Editors Note: This article was written by our intern, Ben Ludens. Ben is the lead vocalist for Tiny Voices, a high-energy band from Wisconsin, who just released their first EP "Where the Time Went" which is out now. So we put him in a studio with a ton of microphones to try out, and this is his take on each microphone based on his experience.
When preparing to record vocals it is important to figure out what microphones will be the best for your recording. Figuring this out requires a lot of research about different microphones and finding the ones that are the best fit for you or the vocalist you’re recording. This can be a difficult thing to research because the best way to tell is by testing the microphones yourself, but lots of microphones found in studios are extremely expensive and inaccessible to a lot of vocalists. I put together a list of vocal microphones and recorded audio samples of speaking, singing, and also some shouting vocals to provide some examples of how these microphones perform in a variety of different situations. I also made sure to include some more affordable options for vocalists who are looking to record themselves from home.
The Bluebird from Blue microphones is a large diaphragm condenser microphone, making it an excellent option for recording vocals. The bluebird offers an incredible sound for being one of the more affordable options on this list. This microphone did an excellent job capturing the tone of all three tests I did with it. The speaking was extremely clean and articulate, and offered a lot of presence to the tone of my voice. When I sang into the bluebird I noticed that it gave the top end of my voice a slightly airier color while still giving enough support to my lower end to provide a good full tone. The bluebird also handled the shouting vocals a lot better than I expected. The top end of the vocal was crisp and you could hear the grit very well in my voice, but it felt like it could use a little more support from the lower end of my voice. The bluebird would be an amazing option for vocalists who want a microphone that makes the top end of their voice shine, without losing too much support from the low end.
The MXL 990 is another large diaphragm condenser microphone. This microphone is an excellent option for anyone who is trying to get a studio quality recording from home. The MXL 990 provides an incredible sound for such a low price point. This microphone offered a lot of support to the mid to low end of my voice, which gave it a fuller and darker tone than some of the other microphones on this list. This was one of my favorite mics for my voice on the speaking example because the support this mic gives to the mid and low end is a perfect fit for the sound of my voice. The same full tone can be heard in the clip of me singing as well. The fullness of the tone of this microphone was perfect for the shouting vocals. The mic offered enough body to the tone to support the grit on the top end very well. I would highly recommend this microphone to someone who is trying to achieve a studio quality sound from home. The MXL 990 offers studio quality sound at a fraction of the price of some of the industry standard microphones out there.
The Rode NTK is unique from the other microphones on this list because it is a tube mic. Tube mics can offer a lot of warmth and color to the tone of your vocal track. These mics have the same type of diaphragm that large condenser microphones use, but they amplify the signal using a vacuum tube and an external power source, rather than the +48v Phantom power on your interface. The vacuum tube used to amplify the sound is the most important part of what gives these microphones such a unique sound. Some engineers will even switch the tube that’s in their microphone to get a different tone out of it. This microphone was one of my favorites to pair with my voice on this list. The microphone has a very full sound, but isn’t too woofy. It does a great job supporting the tone of my voice while also adding some warmth that complimented my voice very well. This mic sounded amazing when used for speaking and for singing, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the tube sound on the shouting. The warmth that the mic gave the vocals sounded a little out of place when paired with a more aggressive tone like the shouting. The Rode NTK is an awesome microphone to use if you’re interested in adding some warmth to your vocal track. If you have access to an NTK or a studio that has one, then I would definitely recommend that you try it out. They can offer some really cool tone colors that you can’t really get out of other microphones
The Audio-Technica BP40 is a large diaphragm dynamic microphone. Dynamic microphones are not used as often for recording vocals because they normally don’t capture as much detail from the vocals as a condenser mic can. There are a few exceptions to this such as the AT BP40 and the Shure SM7B, both of which have large diaphragms and are set at higher gain levels so they are able to capture more detail in a vocal track than a condenser microphone. Another reason dynamics can be useful for recording vocals is if you are recording in a room with no acoustic treatment. Condenser microphones pick up a lot of room sound because they are more sensitive. This means recording with a condenser mic in an untreated room can ruin the quality of your vocal recording. Dynamic microphones don’t care if the room is treated or not. They are not as sensitive and pick up much less room sound, making them ideal to use in rooms with bad acoustics (Home recording). As for the quality of the sound, the difference is definitely noticeable between the BP40 and the condenser microphones on this list. The BP40 is able to capture some of the detail of the vocals in the recording, but the tone is much flatter than the tone of some of the condenser microphones. Because of this I might not pick this microphone over a condenser microphone in a studio setting, but if I were to record something in my bedroom or office the BP40 would be the perfect option.
The AKG C1000s is a small diaphragm condenser microphone. The diaphragm in this condenser microphone is much smaller than the diaphragm on the other condensers like the MXL 990 and the Bluebird. The smaller diaphragm in this microphone picks up a smaller spectrum of frequencies than the larger diaphragm microphones which give it a thinner and darker sound. For the speaking track, this microphone captured a lot less low end from my voice than a lot of the other microphones. This made the speaking sound lighter and less present which I was not a fan of for this example. The singing track is where this microphone shined the best with my voice. The song is very thin in texture which is part of the reason this mic sounds great on its own here. The C1000s gave my voice a light sound with a darker tone that wasn’t woofy or muddy. The screaming vocals sounded pretty good, but they were missing a lot of the mid to low end that got missed due to the smaller diaphragm. The AKG C1000s has a really unique sound due to the smaller diaphragm. I would recommend this microphone for tracking thinner vocals in the mid to upper registers, because a lot of the lower register gets left out due to the smaller spectrum of frequencies that this mic can pick up.
sE Electronics X1S
The sE Electronics X1S is another large diaphragm condenser mic which makes it a great option for recording vocals. The sE X1S is another microphone that can get you a studio quality sound at a home studio price. On the speaking track the X1S sounds very balanced across the board. It has a good amount of support from the low end without being overpowering, while also allowing the detail at the top end of your voice to show through. The same can be said for the singing track. This microphone provides a clean and consistent tone throughout the whole vocal line. The tone of my voice is well supported without being too heavy on the low end, while capturing all of the detail of my upper register at the same time. The screaming was also very balanced when recorded through this microphone, but I do wish the screaming had a little bit more presence than this microphone offers. This microphone would work well for a large variety of vocalists because of how balanced the sound of this mic is across the board.
The Aston Stealth is another dynamic microphone that is often used for tracking vocals or recording audio for podcasts. Right off the bat, one of the coolest parts about this mic is that it has a built in preamp that can be activated by turning on phantom power. Like a lot of dynamic broadcast mics, the Aston Stealth requires a very high gain setting. The preamp that comes built in, boosts the signal level so that less gain is required to get a good volume. This also helps reduce some of the noise that can be caused by high gain settings. This mic captures vocals fairly well for a dynamic microphone. On the speaking track, the Stealth seemed to dampen a lot of the lower end of my voice and accent more of the mid frequencies. This caused my voice to sound a little flatter in the recordings than the other microphones did. This is also noticeable in the singing example. The stealth didn’t compliment my voice very well on either of those takes, but it handled the screaming vocals very well. The stealth gave the harsher vocals a much darker color than a lot of the other microphones, which really helped them sound fuller and more consistent than a lot of the other microphones did. This microphone is a great option for broadcasting and harsh vocals, but if you’re looking for a microphone that will capture all of the details of your voice you would be better off with one of the condenser mics on this list.
The CAD E100-2 is another large diaphragm condenser microphone. This microphone has a much darker color to the tone than a lot of the other condenser mics on this list. When I compared the tracks recorded in this microphone compared to the other condensers, I thought this microphone actually sounded more like the NTK than any of the others. The dark tone that the E100-2 adds to your vocals sounds similar to the tone color that tube mics offer. For the speaking example, the E100-2 gave my voice a cool dark tone that complimented my voice very well. The tone of my singing was also supported very well by the dark color of this mic. The low end was very well supported with a smooth dark tone throughout the whole vocal. The tone of this mic also helped the screaming sound very full. This microphone is an awesome option for anyone who is looking for a mic that will give them a smooth dark tone.
sE Electronics V7
The sE V7 is a dynamic handheld microphone made by sE Electronics. I decided to test this microphone because I was personally interested in buying one for myself to use for live performances and wanted to do some research before making a final decision on the microphone I bought. My favorite part about this microphone is the sound quality it provides compared to other microphones at the same price point. The V7 does a great job highlighting more of the detail in the tone of your voice compared to similarly priced handheld mics like the Shure SM58. The V7 provided a nice thick texture to the tone of my voice that really helped shape the depth and tone of my voice in these examples. Some handheld microphones in this price range will flatten the tone of your voice a lot and put a fuzzy sounding blanket over your vocal that can suck some of the life out of the tone. This can be beneficial to people who want to mask small mistakes or parts of their voice they don’t like, but for vocalists who are confident in their ability to perform well live I would recommend a microphone like the sE V7.
The SM7B has been one of the most well known vocal microphones in the world for decades, and for good reason. It is a large diaphragm dynamic microphone that is widely used for podcasting and vocal tracking. This microphone sounds incredible on almost every vocalist, but shines particularly well on voices in the mid to low range. Of all the dynamic microphones on this list, the 7B is able to do the best job picking up vocals with condenser-like detail. This makes it a great option for recording vocals for music on top of being a broadcast microphone. The 7B is very resistant to high Sound Pressure Levels which makes it an excellent option for louder vocals like rock vocals and screaming. The fact that this is a dynamic mic also makes it a slightly better option for tracking vocals in untreated rooms. It will still pick up more room sound than some of the other dynamic microphones on this list due to the high gain setting required to power this microphone, but it should do a better job avoiding unwanted room sound than some of the condensers on this list. One of the only big downsides to this microphone is the incredibly high gain setting required to power the 7B. Most smaller interfaces (and some larger ones) will have to have their gain set all the way up to get a decent level out of this mic. This is why the Shure SM7B is often paired with a device called the Cloudlifter CL-1. The Cloudlifter is a mic activator that you can connect a microphone to to give it a nice gain boost while also avoiding too much noise from the high gain. I would recommend this to anyone who is thinking about buying an SM7B to record their vocals.
All of the microphones on this list would be an excellent option to record dialogue or vocals, but there might only be a few that are a good fit for your voice. That is why it is so important to do your own research when choosing which microphone you want to use to track your vocals. There are lots of great YouTube videos and other articles like this one that can help you look into which microphones are a good fit for you. Make sure you check out our YouTube channel and our other articles for more information on microphones and studio gear!
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