In the world of audio production, the microphone is like your magic wand, turning sound waves into electrical signals. But let’s be honest, not all mics are made equal. So, what are the best studio microphones to grab in 2023 if you want your voice to sound as clear, deep, and nuanced as it should?
In this guide, we’re going to help you navigate the world of microphones, spotlighting top-tier models with their unique features, benefits, drawbacks, and pricing. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out, this article’s going to help you make a sound choice, pun intended, for your recording needs. So, let’s get started and find out how to hit the high notes in your audio production journey.
The Neumann U87 Ai is a renowned, versatile, and reliable microphone that is an updated version of the original U 87, first introduced in 1967.
Known for its exceptional performance, it does not possess the same warmth and smoothness as the original U 87 but performs admirably nonetheless. With a frequency response range of 20 Hz – 20 kHz, it offers three switchable polar patterns: cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure-8. The U 87 Ai is equipped with a low-frequency cutoff filter to eliminate low-end mud and achieves a max SPL of 117 dB (or 127 dB with 10 dB preattenuation pad). The studio staple is praised for its performance on vocals, as well as its excellence in recording drums, guitar amps, bass amps, and acoustic guitars.
- Wide frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz
- Three switchable polar patterns: cardioid, omnidirectional, and figure-8
- Max SPL of 117 dB or 127 dB with 10 dB preattenuation pad
- Low-frequency cutoff filter
- Exceptional performance on studio vocals and recording of various instruments
- Solid build quality and known durability
Investing in the U87 Ai would be a significant expense as its stellar performance and exceptional reputation come with a higher price tag. However, in my opinion, the price is justified by the microphone’s versatility, high-quality sound, and durability.
The Neumann U87 Ai is applauded for its versatility as it is capable of recording a range of sound sources, from vocals and instruments to less conventional sounds. However, it may sound a bit harsher in the high-frequency ranges compared to the original U 87 but can still perform well with proper placement. The microphone’s mid-range response can also vary depending on the vocalist.
One of the notable features of the U87 Ai is its K67 capsule, which many have attempted to replicate but haven’t been able to match the quality provided by Neumann. The microphone’s build is sturdy and comes with an iconic shock mount with replaceable rubber parts. It is available in nickel or black finish.
It is often hailed as the industry standard and a must-have for successful studios, but it might not be necessary for everyone, especially those starting a studio or for voice-over purposes.
In comparison with other microphones like the Rode NT2 and T-Zone Audio Products Stellar X2, the U87 Ai has proven to be superior. Known for its flat frequency response, slight presence boost, and low noise floor, the microphone is assembled with high precision in a clean room, ensuring consistency and quality. It is often used for broadcast and voice-over applications due to its renowned clarity, dynamic response, detail, and flat frequency response.
The Shure SM7B is a highly respected microphone, predominantly used by professional musicians and podcasters due to its trustworthy performance, first-rate construction, and noise attenuating technology.
This technology allows for clear, unblemished recordings. The microphone has a uniform frequency response ideal for all kinds of recording, and it also offers alternative responses suitable for various studio requirements. The Shure SM7B has been praised for its robust build quality, designed to withstand the rigors of professional use. Thanks to the noise attenuating technology and on-board frequency response filters, the microphone is particularly efficient at capturing clear, detailed vocals.
- High-quality sound reproduction
- Wide frequency range (50Hz to 20kHz)
- Dynamic microphone that does not require phantom power
- Excellent vocal reproduction and internal noise rejection
- Durable, solid build quality
- Versatility in recording vocals, instruments, and podcasts
The Shure SM7B microphone is priced at roughly $400 USD, with various bundles available that offer additional accessories like a boom arm, XLR cable, and headphones.
The Shure SM7B is well-regarded for its sound quality, which is smooth, crisp, and slightly warm, making it excellent for capturing low dialogues and controlling louder dialogues with proper gain adjustment. This microphone is particularly excellent for its noise reduction and clear, natural sound reproduction.
However, it’s important to note that while the SM7B does boast impressive audio quality and reliability, it does require additional equipment such as an interface and XLR cables for connection to a computer, which can add to the overall cost of using the microphone. Furthermore, despite its strong and sturdy all-metal construction, the SM7B is somewhat heavy and can be more expensive compared to other microphones on the market.
Though the microphone is praised for its remarkable audio quality and the ability to minimize peaks and plosives, it could require more post-processing to achieve the desired sound. Despite these minor setbacks, the Shure SM7B is still considered a professional-grade microphone and is preferred by many in the industry for its natural and accurate sound reproduction.
On the other hand, the Shure MV7, a more affordable alternative to the SM7B, is lauded for its simplicity, ease of use, and its Motiv app that lets users adjust audio settings and save presets. This feature, however, is not available with the SM7B. The MV7 also offers versatility in mounting options, and it comes with two USB cables, making it compatible with different devices. Although the MV7 offers a more modern and crisp sound, it doesn’t quite match the professional-grade sound quality of the SM7B.
The Audio-Technica AT2020 is an affordable, versatile microphone that has been recommended for those starting home studios or requiring high-quality audio for streaming or podcasting.
First released in 2004, the AT2020 offers a durable build quality and impressive sound clarity. It is a cardioid condenser microphone, meaning it is highly sensitive to sound coming from the front and able to reject sound from the back. The microphone requires phantom power to operate and connects via an XLR cable, standard for professional studio equipment.
- Affordable pricing without compromising on sound quality
- Durable all-metal construction and a strong metal grille for protection
- High-quality audio suitable for various applications such as vocal recording, podcasting, and streaming
- Cardioid polar pattern that reduces unwanted sounds from the sides and rear
- High maximum SPL rating of 144dB, allowing for recording of loud sources without distortion
- Wide frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz
- Compact size and moderate weight, making it portable and suitable for use with a boom arm
The Audio-Technica AT2020 is priced at roughly $99 USD, making it an affordable choice for many. Moreover, there are kits available that include additional accessories like a microphone arm, XLR cable and headphones for $149. There is also a USB version of the microphone for those who prefer that connectivity option.
On the plus side, the AT2020 delivers high-quality sound that rivals more expensive models. It’s built with durable materials making it a long-lasting investment. The clear and detailed sound reproduction it offers has been praised, often described as having a warm and natural sound. It’s also appreciated for its ability to handle loud sounds, thanks to the high SPL rating.
However, the microphone can be sensitive to handling noise, suggesting that it’s best to place it on a sturdy, flat surface and avoid touching it while recording. While it comes with a stand mount, users might need to purchase additional equipment like a pop filter, a mic stand, XLR cable, and an audio interface for optimal results.
The sound quality, while generally excellent, has been reported to have some issues with plosive and sibilant sounds when recording vocals. These can be mitigated by adjusting the microphone’s position and using a pop filter.
Despite some minor drawbacks, the Audio-Technica AT2020 is a reliable choice offering professional-quality audio. Whether for streaming, podcasting or recording purposes, this microphone’s affordability and performance make it a valued asset in any audio setup.
The Rode NT1 is a modern rendition of a classic condenser microphone, largely celebrated for its capabilities in capturing vocals and other instruments.
This microphone embodies low noise levels and superior sound quality, making it an optimal selection for musicians. It boasts an exceptional build quality and is esteemed for its good value for its price.
Completely redesigned from the ground up, it only retains the mesh grille from its original design. The NT1 is equipped with a new HF6 capsule that mirrors the sound signature of vintage microphones while maintaining minimal noise levels. It’s a versatile tool that can be used for a variety of tasks, although it may not be suitable for close-miking loud sources due to the lack of a pad.
- High-quality, low noise sound
- Excellent build quality, providing good value for price
- Integrated shock mount and pop shield design
- HF6 capsule, offering a vintage sound signature with low noise
- Versatile usage for a variety of tasks
- Comes with a 10-year warranty for peace of mind
The Rode NT1 is renowned for its competitive price point. It’s considered to offer great value for money, being of high-quality while being reasonably priced.
The Rode NT1 is lauded for its high-quality sound and robust metal construction, making it a prevalent choice among creators and home studio enthusiasts. The kit itself includes a shock mount and pop filter, accentuating its value. A notable benefit of the NT1 is its flexibility in connectivity, as it supports connection via XLR or USB, adapting to various recording setups. Furthermore, the microphone delivers a smooth and detailed sound, featuring a flat frequency response.
However, it’s important to be cognizant of its sensitivity to ambient noise. Given its high sensitivity, it can easily pick up on background noises. Thus, it’s recommended to use soundproofing in the recording space to curtail these extraneous noises. Moreover, while the included accessories add value, they may not be of the highest quality and could potentially benefit from being replaced.
Aside from these minor issues, the Rode NT1 is an all-round condenser microphone that thrives on vocals and acoustic guitar, offering excellent value for money. The microphone is compatible with the Rode Central app, allowing for further customization of the sound. With its 10-year warranty, it ensures durability and reliability, proving to be a solid choice for music producers and beginners seeking a high-quality microphone for their studio. Its versatility extends to various applications, including streaming and podcasting, demonstrating its adaptability and wide range of uses.
A versatile condenser microphone, the AKG C414, has a prominent place in both studio and live recording environments. It owes its lineage to the esteemed C12, a tube condenser microphone known for its silky high-end sound. Over the years, the C414 has seen multiple iterations, tweaking both its design and sonic characteristics.
The microphone is equipped with a wide range of features like multiple polar patterns, sensitivity reduction options, and low-end roll-off capabilities, making it suitable for capturing a broad range of instruments and vocals.
- Wide range of features, including multiple polar patterns and sensitivity reduction options.
- Excellent handling of high sound pressure levels.
- Options for low-frequency rolloff and pad settings.
- Flat frequency response suitable for recording a wide range of instruments.
- Compact and lightweight design for easy positioning in multiple recording scenarios.
- Robust construction and gold-sputtered diaphragm for enhanced performance.
- Comes with a rugged metal flight case, a plastic shock mount, a high-quality pop filter, and a foam windsock.
The AKG C414 is a high-end microphone offering exceptional performance and value. Its price aligns with its versatile usage, high-quality construction, and the extensive array of features it offers.
The AKG C414 is celebrated for its versatile nature and excellent performance. Over the decades, it has found its place in a myriad of recordings across various genres. The versatility of this microphone stems from the multiple versions it has undergone, with roots tracing back to the CK12 capsule used in the classic C12 tube condenser microphone.
The C414 offers various polar patterns, including cardioid, omni, figure of 8, and hypercardioid. Some engineers felt it lacked a bit of bottom end, leading to AKG releasing the C414 EB with a reworked transformer for cleaner sound. This iteration also featured a 3-way bass roll-off switch and a 3-position pad switch.
The most recent version, the C414 XL, boasts a transformerless design with 6dB more output and 8dB lower noise. It can handle sound pressure levels up to 160 dB with the pads engaged, granting exceptional flexibility and control over its response.
It’s often the go-to for recording drum overheads, acoustic instrument recordings, and vocals, and can also be used as a room mic. The microphone is appreciated for its balanced, even tone, making it a fantastic addition to any microphone collection.
However, it’s worth noting that the C414, like any tool, is not without its cons. The often-praised brightness of the C414 TLII may not be suitable for all recording situations and could risk overpowering certain mix elements. But, with a bit of careful positioning and setting selection, the C414’s performance can shine across a broad range of applications.
On balance, the AKG C414 stands as a versatile, reliable mic that offers an excellent performance, making it a worthy investment for any studio.
The Behringer C-1 is a large diaphragm condenser microphone, renowned for its affordability and versatility. Designed for a diverse range of applications, it handles studio recording, podcasting, broadcasting, and live performances with ease.
Its ability to capture vocals and instruments with clarity and detail ensures great sound quality. The microphone comes with a shock mount and a protective carrying case, perfect for transportation and storage.
Here are its notable features:
- Large diaphragm for wider frequency response and better sensitivity
- Cardioid polar pattern for sound isolation and background noise reduction
- Low-cut filter switch to suppress low-frequency rumble
- -10dB pad switch to manage high sound pressure levels
- Solid metal construction and metal grill for durability
- Hard shell plastic case for protection during transportation
- XLR connector compatibility
The Behringer C-1 is a budget-friendly option for those seeking professional audio quality.
From my standpoint, the C-1 offers several advantages. Its affordability and consistent performance provide professional sound quality at a budget-friendly price. Notably, its clear and crisp sound reproduction, especially for vocals, is commendable. The solid metal construction and metal grill enhance its durability, and the included hard shell plastic case ensures it is well-protected during transportation.
The frequency response of the microphone, ranging from 40 Hz to 20 kHz, is suitable for recording both instruments and vocals. Thanks to the cardioid polar pattern, it primarily captures sound from the front while reducing noise from the sides and rear. This feature aids in achieving a cleaner, more focused sound. The C-1 also features a flat response, capturing sound accurately without adding unnecessary coloration.
However, no product is without its drawbacks. The C-1’s microphone clip feels somewhat cheap compared to the rest of the microphone. Additionally, it requires two cables: an XLR cable to connect to the phantom power supply and an XLR to 3.5mm cable to connect to the audio interface. This might add a layer of complexity for some.
There are also some reported quality control issues. Some people have experienced humming noise or distortion problems, suggesting that the microphone may require careful handling to avoid potential issues. Utilizing a pop filter is advised to reduce plosive sounds when recording vocals.
Nonetheless, the Behringer C-1 stands as a reliable choice for home recording projects and podcasting. Particularly for musicians recording vocals, acoustic guitar, or other instruments, the Behringer C-1 is a reasonable budget option that doesn’t compromise on sound quality.
The Samson C01 is a large-diaphragm condenser microphone that is specifically targeted towards the budget microphone market.
The Samson C01 features a 19mm cardioid capsule with a three-micron thick, gold-sputtered diaphragm. Although it lacks pad or low-cut slide switches, the microphone does come equipped with an LED that lights up when phantom power is applied.
- 19mm cardioid capsule with three-micron thick, gold-sputtered diaphragm
- LED indicator for phantom power application
- Gentle presence/air boost focused around 10kHz in frequency response
- Sensitivity of 33dB/Pa, and maximum SPL handling of 136dB
- Bright and open sound with a slightly airy top end
- Comes with a swivel mount with an optional shock mount available
The Samson C01 microphone is priced quite competitively at Roughly $79 USD. Alternatively, you could opt for the combined studio bundle package from Amazon, which is on sale for $109.95 at the time of posting.
Pros & Cons
As a product, the Samson C01 stands out for its bright and open sound. The microphone tends to lean towards an airy top end, offering a distinct character that might be appealing to some. The gentle presence/air boost around 10kHz in its frequency response potentially adds to its unique sound character.
On the other hand, the microphone’s low end might not be as solid compared to other microphones in the same category. Some might find the gentle drop off below 80Hz limiting, especially those looking for a rich and robust low-end response.
Although lacking in pad or low-cut switches which could give users more control over their sound, the LED indicator for phantom power application is a handy feature. The sensitivity of 33dB/Pa and the maximum SPL handling of 136dB indicate that the microphone can handle a good range of sound pressure levels, making it versatile for varied recording situations.
The pricing is definitely one of the significant advantages of the Samson C01, with the microphone alone costing just $79.
The Elgato Wave 3 is a microphone designed with specific consideration for the needs of streamers, podcasters, and online callers. However, is is a reliable budget option for studios on a budget.
With a simple interface and solid features, it simplifies complex setups. Constructed from black metal and hard plastic, it boasts a sturdy build that is both compact and lightweight. The mic comes with a plastic mount, which can screw into a weighted metal stand, and a USB-C cable for connection. It features a convenient mute sensor at the top that turns red when muted and a dial on the front for easy control of mic volume, monitor volume, and mic/PC monitor mix. The Wave:3 connects via USB-C and comes with WaveLink software, acting as a virtual audio mixer for organizing audio sources.
- Designed for streamers, podcasters, and online callers
- Simple interface and solid features
- Sturdy build made of black metal and hard plastic
- User-friendly and requires no complicated setup
- Mute sensor and control dial for easy operation
- Comes with WaveLink software for audio source organization
- Built-in Clipguard feature to avoid accidental digital overs
The Elgato Wave 3 is priced at roughly $160 USD and offers a range of features and high-quality performance, making it a strong competitor in its price range.
From my perspective, the Wave: 3 stands out for its proprietary technology, Clip Guard, which prevents clipping and distortion. This feature records a second audio channel at a lower volume when the microphone detects peaking, ensuring a distortion-free experience. The convenience provided by the physical features such as the control dial and mute button adds to its appeal.
The Wave software that comes with the microphone is another plus. It offers two independent output mixes, a boon for streamers who want to play copyrighted music for themselves but not broadcast it to their stream.
However, the Wave 3 does have its limitations. It does not come with a pop filter or switchable mic patterns, which might deter some users. The mount also feels a bit flimsy compared to the heavyweight stand. While the microphone is well-suited for streaming and podcasting, those looking for a more versatile microphone offering multiple recording patterns may consider other options.
You’ll find microphones can be split into four main types based on their construction and operational principles: dynamic microphones, large diaphragm condenser microphones, small diaphragm condenser microphones, and ribbon microphones. Each type has unique sound characteristics and is suitable for specific recording situations.
Dynamic microphones, or moving coil microphones, are durable, versatile, and can withstand high sound pressure levels. Their robust nature makes them a good fit for recording a variety of sound sources, including vocals, snare drums, and guitar cabinets. They’re a popular choice for both studio work and live sound reinforcement due to their affordability and durability.
Condenser microphones, both large and small diaphragm, are more delicate and sensitive compared to dynamic microphones. Large diaphragm condenser microphones are commonly used in studios for capturing vocals and detailed sounds of instruments. Small diaphragm condenser microphones, on the other hand, are often used for recording distant sounds, like drum overheads or orchestras in large concert halls. They can also be used for close-up recordings.
Ribbon microphones, known for their unique sound profile, fall between condenser and dynamic microphones. Their sensitivity and fragile nature require careful handling, but they provide excellent results when used to capture drum overheads, guitar amps, or orchestral sounds from a distance.
Your choice of microphone depends on the specific sound source and recording environment. It’s important to know each type’s strengths and weaknesses, and which is most suitable for the desired sound quality and recording situation. By knowing the different types of microphones and their uses, you can effectively optimize your recording setup to capture the best possible sound.
When you’re choosing the right microphone for your studio, you’ll need to carefully consider several factors. These include the type of microphone, its directionality, proximity effect, frequency response, maximum sound pressure level (Max SPL), and connectivity. Each of these factors plays a key role in shaping the sound that the microphone captures and ultimately determines the quality of your recordings.
You’ve got three primary microphone types to consider: condenser, dynamic, and ribbon. Condenser microphones, known for their sensitivity, are perfect for capturing delicate instruments and vocals. Dynamic microphones, which are durable and less sensitive, are great for live performances. Ribbon microphones, recognized for their natural sound output, are excellent at capturing delicate sounds.
The directionality or polar pattern of a microphone dictates its sensitivity to sounds from different angles. Common polar patterns include cardioid, hyper-cardioid, super-cardioid, omni-directional, bi-directional, and unidirectional. The right choice for you depends on the specific sound sources and situations in your recording setup.
Another factor you’ll need to consider is the microphone’s proximity effect, which refers to the increase in low-frequency response when the microphone is close to the sound source. This effect can enhance the depth of a sound but may also pick up unwanted plosives. Using a pop filter can help you manage this issue.
Frequency response pertains to the range of frequencies that a microphone can accurately capture. Most microphones have a standard frequency response of 20Hz – 20kHz, which covers the human hearing range. Different microphone types and designs will have varying sensitivity to different frequencies. The maximum sound pressure level (Max SPL), indicates the loudness of the sound source that a microphone can handle before distortion. So, it’s important to match the Max SPL of the microphone with the maximum dB of the sound source to avoid distortion and potential damage to the microphone.
Lastly, you’ll need to consider the connectivity of your microphone. Options include XLR, tip-sleeve (TP) or tip-ring-sleeve (TRS), and USB. Your choice should depend on the equipment you have and the compatibility with your recording setup.
Choosing the right microphone is a decision that can greatly impact the quality of your recordings. So, make sure you consider all these factors, along with your specific recording needs, to make an informed choice.
After taking a look at our top studio microphone picks, we’ve aimed to provide you with a clear picture of their capabilities, specifications, and unique qualities. From versatile industry staples like the Neumann U87 Ai to streamer-friendly options such as the Elgato Wave: 3, we’re here to help you make an informed decision that aligns with your recording needs and budget.
It’s important to remember that each microphone has its own distinct sonic signature. So, knowing your specific needs, applications, and the sound you’re aiming to capture is key.
The world of sound is as diverse as its listeners. So, no single microphone, no matter how high its quality or broad its capabilities, can be a one-size-fits-all solution for all recording scenarios. A professional recording environment often requires a variety of different microphones to meet various recording situations and to capture the depth and dimension in sound we all love.
Just like a keyboardist who uses different synths for unique tones or a photographer who uses various lenses for special effects, a sound engineer’s microphone collection serves different purposes and achieves varying audio aesthetics.
Your choice of microphone can really shape the listeners’ experience, transforming everyday noise into artful sound. After all, isn’t that what recording’s all about? Capturing moments, expressing ideas, conveying emotions, and connecting with listeners in a way that words alone can’t.
As you continue on your musical journey, we hope these insights guide you to the right microphone, amplifying your story in its most authentic tone. Let’s resonate with the world, one sound wave at a time.