Let us start by saying congratulations.
By reaching this point, you’ve taken the first step in turning your dreams into reality, from a few ideas or lyrics to a full-on recorded masterpiece.
So, good on you.
Of course, there’s still some work to do yet, namely figuring out which is the best recording microphone for your needs.
And it’s a daunting world if you’re a beginner.
Tech specs abound on product pages and recommendations, and you probably don’t know how to make heads or tails of most of them (what even is an SPL rating?)
Fear not, we’re here to help.
We’ve got 13 epic recording microphones to show you, one for every purpose you could imagine, as well as some helpful tips on choosing the perfect microphone for your purposes.
Ready? Let’s do this.
What Is The Best Recording Microphone?
The truth is that when it comes to mics, there is no one best option.
The whole point of mics is that they are all designed for different purposes, with different strengths and weaknesses based on those designs.
What works well for a piano in a recording studio might not be great for recording vocals in a live concert environment.
If I had to give an answer though, like if it was some weird “tell me what the best recording microphone is or your family gets it” kind of situation, then I’d have to say it’s the Shure SM7B.
The SM7B is a solid dynamic microphone which is pretty much the go-to broadcasting mic, but it’s also brilliant on vocals (MJ himself used it on several records) and even recording other stuff like guitars or drums.
As you read through this guide, you’ll see the 7B pop up a few times, which just goes to prove its versatility.
However, though the SM7B is great in a variety of contexts, it doesn’t always mean that it is the best microphone for that recording context.
So, let’s take a look at what makes up a microphone so you’re better prepared to assess and understand why we choose these guys.
Key Considerations When Choosing A Recording Microphone
There are three main things you need to look at when deciding on a new recording microphone:
- Condenser vs Dynamic
- XLR vs USB
- Polar pattern
Let’s see what each of these terms means in the real world.
Condenser vs Dynamic
Though mics come in many different shapes and sizes, there are really two kinds of technology inside: condenser and dynamic.
We won’t go into the nitty-gritty nerdy details here, but just know that it’s kind of like the iOS vs Android debate.
Both inevitably do more or less the same thing, but the experience is a bit different.
Condenser microphones are the more sensitive of the two, meaning that they are more likely to pick up background noise, but also are revered for their refined, silkier top end.
Dynamic mics are the opposite. They are less sensitive (meaning that as you move the microphone away from the sound source, the level drops off quite quickly), and they are generally more robust in terms of build quality.
Dynamic mics are great for using in noisy environments (like live on stage, or when recording in an untreated room, like at home), and for recording high-impact, loud instruments, such as drum kits.
Condenser mics are best used in well-treated rooms (like a vocal booth or recording studio) and are great if you want to pick up a high level of intricacy and detail in the high-end and in terms of dynamics, like when recording a softly plucked acoustic guitar.
You’ll also find a third kind of mic, known as the ribbon microphone.
These are technically a kind of dynamic mic, but they are even more sensitive than condensers due to the ribbon element they have inside, and so are generally used a bit further back from the sound source, like as a drum room microphone or for recording a trumpet at a distance.
XLR vs USB
These two acronyms refer to the connection type of the mic.
Most professional mics use XLR, which is a three-pronged, analog audio connector. It looks like this:
This connector plugs into your audio interface or recording device.
USB mics are a newer format which have gained popularity over the last few years. The internal electronics are much the same as XLR mics except for the addition of analog to digital converters which allow the microphone to send a digital signal down a USB cable.
USB mics plug directly into your computer.
Most of the microphones discussed in this article are XLR mics.
A microphone’s polar pattern describes its sensitivity to sound with regard to direction.
That’s to say, how does the microphone respond to sounds from the front, sides, and back of the capsule?
The main polar patterns you’ll find are:
- Omnidirectional – picks up sound from all directions
- Cardioid – picks up sound from the front, a bit from the sides, and rejects the rear
- Supercardioid and hypercardioid – tighter versions of the cardioid polar pattern
- Figure-8 – also known as bi-directional, picks up sound from the front and back, and not from the sides
The most common type is cardioid, because 9 times out of 10, you’ll want to record whatever you’re pointing at, and nothing else.
Omni mics are great for emphasizing the natural sound of the room (like if you’re recording in a great cathedral).
Figure-8s don’t tend to have a lot of use, though they are sometimes preferred in interview situations where two people are facing each other and can record using the same microphone.
13 Best Recording Microphones
Best Microphone for Recording Singing: Neumann TLM103
Boy oh boy, this microphone is amazing.
The Neumann TLM103 is a large-diaphragm condenser microphone with a silky top-end, low self-noise, and a sexy steel shell.
OGs might recommend the Neumann U87ai for this category (which the TLM103 is derived from, sharing a capsule), but you can get three of these guys for the price of an 87.
And honestly, who’s really able to tell the difference anyway, when it comes down to the final mix?
The TLM103 is a fixed cardioid pattern microphone (great for vocals), and it has an insanely flat frequency response (I mean like, dead flat) right up until around 3kHz, where you’ll find a broad presence boost of around 4dB.
Basically what this means is the clarity and intelligibility of your voice will really shine through when recording with the TLM103.
This gorgeous microphone from Neumann comes in a classic nickel livery, or you can opt for the modern black version if that’s more your style.
Whichever you choose, make sure you go with the studio set, which includes a color-matched shock mount to keep your microphone acoustically isolated and free of any unwanted noise entering the capsule.
Best Budget Microphone for Recording Singing: Rode NT1A
If the Neumann TLM103 is a little out of your price range (which is fair enough, it’s not the cheapest microphone around), then the Rode NT1A is 100% your go-to guy.
Just one quick look at the NT1A and you can tell it’s taken more than a few design cues from the famous German manufacturer.
The Rode NT1A is a large-diaphragm condenser microphone with a cardioid polar pattern, just the same as the TLM103.
The frequency response of the Rode unit is quite different, though, with several peaks and troughs across the range.
On the whole, it sounds much the same, as none of these bumps are all that pronounced, though you’ll notice the NT1A will be a little less upfront, with a bit more air in the higher frequencies.
The Aussie-manufactured microphone is well-known for being the quietest microphone in the world, with a self-noise of just 5dB.
Couple that with the included shock mount and pop filter, and you’ve got a noise-free recording experience ready to go.
Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of using a pop filter, either. If you’re recording vocals, it’s pretty much a must-have, keeping those nasty plosives (P and B sound) at bay.
Despite being so affordable, the NT1A is built to last – this is no cheaply manufactured unit.
In fact, Rode is so confident that it will go the distance, that they offer a 10-year warranty on the NT1A, so what have you got to lose?
Best Microphone for Recording Voice at Home: Shure SM7B
The problem with most professional studio-quality microphones used for vocals is that they are super sensitive, on the part of them being condensers.
Condenser microphones are known for being particularly sensitive to background noise, which isn’t so much of an issue in treated rooms, like at your local recording studio, but it does become a problem at home.
The Shure SM7B is the best microphone for recording voice at home because it’s a dynamic microphone (much less sensitive to background noise) but still manages to deliver a professional-quality vocal record.
I mean, this microphone has been used on countless records and was a staple microphone for both Michael Jackson, and Anthony Keidis (Red Hot Chili Peppers).
It’s a broadcast microphone by design, which explains the interesting shape and weird (yet oddly helpful) swivel mount at the bottom.
You get a fixed cardioid polar pattern that delivers excellent off-axis rejection with minimal coloration, and a fairly flat frequency response from 50Hz up to 15kHz, with a few targeted peaks in the upper frequencies.
The cool thing is, though, you can also mess with this response a little bit, thanks to a couple of switches on the back.
The bass roll-off switch, well, rolls of the bass. Ideal for recording voice, where there’s not really any energy down there anyway.
The second switch is a presence boost, which gives the SM7B a nice bump right across the mid-range and lifts vocals and instruments into the forefront of a mix.
Best Budget Microphone for Recording Voice at Home: Samson Q2U
Finding a truly budget microphone (not just a reasonably affordable one) that also performs well in untreated rooms is a bit of a struggle, to be honest.
Unless you grab the Samson Q2U, which is what I’m suggesting you do.
It’s a handheld microphone that comes with a clip to throw it on a stand and offers basically what you’d expect from a microphone that looks like this: a dynamic capsule and cardioid polar pattern.
Just what you need for voice recording in the comfort of your own home.
What makes this microphone so damn cool is the fact that it has both USB and XLR outputs. Though it’s not that hard of a technology to build, this is something that mics rarely offer.
The reason this is so helpful is that there are some occasions where USB kind of isn’t an option, like if you want to record with two or more mics at once, or in a live context.
With the Samson Q2U, you can plug into your laptop using the USB output when you’re recording at home, and then swap out to the XLR output when adding a guest to your podcast, or jumping on stage.
Best USB Microphone for Recording: Rode NT-USB
Speaking of USB mics…
If a digital connection is what you need, but you don’t want to sacrifice quality, then the Rode NT-USB is the microphone you need to go with.
Rode has a long history of making affordable, budget-friendly mics that absolutely kick ass, ass that is way out of their league in terms of price.
And then, they dropped the NT-USB.
Probably the first USB microphone to deliver the studio-quality audio we’ve come to expect from professional XLR mics, but with a digital path that connects directly to your computer.
Let’s see why it’s so great:
First of all, you get a tripod stand, ring mount (for a regular microphone stand), and a pop filter. Cool, lots of accessories. Nice.
The NT-USB is a cardioid condenser, like its analog brother, the NT1A, and it sounds amazing.
A full frequency range of 20Hz to 20kHz ensures you’ll capture absolutely everything, while a heft presence boost of around 6dB in the upper mid-range (3-8kHz) brings clarity to vocals, makes acoustic guitar sparkle, and brings piano pieces right into focus.
On the side of the microphone body, you’ll find a dedicated headphone output for zero-latency monitoring, a volume control for your headphones, and a second knob that allows you to balance the levels of your input (whatever you’re recording) and the output of your computer.
You can even connect directly to an Apple iPad for a truly modern recording experience.
Best Microphone for Podcasting: ElectroVoice RE20
Podcasting has absolutely blown up in the last few years, and it’s only continuing to grow in popularity.
So, it’s no surprise that many microphone manufacturers out there are creating mics just for this purpose.
In my experience, though, most of them deliver okay audio, but still have room for improvement.
If you want the best of the best, then I’d say you’ve gotta go with the ElectroVoice RE20.
It’s an old-school-looking mic, because it is, having been around since the early days of FM radio. But don’t let its age fool you, this microphone still sounds modern and clear, and delivers that crisp, intelligible broadcasting sound you need to make your podcast sound professional.
The RE20 uses a Variable-D technology which keeps the proximity effect (the tendency for microphone responses to become more bassy when you get closer to the capsule) at bay, and the 180-degree off-axis response has zero coloration thanks to the mic’s true cardioid polar pattern.
It’s a dynamic mic, so it’ll be great for use at home as well!
If you’re not quite sold on the RE20, the SM7B would be a good option for podcasting as well, as seen on countless shows such as The Joe Rogan Experience.
Best Microphone for Recording Live Music: Shure SM58
The best microphone for recording live music has got to be the Shure SM58.
The 58 is the quintessential handheld dynamic microphone with a cardioid polar pattern. This is ideal for live music because the environment is so loud, you want the microphone to really focus on whatever you’re pointing it at.
The SM58 is also built like a tank and is known for its ability to withstand drops from great heights.
Though you’re probably not going to put that to the test, it’s important to know that a microphone can stand up to the rigors of live performances and touring, which tend to be pretty rough on equipment.
The frequency response of the Shure 58 is fairly flat throughout the low and lower mid-range, with a few presence boosts in the upper mids making it great for bringing vocals forward in the mix.
Best Microphone for Recording Acoustic Guitar: AKG C451B
My favorite microphone option for recording acoustic guitars has got to be a stereo pair of small-diaphragm condensers.
A couple of these bad boys placed at either end of the guitar creates a nice, wide image of the guitar with plenty of the high-end sparkle picked up by the SDC’s incredible ability to capture detailed highs.
And when it comes to small-diaphragm contenders, AKG’s C451B is the cream of the crop.
The capsule design and slotted grille delivers a beautifully focused cardioid polar pattern, and the frequency response is ideal for acoustic gats: flat through the mid-range with a pronounced boost in the upper mids, peaking at around 10kHz.
You also get two bass roll-off filters (75Hz and 150Hz) to ensure your acoustic recordings aren’t too muddy, and 10dB or 20dB pads for overly enthusiastic strummers.
Grab yourself a pair of these bad boys and get to it.
Best Microphone for Recording Electric Guitar Amps: Shure SM57
The SM57 has got to be the most widely used microphone of all time.
I think what I like most about the 57 is that it’s so stupidly affordable and so versatile. It’s great on guitar amps, or as a snare or hi-hat mic, and even does pretty well on vocals.
But despite its low cost, it gets used by high-profile sound professionals all the time.
It’s rugged as hell, just like the SM58. It’s a dynamic microphone with a cardioid polar pattern, so it fares well right up against the speaker of a blaring Marshall stack.
And it has a frequency response that is ideal for electric guitars: a steep bass filter starting at just below 200Hz, and a bunch of peaks and bumps in the upper mids.
Roll-off a little 4kHz in the mix if you’re working with overly distorted guitars, and you’re in the money.
Best Microphone for Recording Bass Guitar: Shure Beta 52A
The Shure Beta 52A is a beast for handling low-end, so it’s great on kick drums and bass cabs.
The first thing you’ll notice on the 52A’s spec sheet is its insane SPL handling: 172dB.
That’s ridiculous. That’s about 16 times as loud as a jet engine. So it’s got more than enough grunt to handle an Ampeg 8×10 cranked up to 10.
The frequency response is super shaped as well, which is just what we want, especially with the big scoop in the lower mid-range, which can often make a bass guitar sound super muddy.
Watch for the proximity effect though, with a massive 20dB boost in the low end when super close up to a sound source.
Back the microphone up a few inches from the cab and you’ll be good, and then lean into the mic’s increased upper-mid response for that ganky distorted bass tone.
Best Microphone for Recording Piano: AKG C414
The AKG C414 is basically my go-to condenser microphone when I need a solid, natural foundation with a tonne of flexibility.
That flexibility comes first and foremost from the mic’s switchable polar patterns.
You get omnidirectional, cardioid (both wide and narrow), hypercardioid, and figure-8. Literally all of them.
I like using the Omni mode for pianos, assuming you’re recording in an epic-sounding room.
That’s not all you get to play with, however. The C414 also has 40, 80, and 160Hz low-cut filters, and -6, -12, and -18dB pads. So yeah, it’s ridiculously versatile.
The standard frequency response (with no low-cut filters engaged) is flat throughout the lower mids with some slight dips around 1.5kHz and 4kHz, with nice clarity bumps at around 7kHz and 14kHz.
Best Microphone Kit for Recording Drums: Audix DP7
In my opinion, Audix is one of the most underrated microphone manufacturers out there especially when it comes to drum kit recording.
I mean, it’s not like they aren’t well known, and they’re definitely doing well in the market, I just really rate them.
The Audix DP7 is a drum microphone kit that comes with:
- 1x D6 Kick Drum Microphone
- 1x i5 Snare Drum Microphone
- 2x D2 Rack Tom Microphones
- 1x D4 Floor Tom Microphone
- 2x ADX51 Overhead Microphones
- 4x DVICE Rim Mounts
- 3x DCLIP Microphone Clips
- 1x MC1 Microphone Clip
- 2x WS81C Windscreens
- 1x Aluminum Road Case
The D series mics are super modern sounding with nice low-mid scoops and hefty upper-frequency boost for plenty of attack, just how I like it.
The included rim mount clips are super handy as well, as I’ve always had a rough time trying to squeeze 12 microphone stands around a kit, especially when you’re working with pain-in-the-ass microphone shapes like the MD421.
Plus, I just like the idea of using a family of mics on a drum kit, because it keeps the sound of the kit glued together and brings a cohesive element to the recording.
Best Microphone for Recording Brass Instruments: Royer 121
Last on our list is the Royer 121 which is an epic microphone all around, but really excels when recording trumpets or sax.
The 121 is a ribbon mic, so it’s a figure-8 and offers a soft, refined, almost-vintage sound.
This is noted in the frequency response, which has no pronounced peaks or troughs. Instead, it sort of ebbs and flows like a gentle wave, right across the frequency range.
This results in a super natural-sounding recording that really emphasizes the sound of brass instruments in the room.
I also love using the 121 as a companion to the SM57 when recording electric guitar cabs, as the 57 can be quite bright and in your face.
By now you should have a pretty damn good idea of which microphone is going to work best for your purpose.
Remember to make sure you choose a microphone that offers the right:
- Type (condenser or dynamic)
- Polar pattern
And, if you’re ever in doubt, just grab the Shure SM7B, there’s little it doesn’t absolutely shine on!