If you need the best mic to record vocals or for a live stage performance, you’ll need to do some research to find a model that’s up to the task. If you’re new to singing and aren’t familiar with the different types and styles of microphones out there, then you’ve come to the right place.
We’ve created an extensive microphone buyer’s guide which details the different types of microphones available designed for live performances or studio recording.
We’ve also made your search a little easier and included the top three models of mics on the market in terms of the best USB mic, dynamic mic, and condenser mic.
We’re confident that you’ll find the best vocal mic in our top three list that will meet your needs and your budget.
|Shure SM58S Vocal Microphone||Dynamic||Cardioid||$|
|Blue Yeti USB Microphone ||USB||Multi||$$|
|MXL 770 Cardioid Condenser Microphone ||Condenser||Cardioid||$$|
This dynamic mic is the perfect choice for the vocalist on a budget. It’s been used in the industry for years and offers a reliable performance with minimal background noise. Ideally, this mic will work best for female altos, or male performers, as soprano singers tend to sound too nasally with this model.
Blue Yeti USB Microphone:
Probably the best USB microphone you’ll ever come across, this beast offers a total of four recording modes and is offered at a reasonable price. However, the mic’s larger than average size may make it a bad choice if you’re looking for a USB mic that’s highly portable.
MXL 770 Cardioid Condenser Microphone:
This is the perfect model for the singer on a budget who is looking for a top rated studio quality mic for recording. It offers a clear, smooth sound and the type of versatility you need in the studio.
The Shure SM58 offers great sound at an affordable price, making it the perfect choice for the singer on a budget.
This mic features a frequency response that’s designed for vocals, with a bass roll off and brightened midrange that works to control proximity effect. The design minimizes background noise while isolating the main sound source for a clearer, overall better vocal performance. It also offers a built-in spherical pop and wind filter, and the pneumatic shock mount system will minimize handling noise.
Keep in mind that this isn’t a multi-purpose mic, so it won’t be a good choice for instruments or podcasts because it has been designed specifically for live singing performances.
While it has good gain before feedback and it definitely works well in a noisy environment, you’ll still need to keep it close to your lips to get the best sound out of it. This model features a high-frequency response that tends to give it a bit of a nasal sound, which can be a drawback for certain female vocal types. On the other hand, deeper male vocals will really shine. This mic offers a decent level of detail, with a sound that’s particularly crisp.
This model definitely does much better than any other mic in this price range as far as live vocals are concerned. If you sing metal, rock or you have a particularly harsh voice, you’ll find that it sounds much smoother.
This mic is very durable and is perfect for live performances. It offers decent noise reduction, comes with an on and off switch and is a very familiar model to any sound engineer.
As we have mentioned, the mic tends to produce a slightly nasal sound or it can sound muffled with female vocalists. Others have described the mic as too boomy.
Without a doubt, the SM58 by Shure is one of the most popular models ever made. For an affordable price it does perform well, but we wouldn’t recommend it for studio recording.
The Blue Yeti USB microphone by Blue Microphones weighs in at three and a half pounds and measures in at a foot tall. Aside from its intimidating size, the mic offers great sound quality and noticeably better detail and depth.
It also offers headphone volume control, zero latency headphone monitoring, and comes equipped with a handy mute button. Located on the back of the mic you’ll find a knob that allows you to control the mic’s gain. Below the gain is a multi-pattern selector switch with a total of four recording modes: a cardioid pattern for focusing on the sound directly in front of the mic, an omnidirectional mode for picking up sound coming from all directions, bi-directional mode, and stereo mode.
The Yeti has plenty to brag about when it comes to performance. To begin with, this is the first mic to receive THX certification, which involves a multitude of factors including tests for the signal to noise ratios and frequency response. It has also been tested for proof of performance consistency.
Another first for this mic is the multi-pattern mic design, which you wouldn’t normally come across with a USB mic.
Whether you’re recording some vocals, an interview, or a podcast, this model’s integrated gain control, THX certified sound quality, and four recording models make it hands down the best USB microphone on the market. Of course, you’ll need to hear the Yeti to actually appreciate what this model has to offer and what it’s capable of.
If you’re looking for a USB mic that’s portable and compact, then the Yeti isn’t for you.
Considered one of the most sonically flexible, richest sounding USB mics money can buy, you’ll love experimenting with the different modes and recording vocals on the Yeti. However, the model’s large size may make it inconvenient for portable applications.
The MXL 770 cardioid condenser microphone is a multi-purpose mic that provides a wide dynamic range, which makes it produce a low-end solid bass sound that offers extra-clear top-end, making it a great mic for vocals.
The mic offers really great sound quality, especially for the price. We found it to be very versatile and super-sensitive. You’ll find selector switches to use to bypass or select the high-pass filter and the 10 DB attenuation. These controls allow you to create different settings for each individual mic if you’re using more than one for recording. Make sure you connect the mic to a mixer or recorder which will provide the required phantom power.
This model is perfect for recording vocals, however, we recommend adding a pop filter to protect the mic’s electronics and to ensure a clean sound.
The mic comes with a protective carry case and a shock mount.
The 770offers more features than competing models in this price range, not to mention the best sound quality. The mic’s full metallic body gives it added durability.
The model is less sensitive to backend noises and is capable of capturing wide range frequencies.
The mic doesn’t come with an adapter to fit the shock mount for a mic stand.
The MXL 770 offers great pickup, bass, and warmth. It’s able to expertly handle background noises and offers a very sturdy feel. This is the go-to mic for studio vocal performing, but it doesn’t have the type of power to handle live stage performances, which is typical for condenser mics. While it may not be the most versatile condenser on the market, it does exactly what the manufacturer promises and that’s handling vocals like a champ, and a clean, crisp sound, at a much more affordable price.
Vocal Microphone Buying Guide
When you’re shopping for the best vocal mic, you’ll encounter a wide range of microphone types spanning an even wider range of prices. The amount of features and specs associated with hundreds of models can be overwhelming and confusing, leaving you with little to base your final decision on, aside from price.
While it’s generally true that the price tends to reflect a mic’s overall sound quality, research shows that there are plenty of reasonably priced models that are very capable performers. In fact, many lower priced models tend to copy the basic structures of higher priced mics.
Additionally, understanding how the different types and styles of mics work and what they’re designed to do will help you to improve your studio recording sessions and your live performances.
In order to help you find the right type of microphone to match your needs and budget, we’ve created this guide, which will cover many of the important characteristics found in the most popular vocal mics on the market.
One of the most important things to ask yourself when you’re shopping for a microphone is how you plan to use it. Do you plan to use it in your home recording studio? Will you be using it onstage for a vocal performance? Or are you looking for a mic that can handle both of these situations?
You need to match the microphone to the type of gear you’ll use it with and the environment you’ll use it in.
As an example, if you want a mic to use for recording demos in your basement studio, the acoustics will probably be less than ideal, and you’ll want to pair it with a high-quality preamp, which can increase the total cost quite a bit. In this case, a more affordable and less sensitive mic may be the best choice.
If you want only one mic for use both on stage and in the studio, there are several capable models available.
Microphones Based on Application and Type
Most mics tend to fall into one of two categories: condenser and dynamic. These categories are characterized by several important differences.
Usually, a dynamic mic is considered more rugged than a condenser, which makes them more suitable for live performances. On the other hand. The condenser mic is more delicate and sensitive, so they’re often used for in-studio recording sessions.
Another distinction that sets the condenser and dynamic mics apart are the power requirements. A condenser needs a phantom power supply or a battery to function, whereas the dynamic can work without a power source.
Now, we’ll go over some of the basic styles of microphones and their applications to give you a better idea of the type you’ll need to use whether you’re performing on stage or in your home recording studio.
This type of microphone uses an inductive coil that’s connected to the diaphragm and positioned within the field of a magnet. When the diaphragm moves, the coil moves, which results in varying the amount of voltage the coil produces. These shifts in the voltage output will shape the microphone’s output.
Dynamic mics are actually very rugged and feature high SPL capability. Most models feature internal shock mounting, allowing for hand use. Dynamics tend to perform the best in live sound situations, however, some are also regularly used for recording.
Overall, this type of microphone is very affordable.
Microphones that are Application Specific
Recently, microphone manufacturers have started creating dynamic mics that are designed for specific instruments. Here are a couple of examples.
Ribbon Mics: While dynamic mics are very rugged and durable, the ribbon mic is incredibly delicate. These mics operate on the same principle as standard dynamic mics, but they employ a thin ribbon that vibrates to vary the voltage instead of using a diaphragm. These mics are often used to record vocals in the studio. The ribbon mic is able to impart warmth and soften the sound of recorded material.
Percussion and drum microphones: Each cymbal and drum within a drum kit will create their own sounds. Mics specifically designed for drums and percussion offer a profile that’s best suited for the type of drum they’re designed for. Small diameter mics have an ability to handle high frequencies and are often used for cymbals. This type of mic is typically sold in a kit of four or five mics, which will save you some serious cash while ensuring that you have a wide range of mics to cover the sounds of your drum kit.
String and woodwind mics: These mics are usually lightweight and small. They offer a type of frequency response that’s designed for a specific instrument and come equipped with a special type of mounting system that attaches to an instrument’s body. If you’re singing on stage and you play an acoustic guitar, this type of mic is the perfect addition to your setup.
Electronically, these mics are similar to their wired counterparts, but the wireless mic also comes with a transmitter, which allows for greater range of movement. In the mic’s body, you’ll find a battery powered transmitter which transmits the mic’s signal to a receiver that’s hooked up to a PA system or mixer. This signal is transmitted via radio signals.
The most common types of wireless mic systems utilize VHF or UHF frequencies. Lower priced models tend to use the UHF band. Higher priced systems use digital technology in order to optimize sound quality while reducing signal dropouts and noise. With this type of system, interference caused by other wireless devices in the vicinity, such as baby monitors, wireless phones, and radios is eliminated.
Diversity technology can also be the way to go and usually only top notch systems offer it. The receivers used in this type of set up come equipped with what’s referred to as true diversity, which means the receiver comes equipped with a couple of radio modules, each of which is connected to their own antenna. If interference is detected, a circuit will compare the signal received by each antenna and use the cleanest one.
Keep in mind that both receiver frequencies should match. This won’t be an issue if you buy a full system because the frequencies are matched by the manufacturer. But if you purchase the receiver and mics separately, you’ll need to ensure that they’re capable of operating on the same bandwidths.
Vocal wireless mics are available in a wide range of formats including head worn mics, clip-on lavaliers, and handheld models. Some companies also produce plug-in transmitters that allow you to convert a standard wired mic into a wireless one.
Condenser mics feature a metal plate referred to as a back plate, which is placed in close proximity of a thin conductive diaphragm, creating a capacitor. The capacitor receives a small electric charge from a battery or a source of phantom power. The distance between the back plate and diaphragm changes when the pressure of sound waves cause the diaphragm to vibrate. This type of varied output is what creates the mic’s electronic signal.
This type of mic utilizes internal batteries or phantom power supplied by the mixer input, or it can use an external power supply. Currently, most mixers feature phantom power on microphone inputs. However, if you’re using an older mixer, you need to determine if it offers phantom power before you buy a condenser mic that requires it.
Most models of condenser mics are used for studio quality recording purposes. There are a few types of condensers that are used for live applications such as percussion instruments, acoustic guitars, and overhead miking for choirs.
Here is a list of the main types of condenser mics:
Large diaphragm condensers: These mics are often very sensitive and usually require suspension mounting in order to isolate the microphone from any external vibration. They also almost always require external power.
The need for suspension, coupled with the large size of the mic makes them ideal for miking drums, a situation that often involves tight space. However, they’re also an excellent choice for recording vocals and a wide variety of instruments. They often serve as an all-purpose mic in recording studios.
Obviously, the best mics in this category can be costly, however, you can also find a number of lower priced models that work pretty well.
As you may have guessed, the best mics in this category can be very expensive; however, you can also find plenty of affordable mics with great sound quality available. These budget-friendly models basically mimic the design of the more expensive mics, and they work quite well for nonprofessional recording.
Side address: This is another kind of large condenser mic. It features a flat, wide windscreen placed over a large diaphragm. The mic is positioned toward the side and horizontally, at a ninety-degree angle. If the mic is positioned vertically, the singer must use it from the side.
Dual diaphragm: Typically, this type of mic is configured the same as the side address, but they have two diaphragms that are aimed in opposite directions.
These mics are effective for recording larger groups or duets and can be perfect for picking up room ambience.
Tube: The classic mics you probably associate with old time broadcast recordings are called tube condensers. They offer a rounded, warm sound to a recording and are still commonly found in professional recording studios today. To use a tube condenser, you’ll also need a powered mixer and a dedicated power supply.
Small diaphragm: These mics have a diaphragm that’s half an inch in diameter and they’re used for a wide range of recording applications, in addition to live settings. They do well with higher frequency sound sources.
USB: A USB mic is popular among singers who enjoy computer based recording. You can choose from a wide range of USB mics, including both dynamic and condenser for specific applications such as vocals. Many even work seamlessly with Android or iOS apps that are designed to turn a tablet or phone into a portable recording studio.
Creating a Microphone Arsenal for Home Studio Recording Needs
Equipping your home studio with a wide selection of microphones and mic mounts can be very costly. So can buying several mics and mic stands that are stage-worthy. Online, you can find many different microphone package options that feature multiple mics, cables, mounts, and stands, and other types of microphone accessories. These microphone packages contain components that have been carefully matched and can help you to save big compared to purchasing each mic and the accessories separately, which can be a total lifesaver for the singer on a budget.
Whether you’re a soloist who is trying to find the best mic to launch your vocal career, or you’re the lead singer in a band and you need mics for your entire setup, the most helpful thing you can do on your search is plenty of research. Read microphone reviews, hit up forums, and ask other professionals what they use and which type of mic can provide the best sound.
Or, you can simply stick with mics from major manufacturers that produce professional quality microphones. Many companies offer affordably priced models that can actually deliver surprisingly good sound.
When it comes to recording microphones, the higher price tag often correlates with the quality of your recordings, so it’s best to avoid going for lower priced microphones. Beginning at around a hundred dollars you can find a condenser mic that’s recording studio worthy. Fortunately, many live performance mics tend to be more forgiving in terms of cost and quality. Ultimately, if you do your homework you should be able to find mics produced by major brands, such as Shure, offered at a reasonable price.
Of course, it’s a sure bet that the more you spend, the better mic quality you’ll get. But if you’re on a tight budget, you can still find a mic that’s appropriate for the type of sound you’re striving to achieve.