So you’d like to start recording vocals and are after that “professional sound.” After soundproofing your space and acquiring a nice audio interface, it’s time to get that perfect microphone for recording singing.
There are many excellent studio vocal microphones to choose from. In this article, we’ll talk about my top recommended mic (the Neumann U87), a less expensive option for those of us on a budget (the Rode NT1-A), and the best USB vocal mic for those of us just starting out!
- The top modern studio vocal microphone is the legendary Neumann U 87 (link to check the price of the U 87 AI on Amazon). This is a professional standard in the industry for all voices. It’s by far the most used microphone in the studio I work at.
- The best budget studio microphone on the market is the popular Rode NT1-A (link to check the price on Amazon). This microphone does an amazing job at capturing singing and is a fraction of the price of the premium U87. This is the second most used microphone in the studio and the primary mic in the secondary vocal booth.
- The recommended USB microphone for recording vocals is the Blue Yeti Pro (link to check the price on Amazon). Although I’d never
recommenda USB mic for a professional studio, this is an excellent option for those vocalists just getting started in the recording journey!
Because vocals are such an important part of music, it’s critical we capture a clean vocal performance in our recordings. The chosen microphone plays a big role in capturing the essence of a singer’s vocal delivery and shouldn’t be overlooked in any studio environment (both professional and project).
“Best” is a dangerous word. There is really no such thing as a “best microphone” for any situation. The microphone(s) listed in my Recommended Microphones And Accessories” page are simply my recommendations. These recommendations are based on my own experience and are mindful of budget. It would be easy to suggest an ELA M 251 or U47 for most scenarios. However, these tube mics are very expensive, putting them out of a hobbyist’s price range and making it difficult for professionals to make their money back on the gear.
Another important note is that the microphone or equipment you choose is not the most important part of recording audio. In fact, there are many factors that are arguably more important than the choice of microphone. These include:
- Performer (whether a musician, speaker, or otherwise)
- Microphone technique/placement
- Number of microphones used
- Natural sound of the room
- Content (whether that’s the song, discussion, or otherwise)
- Signal chain (including mic cable, preamplifier, console, and/or interface/computer)
With that being said, some microphones and gear suit some instruments better than others, prompting this series of articles under “Recommended Microphones And Accessories.”
What Factors Make An Excellent Studio Vocal Microphone?
Obviously, the overall sound of the microphone is the most important part of choosing any microphone for any application. However, the “sound” of a microphone is totally subjective. That being said, there are some critical specs I think we can all agree on for a studio vocal microphone.
- Wide Frequency Response: A frequency response from 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz will capture the full range of human hearing. This is perfect for recording vocals in an isolated studio booth.
- Presence Boost: A boost in the 3 kHz – 6 kHz range can really bring the vocals out in a mix. Though we can achieve this with equalization, it’s always best to capture character at the source. Recording vocals with a presence boosting microphone
- Natural High-Frequency Roll-Off: A natural roll-off of high frequencies helps to reduce the “harshness” of the microphone signal. We still want a full frequency response range, but having less sensitivity in the brilliance range creates a warmer sound for vocals.
- Proximity Effect/High-Pass Filter: Directional cardioid mics are most often used to record singers. The proximity effect can be extremely beneficial is boosting the low-end of a singer’s voice. It can also be detrimental to the vocal take. A high-pass filter can help tremendously in balancing out the proximity effect!
- Wide Dynamic Range: Choose a microphone with a large dynamic range. This allows for accurate recording of the quietest moments and the loudest, most powerful passages of a singer’s performance.
- Sensitivity: A sensitive microphone will record more subtleties in the singer’s performance than a less sensitive mic.
- Accurate Transient Response: Again, for capturing the most accurate signal possible, we’d want as accurate a transient response as possible. Small diaphragm condensers sometimes “overshoot” their transient response and so large diaphragm condenser are often preferred for recording vocals.
- Pop Filter: I’d always advise using a quality external pop filter on any vocal microphone. To add even more protection from plosives, pick a microphone with an effective built-in pop filter.
- Size/Mounting: Similarly to the pop filter, selecting a microphone with a built-in capsule shock mount is ideal. However, I’d advise always mounting the vocal mic in an external shock mount. Choosing a larger microphone can be psychologically beneficial as it gives the singer something to focus on.
So, by our above definitions, it seems like a large diaphragm condenser (tube or solid-state) would be our best bet when choosing the best studio vocal microphone. All three recommendations here are condensers, two of which have large diaphragms.
So let’s discuss each of the recommended studio vocal microphones in the framework of the above factors.
The Neumann U87
The Neumann U87 is an industry standard for voice recording. This premium microphone gets my top recommendation for recording singing inside a studio. Though it’s a bit expensive, this beautiful microphone is worth every penny.
Frequency Response Of The Neumann U87
The frequency response of the Neumann U87 is listed as 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz. Here is the frequency response graph of the U87 in cardioid mode:
The cardioid mode is the most common setting for recording vocals with the U87. With a cardioid pattern, we sing into the “front” of the microphone since it’s the most sensitive to sound.
Cardioid patterns exhibit the proximity effect, which we’ll discuss in a bit. They’re also sensitive to plosives. If the issue of plosives is too apparent in a vocalist’s performance, try positioning the cardioid microphone slightly off-axis.
For more information on the cardioid microphone polar pattern, check out my article What Is A Cardioid Microphone? (Polar Pattern + Mic Examples).
We can see here that the U87 has a very flat response in the mid-frequencies. Since most of the information of the voice is contained in these mid-frequencies, the U87 does an excellent job at accurately recording the human voice. So although there is no presence boost per se, the 87 does capture vocals very accurately.
The slight boost in the 7 kHz – 10 kHz range helps add a bit of brightness and “air” to a vocal, while the high frequency roll-off reduces the harshness of the audio signal.
The natural low-frequency roll-off begins at around 70 Hz at -6 dB per octave. This helps to slightly reduce low-end noise while still providing weight to the microphone signal. There isn’t much information in the sub-70 Hz range in most voices, anyway!
For more information on microphone frequency response, check out my article Complete Guide To Microphone Frequency Response (With Mic Examples).
It’s often best to position a singer as close to the microphone as possible. However, if the proximity effect is causing too much low-end response and, therefore, a “muddy” signal, the U87 has a wide and gentle high-pass filter designed to compensate for the bass boost. Alternatively, you could have the vocalist move further away from the mic.
For more information on microphone high-pass filters, check out my article What Is A Microphone High-Pass Filter And Why Use One?
Dynamic Range Of The Neumann U87
The Neumann U87 is listed as having a dynamic range of 105 dB. In cardioid mode, it has a self-noise level of 12 dBA and a maximum sound pressure level of 117 dB SPL (or 127 dB SPL with the pad engaged).
For more information on passive attenuation devices, check out my article What Is A Microphone Attenuation Pad And What Does It Do?
105 dB of dynamic range is huge! The U87 can effectively pick up the quietest whispers and the most powerful passages of a vocal performance.
The 12 dBA self-noise is barely noticeable in the microphone signal compare to the loudness of a singer’s voice.
A maximum sound pressure level of 117 dB SPL may seem low, especially when compared to other microphones. However, if we take into account that yelling at the top of one’s lungs typically doesn’t surpass 105 dB SPL, I’d say the U87 is safe from distortion when recording vocals.
For more information on max SPL ratings, check out my article What Does Maximum Sound Pressure Level Actually Mean?
For more information on microphone self-noise, check out my article What Is Microphone Self-Noise? (Equivalent Noise Level).
Transient Response Of The Neumann U87
The Neumann U87 is a large diaphragm condenser microphone. Its transient response is very accurate (it doesn’t lag or overshoot like moving-coil dynamics and small diaphragm condensers, respectively).
Size, Mounting, And Pop Filter Of The Neumann U87
The Neumann U87 is a relatively large microphone, which is beneficial in that it gives the vocalist a physical object to project their voice into.
The U87 comes with its own shock mount which effectively isolates it from mechanically transmitted noise. Though the U87 doesn’t have a stock pop filter, it’s always advised that a pop filter is used when recording vocals.
For more information on microphone mounting, check out my article How To Attach A Microphone To A Microphone Stand.
For more information on microphone shock mounts, check out my article What Is A Microphone Shock Mount And Why Is It Important?
For more information on microphone pop filters, check out my article What Is A Microphone Pop Filter And When Should You Use One?
The Rode NT1-A
The Rode NT1-A is an excellent choice for a studio vocal microphone and has become an industry standard. It has barely any self noise, a huge dynamic range, pristine clarity, and a special warmth that enhances any vocal range. The price and design of the Rode NT1-A makes it a staple for both the professional and project studio.
Frequency Response Of The Rode NT1-A
The frequency response of the Rode NT1-A is listed as 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz. Here is the frequency response graph of the NT1-A:
Though not designed to be flat like the U87, the NT1-A has an excellent frequency response for vocal performance.
The slight boost in the lower-mids helps accentuate the deep tones of male vocals. The slight boosts between 2 kHz – 12 kHz include within them a sort of masked boost in presence. The gentle roll-offs at the high and low ends of the spectrum reduce “harshness” and “muddiness” in the microphone audio signal, respectively.
Be cautious of the proximity effect when using this microphone. It can really add to a performance, but can detract as well.
Dynamic Range Of The Rode NT1-A
The Rode NT1-A has a dynamic range 132 dB. That’s excellent for a condenser microphone. The NT1-A has an incredibly low self-noise of 5 dBA and a mac SPL rating of 137 dB SPL.
The Rode NT1-A will accurately reproduce any loudness level of singing a vocalist has to offer.
Transient Response Of The Rode NT1-A
The Rode NT1-A is a large diaphragm condenser microphone. Its transient response is very accurate (it doesn’t lag or overshoot like moving-coil dynamics and small diaphragm condensers, respectively).
Size, Mounting, And Pop Filter Of The Rode NT1-A
The Rode NT1-A has its own external shock mount with an
The Blue Yeti Pro
The Blue Yeti Pro, as the name suggests, is a step-up from the famous Blue Yeti USB microphone. The Yeit Pro has both a USB and an XLR output.
The USB connection makes it great for a stripped down vocal setup and for beginners who are just getting into recording their own voices.
The XLR connection is a great way to get beginners into more professional setup. Start with the USB, and as you get better at recording and acquire the proper equipment, start using the XLR output.
Overall, the Yeti Pro is a high-quality microphone that is very versatile. It delivers 24-bit/192 kHz digital audio from its USB output. This is the perfect beginner’s microphone for recording singing.
Frequency Response Of The Blue Yeti Pro
The frequency response of the Blue Yeti Pro is also listed as 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz. Here is the frequency response graph of the Yeti Pro in cardioid mode:
I really like this frequency response for singing. It has the nice presence boost around 5 kHz with gentle roll-off in both the low and high end. This microphone will help the vocal tracks to cut through the mix before any processing is done to the signal.
As with all directional mics, use the proximity effect to your advantage if possible.
Dynamic Range Of The Blue Yeti Pro
The Blue Yeti Pro has a dynamic range of 114 dB, which is greater than the U87’s range! The Yeti has a maximum sound pressure level rating of 120 dB SPL and a self-noise of 6 dBA.
So like the other two recommended microphones, the Yeit Pro has no issue capturing the full dynamic range of any vocalist!
Transient Response Of The Blue Yeti Pro
The Blue Yeti Pro has three 14mm capsules. The small size of these condenser diaphragms cause a bit of overshoot in the Yeti’s transient response. This isn’t necessarily a bad
Size, Mounting, And Pop Filter Of The Blue Yeti Pro
The Blue Yeti Pro comes with its own mountable stand, which is excellent for desk or conference recording. However, it’s threaded connection will allow it to attach directly to a mic stand or boom. Attaching to stand will
Furthermore, Blue Designs has a line of shock mounts for the Yeti (“The Radius”) and an external pop filter (“The Pop”) available. I highly recommend the Radius shock mount. Whereas any quality pop filter will do the trick, including the Pop.
A Quick Recap Of The 3 Recommendations
The Neumann U87
The Neumann U87 is the best microphone for recording singing. Simply put, it just has that “professional sound.” Warm, accurate, and smooth as microphones get, the U87 is my recommended microphone for recording vocals in a studio environment.
The Rode NT1-A
The Rode NT1-A, on paper, has “better” specs for recording studio vocals than the U87. It sounds absolutely fantastic and it doesn’t break the bank! This microphone captures singing accurately while adding character to that sound of the singer’s voice. This is by far the best studio vocal mic for under $300 USD (as of the writing of this article).
The Blue Designs Yeti Pro
If you happen to be new to recording, the Blue Yeti Pro is my recommended vocal microphone for you. With USB, you really only need the Yeti Pro and a computer to record the singing you need to! The Yeti Pro will progress with you. As you acquire more knowledge (and more gear), start using the XLR output of the Yeti Pro. This will move you along without having to purchase a new microphone entirely. I’ll also mention that the Blue Yeti Pro sounds excellent on singing vocals!
For all the My New Microphone mic/gear recommendations, please check out my page Recommended Microphones And Accessories.