The 5 Best Studio Mics in 2021 Guide

Studio Frequencies is reader supported. When you buy through links on our site we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

I’ve spoken to many musicians and sound engineers over the years about what they consider to be the best studio mics for recording vocals. While the opinions on this matter certainly fluctuate, it’s easy to see what the fundamentals are: sonic clarity with a little color. Even with that in mind, choosing the right microphone for your needs can seem daunting.

Quick Picks

Top Pick

Feature 1

Audio-Technica AT2035

– Unbeatable value
– Solid build
– Smooth and natural sound

Feature 1

Rode NT2A

– Amazing accuracy
– Switchable Polar Patterns
– Built-in filters

Feature 1

Shure SM7B

– Well-rounded sound
– Very versatile
– High Max SPL


How To Choose The Best Studio Mic

Condenser mic vs. Dynamic mic. USB mic vs. mics that require a preamp. These are but a few examples of the things to consider. Well fear not, I will do my best to break these issues down in a straightforward manner. On top of that, I will give you my top 5 picks of what I believe to be the best microphones for recording on the market today. 

So without further ado, let’s start out with the basics.

The Difference Condenser Mics and Dynamic Mics

This is probably the most basic (yet most important) topic to differentiate when it comes to picking the best microphone for recording vocals in the studio. The names might sound confusing at first, but trust me, it’s a lot more simple to understand than you think. 

What we’re really talking about here is the difference in diaphragm types. Diaphragm refers to the piece up top that sound sources will travel through. You can easily tell the differences between a condenser mic and dynamic mic in a few ways.

Condenser microphones are typically more expensive, require Phantom Power, and are more sensitive to quieter frequencies. They have become the staple for recording vocals in a studio environment due to their top-notch accuracy and that sensitivity that I mentioned. 

I also mentioned the bit about Phantom Power. Rest assured that most modern audio interfaces will have this feature out-of-the-box. That means you need to break out the wallet for another piece of equipment in order to use a condenser mic.

Related: Thunderbolt Audio Interfaces Guide

Dynamic microphones are usually cheaper, don’t require a power source, and are better suited for louder frequencies. These microphones are a mainstay for live performances due to their rugged build and noise rejection capabilities. 

Related: What Is An Audio Interface?

Dynamic Mics in the Studio

That’s not to say that Dynamic microphones have no place in the studio though. Some engineers swear by recording vocals via some classic Dynamic mic options depending on the scenario.

That’s a pretty rudimentary way of separating the two, but it also makes it easy to remember. My list of best microphones for recording includes both of these diaphragm types for a reason. As I stated earlier, some folks truly love using a Dynamic mic for recording vocals despite Condenser mics being the most popular choice. 

Both of these options have their pros and cons, but it’s entirely up to you and what exactly you need out of a studio microphone.

The USB Microphone Dilemma

You might be wondering why I didn’t mention USB mics before. I have my reasons. This buyer’s guide is meant to help folks looking for a the best microphone for recording vocals in a recording studio environment. I mean, if you’re a beginner vocalist then a USB mic might be worth considering. That being said, they don’t offer much in terms of adding sonic color to your vocals. 

They’re extremely easy to use though, and most USB mics have a condenser type diaphragm. For the purposes of this guide, however, I will skip these microphones for recording vocals.

Sound Pressure Level (SPL)

SPL is always worth mentioning when talking about the best microphones for recording vocals. I don’t necessarily want to get super technical with all of this in this guide, but it’s still important stuff. SPL is essentially the maximum decibel (dB) level that a studio microphone can handle before the signal starts to distort. 

Now, the topic of SPL won’t be of huge concern to you unless you’re planning on recording a 5-piece metalcore band that has a lead vocalist who solely screams. SPL only becomes a factor to look into when loud, sharp frequencies are present in your recordings. The screaming vocalist isn’t the only example. Recording instruments like a snare drum or a distorted electric guitar signal will require a microphone with a high max SPL.

Luckily, they make instrument microphones tailored for these jobs that I will cover in a separate guide. For now, there’s no pressing need to worry about SPL for vocal mic recording purposes.

What does Polar Pattern mean?

Again, without getting too technical, the polar patterns of a microphone refers to how the device captures sound sources based on the location and direction of that sound.

The main thing to know here is what part of the microphone captures the sound, and what part rejects sound. For instance, a cardioid microphone captures sound directly from the front and rejects sound from the back. This makes cardioid mics most ideal for recording vocals in the studio.

There are numerous patterns that can be found in different types of the best microphones. Omnidirectional mics are great for recording multiple instruments or an ensemble of vocalists. Shotgun mics are commonly used in the film industry. As I’m sure you’ve already assumed, we’ll be focusing on cardioid studio microphones for recording vocals in a home studio environment.

Do you need a Pop Filter?

These are a must-have when recording any type of vocal mic signal. Let’s quickly imagine that you’re recording some rap vocals. Think about how many breaths a rapper takes in between certain syllables. Visualize all of the “p” pronunciations that occur on a second-to-second basis. 

Well, that’s where a pop filter comes in. This tool is fixed on the front-face of a studio microphone to block out these undesirable sounds from being noticeable in the recording. Think of this as a “screen” that protects the integrity of the host’s vocal quality.

It’s worth noting that many microphones come with an included pop filter, though they’re usually of lesser quality. Some high-end condenser microphones even have built-in pop filters into the device itself. I’d recommend investing in a high-quality filter rather than the bundled option in mics that don’t have one already built-in. You won’t regret it.

Combining These Factors

Okay, now that we’ve briefly touched on the technical stuff, it’s important to decipher what all of this means on each studio microphone I will be reviewing. 

For example, let’s imagine we’re looking at a large diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone. Hopefully all of the things we’ve learned about above will help you understand that mouthful of a term more easily. In fact, a large diaphragm condenser microphone is the textbook representation of what the best microphones are for recording vocals.

“Large diaphragm condenser” as mentioned above is sensitive to quieter frequencies. Cardioid pickup pattern is the polar pattern that rejects sound on one side of the microphone. Boom, you’re off to the races recording some clean vocals.


Best Studio Mics List


Top Pick

Audio-Technica AT2035

“The overall sound of the AT2035 is smooth and natural with the perfect amount of organic coloring.”


Pros
  • Unbeatable value
  • Solid build
  • Smooth and natural sound
Cons
  • Pop filter is lackluster

Tech Specs:

  • Microphone Type: Condenser  
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid  
  • Diaphragm Size: 0.96″ (24.3mm)  
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz  
  • Max SPL: 148dB (158dB w/10dB Pad)  
  • Output Impedance: 120 ohms  
  • Sensitivity: 22.4mV/Pa (-33dB)  
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 82dB  
  • Self Noise: 12dB  
  • Low Cut Filter: 80Hz (-12dB/octave)  
  • Pads: -10dB  
  • Color: Black  
  • Connector: XLR 

The Audio-Technica AT2035 is a well-known microphone, but don’t be fooled by it’s relatively modest price range. It’s a large diaphragm condenser cardioid pickup pattern microphone equipped with a switchable 80Hz high-pass filter and a satisfyingly flat frequency response. 

Related: Frequency Response and how it applies to your music

The AT2035 has recently gained quite a reputation as one of the best performance studio mics on the market.

The overall sound of the Audio-Technica AT2035 is smooth and natural with the perfect amount of organic coloring. This microphone has seen an eclectic range of uses throughout its time on the market. Gamers use it for streaming. Podcasters use it for long-form recording. It’s even been used in voice-over work. 

Why It’s My Favorite

You’ll notice that the AT2035 truly shines as one of the best microphones for vocals in the studio due to its max SPL of 148dB, XLR connectivity (no cable included unfortunately), and that wonderful high-pass filter I mentioned earlier. 

You can see why I’ve placed the AT2035 at the top spot on this list of studio mics for recording vocals. It’s a durable microphone that’s packed with features typically seen at a much higher price range. This studio mic is truly an unbeatable value from a brand that’s hard not to trust.


Runner-Up

Rode NT2A

“The NT2-A has that classic warmth you’d expect from a Rode microphone. The low-noise accuracy is razor-sharp, and it handles loud sounds like a champ.”


Pros
  • Amazing accuracy
  • Switchable Polar Patterns
  • Built-in filters
Cons
  • Heavy
  • Included filter isn’t great

Tech Specs:

  • Microphone Type: Condenser  
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid, Omni, Figure-8  
  • Diaphragm Size: 1″ (25.4mm)  
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz  
  • Max SPL: 147dB  
  • Output Impedance: 200 ohms  
  • Self Noise: 7dB (A weighted)  
  • Low Cut Filter: 40Hz, 80Hz  
  • Pads: -5dB, -10dB  
  • Color: Silver  
  • Connector: XLR  
  • Weight: 1.9 lbs. 

Rode has been in the recording game for an extended period of time. They’re a well-respected brand that’s well known for their top-notch sound quality and consistency. The NT2-A is no exception. In fact, this microphone perfectly encapsulates that reputation. It’s widely regarded as one of the best vocal mics on the market.

The NT2-A is the somewhat updated version of it’s predecessor, the NT1-A, which has an impressive history in and of itself. The reason I went with the NT2-A on this particular list is two-fold. The build-quality around the actual diaphragm is slightly better, and the max SPL is 10dB higher (147dB vs. 137dB in the NT1-A).

The NT2-A is a large HF1 dual 1” capsule condenser microphone. There are three switchable polar patterns featured in this device (omnidirectional, cardioid, and figure 8). On top of that, there is a switchable high-pass/low cut filter at three frequency points (flat, 80Hz and 40Hz). Both of these features create a versatility in this microphone seldom seen at this price-point in other studio mics.

All of these awesome features do come with a small downside though. The NT2-A is quite bulky and heavy. Weighing in at almost 2 pounds, you’d do well to invest in a sturdy mic stand to hold this bad boy up. The package does come with an included shock mount, but us musicians know better than to rely on just one thing to protect our equipment. That being said, it’s a decent shock mount.

Related: Microphone Boom Arms Guide

In terms of sound quality, the NT2-A has that classic warmth you’d expect from a Rode microphone. The low-noise accuracy is razor-sharp, and it handles loud sounds like a champ. All in all, Rode impresses once again with this line of condenser mics.


The Classic

Shure SM7B

“The SM7B is the perfect model of what a dynamic microphone is capable of for vocal recordings.”


Pros
  • Well-rounded sound
  • Very versatile
  • High Max SPL
Cons
  • Requires a powerful interface or preamp
  • Fairly heavy

Tech Specs:

  • Microphone Type: Dynamic  
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid  
  • Frequency Response: 50Hz-20kHz  
  • Output Impedance: 150 ohms  
  • Low Cut Filter: Bass Roll off  
  • Color: Black  
  • Connector: XLR  
  • Weight: 1.69 lbs. 

The one and only dynamic mic on this list comes from another very well-known brand, Shure. The SM7B has a long and storied history in the music industry. Originally introduced in 1973, this microphone has been famously used to record Michael Jackson’s album “Thriller” as well as many other exceptional artists.

The SM7B is the perfect model of what a dynamic mic is capable of for vocal recordings in the studio. It has a cardioid pickup pattern as well as a wide-range frequency response. On top of that, it has a max SPL of over 180dB (basically the sound of a space shuttle launch at close distance). This thing is an all-around beast!

The SM7B features a low-end rumble switch and a built-in filter which both leads to a very well-rounded sound. Everything I’ve mentioned about this microphone showcases just how versatile it can be. It has the ability to handle various instruments just as well as it handles vocals.

I can’t say enough about how great this microphone is, but there is one often overlooked aspect that you should keep in mind.

Although it’s stated that you don’t need 48v phantom power to get everything you can out of this studio mic, that’s not necessarily true. Many users over the years have expressed that a powerful external preamp or audio interface is a must if you want to use the SM7B at its full potential.

In addition to that, the SM7B weighs about 2 pounds. It does come with a yoke mount and captive stand that both hold this thing in place with ease though.

At the end of the day, the Shure SM7B is a classic vocal mic that deserves a place in anyone’s home studio arsenal.


Upgrade Pick

Neumann TLM 102

“The sound quality of the TLM 102 is exceptional with a very subtle emphasis on the mids, making it ideal for vocal recordings.”


Pros
  • Excellent build quality
  • Compact size
  • Fantastic sonic clarity
Cons
  • Lacking in extra features
  • Included XLR cable can be inconsistent

Tech Specs:

  • Microphone Type: Condenser  
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid  
  • Diaphragm Size: Large diaphragm  
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz  
  • Max SPL: 144 dB  
  • Output Impedance: 50 ohms  
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 82dB (A weighted)  
  • Self Noise: 12dB (A weighted)  
  • Color: Satin Nickel  
  • Connector: XLR  
  • Power Source: 48V phantom power 

I know that price-tag is a little daunting, but as that saying goes, “you get what you pay for.” That couldn’t be more true about this microphone. Neumann is a German-based brand that’s closely related to Sennheiser. In layman’s terms, this is a high-end microphone that has a crisp and clear sound quality that anyone could fall in love with.

The Neumann TLM 102 is a large diaphragm condenser studio mic with a cardoid pickup pattern and a max SPL of 144dB. The compact and streamlined design of this microphone doesn’t offer much in terms of extra features, but excels at being easy to use. 

The sound quality of the Neumann TLM 102 is exceptional with a very subtle emphasis on the mids, making it one of the best for vocal recordings. You’ll notice some fine-point nuances in your recordings from this microphone that simply sound sexy. It’s one of those deals where you have to hear it to know what I’m talking about.

This microphone has a specific job, and it does that job exceedingly well. I will say that it might be a good idea to invest in a better XLR cable than the one that’s included. Many users have expressed some signal losses and a new XLR cable typically fixed this issue.

The Neumann TLM 102 is a pleasure to have in your studio. It’s a perfect vocal mic to get if you’re ready to catapult yourself into the world of high-end condenser mics. It’s just a beautiful piece, high end of equipment.


Well-Rounded

AKG P220

“If you’re looking for an affordable studio mic that’s versatile and rugged, then the P220 is hard to pass on.”


Pros
  • Rugged and durable
  • Versatile
  • Inexpensive
Cons
  • Uneven high frequencies
  • Polar pickup pattern isn’t cardioid

Tech Specs:

  • Microphone Type: Condenser  
  • Mono/Stereo: Mono  
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid  
  • Diaphragm Size: 1″ (25.4mm)  
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz  
  • Max SPL: 135dB (155dB w/Pad)  
  • Output Impedance: 200 ohms  
  • Sensitivity: 20 mV/Pa  
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 78dB (A weighted)  
  • Self Noise: 16dB (A weighted)  
  • Low Cut Filter: 300Hz (-12dB/octave)  
  • Pads: -20dB  
  • Color: Black  
  • Connector: XLR 

I would be remiss if I didn’t include a studio microphone by AKG on this list. I wanted to keep this buyer’s guide on the more affordable end of the best studio microphones spectrum. The AKG P220 is a good example of what you can get without breaking the bank.

AKG is typically known for making very expensive, feature-rich mics. That being said, the P220 is an awesome budget-friendly, well-rounded microphone that can handle loud sounds with ease. It is a large diaphragm cardioid polar pattern condenser microphone with a max SPL of 155dB. It features a switchable bass cut filter at 300Hz which is a nice touch at this price.

The build quality of this microphone is certainly noteworthy. It has a solid metal frame that wraps around the diaphragm, making it fairly portable and reliable in the studio.

The sound quality of the P220 is satisfying and neutral. I will say that the high frequencies are a bit uneven with many users stating that they needed to resort to compensating with equalization to get everything to sound right.

If you’re looking for an affordable studio mic that’s versatile and rugged, then the P220 is hard to pass on. I respect AKG as a brand, and any product of theirs would be a welcome addition in any home studio.


Conclusion

Okay, so now that we’ve covered all the bases, you’ve got an exciting decision to make. You’ve got a world of options at your fingertips here. Depending on what style of vocals you want to record, there is the perfect studio microphone for you waiting to be found.

All in all, the Audio-Technica AT2035 is winner on this particular list of best studio microphones. With it’s durable design and that unbeatable sound at such a modest price point, it sticks out like a sore thumb to me.

Final Thoughts

Keep in mind all of those important factors we went over. If you feel the need to research everything about studio mics a little more before making your final decision, then definitely do so. This is an important piece of equipment that deserves some thorough digging.

Once you’ve found that perfect mic, go out there and get some amazing voices captured!

I hope this guide has helped you, and as always, feel free to reach out to me with any questions you might have.

Default image
Jeremy Bongiorno
I have been a musician and producer for over 15 years. My goal is to provide reliable, honest information and hopefully help to improve the quality of life in your studio.