One of the first questions recording artists and engineers have when they begin practicing is something along the lines of “what is the best microphone for recording vocals?” The following concern is generally price (the top-performing vocal mics are awfully expensive). This article will provide you with 12 of the best mid-budget vocal mics for recording.
My New Microphone’s top 12 best microphones under $1000 for recording vocals are:
- Warm Audio WA-251
- Warm Audio WA-47
- Peluso P-87
- Shure KSM44A
- Neumann TLM 102
- Rode K2
- Rode NTK
- Rode NT1-A
- Audio-Technica AT4050
- AKG C 214
- Sennheiser MD-441U
- Shure SM7B
You’ll notice that there is a wide price range in the microphones listed above. In many cases, “best under $1000” would have many items right next to this pricing threshold but with this list of microphones, I made it a point to include a few inexpensive microphones that punch way above their weight class.
With that introduction to the list, let’s quickly go over the criteria of great budget mics for vocal recording before we dive into the list.
What Makes A Microphone Excel At Recording Vocals?
Allow me to begin this article by stating that the best microphone for one vocalist may not be the best for another vocalist. Critical listening is critical when trying different mics on different vocalists. We should never assume that one microphone will be the holy grail of studio vocal mics.
With that being said, there are a few key specifications we should focus on when looking for a proper studio vocal mic. They are:
- Frequency response
- Transient response
- Price point
Let’s look into each of these factors in greater detail:
A microphone’s frequency response is important for capturing certain characteristics of vocal performances. Although this is highly subjective, there are certain frequency response traits that benefit vocals over others. Let’s have a closer look at these:
- Flat frequency response: A flat frequency response is best for capturing vocals in the most accurate way possible. This is great for capturing clean vocals with large ranges in pop and classical recordings.
- Gentle high-end roll-off: A darker coloured mic can actually benefit many aspects of vocal recording including the reduction of sibilance and overall harshness (especially with digital recording). Darker mics will also help to balance brighter vocals in a mix.
- Presence boost: a slight boost in the presence range (3 – 6 kHz) accentuates much of speech intelligibility, helping vocals pop out in a dense mix like in rock, EDM, pop and classical.
- Sibilance dip: a slight dip in the sibilance range (5 – 8 kHz), which overlaps the upper end of the presence range, will help to further reduce the harshness in the vocal signal. This is helpful for particularly sibilant voices.
- Low-end roll-off or a high-pass filter: removing the low-end of the vocals effectively removes low-end rumble for the vocal signal while also helping to minimize the proximity effect.
For everything you need to know about microphone frequency response, check out my article Complete Guide To Microphone Frequency Response (With Mic Examples).
A microphone’s transient response refers to the accuracy of the mic diaphragm and internal components. How closely does the microphone represent the subtleties of the sound wave’s pressure variation? This is particularly important for percussive styles of vocals (think rap music).
With cleaner vocals, a faster (more accurate) transient response is often preferred. As for musical genres, this could be pop, classical, rap and jazz (sometimes), though accuracy is typically a good thing in any genre.
With dirtier vocals, a slower (more compressed-sounding) transient response may be advantageous. These genres include rock, metal and jazz (sometimes).
For more information on microphone transient response, check out my article What Is Microphone Transient Response & Why Is It Important?
Different vocalists and vocal styles will benefit from different microphone sensitivities.
Generally speaking, vocals benefit from higher sensitivities. However, it’s critical that the environment (recording booth, room, etc.) is properly treated or else the mic will pick up the unwanted room characteristics. A high mic sensitivity means the mic’s output will be strong and represent the vocals nicely.
Condenser microphones generally have high sensitivity ratings.
Louder vocal style (particularly in hard rock and metal genres) tend to benefit from lower mic sensitivities. Low sensitivity also works better in less-than-ideal recording environments.
Dynamic microphones typically have low sensitivity ratings.
To learn more about microphone sensitivity, check out my article What Is Microphone Sensitivity? An In-Depth Description.
Remember that, in this article, we’re discussing the top 12 best microphones under $1000 for recording vocals. The price points for this article are taken at retail (brand new microphone) and in USD currency.
To learn more about microphone price points, check out my article How Much Do Microphones Cost? (With Pricing Examples).
Best Microphone Types For Recording Vocals
When we see studio vocal microphones, they are typically either:
- Tube condenser microphones
- FET (solid-state) condenser microphones
- Dynamic microphones
Let’s have a look at each of these types in more detail:
Tube Condenser Microphones & Recording Vocals
Many of the best and most cherished vocal microphones (and microphones in general) are tube condensers.
Tube mics often have a warm (and ever-so-slightly compressed) character that adds weight and presence to vocals. Many of them sound amazing in the presence and sibilance frequency ranges which are paramount in vocal clarity and intelligibility.
These mics often have a “darker” character due to their high-end roll-offs. Vocals actually benefit from tube mics greatly, especially when used to record digitally. Digital audio is clean and accurate but also quite sterile and bright. Tube mics help to mitigate this as well as overly bright vocals.
As always, listening to the microphones on the particular vocal is key. Of course, this is difficult if you don’t own or otherwise have access to these mics so hopefully you trust my opinion on the best vocal mics for under $1000.
To learn more about tube microphones, check out my article What Is A Tube Microphone And How Do Tube Mics Work?
FET Condenser Microphones & Recording Vocals
FET (solid-state) condenser microphones have become the norm for recording vocals in the studio.
If you’re looking for a squeaky-clean vocal capture, a high-end solid-state condenser might just be for you. These mics often have great accuracy at the expense of character.
The downside of being so accurate is that FET condensers can sometimes output overly harsh/bright signals which could negatively represent the vocal.
A final benefit to mention is that FET condensers are, on average, less expensive than their tube condenser counterparts.
For more information on FET condenser microphones, check out my articles What Is A Solid-State Microphone? (With Mic Examples) and What Are FETs & What Is Their Role In Microphone Design?
Dynamic Microphones & Recording Vocals
Dynamic (moving-coil and ribbon) microphones are, in general, less technically impressive than condensers but still excel at picking up certain types of vocals.
In particular, the coloured frequency responses of dynamic mics benefit certain harder vocal types and harder musical genres.
Moving-coil dynamics often offer presence boosts that help to accentuate vocal intelligibility. This makes up for their typical high and low-end roll-offs which may also benefit noise reduction in the vocal signal.
Ribbon microphones are not typically used in studios to record vocals but do offer natural-sound high-end roll-offs and a great splash of sonic colour to vocals.
For more information on dynamic microphones (both moving-coil and ribbon), check out the following My New Microphone articles, respectively: Moving-Coil Dynamic Microphones: The In-Depth Guide and Dynamic Ribbon Microphones: The In-Depth Guide.
The Top 12 Best Microphones Under $1000 For Recording Vocals
The following is a list of My New Microphone’s best 12 microphones under $1000 for recording vocals:
- Warm Audio WA-251
- Warm Audio WA-47
- Peluso P-87
- Shure KSM44A
- Neumann TLM 102
- Rode K2
- Rode NTK
- Rode NT1-A
- Audio-Technica AT4050
- AKG C 214
- Sennheiser MD-441U
- Shure SM7B
1. Warm Audio WA-251
Since there are two Warm Audio microphones on this list (at positions 1 and 2), allow me to preface the WA-251 with this:
Warm Audio is a remarkable pro audio manufacturer that is miraculously able to produce sonically high-end recording products at prices affordable to the everyday musician and recording engineer. This pro-audio manufacturer excels at reproducing classic vintage microphones with great accuracy at a fraction of the price.
With that, I introduce number 1 on the list of the best vocal mics under $1000 for recording: the WA-251 large-diaphragm multi-pattern tube condenser microphone.
You may have guessed by the intro and the description of Warm Audio that the WA-251 is a recreation of the legendary Telefunken Ela M 251.
The Telefunken Ela M 251 is a world-renowned large-diaphragm vintage tube condenser microphone that sounds absolutely beautiful on vocals. In fact, the Ela M 251 is featured at #2 in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphones For Recording Vocals.
The WA-47 is described as a “faithful recreation of a legend.” Though not all of the vintage components are manufactured or available today, Warm Audio has managed to design a microphone that sounds similar enough to warrant the name of the famed microphone.
The WA-251 drops the intermediary polar patterns, keeping only cardioid, bidirectional, and omnidirectional, which provides enough options to capture the ideal vocal.
Warm Audio’s 251, like the mic it’s based on, has a bright character but a remarkable midrange and body. The accurate yet rich sound of the WA-251 suits the vast majority of vocals, giving it spot #1 on this list.
2. Warm Audio WA-47
The WA-47 is Warm Audio’s recreation of the historical masterpiece known as the Neumann U 47 (which is featured at #4 in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphones For Recording Vocals).
This tube condenser microphone is essentially a budget version of one of the all-time greatest studio vocal microphones. The character of WA-47 will bring nearly any vocal to life without the slightest bit of EQ or compression.
Warm Audio’s WA-47 sound full, thick and smooth and is an absolutely steal in terms of price-to-performance ratio.
3. Peluso P-87
It should come to no surprise that the third microphone on this list is also a clone of an all-time great. The Peluso P-87 is a surprisingly close recreation of Neumann’s original U 87 (which comes in at #7 in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphones For Recording Vocals). Some would even argue that the Peluso P-87 sounds closer to the original U 87 than Neumann’s own U 87 AI!
This solid-state microphone simply does the U 87 justice. The P-87 provides a balanced and nuanced sound pick up, effectively capturing the tiny details of any vocal performance, much like the microphone it is based on.
The full body of the P-87 and balanced sound may come as a surprise from a solid-state microphone but rest assured that the P-87 is the real deal when it comes to a top-of-the-line vocal microphone (and studio microphone in general).
4. Shure KSM44A
The KSM44A (released in 2010) is a revised version of Shure’s popular KSM44.
This lesser-known large-diaphragm multi-pattern solid-state condenser microphone is an excellent choice for recording vocals in the studio.
Though the character is somewhat bright, as is standard for FET condensers, the KSM44A actually packs a real punch in the midrange. This gives vocals, and particularly female vocals, the weight they need to really cut through a mix naturally without tons of processing.
The KSM44A is right at the top of the price range of this article but is worth it for a “budget” studio vocal microphone that also excels on practically all sound sources in a recording environment.
5. Neumann TLM 102
The Neumann TLM 102 is kind of like the budget version of Neumann’s wildly popular TLM 103 (which ranks at #8 in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphones For Recording Vocals).
The TLM 102 is a transformerless solid-state large-diaphragm condenser microphone with a cardioid polar pattern.
The mic features a boost in the 8-12 kHz range which helps to clarify vocals and allows them to shine through in a mix. Vocals recorded with the TLM 102 can most often be described as true and present.
Neumann’s TLM 102 is great value and really captures vocals with little to no colouration at all. If a clean and clear pick up is what you’re after and you find yourself with a decent budget (but a budget nonetheless), then the TLM 102 may very well by the microphone for you!
6. Rode K2
Taking things back to tube microphones, we have the Rode K2 at number 6.
The Rode K2 is a world-class tube microphone at a mid-range price point. It has a character reminiscent of the classic tube mics with a modern twist. As an added design bonus, the K2 features infinitely variable polar patterns from omnidirectional through cardioid and bidirectional/figure-8.
As a vocal microphone, the K2 swings way above its class. Rode has done a magnificent job at building a microphone with a classic warm and punchy tube sound that brings vocals to life with no post-processing required.
Another bonus of the K2 is that Rode offers an extended 10-year warranty on their microphones and the hand-selected 6922 twin-triode vacuum tubes used in the K2 is readily available. This means a relatively easy and inexpensive fix if anything were to go wrong with the K2 during your ownership!
7. Rode NTK
The Rode NTK can be thought of as the little brother of the K2. Though these microphones are similar, I thought it would be best to add them both to this list as their own items.
The NTK’s sensitive transducer features a hand-selected twin-triode 6922 vacuum tube designed within modern high-end electrical components. These design components give the NTK an ultra-wide dynamic range and low self-noise you’d expect in a FET condenser combined with the warmth, depth, and weight of a tube condenser.
These two characteristics together prove to be incredibly synergistic when it comes to recording the perfect vocal in the studio.
8. Rode NT1-A
The Rode NT1-A is Rode’s second version of its popular NT1. I personally love both these microphones and have used both professional on vocals and voiceover.
Though the NT1 has a slightly smoother frequency response and is slightly more sensitive, the mics sound similar enough to recommend both as one list item. I’ve gone with the NT1-A as the title simply because it costs less and is of better value in my opinion.
At a relatively low price point, the NT1-A still excels as a vocal microphone. It’s incredibly low self-noise (5 dBA) and its clean transient response allows it to capture vocals with only the slightest colouration. This colouration actually brightens the signal and can be useful on darker male vocals.
For a great vocal mic with great value, please consider trying out the Rode NT1-A (or the classic NT1).
The Rode NT1-A is also featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphones Under $500 for Recording Vocals.
9. Audio-Technica AT4050
The AT4050 is a multi-pattern large-diaphragm FET condenser microphone with a transformerless output circuit. The high-quality design and electrical components of the AT4050 make it extremely accurate and on-point when it comes to recording vocals.
This microphone offers 3 selectable polar patterns (omni, cardioid, and bidirectional). Typically vocals are best recorded with cardioid microphones but it’s nice to have the option.
The superb transparency of the AT4050 means that we basically have a clean slate when using it to record vocals. Though it sounds pristine and clean without processing, the world really becomes our oyster with such an accurate microphone as the Audio-Technica AT4050.
10. AKG C 214
The AKG C 214 comes in at number 10 on this list. I wish I could have included AKG’s modern C 414 models (the C 414 XLS and XLII) but they were both just over the price cap for this article.
With that being said, the AKG C 214 is essentially a cost-effective version of the modern C 414s without all the bells and whistles.
The C 214 is a large-diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone with a vocal-enhancing frequency response and an otherwise deadly accurate sonic pickup.
The 214 does away with the filters, pads and selectable polar pattern options available in the AKG C 414s. What is left is a simple yet effective microphone at capturing the true sound of vocals in the studio.
The AKG C 214 is also featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphones Under $500 for Recording Vocals.
11. Sennheiser MD-441 U
The Sennheiser MD-441 U is a moving-coil dynamic microphone that sounds like a condenser. It marks the first of 3 dynamic mics that have made this list.
Though the 441 U has a relatively fast transient response is able to capture the nuances of sound waves similar to condenser mic, it is, after all, a dynamic mic. Moving-coil dynamic mics, by the nature of their heavy diaphragms, have a darker character.
This dark character is not for everyone but for bright singers and certain genres of music (jazz and rock come to mind), the dark character of the MD-441 U can really give the vocal the colouration it needs.
All of that being said, the Sennheiser MD-441 U is not overly dark and is actually quite accurate considering its moving-coil cartridge.
I was originally planning on including a ribbon microphone on this list but couldn’t come to choose one under $1000 that really excels on vocals. The MD-441 U came to mind as an alternative since it sounds similar to a nice warm ribbon mic.
12. Shure SM7B
Coming in at number 12 is the Shure SM7B: another moving-coil dynamic microphone.
I’ve included this microphone as it is particularly effective at capturing scream vocals (for hard rock, metal, etc.) and, sometimes, for the more percussive hip-hop vocals.
It’s important I note that, though this mic excels at capturing harder vocals, it is a rather poor performer for all other vocal types and performances.
It has very low sensitivity; a limited frequency response, and slow transient response. Again, great for heavy stuff but lacking in the major factors that make a great all-around vocal microphone.
The Shure SM7B is also featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphones Under $500 for Recording Vocals.
Extra Notes On Recording Vocals
As an additional resource for you, I’ve added a checklist of factors that will help you make the most of these microphones when recording vocals:
- Soundproof the recording space: it’s typically best to only have direct sound (no reflections) enter the microphone. It’s also critical to eliminate exterior noise from the booth in order to capture the cleanest vocals possible.
- Use a pop filter: this helps tremendously in reducing plosives in the mic signal.
- Distance the microphone from the vocalist: this helps to reduce the proximity effect in directional mics. It also reduces plosives and sibilance in the mic signal and allows for a more consistent pickup in terms of dynamics (inverse-square law).
- Tilt the microphone slightly off-axis: this helps to reduce plosives and sibilance while also slightly darkening the very top-end of the mic.
- Use a proper shock mount and high-quality mic stand: this will keep the microphone securely in one spot and also reduce mechanical and handling noise in the mic signal.
- Keep latency to a minimum if recording digitally: any latency delay in the headphone send will have an effect on the vocalist’s performance.
To learn more about the above tips, please consider reading the following My New Microphone articles:
- What Is A Microphone Pop Filter And When Should You Use One?
- Best Microphone Pop Filters
- Top 10 Tips For Eliminating Microphone Pops And Plosives
- Top 7 Tips To Reduce Sibilance In Microphones & Audio Mixes
- Top 23 Tips For Better Microphone Placement
- What Is A Microphone Shock Mount And Why Is It Important?
- Best Microphone Shock Mounts
- How To Attach A Microphone To A Microphone Stand
- Best Microphone Stands
- How To Fix Microphone Echo And Latency In Your Computer (7 Methods)