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The 9 Best Microphones For Recording Vocals (Under $1,000)

by | Microphones | 1 comment

Capturing a great vocal performance starts with a great microphone.

While the mic you choose will depend on a number of factors – the vocalist’s style, gender, voice quality, the style of music, etc. – there are certain mics that appear over and over in professional studios and are used by top producers.

These mics are proven to deliver outstanding quality vocal tracks, no matter the style of music you are producing.

I’ve included nine of these top mics here which will help you narrow down the dozens of mic choices you face and provide the best microphone within your budget.

Best Mics For Vocals

There are two types of mics that are normally used for vocals – dynamic mics and large diaphragm condenser mics.

The first mics I’ll review are dynamic mics.   Dynamic mics tend to be less expensive than condenser mics, and are known for their reliability, long life, and their ability to withstand high volume levels.

We’ll then continue to large diaphragm condenser mics, the gold standard for vocal recording.

Large diaphragm mics are considered more accurate and detailed than dynamic mics and are well-suited to capturing the highest-quality vocal recordings.

Microphone Beginner’s Buying Guide

If you’re new to buying microphones or need a refresher, please check out my Beginner’s Guide to Buying Microphones For Your Home Recording Studio.  You’ll learn the different types of mics discussed in this article, how mics work, mic polar patterns, when to use them, and much more.

Review Criteria

In this article, I’ve reviewed the 9 best microphones for recording vocals that cost under $1,000.

All mics included in my reviews were chosen based on their widespread use and reputation in the professional music community.

I’ve also added my insights gained from 25+ years of experience running a very successful music production company, creating Audio Addiction Music Library, a production music library with global distribution, and recording in major studios.

Let’s get started!

The 9 Best Microphones For 
Recording Vocals Under $1,000

Shure SM57

Best Microphones For Recording Vocals - Shure SM57The Shure SM57 is probably the most widely used mic in history, and certainly one of the best-selling mics in the world.  Shure released the first SM57 in 1965, and it quickly became a go-to mic for guitars, vocals, drums, horns and more.

There are four main reasons it gained in popularity so fast.  First, as a dynamic mic, it is capable of withstanding high sound levels that can damage more delicate condenser mics.

Second, it is also built very ruggedly, making it last in the studio for many years despite constant use (and abuse).

Third, the mic just plain sounds good on many different sound sources, but especially on vocals and guitar amps.

And finally, studio owners love them because they are very inexpensive compared to condenser or ribbon mics.  The SM57 retails for only about $99.00.

While more known for recording guitars than vocals, the SM57 has been a favored vocal mic for male voices, especially in the rock and pop world.

Hear the SM57 in action at the Shure Mic Listening Lab.

Fun Fact: The SM57 has been the podium lectern mic of choice for U.S. presidents from Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama.

Shure SM57

Check price:
Amazon | zZoundsGuitar Center

Shure SM57 Specs:

  • Dynamic mic
  • Cardioid pickup pattern
  • 40 Hz – 15 kHz frequency response
  • Includes stand adapter and zippered carrying case

Frequency response chart:
Click image for larger popup

Shure SM58

Best Microphones For Recording Vocals - Shure SM58

The SM58 is the sibling to the legendary SM57.   It has been another go-to mic since it was introduced in 1966.  It is primarily designed for vocal use, both onstage and in the studio.

The main difference between the SM57 and SM58 is that the SM58 has its frequency response tuned especially for vocals.  It is designed to cut out low rumble and add a boost in the upper-mid frequencies.  The result is a warm detailed sound that makes vocals stand out.

Besides the frequency response, the SM58 has a ball grille which incorporates a built-in wind and pop filter to reduce plosives (pops on p sounds).  The SM57 has a smaller grill designed for instrumental recording.

Hear the SM58 in action at the Shure Mic Listening Lab.

Shure SM58

Check price:
AmazonzZoundsGuitar Center

Shure SM58 Specs:

  • Cardioid pickup pattern
  • 50 Hz – 15 kHz frequency response
  • Built-in wind and pop filter
  • Includes stand adapter and zippered carrying case

Frequency response chart:
Click image for larger popup

Shure SM7B

Best Microphones For Recording Vocals - Shure SM7B

The SM7B is another classic dynamic mic that was originally designed as a mic for spoken word use and has been a standard mic used in radio, post production, and voiceovers for decades.  It has recently become a favorite for podcasts.

However, engineers and producers soon found that the SM7B excelled for recording vocalists, especially LOUD vocalists.  Its design helps thin sounding voices sound fuller.

This has also made it a mic of choice for hip-hop and rap vocals.

Due to its capability to handle high SPL levels, the SM7B is widely used in the rock/hard rock/ metal genres.

Bass roll off and midrange emphasis (presence boost) controls help tailor the sound to capture the best vocal performances.

Hear the SM7B in action at the Shure Mic Listening Lab.

Shure SM7B

Check price:
AmazonzZoundsGuitar Center

Shure SM7B Specs:

  • Cardioid pickup pattern
  • 50 Hz – 20 kHz frequency response
  • Bass rolloff and midrange emphasis (presence boost) controls
  • Built-in pop filter
  • Includes a standard windscreen plus a A7WS detachable windscreen for spoken word broadcast use

Frequency response chart:
Click image for larger popup

Sennheiser MD 441-U

Best Microphones For Recording Vocals - Sennheiser MD 441-U

The Sennheiser MD 441-U is a cool retro looking mic that known as the most accurate and versatile dynamic mic available.

It was introduced in 1966 and quickly found success as a favored mic for vocals by many top engineers and producers.

It has a super-cardioid polar pattern, which allows it to reject most sounds not directly in front of the mic.  The MD 441-U is able to handle loud sound sources as well.

Its only drawback is its price – at $900 it is expensive for a dynamic mic, but if you have the budget for it, you won’t be disappointed!

Sennheiser MD 441-U

Check price:
AmazonGuitar Center

Sennheiser MD 441-U Specs:

  • Super-Cardioid pickup pattern
  • 30 Hz – 20 kHz frequency response
  • Five position bass rolloff switch
  • Treble boost switch
  • Built-in pop filter
  • Mic clamp included

Frequency response chart:
Click image for larger popup

Neumann TLM 103

 Best Microphones For Recording Vocals - Neumann TLM 103Neumann has been a premier microphone manufacturer for over 80 years, and their mics are found in virtually every recording studio through the world.

Many Neumann mics like the classic U47, U67, and U87 mics have been the gold-standard for both instrumental and vocal recording for many decades.  (I’ll cover the U87 a bit later).

While those high-end mics are out of reach for many studio owners, you can still get the famous Neumann sound with their TLM line of mics, and especially the TLM 103.

The TLM 103 is a large diaphragm condenser mic.  Its capsule is derived from the famous U87 which gives it great depth and clarity.

I’ve been a very happy TLM 103 owner for many years.  I’ve found it excels on vocals and acoustic guitar.

This mic is capable of recording sounds down to 20Hz.  Because of its extreme sensitivity to low frequencies, it’s recommended for use with an elastic shock mount.

It is also an ideal close-up mic for winds, strings, percussion, and drum overheads.

Neumann TLM 103

Check price:
AmazonzZoundsGuitar Center

Neumann TLM 103 Specs:

  • Large diaphragm condenser mic
  • Cardioid pickup pattern
  • 20 Hz – 20 kHz frequency response
  • 144 dB max SPL
  • Includes mic clip, windscreen, and hard shell case

Frequency response chart:
Click image for larger popup

AKG C414 XLS | AKG C414 XLII

Best Microphones For Recording Vocals - AKG C414

The AKG C414 is a classic large diaphragm condenser mic that has found its way into most pro studios around the world.  First introduced in 1971, countless hit records have been recorded with the mic on both vocal and instrumental tracks.  Take a look at the Hit Records Box!

The C414 won Best Mic at the SOS Awards 2011, as well as being designated the 2009 MIX Certified Hit, AES.

One of the main reasons for its continued success is that it is highly versatile.  It sounds good on just about any sound source: vocals, strings, drums, guitar, percussion, etc.

I’ve personally used my C414-XLII to record vocals, guitars, dulcimer and percussion for TV commercials, music library tracks and movie scores with great success.

I’ve also used two of them to record acoustic grand piano.  The results were smooth, detailed, and accurate – perfect for solo piano compositions.

The C414 XLII uses the CK12 capsule which was derived from their vintage C12 mics, while the XLS uses a newly designed capsule.

The XLII boosts the highs above 3 kHz a bit, giving the sound source a brighter sound.  This is great for vocals and results in good presence which cuts through a mix nicely.

The XLS is flatter and perhaps better for instruments and group vocals.

Both C414 models come with 9 different polar patterns – cardioid, hyper cardioid, figure-8, omni and wide cardioid position – plus 4 intermediate settings.  This versatility allows you to choose the best settings to fit your recording session.

Both mics also include three switchable bass filter settings and three pre-attenuation settings.

A final nice touch is an overload warning LED on both models that alerts you to potential distortion on audio peaks.

AKG C414 XLS

Check price:
AmazonzZoundsGuitar Center

AKG C414 XLS Specs:

  • 9 polar pickup patterns: cardioid, hyper cardioid, figure-8, omni and wide cardioid position, plus 4 intermediate settings.
  • 20 Hz – 20 kHz frequency response
  • 152 dB max SPL
  • Includes stand mount, shock mount, pop screen, windscreen, and a carrying case

Frequency response chart:
Click image for larger popup

AKG C414 XLII

Check price:
AmazonzZoundsGuitar Center

AKG C414 XLII Specs:

  • 9 polar pickup patterns: cardioid, hyper cardioid, figure-8, omni, and wide cardioid position, plus 4 intermediate settings.
  • 20 Hz – 20 kHz frequency response
  • 152 dB max SPL
  • Includes stand mount, shock mount, pop screen, windscreen, and a carrying case

Frequency response chart:
Click image for larger popup

AKG C214

The AKG C214 is a fixed-cardioid version of the C414-XLS.

The truth is, many engineers buy the C414-XLS and never use it except in cardioid mode.  So for most users, the C214 would be a great choice.

You’re getting the same 1” capsule as the C414-XLS and virtually the same sound quality, all for less than half the price!

It’s a great mic for recording vocals, strings, acoustic guitars, drums and more, plus its 156 dB SPL makes it a good choice for miking loud guitar amps.

AKG C214

Check price:
AmazonzZoundsGuitar Center

AKG C214 Specs:

  • Cardioid only pickup pattern
  • 20 Hz – 20 kHz frequency response
    -20dB attenuator and 160 Hz bass-cut filter for close-up recording and reduction of proximity effect
  • 156 dB max SPL
  • Includes spider-type shock mount, windscreen, and carrying case

NOTE: AKG makes many notable mics, including the C451B, the C1000S, and the C3000.  All are under $500.  Check them out!

Frequency response chart:
Click image for larger popup

Shure KSM44A

Shure has been a leading mic manufacturer since 1925, and when it comes to high-quality yet affordable microphones they are at the top of the list.

The Shure KSM44A is a high-end large diaphragm condenser mic with everything you’d expect from a mic at this price point.  It has found its way into many producers’ and engineers’ mic lockers over the years.

It has cardioid, omni and figure-8 pickup patterns to allow you maximum flexibility in getting the best sound onto tape or your DAW.

An internal pop filter helps screen out unwanted pops when recording vocals.

Listen to the KSM44A in action at the Shure Mic Listening Lab.

Shure KSM44A

Check price:
AmazonzZoundsGuitar Center

Shure KSM44A Specs:

  • Cardioid, omni and figure-8 pickup pattern
  • 20 Hz – 20 kHz frequency response
  • 15 dB pad
  • 3-position bass roll-off filter
  • 131 dB max SPL
  • Includes shock mount, stand mount, mic pouch and carrying case

Frequency response chart:
Click image for larger popup

Rode NTK

Best Microphones For Recording Vocals - Rode NTKThe Rode NTK is a tube condenser mic that delivers a huge sound comparable to mics costing twice as much!

Tubes impart a smooth classic sound heard on many hits from the 60s, 70s, and 80s.  Matched with today’s technology, the NTK combines the best of old-school tube warmth with a clean transparent sound and wide dynamic range.

The NTK is perfect for recording vocals, acoustic instruments, drum overheads, guitar amps, and piano.

Hear the NTK in action here on vocals, guitars, piano, and more:
Rode Soundbooth
Rode Soundcloud

NOTE: Rode recently posted this announcement about purchasing from Amazon in the U.S.:

“RØDE Microphones does not authorize Fulfilled By Amazon. We have purchased counterfeit RØDE products using Fulfilled by Amazon and highly recommend that you only purchase RØDE products from authorized dealers.

If you purchase any RØDE microphone from an unauthorized dealer via Fulfilled By Amazon you will not receive any U.S. warranty or technical support.”

Doing a quick check, I see lots of authorized dealers on Amazon that include Sam Ash, Music 123, and GearNuts. 

So, make sure you buy from dealers directly, not when it says “Ships from and sold by Amazon.com.  You’ll find other sellers than Amazon under the “New” section (ex: “9 New from $399.00”).

Please use this link to find authorized Rode dealers both online and for brick and mortar shops.

Rode NTK

Check price:
AmazonzZoundsGuitar Center

Rode NTK Specs:

  • Cardioid pickup pattern
  • 20 Hz – 20 kHz frequency response
  • 158 dB max SPL
  • Includes power supply, 30-foot cable, stand adapter and case

Frequency response chart:
Click image for larger popup

Conclusion

I’ve reviewed the best mics for recording vocals that cost for under $1,000.  You really can’t go wrong with any of them!

Remember, there are no “perfect” mics – each mic will sound different depending on the vocalist or instrumentalist, recording studio, mic preamp and other studio gear.

So to get started, choose a mic on this list that fits your budget and your intended recording uses.  If it works for pro studios, it should work for you too!

One final thing: Don’t forget a pop filter and high-quality mic preamp to get the best sound from your new mic!

 

 

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