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Best vocal microphones
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The human voice is a complex instrument; whether you’re singing an original song 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 February 15, 2022, to mention the Beyerdynamic M90 PRO X and to expand the buying guide.
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 shock mount serves to limit handling noise, and, because it is dynamic with a cardioid pickup pattern, it withstands loud inputs and rejects 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 consider a condenser microphone instead.
Shure SM58 speaking samples:
Shure SM58 singing sample:
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. 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 between +24V and +48V which can be provided by a preamp or audio interface. It has a cardioid pickup pattern that records sound from the side of the mic’s capsule. The NT1 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 or the singer 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 breath noise. Additionally, this mic’s capsule is suspended and internally shock-mounted, reducing its handling noise.
See also: The best Shure microphones
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 low-frequency rumble.
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 interference. 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 Movo UM700
If there was ever a Blue Yeti X killer, it’s the Movo UM700. This USB microphone has four selectable polar patterns—cardioid, stereo, omnidirectional, and bidirectional—and they all sound great. While USB microphones don’t have the same quality as XLR microphones, the Movo UM700 comes pretty darn close. It comes with a preinstalled and removable windscreen that helps reduce plosive sounds. The UM700 is only $99 and because it’s a USB mic you won’t have to invest additional money into an audio interface in order to use it.
Onboard the mic are a gain control knob, volume control knob, quick mute button, and polar pattern adjustment knob. It’s very convenient that you can adjust the mic’s gain, which is its input volume, separately from its output volume. The quick mute button illuminates in red when the mic is muted, so you can have that extra reassurance that your microphone is off when you’re sitting through a Zoom meeting. The mic also has an auxiliary port on the bottom that can be used for direct monitoring.
Movo UM700 cardioid polar pattern sample:
Is the Beyerdynamic M90 PRO X good for singing?
Yes, the Beyerdynamic M90 PRO X is a great XLR microphone for vocalists and general recording. This condenser mic has a cardioid recording pattern and faithfully preserves faint vocal detail, allowing you to affect it however you want during post production. There aren’t any gimmicks to this microphone, which makes it a great pick for professionals and serious enthusiasts alike. You get an elastic shock mount and pop filter, but other than that, you’re on your own for phantom power and/or an audio interface that supports XLR inputs.
Who should get the Shure MV7 USB/XLR microphone?
If you believe in the importance of redundancy, the Shure MV7 is another powerful mic from Shure. Unusually, it provides both an XLR and USB output which can be used at the same time. This way, you can record a high-res file from the XLR output alongside a low-res file for tracking and reference. 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 captures vocals very clearly and accurately, whether singing or speaking.
Shure MV7 microphone sample:
The 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.
- Beyerdynamic M70 PRO X: This dynamic broadcast microphone is great for vocal applications whether you’re hosting a radio show or singing. Its frequency response is tailored to the human voice and it comes with a useful elastic shock mount and pop filter.
- Blue Yeti Nano: This is another convenient USB microphone. It has two adjustable pickup patterns and solid sound quality.
- Razer Seiren Mini: While we wouldn’t recommend this mic for recording professional vocal tracks, it sounds surprisingly passable for a budget gaming microphone.
- Rode NT1-A: Like the NT1, this is considered 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.
What should you know before buying a microphone?
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.
What is frequency response?
Just like headphones, microphones have frequency responses and plots. A microphone with a neutral-leaning frequency response will most accurately reproduce the sound of your voice and won’t emphasize or under-emphasize a particular frequency range of your voice. You won’t get a perfectly “flat” frequency response from a microphone, or headphones for that matter, but some microphones get you pretty darn close. The reason that many people tout a “flat” response as the best is because it most accurately captures a sound source’s actual sound. It also makes it easier to edit audio when you have a microphone with a neutral response, but this typically comes at a steeper price point.
Some people don’t want or need an ideal response, which is why many microphones have certain filters like a high or low-pass filter to adjust the sound while recording.
What is a microphone polar pattern?
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 reproduce sound from on-axis, and reject sound from the back, so the voice is heard above other noise. All of the best vocal mics on this list have cardioid pickup patterns.
What is the difference 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.
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Condenser mics are typically preferred for studio settings because they are more sensitive, produce a more natural frequency response, and are better at picking up subtleties that vocalists often want in their recordings. Condenser microphones often require phantom power which can be provided by an audio interface.
What is the proximity effect?
When you speak too close to a microphone, you’ll observe the proximity effect in action. The proximity effect is an increase of low-frequency output when the distance between the sound source and microphone is so small that the two objects are nearly touching. The closer the microphone gets to a sound source, the greater the bass boost. Many mics for vocals have high pass filters which attenuate low-frequency noises and can help counter bass emphasis due to proximity. You can also fix this with a software filter later on.
Why does your recording sound bad?
If you’re recording into a good microphone but it sounds bad, there may be a few things you can do to remedy this. For one, 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 mounted.
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.
Learn more: Why does my recording sound bad?
Self-noise refers to the amount of low-level hiss produced by the mic when there’s no sound entering it. It’s an unfortunate consequence of the internal electrical components creating random noise 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.
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Frequently asked questions about microphones
The best microphone for singing live is the Shure SM58, and the best microphone for recording singing is either the Rode NT1, Shure SM7b, or newer Shure MV7.