Let’s face it, we’ve all had a lot more time at home over the last year. Many of us professional musicians and music-loving hobbyists have realized that with the extra time around the house, there’s room for either a home recording studio or a home studio upgrade.
While there are all sorts of considerations when building your home studio, here we’re going to focus on one of the most important “tools” in the “shed”: the vocal recording mic. NOTE: This is an article about standard XLR (“mic cable”) microphones, not USB plug-and-play mics.
RECORDING MICS ARE DIFFERENT FROM LIVE MICS
There is a multitude of different types of microphones to choose from. When mic-ing up a drum set, one can mix and match between a series of dynamic mics (microphones designed for live performance) and condenser mics (microphones with more delicate inner parts that more sensitively record a wider arrange of sounds, tones, and volumes). When we are talking about recording vocals in your home studio (with rare exceptions), we are looking exclusively at condenser and ribbon microphones. Think along the lines of the big, honking mics from old photographs, they’re still what we use today to get that warm, clean vocal tone.
There are a lot of companies making all sorts of models of vocal mics. Here are seven we have used and liked in a home recording situation. They’re all a little different from each other and they each have their own price point. You can’t go wrong with any of these, but we’d be lying if I didn’t say the more you spend the better the microphone. That being said, we’ve compiled this list of microphones all under $800 (and if you look around the market, you’ll see there are many over this range). That being said, each one of these microphones does the job and does it well. Let’s talk studio vocal mics.
Condensers are the most common studio vocal mic because they capture a wide array of frequencies and do well with high frequencies where other mics lose capacity. It works with two charged plates (one fixed, and one movable) that respond and chase distance when sounds pass through the device. Great for vocals and acoustic instruments, not great for the bass drum.
AKG Pro Audio P420 Dual Capsule Condenser Microphone, Black: $149.00
The AKG P420 is an excellent studio mic for the beginning home producer or a traveling recordist who may not want to bring a $1500 microphone on the road. It’s sleek look and heavy-duty (1.2 lb) body ensure durability and fidelity of sound. With one inch dual-diaphragm, three polar pattern switching-system, and switchable attenuation, the P420 is a solid, affordable, addition to the new home studio.
Shure KSM32/SL Embossed Single-Diaphragm Cardioid Condenser: $549.00
The Shure KSM32 is the more well-rounded of the bunch. It comes in between the less expensive models and the super pricey mics. It can handle just about anything you give it, within reason. It can mix amps, acoustic instruments, and overhead drums in addition to being great for vocal recording. I’ve even used it live for old-time, one-microphone, folk style stage setups. 15db attenuation, a low-frequency filter switch, and gold plated diaphragm…You just can’t go wrong with this thing.
Neumann TLM-102 Large Diaphragm Studio Condenser Microphone (Black) with Suspension Shockmount & Pop Filter: $699.00
This is the most expensive mic in this guide and it’s one of the best. Neumann is a serious brand, creating quality microphones for decades. We include this here because this is the affordable little sibling of other Neumann mics that go for $1800-$2500. This one still does the job very well, if you want really high quality for a good relative price.
So even though the industry standard in studios is the condenser, there are some great dynamic studio mics that yield impressive results. These were designed after the original dynamic (live) mics to be more like a condenser but without the delicate inner parts.
Electro-Voice RE20 Broadcast Announcer Microphone with Variable-D: $449.00
The Electro-Voice RE20 is a pro-level broadcasting and recording microphone that you will find in the biggest, best studios and radio stations. It’s heavy-duty, large, and captures sound immensely well. Variable-D design and heavy-duty internal pop filter makes for great close-in mic work. The steel case and shock mount also reduce vibration noise. A must for anyone recording voice-over, audiobook, and/or podcasting, in addition to musical vocals.
Shure SM7B Cardioid Dynamic Microphone: $399.00
Another classic from Shure – this is the dynamic mic that won’t quit. It’s on the affordable side, it is super functional and in addition to great, crisp vocals, it also records bass, electric guitar amps, and drums super well. You will see Radiohead using this mic in the studio in lots of videos. The bass roll-off and mid-range emphasis make it a great vocal mix. The design of yoke mounting with captive stand nut makes it an easier microphone to position for the singer’s comfort. I sang through this for our entire new album a month ago and we love the way it captured my voice – during live takes nonetheless!
The last kind of mic is a ribbon mic, which is based on another early technology in audio recording: a thin strip of corrugated aluminum suspended loosely between two magnets connected to a transformer. Because of this, the ribbon mic creates the “most authentic” reproduction of sound. In fact, these were how the earliest microphones worked.
People swear you’ll never sound more like you (pre-processing) than you do coming through a ribbon mic!
Golden Age Project R2 MKII Ribbon: $169.99
This affordable ribbon mic is great to start with. As with all ribbons, its bi-directional polar pattern ensures you’re only recording that which is occurring directly in front of (and behind of) the microphone. Warmer than the average condenser or dynamic, a mic like this helps preserve the “breath of life”, while announcers love the bass boost when you come in close on it- giving the effect commonly known as “The voice of God”.
Cascade Microphones VIN-JET – Black: $249.00
This bi-directional, figure-8 pattern mic is great for recording close-up vocals as well as loud belting from a few more inches away. The nulls are hard (meaning it doesn’t pick up any sound on its sides, just the front, and back) and make it great for live recording in a room if set up correctly. Crisp, clear, true to sound. Everything old is new again.
ONE MORE WORD ABOUT STUDIO VOCAL MICS
As you can see there is a lot to choose from, and this is only below $1000 per mic. See what’s best for you: the tried and true authority of the condenser mic; the flexible, new, and hip crispness of the new dynamic vocal mics; or the vintage, classy, endlessly cool warmth of the old ribbon mic. Find the price point that best suits you at this point, knowing you can always build up that collection. Eventually, you’ll have two or three vocal mics you really love and know when to use for which occasion.
When you feel ready to share your stunning vocals with the world, call Planetary Group at (323) 952-5050, and we can help you with radio promotion, whether it be your first album or your fifth, we love artists of all creeds and can’t wait to hear from you!