Mics for recording comes in different shapes and forms. To help you find the best mic for different needs such as recording, playing guitar, podcasting etc, musicgearzone.com has put together a comprehensive guide to help you sort out the winners from the losers.
- 1 Criteria for choosing a microphone for your recording needs
- 2 Best mics for recording vocals
- 3 Best mics for acoustic guitar
- 4 Best mics for podcasts
- 5 Best mic for field recording
- 6 Conclusion
Criteria for choosing a microphone for your recording needs
Before recommending specific brands, it is best to understand what are the criteria you should be looking out for. Here is a list that we think is the most critical
Dynamic vs condenser mic
Dynamic microphones are known to be less sensitivity and thus less likely to pick up excessive background noise. They are therefore used extensively for live performances, but they are also used in studio settings where a clear recording is preferred.
Condenser microphones, on the other hand, are much more sensitive and capable of producing richer, fuller sounding recordings. They are, however, more susceptible to background noises. They are often used to record vocals and acoustic instruments where a sonically rich recording and ambient sound is preferred.
A special type of dynamic microphone, the ribbon mics, are known to soften the sound and add warmth to recorded instruments, such as percussions, acoustic guitars and vocals. These microphones are extremely delicate, which is probably why they are not as well-known among new recording artists, who may not have the knowledge of how to properly use and maintain them.
The most popular types of microphones in the current market are connected either via a XLR cable into a mic preamp or an audio interface, or via a USB cable straight into a computer or iPad. If you do not plan to get an audio interface or a mic preamp for various reasons, or if you need to record on the go, then USB microphones may be a more appealing option due to their no-fuss connection. However, professional studio recording artists and musicians still prefer to use a mic preamp or audio interface, so the XLR-to-mic preamp is still the preferred option among this group.
The most popular mics used for recording have a cardioid, supercardioid or hypercardioid polar pattern. These patterns tend to exclude most of the surrounding sound except that coming directly from behind the mic, i.e. the vocalist.
However, in certain circumstances other polar patterns might come in handy. For instance, if you are trying to capture the entire atmosphere, eg. In field recording, in a conference or when recording a choir, an omnidirectional microphone may turn out to be a better fit. (An omnidirectional mic picks up sound from all directions)
It is also possible to have a microphone with multiple switchable polar patterns. Having multiple patterns means that microphone can be used for different purposes, from studio recording, podcasts and voice-overs, to field recording and conference calls. However, these mics tend to be more expensive, which brings us to the next factor to consider…
How much should you spend?
If you are new at recording, it is important to keep in mind that you may end up needing more than one microphone to fit different purposes and recording situations. As such, I would recommend not pouring all your studio budget into your first mic. It is not difficult to find a decent recording mic for under $500 or even $100.
If you are planning to get serious at recording, it is also worth noting that the microphone will probably not be the only piece of equipment you need. A typical studio setup will minimally involve a mic preamp, an audio interface, and a recording software which may not be free. Hence, it is essential to consider the budget for your microphone with regards to the total recording budget.
Best mics for recording vocals
Neumann TLM 102 Condenser Microphone
Neumann mics aren’t the most affordable out there, but they sure are among the top-rated in terms of audio quality. The Neumann TLM 102 condenser mic is still among the industry favourites, boasting an undeniable recording quality, especially for vocal recording. The slight presence boost for frequencies above 6 kHz allows your vocals to truly shine and sparkle. If you can get past the price tag, you really just can’t go wrong with this mic.
Rode NTK Tube Condenser Microphone
Vintage tube microphones are known for imparting a warm, rich and rounded sound to the recording. The Rode NTK is no exception. Its core strength lies in the fine richness and warmth, as well as the high definition and clarity it gives to the final recording. The Rode NTK is also exceptional at picking up sounds spanning a wide frequency range, allowing you to capture the full complexities of the vocals. To top it off, the Rode NTK is an extremely robust and sturdy mic, which makes it a worthwhile long-term investment.
Shure SM58-LC Cardioid Vocal Microphone
Certainly one of the best mics below $100, the Shure SM58-LC is praised as the first microphone for every recording studio. Like other dynamic microphones, this mic captures the clear vocals while minimizing unnecessary background noise and interference. It also has a built-in pop filter, which helps reduce the sudden pops in voice recording, such as when pronouncing words that begin with ‘s’, ‘b’ and ‘p’. An affordable and effective dynamic mic for vocal recording, the Shure SM58-LC is one of the favourite models among new recording artists.
Shure SM7B Vocal Dynamic Microphone
This microphone is tailored specifically for recording vocals, especially rock vocals. Emphasis and presence boost on the midrange gives the recorded vocals a strong presence and powerful impact. The highly effective built-in pop filter reduces the sudden pops and breathing sounds often encountered when recording close-up vocals. This mic is ideal for recording any kind of vocals, and is guaranteed to do a fantastic job.
Best mics for acoustic guitar
Rode NT2A Condenser Microphone
A large diaphragm condenser microphone with switchable polar patterns, the Rode NT2A is as versatile as it is reliable in recording acoustic instruments such as guitars and violins. This mic is capable of capturing the finest subtleties and frequency variations, from the warmth of an acoustic guitar to the sparkling highs of a violin. Definitely one of Rode’s finest microphones (together with the Rode NTK) and one of the most versatile in the market.
Shure SM81 review
A small-diaphragm condenser mic with exceptional response to variations in sound pressure levels, the lightweight Shure SM81 will pick up the most subtle nuances from aggressive strumming to delicate fingerpicking on your acoustic guitar. It is also ideal for recording hi hats, crash and cymbals. Undoubtedly one of the best condenser mics under $500.
AKG PERCEPTION 170 Condenser Microphone review
Probably the best condenser mic under $100, the AKG Perception 170 is great for recording acoustic guitars, hi hats and cymbals. Its small diaphragm makes it an ideal condenser mic for recording of overheads, for example in your drum set. Don’t let the price deceive you: this beauty will blow you away with the surprising clarity and frequency response she can deliver. To top it off, she is exceptionally robust and built to last, so there is really no reason why you shouldn’t equip your studio with one or two of these compact little beauties for recording your acoustic and percussive instruments.
Blue Microphones Spark Condenser Microphone
One of the best condenser mics under $200, the Blue Spark is great for producing clean recordings while still preserving the fine subtleties of the acoustic guitar. Its premium condenser capsule minimizes background noise while allowing a rapid response to variations in loudness and frequencies, ensuring the original richness of the sound. Definitely an option to consider for your first studio recording mic.
Best mics for podcasts
Rode Podcaster USB Dynamic Microphone review
One of the best mics under $300, the Rode Podcaster USB Dynamic mic is an affordable and solid piece of gear to get you broadcasting with radio quality. With an 18-bit resolution and 48 kHz sampling rate, this beauty is a true high-definition podcasting master. Easy USB connection to your Windows PC or Mac laptop gives you fuss-free podcasting anywhere, anytime you like.
Audio-Technica AT2020 USB Cardioid Condenser Microphone review
Extremely affordable, robust, USB-connected, Windows and Mac compatible, this simple but powerful little beauty gives you everything you need to start podcasting like a pro. Simply mount the AT2020 at your desk and you’re good to go. Its wide frequency response, super durable material and crystal clear recording quality places this mic on par with high class condenser mics like the Rode NTK, only at a much more affordable price.
Best mic for field recording
Blue Yeti Pro
A multi-pattern USB condenser mic, the Blue Yeti Pro is an ideal mic for multi-purpose use from interviewing to conferencing and field recording. The four different polar patterns makes this beauty an exceptionally versatile tool: the cardioid mode shields off background noise, great for podcasting in your room or recording vocals in the studio. The stereo mode allows for realistic vocal or field recording with left and right channels. A bidirectional mode allows convenient use for interviewing, and the omnidirectional mode makes this mic a handy tool for recording conferences, or capturing atmospheric sounds and ambient in field recording.
It is most important to identify your recording needs and purpose for using a recording mic, before deciding which mic is the best for you. Keep in mind the various criteria for choosing the most suitable mics for your needs, and check your recording budget to make sure you don’t fall short of equipment later on.