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Best Recording Studio Microphones

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Best Recording Studio Microphones

It's finally time to upgrade your home studio's mic locker, and I'm here to help. This article breaks the best recording microphones for your home studio down in to 4 categories: the best overall workhouse mics; the best mics for vocal recordings; the best mics for instruments; and the best mics for drums. Within each section, the mics are organized by price. There's no fluff in this list - these are all great mics! For example, I'm not reviewing an USB mics, just professional-quality XLR microphones that have stood the test of time. 

Note: this article may contain affiliate links, which mean that I receive a commission for any purchases you make, at no added cost to you.

 

How to Pick a Mic for Your Recording Studio

 

Picking the right mic just depends on your budget and your needs. The first thing you need to consider is what you're going to be using it for. If you know you'll never record vocals your choices will be very different from if you will ONLY be recording vocals.

Second, you need to figure out your budget. When it comes to home recording the microphone is the most important part of the signal chain. With each step of the signal chain becoming less important. A $200 vintage EQ plugin can't re-create frequencies that a microphone failed to capture. A boutique pre-amp won't make a cheap mic sound expensive. So don't skimp on buying quality mics!

 

The 3 Overall Best Recording Studio Microphones: Shure SM 57, Warm Audio WA-84, and AKG C414 XLS

 

If you are looking for workhorse studio microphones, these are the three studio legends (or recreations) that have become the go-to tools for artists and producers: the Shure SM 57, Warm Audio WA-84, and the AKG C414 XLS. Whether you're laying down some smooth vocals or capturing the raw energy of a live drum kit, these mics are the Swiss Army knives in the audio world. These are great overall mics that will allow you to get a lot of flexibility from your home studio.

 

The Ever-Reliable: Shure SM 57

 

Ah, the Shure SM 57, a microphone that's been around since, I don't know, the Stone Age? This mic is like that one friend who's always reliable and never lets you down. It's rugged, dependable, and can handle anything from screaming guitar amps to soulful vocals. In the studio, the SM 57 is a go-to for recording instruments, especially snare drums and electric guitar amps thanks to its frequency range and polar pattern. And given it's durability, it's also a good choice for live performances.

 

 

The great thing about dynamic mics like the SM57 is that they can handle more aggressive vocals in a smoother fashion. Another reason dynamic microphones are a great choice is that they don't require phantom power, which can come in handy if your audio interface doesn't provide a lot of options. This versatility of this mic in different applications, its durability, and sound make the SM57 a great option as your first microphone.

 

Why It Rocks:

  • Durability: This mic can survive a nuclear blast (okay, maybe not, but it's super tough).
  • Versatility: Perfect for both live sound and studio recording. 
  • Affordable: It’s a no-brainer for budget-conscious musicians.

 

 

The Vintage Vibe Master: Warm Audio WA-84

 

Next up is the Warm Audio WA-84, a mic that's like a time machine back to the golden era of recording. This small-diaphragm condenser microphone brings that vintage warmth (pun intended) and clarity to your recordings. It's fantastic for acoustic instruments, overheads on drums, and even for capturing the ambience of a room. These are great microphones at a really remarkable price point specifically designed to appeal to home studios that want top-notch sound without breaking the bank.

 

 

Why It’s a Gem:

  • Classic Sound: Delivers that sought-after vintage tone on a budget.
  • Flexibility: Great for a variety of sources, both in the studio and on stage.
  • Build Quality: It’s like the luxury car of microphones - sleek and well-built.

 

 

The Studio Workhorse: AKG C414 XLS

 

Last, but definitely not the least, is the AKG C414 XLS. This mic is like the Swiss Army knife in your recording arsenal, which is why it has become an industry standard. Its versatility is unmatched, with multiple pickup patterns that can adapt to any recording situation. Whether it’s a delicate string quartet or a powerful rock vocal, the C414 XLS captures it all with impeccable clarity and detail. On top of that, it includes a three-position high-pass filter so you can capture a clean signal from a variety of sound sources.

 

 

You can also use this for recording vocals, though it's a slightly worse choice than its sibling, the AKG C414 XLII (see this article on the differences between the AKG C414 XLII and the AKG C414 XLS).

 

Why It’s Unbeatable:

  • Versatility: Multiple polar patterns for any recording scenario. Really beautiful detail on acoustic guitars (see why it's my I think its one of the best mics for recording acoustic guitar)
  • Sound Quality: Offers a transparent, neutral sound with high SPL handling.
  • Professional Choice: Widely used in studios worldwide for its reliability and performance.

 

 

Workhorse Wrap Up

 

So, there you have it – the Shure SM 57, Warm Audio WA-84, and AKG C 414 XLS. These three are like the Holy Trinity of studio microphones, each bringing its unique flavor to the mix. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned pro, these mics are essential tools that can elevate your recordings to the next level. These microphones would be enough for a home studio completely. Or they could form the foundation of a bigger mic collection.

 

The 3 Best Recording Studio Microphones for Vocals: SM7, AKG C414, and Neumann U87

 

Now it's time for zoning in on the cream of the crop in the world of recording studio microphones specifically for vocals. We're talking about the trifecta of microphone royalty at three different price points: the SM7, AKG C414, and the Neumann U87. Each of these mics is a powerhouse in its own right, offering something special to every vocal take. Whether you're crooning smooth ballads or belting out powerhouse notes, these are the best vocal microphones certain to find a place in your studio. You can also check out the best mics for rapping here if that's the focus of your recording

 

The Dynamic Darling: SM7B

 

First up is the SM7, a dynamic microphone that's as versatile as they come. It's the go-to choice for everything from podcasting to rock vocals, and for a good reason. The SM7 captures the natural tone of the voice while smoothing out the rough edges – think of it as your personal vocal stylist. It also comes with a pop filter, so you don't need to worry about that. The only downside to the SM7B is that it has a very low electrical signal that you will likely need to boost with a Cloud Lifter.

 

 

Why It’s a Vocal Virtuoso:

  • Smooth Sound: Excellent at handling both soft and loud vocals without losing clarity.
  • Noise Rejection: Superb at keeping room noise and echoes at bay.
  • Affordability: A high-quality choice that won’t break the bank.

 

 

The Studio Staple: AKG C414 XLII

 

Next in line is the AKG C414 XLII, a condenser microphone that's been a studio staple for decades. This mic is like a chameleon, adapting to the unique characteristics of any voice. Its versatility is unmatched, thanks to its multiple polar patterns and high sensitivity.

 

 

Why It’s a Top Pick:

  • Versatility: Switchable polar patterns make it suitable for any vocal style.
  • Detail Capture: Its sensitivity brings out the nuances in every performance.
  • Professional Standard: A favorite in studios for its consistency and reliability.

 

 

The Legendary Neumann U87

 

Last, but certainly not least, is the Neumann U 87. This microphone is like the Rolls Royce of the vocal recording world. It's a legend in its own right, known for its warm, rich sound that flatters any voice that passes through it. This large diaphragm condenser microphone is one of the best microphones ever made, and it's got a price to match. While this is likely the best studio microphone around, given its price and durability, it should never be used in a live setting. 

 

It's also an ultra-premium choice for recording bass guitar amps if you can get the proximity effect sweet spot locked in.

 

Why It’s Unparalleled:

  • Iconic Sound Quality: Provides a warm, yet detailed sound signature.
  • Versatility and Control: Features multiple pickup patterns and a switchable low-frequency roll-off.
  • Industry Gold Standard: Used in professional studios worldwide for its unmatched quality. Even the shock mount is a work of art.

 

 

Conclusion

 

There you have it, folks – the SM7, AKG C414, and Neumann U87. These are not just microphones; they are the gatekeepers to sonic excellence. Each one brings something unique to the table, ensuring that your vocals are captured with the utmost fidelity and character.

 

 

The 4 Best Recording Studio Microphones for Instruments

 

Welcome to the instrumentalists' corner! We're talking about the crème de la crème of studio mics, specifically tailored for capturing the essence of instruments. Our lineup includes the Audio Technica AT2020, Shure KSM141, Rode NT-5, and Neumann KM 184. Each of these mics has its own unique flair and is a game-changer in the world of music production. I'll also give a shout out to the best overall microphones above (SM 57, WA-84, and AKG C-414 XLS) as great instrumental mics. If you know you're going to be recording a lot of piano, be sure to check out this guide to the 10 Best Microphones for Recording Piano.

 

The Versatile Virtuoso: Audio-Technica AT 2020

 

Kicking things off is the Audio Technica AT2020. This mic is like the trusty Swiss Army knife in your recording toolkit. Its versatility and affordability make it a favorite among musicians and producers alike. Whether you're recording acoustic guitars, pianos, or even brass, the AT2020 captures every nuance with clarity and balance. The Audio Technica AT can't compete with some of the top picks on this list, but in its price range its a great way to start building a mic collection.

 

 

Why It’s a Top Contender:

  • Versatility: Excellent for a wide range of instruments.
  • Quality at an Affordable Price: Offers professional-level recording without breaking the bank.
  • Solid Build: Durable and reliable for consistent use.

 

 

The Precision Expert: Shure KSM141

 

Next up, we have the Shure KSM141. This small-diaphragm condenser mic is all about precision and adaptability. With its dual polar patterns (cardioid and omnidirectional), the KSM141 is perfect for capturing everything from the sharp attack of a snare drum to the subtle nuances of a violin.

 

 

Why It’s a Studio Favorite:

  • Dual Polar Patterns: Switch between cardioid and omnidirectional for versatility.
  • Exceptional for Acoustic Instruments: Captures the natural sound of strings, woodwinds, and percussion.
  • Rugged and Reliable: Built to withstand the demands of studio use.

 

 

The Detail Detective: Rode NT-5

 

The Rode NT-5, often found as a pair of small-diaphragm condensers, is a dream come true for capturing stereo recordings of instruments. Known for its detailed and natural sound, the NT-5 excels in stereo recording acoustic instruments, drum overheads, and even choirs.

 

 

Why It’s a Detail Dynamo:

  • Crisp and Clear Capture: Ideal for high-fidelity recording of acoustic instruments.
  • Compact and Convenient: Easy to position and perfect for stereo setups.
  • Consistent Performance: Delivers reliable quality in various recording environments.

 

 

The Small Wonder: Neumann KM 184

 

Last but certainly not least, is the Neumann KM 184. This small-diaphragm condenser mic is a powerhouse when it comes to precision and clarity. Its ability to capture the subtlest details makes it a top pick for classical instruments, from grand pianos to delicate string ensembles. It has a wide frequency range that does a great job of capturing high frequencies in a way that doesn't sound overly harsh.

 

 

Why It’s Unmatched:

  • Superior Clarity: Offers unparalleled detail and natural sound.
  • Ideal for Classical and Acoustic Instruments: Excels in capturing the dynamics and nuances.
  • Renowned Neumann Quality: A hallmark of professional studios around the world.

 

 

Wrapping Up the Instrumental Condenser Mics

 

In the world of instrument recording, the right microphone can make all the difference. The Audio Technica AT2020, Shure KSM141, Rode NT-5, and Neumann KM 184 are not just tools; they are the bridges between your instrument and the ears of your listeners. Each brings its unique strengths to the table, ensuring that your recordings capture the true essence of your musical expression.

 

The 2 Best Recording Studio Microphones for Drums: Shure DMK57-52 and Sennheiser E600

 

Hey there, drummers and studio enthusiasts - I didn't forget about you. We're spotlighting two of the most acclaimed microphone setups for capturing the dynamic and complex sounds of drums: the Shure DMK57-52 and the Sennheiser E 600. Both these kits are revered in the studio world for their ability to articulate the energy and finesse of a drum kit. If you're looking for even more options, be sure to check my review of the 13 Best Mics for Recording Epic Drums.

 

The Dynamic Powerhouse: Shure DMK57-52

 

First on our list is the Shure DMK57-52, a kit that's as robust and reliable as they come. This set is like the ultimate drum whisperer, capturing every beat with precision and clarity. Whether you’re laying down a subtle jazz groove or a hard-hitting rock rhythm, this kit has got you covered.

 

 

Why It’s a Drummer’s Dream:

  • Versatility: The kit includes three SM57s, ideal for snares and toms, and a Beta 52A for the kick drum, covering all bases of a standard drum kit.
  • Durability: These mics can take a beating (literally) and are built to last, making them perfect for both studio and live settings.
  • Iconic Sound: The SM57s are renowned for their crisp, clear capture of snares and toms, while the Beta 52A delivers a punchy and deep kick drum sound.

 

 

The Precision Expert: Sennheiser E600

 

Next, we have the Sennheiser E600, a microphone kit that’s all about precision and clarity. This kit is a favorite for its ability to capture the true essence of a drum kit, from the resonant lows of the bass drum to the sharp attack of the cymbals.

 

 

Why It’s a Studio Staple:

  • Comprehensive Coverage: The kit includes four e604s for toms and snare, an e602-II for bass drums, and two e614s for overheads, ensuring every component of the drum kit is accurately represented.
  • Sound Quality: Sennheiser is known for its high-fidelity sound, and this kit delivers with detailed and balanced captures.
  • Ease of Use: The mics come with drum clips and are compact, making setup and positioning a breeze.

 

 

Conclusion

 

In the realm of drum recording, the right microphones are crucial to capturing the energy and nuances of your performance. The Shure DMK57-52 and Sennheiser E600 are more than just microphones; they are your partners in rhythm, ensuring every hit, roll, and cymbal crash is captured with clarity and punch.

Whether you’re recording in a home studio or laying tracks in a professional setting, these microphone kits will elevate your drum sound to new heights

 

FAQ: Best Recording Studio Microphones

 

Welcome to our FAQ section! Here, we'll tackle some of the most common questions about the best recording studio microphones. Whether you're a seasoned professional or just starting out, these answers will help guide you through the world of studio mics.

 

1. What makes a microphone "the best" for studio recording?

 

Answer: The "best" microphone for studio recording depends on several factors, such as the type of sound you're trying to capture (vocals, instruments, etc.), the acoustic environment, and personal preference. Generally, the best microphones offer high-quality sound capture, durability, versatility, and match the specific needs of your recording session.

 

2. Are expensive microphones always better?

 

Answer: Not necessarily. While high-end microphones often provide exceptional sound quality and features, there are many affordable options that deliver great performance. It's more about finding the microphone that best suits your specific needs and budget.

 

3. What's the difference between condenser and dynamic microphones?

 

Answer: Condenser microphones are typically used for studio recording due to their sensitivity and ability to capture a wide range of frequencies and subtle sounds. They require external power (phantom power). Dynamic microphones are more rugged, handle high sound pressure levels well, and are often used for live performances.

 

4. Do I need different microphones for vocals and instruments?

 

Answer: While some microphones are versatile enough to handle both vocals and instruments well, often specific microphones are better suited for one over the other. For example, large-diaphragm condenser microphones are commonly preferred for vocals due to their sensitivity and range.

 

5. How important is the polar pattern in a recording studio microphone?

 

Answer: Very important. The polar pattern determines how the microphone picks up sound from different directions. Common patterns include cardioid, omnidirectional, and bidirectional. Each has its own applications, depending on the recording environment and what you're trying to capture.

 

6. Can I use USB microphones for professional recording?

 

Answer: USB microphones have improved significantly and can be used for professional purposes, especially in a home studio setup or for podcasting. However, for higher-end studio recording, traditional XLR microphones are usually preferred for their superior sound quality and versatility. A USB microphone will also prevent you from taking the next step in upgrading your home studio, which is buying a decent pre-amp to plug your microphone into.

 

7. What is phantom power and do all studio microphones need it?

 

Answer: Phantom power is a method of providing power to condenser microphones through the microphone cable. It's typically supplied by audio interfaces or mixing consoles. Not all microphones need it; dynamic microphones generally do not require phantom power.

 

8. How do I choose the right microphone for my home studio?

 

Answer: Consider the type of recordings you'll be doing, your room's acoustics, and your budget. A good starting point is a versatile large-diaphragm condenser microphone, which can handle a wide range of recording tasks.

 

9. Does the brand of the microphone matter?

 

Answer: While brand reputation can be a good indicator of quality and reliability, it's not the only factor to consider. There are many excellent microphones from less famous brands that offer great quality at a lower price point.

 

10. How do I maintain and care for my studio microphone?

 

Answer: Store your microphone in a dry, dust-free environment. Handle it with care to avoid drops or shocks. For condenser microphones, avoid exposing them to extreme temperatures and humidity. Regularly clean the body and occasionally check the cables and connectors for any signs of wear.


We hope these answers help you on your journey to finding the perfect studio microphone! Remember, the key is to understand your specific needs and do a bit of research before making a purchase. Happy recording! 🎤🎶

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