room noise. These features make the SM58 great for live performances, but it can be used for studio vocal music and spoken word alike if you’re looking for a low-cost do-it-all mic.
The SM58 is the best vocal microphone because it is both inexpensive and versatile. It is all-metal, durable, and portable, and it doesn’t require any phantom power to operate. You’ll only need to buy a pop filter if you want to use the mic in a studio setting, as its internal pop filter works well in a live scenario. However, if you’re looking for a mic to use exclusively for recordings, it’s recommended that you opt for a condenser microphone instead.
Shure SM58 speaking samples:
Shure SM58 singing sample:
What you should know about the best vocal microphones
What makes a mic good for vocals?
If you’re looking for a mic specifically for picking up the voice, it’s most important to look at the mic’s frequency response, the way the mic accounts for unwanted noise, and its polar pickup pattern.
A microphone with a neutral-leaning frequency response will most accurately reproduce the sound of your voice and won’t emphasize frequencies that ought not be emphasized. Additionally, many mics used for vocals run the risk of succumbing to the proximity effect, which places an unnatural emphasis on low frequencies due to the sound source’s close proximity to the mic, often distorting speech intelligibility or creating “booming”. This is why many of the best mics for vocals have high pass filters which attenuate the bass sounds reproduced by the mic.
Reducing unwanted noise
When recording vocals, it’s necessary to have a pop filter to reduce the sound of plosives and fricatives (“P” or “F” sounds). Some performance microphones, such as the Shure SM58 have internal pop filters, whereas many studio microphones require one to be externally installed.
An internal shock mount can protect against noise that comes from handling the microphone. These are more necessary in live mics or radio broadcast mics than they are in studio mics, simply due to the amount they will be handled, but are always an asset nonetheless.
Self-noise refers to the amount of buzz or hum that is recorded by condenser mics when there’s no sound source entering it. It’s an unfortunate consequence of internal electrical components creating a charge that is recorded as a low, but irritating static sound. You’ll want it to be as low as possible so your vocals sound crystal clear.
Polar patterns refer to the direction from which a microphone picks up its sound. When recording or amplifying vocals, it’s usually best to go for a cardioid or hypercardioid pickup pattern, because these best absorb sound from their direct fronts, and reject sound from the back, allowing the voice to be heard above other noise. All of the best vocal mics in this list have cardioid pickup.
There are key differences between condenser and dynamic mics
Depending on if you’re looking to record vocals or to amplify them in a live setting, you’ll want to consider the differences between condenser and dynamic mics.
As a rule of thumb, dynamic mics are great for live performances because of their ability to handle loud inputs without distorting, but some dynamic mics, such as the Electrovoice RE20, are used in radio stations due to their ability to shut out unwanted room noise.
Condenser mics are typically preferred for studio settings because they produce a more natural frequency response, and they are better at picking up subtleties that vocalists often want in their recordings. Condenser microphones often require phantom power which can be achieved with an audio interface or a pre-amp, such as the CL-1 Cloudlifter.
The best mic for recording singing is the Rode NT1
When recording vocal music in a studio, it’s usually best to use a condenser microphone such as the Rode NT1 because they are more sensitive to subtleties than are dynamic microphones. The Rode NT1 is known for having an extremely low self-noise, allowing for pristine sound quality. This is due in part to its internal shock mount. In comparison to the Rode NT1-A, a similar model, the NT1 produces a more natural sound because of its extremely neutral-leaning frequency response.
This XLR mic requires phantom power of either +24V or +48V which can be achieved through a preamp or audio interface. It has a cardioid pickup pattern that records sound from the side of the mic’s capsule. The NT1 is all-metal and comes with an attachable shock mount and metal pop-filter.
Rode NT1 speaking sample:
Rode NT1 singing sample:
Jack-of-all-trades vocalists should get the Shure SM7B
If you’re looking for a heavy duty, high quality vocal mic with lots of features and uses, the Shure SM7B is a great option. It is an industry standard for broadcasting, but has also been used among singers, particularly for rock music.
It has three switchable frequency settings: bass roll-off, flat, and high frequency presence boost. Depending on the purpose you have for the mic on a particular day, you can adjust the settings accordingly, but the flat response is the most accurate for vocal reproduction.
Shure SM7b flat response speaking sample:
Shure SM7b bass rolloff speaking sample:
Shure SM7b presence boost speaking sample:
This XLR mic is dynamic, so it’s not only effective for handling loud noises without distorting, but it also functions without any phantom power. Its pickup pattern is cardioid, and it does a good job of rejecting off-axis sound. In addition to its built-in pop filter, this mic comes with a detachable windscreen for reducing plosives and high frequencies. Additionally, this mic’s condenser is suspended and internally shock-mounted, reducing its handling noise.
If you’re looking for something more versatile, try the Shure MV7
The Shure MV7 is another great mic from Shure, and it’s one of the most versatile mics out there. It houses both an XLR and USB output which can be used at the same time, so storing backup files is a breeze. It has a durable build quality just like the Shure SM7b and it can easily be used as a gaming mic or a studio mic. Its companion app is very helpful and lets you adjust the mic’s settings based on your recording environment and preferences. The MV7 produces vocals very clearly and accurately, whether singing or speaking.
Shure MV7 microphone sample:
The Electrovoice RE20 is the best mic for spoken word
There’s a reason the Electrovoice RE20 is used in radio stations all across the world. This durable mic has Variable-D technology, which effectively eliminates the proximity effect, so there’s no need to worry about speech intelligibility. The RE20 is a dynamic microphone, so it can withstand loud speech, and you won’t be needing any external power. Its frequency response is tailored to human speech and includes a bass attenuation switch to offer extra protection against distortion.
This XLR mic has a cardioid polar pattern, so it rejects off-axis sound for crystal-clear voice-overs. The internal shock mount and humbucking coil reduce both handling noise and room noise pickup. It does have an internal pop filter, but it’s likely you’ll want to add an external one as well if you’re doing up-close recordings.
You’ll get the best bang for your buck with the Blue Yeti Nano
If you’re looking for a simple mic to record vocals and you don’t want to invest in additional equipment (like phantom power), the Blue Yeti Nano is the right choice. It is a USB condenser mic, so it plugs directly into your computer. While USB mics can’t match the sound quality of XLR mics, the Blue Yeti Nano does a decent job trying. In comparison to other Blue products, this mic has fewer features, but it does allow for cardioid and omnidirectional pickup.
Blue Yeti Nano
This mic is metal-bodied and has a metal grille, but it’s very lightweight. It doesn’t come with a pop filter, but there are windscreens out there that are designed for it. The Yeti Nano is attachable to a traditional mic stand if you need to use it to record your voice while you’re playing an instrument. This mic can be used in a pinch for vocal music, but it’s best for amateur podcasters who don’t want to break the bank.
If you can stretch your budget a bit, you may want to snag the Blue Yeti X as it as a more comprehensive four-capsule array that supports cardioid, bidirectional, and omnidirectional recording patterns.
Best vocal microphones: Notable mentions
- Audio-Technica AT2020: This cardioid condenser mic is a great budget option for vocalists. Just keep in mind that it isn’t great at mitigating plosives and fricatives, so you’ll definitely want to attach the included pop filter to it.
- Rode NT1-A: Despite what you might think, this mic came out before the Rode NT1. They are very similar, but the NT1-A is an industry standard mic. If you want a slightly less neutral frequency response that deemphasizes sub-bass frequencies and boosts high frequencies, this may be the mic to choose.
- sE Electronics sE2300: This condenser mic has three switchable pickup patterns and a neutral-leaning frequency response with a treble boost, allowing for vocal clarity. It also comes with a pop filter and shock mount.
- Shure 55SH Series II: Not only will using this microphone make you feel like Elvis, it sounds fantastic on the vocal frequencies. It doesn’t require any phantom power and is very durable, and its cardioid polar pattern makes it great at rejecting off-axis sound.
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