Choosing the best microphone for recording vocals can feel like a daunting task.
There are countless models available, and some of the terminologies are confusing if you're new to the world of home recording.
The fact is, each microphone will suit different vocal styles. There are no right or wrong decisions, but gaining a small amount of knowledge about the basic types of microphones and how they work will enable you to make an informed choice.
To help you get started, we've compiled a list of the best microphones for recording vocals. From lofty performances to more intimate recording duties, we'll help you choose the most suitable mic regardless of budget.
Large-diaphragm microphones are widely used to record vocals due to their low self-noise and ability to shape the sound in a pleasing way (particularly at the lower frequency range).
The 440 is a large-diaphragm condenser designed to capture the detail and rich sound of vocals. It features a FET preamp and has a cardioid pickup pattern, which will help you capture more of the vocal performance and less of the room if your acoustic environment is quite lively.
You can't argue with the price-point here; MXL has succeeded in designing one of the most impressive entry-level studio mics priced below $/£100.
Price: $75/£55 | Type: Condenser | Polar Pattern: Cardioid | Connection: XLR
Inspired by the classic SM7B, the MV7 is a superb dynamic microphone with both USB and XLR outputs.
The XLR output connects like any other microphone to your audio interface, or if you're connecting via USB, there's some impressive onboard processing to help make life easier.
Thanks to the seriously smart ShurePlus MOTIV app, you can easily control the microphone's tone using a number of presets. Plus, with Auto Level Mode, this mic really does the heavy lifting for you.
Price: $355/£260 | Type: Dynamic | Polar Pattern: Cardioid | Connection: XLR/USB
When designing the NT1, Rode took their popular NT1-A and completely re-designed it from the ground up.
This 1" diaphragm condenser microphone is designed to enhance mid-range response and deliver silky smooth high frequencies. At this price point, it's a superbly versatile microphone that will suit a wide range of vocal styles.
Rode has made a name for itself by producing studio microphones that perform well above their class. Constantly innovating, they claim to have created one of the quietest studio microphones available, with an impressively low self-noise of just 4.5dBA.
Price: $275/£200 | Type: Condenser | Polar Pattern: Cardioid | Connection: XLR
Condenser microphones might be the most common choice for recording vocals, but dynamic microphones can deliver a superior result in some circumstances.
The SM7B started life as a broadcast microphone that quickly earned a reputation for capturing a smooth, warm radio-friendly sound.
Recording studios eventually cottoned on to the mic's unique qualities. It went on to take centre stage on several classic albums by artists such as Michael Jackson and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Because dynamic mics are less sensitive than condensers, they can be advantageous in recording environments with less than perfect acoustics. A dynamic mic will naturally pick up less room ambience and help mitigate the problem.
Even better, the restricted frequency response and natural compression of a dynamic mic can actually suit some performers (particularly rock and metal vocalists), so it's worth experimenting.
Price: $359/£370 | Type: Dynamic | Polar Pattern: Cardioid | Connection: XLR
Earthworks ICON Pro
Designed for professional Podcasting and gaming, the Icon Pro is quickly gaining a reputation for capturing rich, full-sounding vocals.
As a condenser microphone, its frequency response and sensitivity is much wider than the SM7B. It's got an immense amount of headroom and more dynamic range than a lot of its rivals in this category.
If you're looking for a versatile project studio mic, this could be the one. While it's technically aimed at the podcasting and content creators market, you'll quickly find this mic is no one-trick pony. We've heard superb results on a wide range of vocal styles and even acoustic and electric guitars.
Easily one of the best podcasting microphones you can buy.
Price: $500/£365 | Type: Condenser | Polar Pattern: Cardioid | Connection: XLR
The MXL 770X is the successor to their acclaimed 770. It features a larger gold-sputtered diaphragm which MXL claims increases dynamic range and improves detail.
For the price, it's one of the most versatile mics on our list, boasting three selectable polar patterns (Cardioid, Figure 8, and Omni-directional). You'll be able to apply the 770x to a wide range of recording environments and instruments.
If you're clever with microphone position, the dead-spot on a figure 8 polar pattern can be advantageous when recording acoustic guitarists that sing at the same time.
Price: $200/£145 | Type: Condenser | Polar Pattern: Multi-pattern | Connection: XLR
Sennheiser MK 4
The MK 4 is the epitome of what a versatile project studio mic should be. It's perfect for recording vocals but also suits a wide range of acoustic instruments.
Germany build quality carries a lot of weight. You can rest easy knowing the transducer of this highly affordable home studio mic is manufactured in the same room as all high-end Sennheiser condenser capsules.
The 1" 'true condenser' capsule is based on the acoustics of a Sennheiser e965 high-end stage vocal mic, but in this case is optimised for recording.
Price: $360/£260 | Type: Condenser | Polar Pattern: Cardioid | Connection: XLR
Lewitt LCT 440 Pure
The LCT 440 Pure is noted for its clear, relatively neutral sound quality. It's a remarkable sounding microphone, and while it doesn't have multiple polar patterns or the convenience of high-pass filtering or pad controls, it does punch above its weight for sound quality.
Rather than colouring the sound, Lewitt microphones are famed for preserving the unique characteristics of each individual vocalist. If it's a recording true to the original performance you're looking for, the "Lewitt sound" could be just the ticket.
Price: $310/£225 | Type: Condenser | Polar Pattern: Cardioid | Connection: XLR
Neumann TLM 102
Aimed at the home recording market, the TLM 102 delivers the famed Neumann sound at an affordable price.
Easily one of our favourite condenser microphones for recording vocals. As you'd expect from Neumann, the specs are impressive. It comfortably handles sound pressure levels of up to 144 dB, and the light accent at 8-12 kHz perfectly complements vocal applications. The integrated pop-shield makes capturing a clean, perfect take effortless.
Some might wince at the higher price tag compared with our earlier models, but if you want your vocal recordings to shimmer and shine, this is one of the most impressive performers on our list.
Price: $650/£470 | Type: Condenser | Polar Pattern: Cardioid | Connection: XLR
Ribbon microphones are known for producing silky, warm recordings and are perfectly suited to more intimate performances.
Before modern condenser microphones, ribbon mics dominated the studio microphone market. Older models were very fragile and unable to handle high sound pressure levels without damaging the delicate ribbon capsule.
In recent years, many advancements in ribbon design have enabled these wonderful-sounding microphones to make a resurgence in popularity.
The Rode NTR is a remarkably affordable entry into the world of ribbon technology that sounds superb on vocals and acoustic instruments. Inspired by tradition but designed for the future, Rode uses laser technology to cut the ribbon with razor-sharp accuracy.
Price: $870/£635 | Type: Ribbon | Polar Pattern: Figure-8 | Connection: XLR
Warm Audio WA-251
If a classic vintage sound is up your street, you'll love this affordable all vacuum tube option from Warm Audio.
Vacuum tubes (or valves) will colour the sound of a recording, so if neutral clarity is what you're after, this probably isn't the mic for you. However, tubes are a popular option for those wanting to add "analogue character" to a digital recording.
The multi-polar pattern design makes this one of the more flexible options on our list. You'll have plenty of fun trying this characterful mic on multiple sound sources and vocalists to see how it responds.
Price: $699/£759 | Type: Condenser | Polar Pattern: Cardioid, Figure 8, Omni | Connection: XLR (via external power supply)
Summing Up - Which Studio Vocal Microphone is Right for You?
Choosing the best microphone for recording vocals at home doesn't have to be a difficult task. Home recording gear has come on in leaps and bounds over the last 10 - 20 years to the point where even the most budget-sensitive option on our list will deliver a great result.
The number one consideration before making any kind of buying decision should always be your recording environment. Second on the list should be tonal preference. In other words: where are you recording and how do you want it to sound?
Condenser microphones offer superior performance to dynamic mics by capturing a wider frequency response and offering far greater sensitivity. When you want to capture the detail and subtlety of a performer, there is nothing quite like a condenser mic.
But what if your room is overly reverberant, or there's a fair amount of background noise (such as outside traffic, other family members, or even pets?). In this instance, you might just find a dynamic microphone is exactly what you need.
And then there's the performance style or genre of music...
If you're capturing a loud, shouty rock vocalist, a dynamic microphone, with its higher SPL handling and lower sensitivity, might capture a recording that's easier to sit within the context of a mix.
Do I Need Multiple Polar Patterns?
For most home recording applications, a cardioid polar pattern is an ideal choice. It enables you to reject sound from the back of the mic, capturing more of the direct vocal and less of the reverberant room.
Omnidirectional microphones sound more neutral, but you'll be exposed to sound coming from all directions. If you're lucky enough to have an acoustically treated recording space, an omni polar pattern is desirable.
Whichever microphone you choose or can afford, you'll get the best results by following a few basic recording principles. For a complete guide on how to record vocals at home, check out our full guide.