So it’s time to step up your rap career and start recording. Whether you’re the rapper or the producer, a quality microphone is essential for recording quality vocals. Rapping vocals are particularly percussive (compared to singing, for example) and so we may tailor our microphone specifically to rapping.
- Neumann TLM 102: My number one recommended mic for recording rap vocals in a studio is the famous Neumann TLM 102 (link to check the price on Amazon). This microphone has the warm characteristics that suit vocals so well and excellent transparency to make the rap vocals legible.
- Rode NT1-A: My budget recommendation is the Rode NT1-A (link to check the price on Amazon). I love this microphone on all vocals and it isn’t too expensive to get started with recording rap. The Rode captures percussive rap vocals accurately while offering a nice boost to really make the vocals pop.
Because vocals are such a vital part on (non-instrumental) hip-hop, it’s critical we capture a clean vocal performance in our recordings. The microphone you choose is essential in capturing the rapping 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.”
Let’s Take A Look At The Factors That Make A Great Rap Vocal Microphone
When choosing a microphone to record rap vocals, it all comes down to what sounds the best and most professional. Top-end microphones (like the TLM 102) just have that warm professional sound.
Of course, the “best sounding rap mic” is a subjective debate. However, there are a few objective specs that would greatly benefit a microphone used to capture rap/hip-hop vocals:
- Wide Frequency Response: Select a microphone with a frequency response capable of capturing the low fundamental tones of the human voice but also the highs that produce a clean recording.
- Presence Boost: Choose a microphone with a natural boost in the upper-mid frequencies. This range helps accentuate the harmonics of the human voice associated with intelligibility.
- Accurate Transient Response: Intelligibility is critical in a hip-hop vocal microphone. 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 and especially when recording relatively percussive rap vocals. To add even more protection from plosives, pick a microphone with an effective built-in pop filter.
- Low Noise: Pick a microphone that’s directional to capture the intended rapper and reject extraneous noise. Microphone self-noise and sensitivity play roles in determining “noise” along with the tendency for the rapper to move about while recording.
Let’s see how the two recommended rap vocal microphones do relative to the above criteria:
The Neumann TLM 102
The Neumann TLM 102 is a large diaphragm condenser in a small package. This no-frills premium microphone is actually priced very well for the quality of its sound. The 102 is ideal for recording vocals due to its natural warmth and clarity in capturing particularly percussive rap vocals. It’s particularly the frequency and transient response of this Neumann mic that make it my top recommendation for recording rap vocals.
Frequency Response Of The Neumann TLM 102
The frequency response of the Neumann TLM 102 is listed as 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz. Here is the frequency response graph of the TLM 102:
We can see here that the Neumann TLM 102 has a very wide and flat frequency response. This is excellent for capturing rap vocals.
The low-frequency roll-off starts around 70 Hz at a rate of -6 dB/octave. This gentle roll-off help reduce unwanted noise from the signal while still capturing all the essential low end in a rapper’s voice.
There’s a boost in the frequency response between roughly 7 kHz and 14 kHz followed by a roll-off of high-frequencies. This boost gives bright life to the vocal recording. The carefully designed and quality electronics inside the TLM 102 ensure this boost of nearly 4 dB sounds clean and not the least bit harsh.
For more information on microphone frequency response, check out my article Complete Guide To Microphone Frequency Response (With Mic Examples).
Transient Response Of The Neumann TLM 102
As a large diaphragm condenser microphone, the Neumann TLM 102 exhibits excellent transient response. This plays very well into the transient nature of rapping!
Pop Filter/Mounting Of The Neumann TLM 102
The TLM 102 has its own customized shock mount, which I highly recommend using to keep mechanically transmitted noise to a minimum. I’d also highly recommend a pop filter when recording any type of vocal but especially rap vocals. The transient nature of rapping causes strong plosive that we absolutely do not want hitting the mic diaphragm.
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?
Overall Noise Of The Neumann TLM 102
The 102 has a self-noise of 12 dBA which is not noticeable. You’ll likely get more ambient noise in the mic signal than 12 dBA.
For more information on microphone self-noise, check out my article What Is Microphone Self-Noise? (Equivalent Noise Level).
The TLM 102, however, is not immune to noise. Please utilize the proper shock mount with the TLM 102 to reduce handling noise.
The Neumann TLM 102 is also fairly sensitive and has a consistent polar pattern. Any movement by the performer runs the risk of getting picked up in the microphone signal. Be cautious!
The Rode NT1-A
The Rode NT1-A is an excellent budget option for capturing the accurate rap vocals. Just like the TLM 102, the NT1-A gives warmth and clarity to the typical rap vocal. It also has a superb transient response and barely any self-noise.
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:
The slight boost in the lower-mids helps accentuate the deep tones of male rap vocals. The slight boosts at ~3.5 kHz and ~5 kHz help to make the vocal more present in the mix. The gentle roll-off at the high-end of the spectrum reduces “harshness” in the microphone audio signal. The NT1-A also has excellent bass frequency response, though often times we should high-pass the signal when recording vocals.
Transient Response Of The Rode NT1-A
The Rode NT1-A, like the Neumann TLM 102, has a wonderfully natural transient response. The large diaphragm of the NT1-A does a superb job at reacting to incoming sound waves with precision.
Pop Filter/Mounting Of The Rode NT1-A
The Rode NT1-A comes with a custom all-in-one shock mount/pop filter. This combo is excellent at isolating the NT1-A from noise and protecting it from plosives.
Overall Noise Of The Rode NT1-A
The NT1-A is one of the quietest condenser microphones on the market with a self-noise of 5 dbA. Unless you’re in an anechoic chamber, you won’t notice this microphone having any inherent noise.
The aforementioned shock mount/pop filter combo does an excellent job at protecting the microphone from mechanically transmitted noise and unwanted vocal plosives.
The NT1-A is a cardioid microphone and so it will reject most sounds from its rear and be most sensitive to the vocalist positioned to its front. I wouldn’t advise too much movement from the performer since the NT1-A is pretty sensitive and will likely pick up the sounds of movement.
The Neumann TLM 102 is my recommended microphone for recording studio hip-hop vocals. It stands up well against the top-end microphones on the market and is a fraction of the price. The warmth, clarity, and accurate response make it the number choice for recording rap!
The Rode NT1-A is a go-to for many professional and project studio. This microphone is a steal for its price tag. It records rap vocals with great clarity and precision, though it somewhat lacks to the warmth of the TLM 102.
For all the My New Microphone mic/gear recommendations, please check out my page Recommended Microphones And Accessories.