So what’s the first thing that pops into your mind?
When you think of a ‘Recording Studio’.
And rightly so:
Without such a big, magnificent piece of gear in the middle of the room the whole thing seems incomplete.
So how to choose from a huge selection of mics?
To purchase a microphone you will have plenty of time to poke around on the Internet or in music stores, among the most extravagant ones larded with all kinds of marketing slogans and specification lists.
You must look for a mic that fits your needs!!!
10 Quality Studio Mics
The AKG C414
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AKG is a brand synonymous with audio equipment including DJ decks, synthesizers, software emulators and more.
As a decades-long competitor, I expect some great things from AKG.
No doubt, they’ve ventured into microphone land and the AKG C414, with its high dynamic range of 152 db and three different bass cut filters, is just outstanding for almost any studio situation.
The AKG has a very high impedance of 200 ohms. Microphone recording basics first: the higher the impedance the more you need to rely on short cables about five to 10 meters thick.
The lower the impedance, the longer wires you need. With 200 ohms, the AKG C414 is useful for any studio situation.
A frequency range of 20 to 20khz is enough to capture male (usually around 300hz or so) and female vocals (around 500hz or so) with complete character and clarity. Well, its 152 dB dynamic range theoretically guarantees better character or so.
Official marketing by AKG says it has the sonic character of its famous AKG C12, used mostly for lead vocals and solo instruments.
I believe a great way to test a microphone’s versatility is to use a cheap audio interface with ample preamplification to see how it performs. Then compare it to a high-class preamplifier and see the difference.
In this case, for all models here, I’m using a Lexicon Lambda and a Universal Audio Apollo Twin that also has a digital signal processor, but emulates in real-time some classic valve pre-amplifications for mics.
Running the C414 through the Lambda Lexicon and I was already amazed. The simple interface can efficiently handle the microphone. Now that it has a transformer (the earlier models didn’t have any transformers though they sounded great), it has a warm, alluring top-end.
Remember that this is running through a simple Lambda interface. I sang a bit into it and I got a crispy sound that has ample treble, great roundness in the mids and a smooth bass and low end.
If Lambda can make it sound beautiful, then it should sound better with the Apollo Twin, right? Plugging it in the Apollo Twin and using the first tube emulation I could get, I lost some of the lower bass frequencies I heard using the Lambda.
I think it might be the Lambda’s fault. However, I felt the dynamics increase and fluctuate better than the waveforms Lambda had. Indeed, it was a microphone fitting for quieter genres. But you won’t appreciate it so much if you’re into livelier music (unless you run it through an onboard real-time compressor)
The AKG C414 is recommended for anybody who needs to do a podcast, record an acoustic song or want something that is warm and round at the same time. But if you’re not all for fuzzy microphone feels…
The Shure SM58
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The echoes of musicians and vocalists raving about the pure sound of a Shure SM58 could be heard just as soon as you step out of the studio.
If you’re like me and the first time you heard it you thought it was overrated, let’s prepare ourselves to both be proven wrong.
Vocalists have been telling you dynamic microphones could perform well with live venues. Maybe they’re right. Or maybe they’re just using a Shure SM58 when their record their songs.
Truthfully, this is as durable a microphone can be. Having multiple patterns while having a rugged, tough feel due to its thick steel-mesh grille, the sm58 still looks like a normal mic.
Or probably you just saw some imitations of the original.
The Shure SM58 could respond to 50hz up to 15khz. Dynamic range microphones may not reach as far as condensers could, but it works in studio applications.
This is the one for you if you’re a vocalist with a rough singing style. If you’re a country or blues singer, this is what you need. If you’re a metal, dubstep or electronic music vocalist, this is the one for you. It’s also the microphone for you if you need to get the microphone near your mouth all the time.
The dynamic range and reduced sensitivity might spell a problem for most vocal recording nuts. But through the rule of thumb, with increased advantage is a trade-off on the other side. In this case, one might sacrifice condenser comforts for some dynamic-range goodness.
Plugged into the Lambda, I could hear some digital harshness, partly might be due to the preamp of the Lambda. The preamp could be harsh or trebly in some cases. For the Shure SM58, the Lambda’s preamp may have just edged the power swing towards the Shure SM58.
While I could get decent and clear recordings, I could hear it to be lifeless. It seems flat or even clipping to my ears (even if meters say it isn’t).
Using the UA Apollo Twin, I’ve chosen a mid-rich classic tube emulation after the trebly incident. The mid rounded out that upper mid, about 5khz range that sounded annoying with the Lambda.
The presence was excellent and not harsh compared to the latter preamplification. I guess this is the true sound of the SM58, it has enough presence but enough just to alert you of the sparkle but not make listening to the vocal track tiring.
One thing annoying though is a sudden roll-off of presence. I know that it’s around 10khz that feedback comes in and it’s the unit’s preventive response. But then again, this is a microphone built to be used live and not in the studio. But it can work for small studios though, so it’s a great investment.
If you’ve got more money for more premium stuff, then read on!
Shure SM7B Vocal Dynamic Microphone
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Shure sure loves their dynamic microphones (you saw what I did there). But the world only loves the SM58 and not many people know about the SM7.
The SM7 series is renowned for their flat response.
The SM58 and SM7B, due to their flat but characteristic sound that is natural, have applications more than just a live-use microphone, but also for instrument recording and studio vocal recording microphone.
The microphone has a 50hz-20khz response, making it reach a bit more in reference to the SM58’s 15khz shortage.
But then again, if you listen to them closely, you’ll find they sound similar but with a bit of sparkle for the SM7B (more about this later).
The only difference between the two is that the SM58 is effective live as it is in the studio. The SM7B works more for DJ booths or studios because of its not-too-rugged design.
Due to its low sensitivity similar to the SM58, singers may need to move closer to the microphone to get what they need. As with the SM58, you’ll need a pre-amp with great power swing to give your recordings life despite the flat response of the microphone for any type of vocals.
Compared to the SM58, the SM7B is more of a directional microphone perfect for outdoor audio recording. Positioned incorrectly, you get a muddy response. This is sad, but challenging. But look on the bright side; if you’ve mastered the Shure SM7B to record vocals, everything else should be a cinch, right?
Working with my Lambda, I expected less. But the SM7B decently performed. The sound was warmer than the SM58 although a bit harsher with the presence. But the difference was my vocals sounded rich using this microphone. It had a thick voice than the SM58.
I tried to re-do my results and it took me more than 30 minutes to find the optimal spot I found the thick voice once again.
With the Apollo Twin, the high-mid tube emulation worked effectively to bring out more presence using the microphone. The problem with most dynamic microphones is the lack of presence and power.
While the SM7B worked with my Lambda with almost flying colors, using the UAD Apollo Twin showed me the beautiful interaction of a high-level preamp and a classic microphone.
I heard a great deal of difference (after I found my sweet spot once again) in the singing. There was a lively thickness with rich dynamics. A few rounds with my on-board compressor and I’d say this track was already perfect and didn’t need any more plug-ins.
The SM7B is a great microphone for its price. That is, if you’re willing to find the right spot for singing vocals. If not well, there’s…
The Rode NTK
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Any vocalist will tell you the way to go is through tube condenser microphones.
The warmth, the thickness, the pronounced sibilance without a harsh or distorted presence, only tubes/valves (if you’re British) can do that.
Now comes something from Australia; a friend of mine recommended it to me when I said I wanted something that Shure microphones could do, but had enough sensitivity so that I don’t have to eat my words having to sing closer to the microphone.
It was the Rode NTK…
If you see a large-diaphragm microphone, that’s almost certainly something Rode made. The Australian company loves making their vintage microphones (and making their vintage parts rare for buyers to find).
However, the new Rode NTK is made from hybrid parts, which include modern ones easier to find out the street or your favorite microphone parts retailer (if that guy really exists I’d really be happy to meet him/her).
Portability wasn’t something singers knew Rodes for. They knew the company for its sound and ability to capture an organic vintage vibe with their microphones. They also knew their models for their separate power supplies.
Yup, the Rode NTK wasn’t about to use that +48V phantom power from your mixer. Its seven-pin XLR connects it direct to its power supply, which sends the signal back through a regular three-pin balanced XLR.
If you were observing closely, you just read seven pins. The more power, the better the tube quality. I’m starting to think the power supply was solely for increasing the Rode NTK’s sensitivity and possibly dynamic range.
It has a frequency response of 20hz to 20khz. Just perfect.
Recording for the first time with my Lambda interface, the NTK disappointed me. But I believe it was just the Lambda. The microphone had a warmth like no other, but its top-end just goes from all-too-present to raspy at some point.
The tube in the microphone slightly compresses the sound coming in from the diaphragm to give it that warm sound. Unfortunately, the Lambda couldn’t convert that sound properly.
I had better sound using the Apollo Twin. Using the classic vintage tube mixing desk, the sound came out flat, but warmer. If you’ve heard 80s radio DJs talking, you know it has that certain flat sound that is not too thick, but enough to present all frequencies. It’s not an in-your-face sound.
I’d say it goes well for singing acoustic, jazz and some alternative pop songs. Light songs mind you. That flat response can do well with voice-overs too, especially voices with a lot of treble.
Oh, and you could keep them running 24 hours, 7 days a-week. Radio stations in the 80s-90s used this microphone without any sign-off. By replacing the tube and other parts from time to time, the Rode NTK could last decades.
But if you’re not looking for an eternal-life microphone, you probably need this!
The Neumann U87
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Neumann won’t make you feel like a new man (punny) but it’ll make your vocal recording sound like a brand-new you.
Expensive dual-diaphragm guarantees that the U87 stays inside your recording studio, particularly your vocals booth.
The tube also contributes to that steep price.
As a multi-directional condenser microphone, audio engineers know immediately the microphone isn’t just for vocals.
But if you loved those warm studio vocal recordings during the 1960s and early 70s, the Neumann U87 is just right for you.
Unlike the Rode NTK, the Neumann U87 has no dedicated power supply. This could suck if you don’t have a good pre-amp.
However, it has a battery pack that provides its power. Upon noticing this, I knew the Lambda test for this microphone would fail miserably. Or would it?
Anyhow, this $3,500 microphone has a long-running history with the British Broadcasting Company. I tried watching some Carl Sagan upon writing this Neumann U87 and I’ve got to admit, the warm sound is calling out to me.
That warmth coming from the midrange is mind-numbing (for audio engineers, you know how much obsession could take over, right?)
As per protocol for this post, I used the Lexicon Lambda. Turning on the onboard battery pack, the midrange sounded fairly nice. However, I noticed a brief lack of treble and beef in the high-midrange frequencies. In short, I have a flat sound without any balls.
If you’re using the Lambda as a preamp, you could always add a bit of treble, but the good that will do, well it’s better you sell the microphone to another recording engineer instead.
I fared better once again with the UAD Apollo Twin. An emulation of a Class A Tube preamplifer gave the Neumann U87 the boost it needed. While I could notice some digital nuances here and there, the sound is exceptional.
I recorded an acoustic guitar with the microphone and it came out smoothly. If you’ve listened to some Eagles acoustic (Hotel you-know-what), you know the sound I’m talking about.
On vocals, the brilliance of the presence was sparkling, but not overpowering or exaggerated. It retained the source’s true frequency nature. But I wasn’t satisfied with the Apollo Twin’s sound too.
I hooked up the microphone from a friend’s Presonus Studio 192. The sound was amazing with those XMAX preamplifiers. The result was close enough with the Apollo, but delivered better response and sensitivity. Using the Studio 192, however, you expose some of the harshest criticisms a microphone could deliver.
It exposed my bad singing and the microphone’s bad angle during the recording. There’s no fix-it-in-the-mix for that one. The Shures can help compensate for the bad sound of the source. But the U87 won’t be your friend. It’s going to be your vocal coach.
Didn’t mean to scare you right there. Maybe the U87’s predecessor isn’t as strict as it is? Maybe? Let’s see!
The Neumann U47
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The ‘Flea 47’ does not intend to make you flee and fear it just like its successor. The moniker with the number 47 was the original Neumann U47 launched in 1948.
You’ll only find imitations today, namely ones like Flea’s attempt. But Flea has that Neumann seal-of-approval for quality and sound imitation. That is the best that I could find so far.
It’s hard to find a brand new Neumann U47 because no manufacturer is making spare parts. Lucky enough to find one? Bet you that it won’t last a week without modifying its parts to become a hybrid microphone (which defeats the purpose).
So I settled with the Flea 47 instead.
Unlike its later brother, the Flea 47 comes with its own power supply. It has a seven-pin XLR just like the Rode NTK and re-feeds the signal to the board through a three-pin XLR.
It looks sturdier than its original model (the Neumann U47 was a bit fragile, tube and grille and all). In fact, I think the Flea 47 could take some bit of beating but I wouldn’t dare do that to an exorbitantly-priced microphone.
Originally, the Neumann U47 has its own transformer. A gigantic BV8 transformer that converts its signal and probably gives it that vintage edge when it comes to microphones. It’s not that bad the Flea 47 doesn’t have a transformer but I bet it would sound different nonetheless (for better or worse).
Before I plugged it in, a friend of mine told me to watch or rather, listen to some Frank Sinatra and somewhat 1950s recordings that reminded me of some Mafia movie. The original Neumann U47 in most studios were in full commission with singers recording songs and releasing vinyls. The sound was pure heaven, even by YouTube or Spotify digital streaming standards.
Plugging the Flea 47, I was amazed at how close the sound was when I was just speaking into it. Oh, and I was just using the Lambda for that, sorry. But using the Lambda has lots of disadvantages, namely that the signature thickness did not exist. The sonic character of the vocals was identifiably present.
On the Apollo Twin, classic tube emulation of some great interfaces worked well for the Flea 47 albeit some digital sharpness disrupting the natural warmth and thickness of the microphone. The high mids and mids brightly presented themselves. I could feel some digital artifacts too.
A friend of mine who owns the U47 sent me a demo recording of someone singing some oldies songs on his Universal Audio Audio Interface. Those AIs are well-known for handling vintage microphones efficiently. The sound was tremendously far from the Lambda and Apollo Twin’s results. In fact, it sounds like I was listening to some vinyl minus the scratches.
Well, the Neumann 47 or rather Flea 47 can be quite expensive. Add to that that you need an audio interface with the best preamps for vintage-sounding microphones, and that’s a handful.
But maybe there’s a cheaper, much more stable and portable alternative.
The Audio-Technica AT2035
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Audio-Technica uses cutting-edge technology, tried-and-tested machine and equipment knowledge and years of experience to create:
- stable and..
- relatively cheap microphones, headphones and other audio equipment among other things.
The Audio-Technica AT2035 is the prominent representative for their devotion to these values.
Compared to the Neumann’s and the Rodes, AT2035 is dumb foundingly affordable at $200 ($100-150 street). The thing is, it sounds vintage during recording (we’ll discuss that later).
The AT2035 is the successor of the successful AT2020, which had its own powerful sound. A fixed cardioid pattern meant it could take on any kind of sound.
Some recording engineers I know use the AT2035 for instrument and ambient recordings. Every one of them report immense recording results.
With a frequency range of 20hz-20khz, it’s enough to hear everything in my voice, or anyone’s voice in particular. It must handle instrument octaves accurately. No tube present here, but it’s quite heavy and beautiful to look at.
Official endorsement from AT market it as a home, project, professional studio and live performance microphone. The last one could be possible. However, with a -33 sensitivity, it could still pick up some artifacts that could cause some loud venue screeching.
But I believe the sound would definitely be immense especially if proper high-pass roll-offs are used with care.
I know a few college kids who own about five of these microphones. They both use them in their garage studio (which I had years ago) and I listened to some of their recordings. For an untreated venue, the microphone can record instruments without much trouble. We can say the margin of error for untreated rooms and wrong-angles is about 1:3, but the sound I heard was amazing.
It has a nice, slightly compressed middle frequency that smoothen the high end. I’m pretty sure AT engineers aimed to give it a flat sound with some breadth on the presence recognizing a peak at about 10khz.
Using this with the Lambda, It performed fairly well. The Lambda can be a weak preamplifier but the AT2035 compensated the sound with better quality and a great range. In fact, the audio recorded cuts through plenty of mixes, making it a must-have device for any home studio or small studio.
The Apollo Twin delivered better results when used with vintage tube audio interfaces. The sound was gigantic and had great mids. It was singing. Using the low-cut filter, the warmth was reduced but it sounded flat.
The second day I tried it, I realized the flatness while using the filter was because I positioned the mic erroneously. Adjusting for error, the sound still didn’t have enough warmth, but it had awesome prominence.
Don’t like a budget microphone like this one? Then let’s get back to more expensive toys!