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Best XLR microphones
While USB mics are generally cheap and easy to use, XLR microphones are the standard for use in professional environments. They are great for making high-quality recordings as well as amplifying sounds in live performances. The XLR is a far more rugged connector than USB, and sends an analog signal over a balanced cable to the preamplifier. If you’ve accumulated some studio headphones or studio monitors, and have written some songs to record, you just might be ready to buy your first microphone for your home studio. There are countless styles microphones out there with an XLR output, so we’ve compiled this list of the top five to help you narrow down your decision.
Editor’s note: this list of the best XLR microphones was updated on October 25, 2022, to update formatting and add the Logitech Blue Sona to the Notable mentions section. We also added the Elgato Wave DX as a Highlight pick.
Why is the Shure SM58 the best XLR microphone for most people?
This dynamic microphone is a live performance industry standard. Intended to be either hand held or stand mounted, it’s a great functioning vocal mic for both singers and podcasters. The frequency response is designed to highlight vocals by de-emphasizing low notes and highs. Therefore, this XLR mic is not ideal for recording instruments such as bass guitar or as a drum overhead. Being a dynamic mic, the SM58 does not require phantom power, and its bulbous grille acts as a built-in pop filter. It has a cardioid pickup pattern, making it best for recording what’s placed directly in front of it.
The SM58 is affordable and durable, making it highly convenient for live shows. The microphone contains an internal shock mount, so live singers can take the mic off its stand to do air kicks during their performances, without distorting the sound.
The SM58 sounds great and can handle pretty much any performance you throw at it.
Shure SM58 speaking sample:
Shure SM58 singing sample:
Shure SM58 acoustic guitar sample:
Shure SM58 electric guitar with amp sample:
The XLR microphone with the best sound is the Rode NT1-A
This large diaphragm vocal condenser microphone is best known for its audio quality. The Rode NT1-A has an internal capsule shock mount system, and creates little internal noise—no more than 5dB(A) equivalent input noise (EIN), making it useful for recording vocals, guitars, and light percussion instruments. It has a neutral-leaning frequency response, so it reproduces audio accurately, and the slight high end emphasis improves speech intelligibility and adds “air” to vocals. The NT1-A has a cardioid polar pattern, and picks up sound the front face, making it an ideal vocal mic.
This XLR mic requires phantom power of either +24V or +48V, which needs to be purchased in the form of an interface or preamp. However, the microphone itself comes with an external pop shield, shock mount, downloadable instructional video, and 6-meter XLR cable to plug the mic into your interface. While the microphone is not very portable, it comes with a dust cover to keep it safe in your studio when not in use.
The AKG P420 is extremely versatile
AKG’s microphone has a dual diaphragm capsule, providing multiple polar patterns, including cardioid, omnidirectional, and bi-directional. This makes the P420 extremely versatile, and can be used for vocals, instruments, whole-room recordings, and more. It provides the option to switch in a high-pass filter to reduce the level of low-frequency room noise, and the option to switch in an attenuation pad to reduce high signal levels and prevent clipping distortion coming from loud sounds.
This condenser microphone comes with a shock mount and a carrying case, but you’ll want to buy a pop-filter for it to reduce those harsh plosives. It also requires +44V to +52V phantom power. It has a static condenser and the build is all metal, making it durable. You’ll want to keep it in the shock mount at all times to reduce unwanted noise.
The microphone sounds very good for the price, and you can even switch polar patterns to fit your use case. Check out our sample recordings
AKG P420 Cardioid Pattern:
AKG P420 Bi-Directional Pattern:
AKG P420 Omnidirectional Pattern:
AKG P420 High-Pass Filter:
AKG P420 -20dB Preattenuation Pad:
AKG P420 singing sample:
AKG P420 acoustic guitar sample:
AKG P420 electric guitar with amp sample:
The Electrovoice RE20 is the best XLR microphone for voice work
This professional dynamic microphone is used in radio stations all across the world, but it serves just as well in recording vocal music. It uses Electrovoice’s patented Variable D design to control the microphone’s proximity effect and has a bass roll off switch, so you can get nice and close if you want to record ASMR, and its frequency response highlights the vocal range. You don’t need any phantom power to use this all-metal microphone.
The large humbucking coil mitigates unwanted electromagnetic interference. The RE20 has a cardioid polar pattern, so it won’t pick up sound coming from behind the mic. The mic comes with a stand adapter and a carrying case, and has an internal pop filter and an internal shock mount. There is an option to purchase an external shock mount separately, if you want to add extra protection against handling noise.
You’ll get the best bang for your buck with the AT2020
The Audio-Technica AT2020 is a condenser microphone that requires +48V phantom power, so you’ll have to invest in some kind of external preamp or interface. It has a cardioid polar pattern, and a slightly higher self-noise averaging 20dB(A) EIN, so it is best used for close vocals or close-miked instruments. A relatively low sensitivity, makes it most effective for close-proximity recording.
This metal XLR microphone comes with a stand mount, threaded mount adapter, and carrying pouch. It has a static condenser, so you’ll want to consider buying a shock mount for it to reduce handling noise. Additionally, it doesn’t come with a pop filter, so you’ll want to add one to your shopping cart. For a cheap microphone, the AT2020 has good sound quality, but if you’re looking for additional features or included add-ons, you may want to consider a more expensive mic. If the AT2020 appeals to you, but you want something that plugs right into your computer, consider the Audio-Technica AT2020USB-X.
Whether you’re recording vocals or guitars, the AT2020 microphone will make your voice and instruments sound good.
Audio-Technica AT2020 speaking sample:
Audio-Technica AT2020 singing sample:
Audio-Technica AT2020 acoustic guitar sample:
Audio-Technica AT2020 electric guitar sample:
For the best on an unlimited budget, grab the Shure SM7b
One of the best XLR mics in the business, the Shure SM7b is pretty expensive for those just starting out and costs $649.99 at Amazon. If you have the money to spend, this is a microphone you want to have in your closet. It reproduces vocals extremely well and rejects noise well, for a clean pickup. Its boasts a super durable build, so you don’t need to worry that your $400 will be spent in vain. The mic comes with a pop filter installed and effectively reduces plosives.
The Shure SM7b has 2 switches that let you tailor the frequency response: bass rolloff, and mid-range emphasis (presence boost). This helps make the microphone more versatile, and it can very effectively be used to record other sources besides vocals. It’s truly a tank of a microphone that can be applied to whatever you need it for in the studio.
Budding Twitch streamers should get the Elgato Wave DX and Wave XLR bundle
With its simple design, the Elgato Wave DX is a great XLR microphone that works seamlessly with the Wave XLR audio interface. At $99.99 at Corsair, the Wave DX is an economical microphone. Tacking on the Wave XLR raises the price to about $250 USD, but this is a fine deal because the bundle includes Elgato’s Wave Link software. The software gives you control over audio channels and is particularly great for streamers using OBS (Open Broadcaster Software). Wave Link is a more accessible software for beginners, compared to something like VoiceMeter.
If you want a one-stop-shop solution for your streaming channel, the Elgato Wave DX and Wave XLR deserve to sit on your desktop.
Check out the cheaper yet still impressive Shure MV7
Shure’s hybrid USB/XLR microphone, the Shure MV7, is a very versatile option for podcasters and collaborators. You can use the outputs simultaneously to record a low-res reference file and a high-resolution file for edits. The touch control system is cool, but not very useful, because anytime you touch the mic, the vibrations are recorded.
The mic reproduces vocals clearly, and the sound signature is adjustable to your needs. Shure’s desktop software is also extremely useful and easy to understand, making this an approachable mic for beginners and enthusiasts.
The best XLR microphones: Notable mentions
- Beyerdynamic M70 PRO X: This XLR microphone isn’t cheap but when you buy it, you’re investing in something built to last. Beyerdynamic provides a pop filter and elastic shock mount, which you’ll need to attach it to a stand. Like the Shure SM58, this is a dynamic microphone and can handle loud inputs before introducing any kind of distortion, making it great for broadcasting and podcasts where someone might unexpectedly burst out laughing close to the mic. If you want a condenser version of this microphone, check out the M90 PRO X.
- Blue Yeti Pro: This is a good choice if you want both an XLR and USB output for a more customizable experience. The mic comes with a desktop stand and has four polar patterns: cardioid, stereo, omnidirectional, and bidirectional. Its onboard headphone volume and gain adjustments also make it easy to use and control.
- sE Electronics sE2300: This is one of the clearest-sounding mics in its price range due to its neutral-leaning frequency response with a slight presence boost. The presence boost enhances both vocal clarity and instruments. Unfortunately, it is quite expensive.
- Shure MV7X: This XLR microphone is just like its older sibling the MV7, but it is XLR only. You don’t get a USB output, onboard controls, or access to the Shure MOTIV app.
- Shure 55SH Series II: The classic Elvis mic is well suited to recording vocals and has great sound quality. The Shure Super 55 is a very similar mic with similarly great vocal reproduction, though it has a supercardioid polar pattern whereas the 55SH Series II has a regular cardioid polar pattern.
- Logitech Blue Sona: This new XLR microphone sounds fantastic with its supercarioid pickup pattern, has a built-in signal booster, plus switches to cut bass or increase presence. It’s well worth $349 for a great streaming or podcasting setup.
What you should know about the best XLR microphones
What is an XLR microphone?
Microphones with XLR outputs are used all across the board, in recording instruments and vocals, radio broadcasts, live performances, and more. Professional XLR microphones offer a high quality sound that’s easy to deal with in post-production. In order to digitize the output for your computer’s recording software, you will need an audio interface. However, if you are using the microphone for live performance, you’ll just need amplification!
What is the difference between a dynamic and condenser microphone?
The important difference between dynamic and condenser microphones is that the former do not require phantom power provided by the front end to produce an output, whereas the latter does. Additionally, dynamic microphones are generally able to withstand louder volumes before distortion becomes a problem. This makes dynamic mics more suitable for picking up a loud voice or instrument in a live performance, or for recording loud instruments such as drums or electric guitars in the studio. Condenser mics, on the other hand, can have higher sensitivity, making them ideal for isolated studio recordings where you want to pick up the subtle details of a voice or acoustic guitar, for example.
What are the uses of different polar patterns?
Depending on the use you have in mind for your XLR mic, you will want to look for a specific polar pattern, or the shape in which a microphone picks up sound. The main polar patterns are as follows: cardioid, omnidirectional, bidirectional, hypercardioid, and supercardioid. Each polar pattern has certain uses more suited to them, depending on the direction the microphone is pointed or placed.
How we chose the best XLR microphones
When it comes to testing XLR microphones, we make sure to get as much hands-on experience as we can with each microphone. After reviewing a product, we discuss whether it’s worthy of a spot on one of our best lists. If a product makes it on the list, it isn’t necessary here forever: this document is ever-changing as new and noteworthy products hit the market, and we always have our eyes and ears open for products worth your dollar.
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Frequently asked questions about XLR microphones
XLR cables that have a female XLR connector on one end and a male XLR on the other end have the most reliable connection because they keep the signal balanced. If you want the cheapest option, the AmazonBasics branded cables start at just $7 USD, but people who put their equipment through the ringer should get the more durable Rapco Horizon N1M1, which will run you about $25 USD for a 25-foot cable.
Lots of things contribute to a microphone’s quality, including the internal electronics, as well as the type of connection. There are great USB microphones out there, and we recommend checking out our list of the best USB microphones.