Vocals are often to most forefront elements in a musical mix and so recording vocals to the best of our abilities is critical when recording music. There are many vocal microphones on the market and, fortunately, many great vocal microphones have price tags under $500.
My New Microphone’s top 10 best microphones under $500 for recording vocals are:
- Lauten Audio LA-320
- Avantone Pro CV-12
- Warm Audio WA-14
- AKG C 214
- Warm Audio WA-47 Jr
- Aston Microphones Spirit
- Rode NT1-A
- sE Electronics Voodoo VR1
- Shure SM7B
- Shure SM58
Although these microphones are all under $500 USD, there is quite a price range between the cheapest and most expensive mic on this list. I’ve added a few microphones that perform well above their price range along with a more budget microphone (the Shure SM58) for those who would like to save on their vocal microphone budget.
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?
Let me start off by stating that the best vocal microphones in the world are highly sought after and very expensive (often running more than $10,000!). For a list of the best vocal microphones for recording, check out My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphones For Recording Vocals.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that vocal microphones under $500 are rubbish. In fact, there are plenty of relatively inexpensive microphones that deliver outstanding results when it comes to recording vocals.
Regardless of the price tag, it’s critical to note that no one microphone will be the be-all-end-all of studio vocal microphones. Recordists should listen carefully to various microphones on vocals and make informed decisions on which microphone will best serve the vocalist and the record.
With that being said, there are a few key specifications we should focus on when looking for a proper studio mic for recording vocals. They are:
- Frequency response
- Transient response
- Price point
Let’s look into each of these factors in greater detail:
Frequency response refers to the mic’s frequency-dependent sensitivity. This response is significant for capturing certain characteristics of vocal performances. Although this is highly subjective, there are certain frequency response traits that benefit vocals over others, including:
- Flat frequency response: A flat frequency response is ideal for capturing vocals in the most transparent way possible. These responses are great for recording clean vocals with large ranges in pop and classical recordings.
- Gentle high-end roll-off: A darker microphone will generally benefit many aspects of vocal recording. Darker mics minimize harshness from sibilance and high-end frequencies in the voice and room. Darker mics will also help to balance brighter vocals in an audio mix.
- Presence boost: a slight boost in the presence range (3 – 6 kHz) accentuates much of speech intelligibility, helping vocals pop out in the mix. This helps in all genres of music and particularly in rock, EDM, pop and classical.
- Sibilance dip: a slight cut in the sibilance range (5 – 8 kHz), which confusingly overlaps the upper end of the presence range, aids in reducing harshness in particularly sibilant voices.
- Low-end roll-off or a high-pass filter: a reduced low-end means less low-end rumble in the vocal signal along with a reduction in 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 transient is a short peak in sound (think of a percussive hit). Though percussive sounds are the most obvious examples, the vast majority of sound sources have pronounced transients.
Transient response, then, is the microphone’s ability to effectively capture these peaks and the subtleties of the pressure variation in the sound wave.
For the majority of times, a faster (more accurate) transient response is preferred. As for musical genres, this could be pop, classical, rap and jazz (sometimes).
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?
Microphone sensitivity refers to the mic’s output signal level when exposed to a certain sound pressure level.
Generally speaking, vocals benefit from higher sensitivities. However, different vocalists and vocal styles may benefit from different microphone sensitivities.
The recording environment (recording booth, room, etc.) plays a big role in determining the best sensitivity rating for our vocal mics. If a room in improperly treated (or not treated at all), a lower sensitivity mic is likely better since it will not pick up as much of the room’s [unwanted] “character.” Conversely, a mic with high sensitivity will capture the ugliness of the untreated room (or the beauty of a treated room).
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 10 best microphones under $500 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
The majority of the best and most cherished vocal microphones of all-time (and microphones in general) are tube condensers.
Tube mics often have a warm and present character that adds weight and life to vocals. The presence and sibilance ranges are often smooth, which helps tremendously in terms of vocal clarity and intelligibility.
Tube mics are typically “darker” than their solid-state counterparts. Their high-end roll-offs benefit vocals considerably, especially when recording digital audio. Digital audio is clean and accurate but also quite sterile, bright and even harsh. Tube mics help to mitigate this.
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
Large-diaphragm FET (solid-state) condenser microphones are standard for recording vocals in studio environments.
If you’re looking for transparency, a high-end solid-state condenser is likely your best option. Although these mics each have their own character, they generally exhibit increased accuracy at the expense of warmth and colouration.
FET condensers are, generally speaking, less expensive than their tube condenser counterparts.
The main negative of FET condensers is that they may output an overly bright/harsh vocal signal.
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 less impressive than condensers on paper but still excel at picking up certain types of vocals.
In particular, the relatively dark colour of dynamic mics benefits 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 10 Best Microphones Under $500 For Recording Vocals
Once again, here is the list of My New Microphone’s top 10 best microphones under $500 for recording vocals:
- Lauten Audio LA-320
- Avantone Pro CV-12
- Warm Audio WA-14
- AKG C 214
- Warm Audio WA-47 Jr
- Aston Microphones Spirit
- Rode NT1-A
- sE Electronics Voodoo VR1
- Shure SM7B
- Shure SM58
1. Lauten Audio LA-320
First up is the Lauten Audio LA-320: a large-diaphragm tube condenser microphone with a fixed cardioid polar pattern.
The LA-320 delivers a superbly natural and open vocal sound. Its vacuum tube and transformer-balanced output give it a wonderful character without overly colouring the vocal performance. For a tube microphone, the 320 is actually quite transparent.
The lack of a high-shelf in the LA-320’s frequency response means sibilance and harshness are unlikely. If we do end up recording a particularly harsh vocalist, this mic features a 12 kHz high-cut filter to really smooth out the top-end of the vocal signal.
With all that being said, the high-end detail is quite lovely with this microphone and the body of the sound is astounding.
This mic also packs a punch in the low-end, giving vocals weight in the context of a mix. If the low-end is ever too much or the proximity effect is too overbearing, the 320 also features a low-cut filter that removes frequencies below 80 Hz.
All in all, the Lauten Audio LA-320 is exceptional value at under $500. Its incredible sound suits nearly all vocal types and puts this microphone at number 1 on this list!
2. Avantone CV-12
Up second on this list is the Avantone CV-12: another large-diaphragm tube condenser microphone. This mic is but one of Avantone’s tributes to the legendary AKG C 12 (featured as #1 on My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphones For Recording Vocals).
The versatile Avantone CV-12 microphone excels on vocals, producing professional results with a warm, pleasing sonic character. The CK 12-style capsule, 6072A tube and transformer-coupled output circuit give the CV-12 a wonderful sound quality reminiscent of the great tubes mics of the 1950s and 1960s.
This mic includes a custom shock mount and an 80 Hz high-pass filter to help reduce unwanted low-end noise. The response of this microphone is pleasantly accurate while still allowing vocals to shine in the high-end and have significant authority in the midrange and low-end.
For the price, we really can’t go wrong with the Avantone CV-12’s professional results.
3. Warm Audio WA-14
The Warm Audio WA-14 is another incredible vocal microphone based on a legendary AKG microphone (this time the AKG C 414 from 1971, which is featured at #9 in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphones For Recording Vocals).
This microphone is a large-diaphragm solid-state condenser microphone with 3 selectable polar pattern options.
At the heart of the WA-14 is a CK12-style capsule, modelled after AKG’s legendary CK 12. Its CineMag USA transformer and fully-discrete circuitry allow for a clean accuracy combined with a vintage-like character.
Although the WA-14 is a FET condenser mic, its got fantastic realism and a thickness that is evocative of AKG’s vintage microphone. Its character works to bring out any vocal in a mix without adding too much extra colouration.
4. AKG C 214
Similar to the WA-14, AKG’s C 214 is an affordable option based on the AKG C 414 line of microphones. This large-diaphragm solid-state condenser mic does away with all the extra functionality of the modern C 414 XLS and XLII, giving us a beautiful-sounding fixed-cardioid microphone for recording vocals.
The solid-state circuitry of the C 214 yields an accurate and transparent capture of the vocal performance nuances. As clean as it may be, the 214 also adds remarkable mass to the vocal sound along with its impeccable clarity.
If you’ve got the extra money, the AKG C 414 XLS and XLII are two incredible modern LDCs that are essentially C 214s with 9 selectable polar patterns; 3 high-pass filter options, and 3 pad options. These highly versatile mics also excel on vocals but can accommodate many more vocal styles and vocal recording techniques.
5. Warm Audio WA-47 Jr
The Warm Audio WA-47jr is a transformerless FET microphone based on the classic and well-respected Neumann U 47 (the Neumann U 47 comes in at #4 in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphones For Recording Vocals).
This large-diaphragm condenser microphone is centred around a custom k47 style capsule reproduction and actually comes fairly close to emulating the original frequency response of the U 47.
Of course, it’s difficult to design a solid-state transformerless mic to sound like a vintage tube mic but if any manufacturer could do it, it would be Warm Audio.
The WA-47 Jr gives weight and life to any vocal it captures and sets a record up for success straight out of the gate. Its character is beautiful and really brings vocals to the forefront of our attention with little to no additional processing.
For the price, the Warm Audio WA-47 Jr is tough to beat!
6. Aston Microphones Spirit
The Spirit is Aston Microphones’ “pro mic option.” This large-diaphragm solid-state condenser microphone sounds sumptuous on vocals and is of great value at its low price point.
The 1” gold evaporated capsule and the transformer-based output circuit of the Spirit yield a revealing and polished sound. Vocals benefit greatly from the Spirit’s detailed high-end with added harmonic content. The added air and space in the upper-end of the Spirit’s response is not at the expense of harshness or over-brightness. Rather the response of the Spirit can be described as smooth with added high-end shimmer.
On vocals, the Spirit excels. Its transparency is remarkable, allowing even the slightest nuances of a vocal performance to shine through.
7. Rode NT1-A
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that the NT1-A is one of my favourites. This mic comes in at #6 but is well under the price point of this article. I’ve decided to add the NT1-A (though the Rode NT1 is also an excellent choice on vocals) due to its great value and accuracy on vocals.
The NT1-A is a large-diaphragm solid-state condenser microphone with a cardioid polar pattern.
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 acts to brighten the signal and is very useful on darker male vocals.
8. sE Electronics Voodoo VR1
The sE Electronics Voodoo VR1 is partly here because of its vocal capture and partly here as a token ribbon microphone (I felt the need to add a ribbon on this list).
The VR1, like the majority of ribbon mics, has a bidirectional pattern and a natural-sounding but dark character. The transient response is on-point, allowing the VR1 to accurately reproduce the nuances with a vocal performance with clarity.
The VR1 actually excels as an inexpensive ribbon microphone whether it’s used on vocals or not. However, on vocals (especially bright vocals), the VR1 is particularly impressive.
The gentle high-end roll-off mitigates excessive sibilance and harshness while the transient response gathers all the tiny subtleties of the vocalist.
Just be sure to position this ribbon microphone appropriately when recording vocals. Plosives can easily damage the fragile ribbon diaphragm so tilting the mic slightly off-axis; distancing the microphone properly, and utilizing a pop filter are all important decisions to make!
9. Shure SM7B
The Shure SM7B is the first moving-coil dynamic microphone on this list.
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.
10. Shure SM58
If you’re really on a budget or just don’t want to spend a full $500 on a vocal microphone, the Shure SM58 is a budget-friendly option for recording vocals.
The Shure SM58 is best known as an industry-standard live vocal microphone. Its frequency response (low and high-end roll-off) and cardioid polar pattern give it superb gain-before-feedback and its presence boost allows the vocal to cut through loud mixes with ease.
In the studio, engineers typically opt for large-diaphragm condensers on vocals (as is apparent in this list) but that doesn’t mean we should discount the SM58 moving-coil dynamic mic.
The low-sensitivity of the SM58 is particularly effective if we are not recording in an ideal (sound-proofed or otherwise acoustically treated) environment. In fact, if I had a budget of $500 to spend on a microphone but had a terrible recording space, I’d go with a cheaper mic and invest in acoustic foam and/or a vocal isolation shield to improve the recording environment.
All that being said, the SM58 excels as a live vocal mic and so using it in the studio does make sense. This is especially true if we’re looking to capture a more “live” vibe in our vocal tracks.
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)