With the holidays fast approaching, now is a great time to spice up your home studio with some delectable new gear. And what could make a bigger difference than a brand-new microphone? A good microphone can make or break a production, so it’s always vital to have a quality mic in your toolbox for addressing whatever recording scenario you might encounter. That’s why we’ve saved you some time and assembled a list of the best recording microphones on the market, as of 2023. So, without further ado, let’s dive in!
Before we begin listing examples, let’s briefly go over the different types of microphones that are available. Before making your choice, it’s important to have some context on what makes each technology and design unique. The most common home studio microphones are as follows.
Dynamic: Mics with a robust capsule that features lower sensitivity but high SPL resistance and a rugged design. These mics are great for loud sound sources like guitar cabs, drum miking, handheld vocal use.
Broadcast: A type of dynamic microphone with a fairly large capsule and a special chassis intended to be mounted on a boom arm. These mics are the ideal choice for podcasting and streaming.
Condenser: These microphones sport highly sensitive capsules that are ideal for picking up nuance and detail from sung vocals, guitars, drum overheads, kick drums, and other instruments with a wide dynamic range.
Large Diaphragm Condenser: At larger than 0.75", large diaphragm mics are designed for providing the expected recorded-in-a-studio sound on things like vocals, guitar cabs, and other loud sounds. They have better low-frequency response, higher SPL resistance, and usually lower self-noise than their smaller siblings with a characteristically “fat” sound.
Small Diaphragm Condenser: Any mic with a diaphragm smaller than 0.75" is usually considered small, and these (typically condenser) mics are ideal for capturing an accurate, realistic signal from sound sources, with great high frequency and transient capture without excessive coloring. They impart an “airy” quality to their signals and are ideal for cymbals, woodwinds, horns, and percussion.
Tube: A tube condenser uses a vacuum tube (rather than solid-state electronics) for its circuitry, resulting in a desirably warm and fat tonal quality for vocals of any genre. These mics are heavy, expensive, and often require dedicated power supplies. Especially delicate, these mics are the easiest to damage or overload.
Ribbon: A classic mic design going back to the early days of radio. Like condenser mics, ribbon mics are sensitive and great at capturing high frequencies, but without the harshness typical of many condensers. They feature ultra-quiet operation, and typically a figure-8 polar pattern that can capture more room reflections for adding more space to a recording. Ribbons are great for warming up your cold digital recordings. While some ribbon mics require phantom power, most are passive with a low output like dynamics and will be irreparably damaged from phantom power, so you should always check your mic specs before supplying power to your ribbon.
Traditional vs. USB Mics: Within the world of microphones there are ultimately two overarching microphone categories―traditional analog mics with an XLR connector and digital USB mics. USB microphones combine an analog mic with a digital audio interface, resulting in a convenient all-in-one recording device that can plug directly into a computer. These are optimal choices for solo streaming, content creation, and other modern usage scenarios, but not the best choice for general recording. Traditional analog mics provide the advantage of being used with high-quality audio interfaces for the best audio fidelity, as well as supporting an expandable system that can grow along with your expertise and needs. A USB mic will generally only be useful as a single device, since combining multiple USB mics at once can be quite a headache.
The Neumann TLM 102 is a large-diaphragm condenser mic with an exceptionally high SPL resistance, a treble boost switch, and an ultra-quiet, transformer-less output stage. This condenser is one of Neumann’s most affordable, but don’t let that fool you; the TLM 102 is an extraordinarily flexible studio tool that delivers Neumann sound quality in a robust package that can handle any recording scenario, from silky vocals and fat guitar tones to massive-sounding drums.
The AKG C414 is based on a studio legend and an excellent choice for those seeking a flexible tool that can handle a range of roles, including quality vocal capture. The large-diaphragm C414 features nine selectable polar patterns, a switchable pad, a low-cut filter, and a great range of studio accessories. With full immunity to EMI and the ability to handle SPLs up to 154 dB, this mic can fill many shoes with ease.
In the small diaphragm domain, one of the best products to upgrade your mic locker without having to sell a kidney is surely the Warm Audio WA-84 condenser, a lovely sounding, high-performance microphone based on the legendary and long-discontinued Neumann KM84. Far less pricey than the original, this stereo pair of condensers serves as an ideal studio companion, capturing creamy smooth top end and beefy mids and bottom with warmth and gorgeous detail. These stellar mics are a perfect choice for acoustic and electric guitars, drum overheads, pianos, strings, brass, woodwinds, and much more.
Another great entry in the small diaphragm category is the Audio-Technica AT4041, a very versatile mic with a transformer-free design and high SPL capability, making it very suitable for recording drums, percussion, acoustic guitar, and pianos. It features a switchable hi-pass filter, smooth, extended frequency response, high audio output, and a rugged turned-brass mic housing. The cardioid pattern is ideal in studio environments, and you can pick up a stereo pair for less than $600.
Continuing the topic of brilliant Warm Audio clones of vintage mics, the Warm Audio WA-67 Large-Diaphragm Tube Condenser is a fantastically flexible recreation of the classic Neumann U67, delivering smooth buttery sound, a hefty build quality, and three selectable polar patterns. This mic is an excellent choice for recording sung vocals, but it also excels on guitars, strings, and other sound sources with moderate loudness. Despite the top-shelf components and extreme attention to detail, the WA-67 features a mid-range price, making it accessible to recordists at virtually any level. This mic also includes all the accessories you need to get started, including a cable, shockmount, power supply, and beautiful wooden case.
One of the best multi-pattern tube mics available, the Mojave Audio MA-1000 is a very popular mic in the lockers of studios all over the world. Based on a classic Telefunken capsule from the ’50s, the MA-1000 sports a top-quality NOS (new old stock) 5840 tube, four selectable polar patterns, switches for bass roll-off and a -15 dB pad, and an internal switching power supply, avoiding the bulky external PSUs of other tube mics. This product is a nearly unbeatable choice for professional recording of vocals, voice-overs, piano, orchestras, and almost any other sound source under 120 dB.
A final honorable mention is the affordable (by tube standards) Avantone CV-12, a multi-pattern tube condenser that delivers an exceptional value for its price. With a hand-selected 6072A tube output stage, nine variable polar patterns, and switches for pad attenuation and low-end roll-off, the CV-12 is one of the best and most accessible entries into the world of tube mics. This mic performs well with vocals, acoustic guitar, mandolin, and piano, as well as stereo drum overhead or room mic duties.
Dynamic and Broadcast
Topping of the list of dynamics, the venerable Shure SM57 is a mic that every recordist should have at least one (or maybe 5?) of in their toolbox. This nearly indestructible microphone is beloved by engineers of all levels for its bright, clean sound, contoured presence, and tight cardioid pattern, making it the ideal mic for individual drums on a drum kit, percussion, guitar cabinets, and much more. Best of all? It won’t break the bank.
One of the most versatile dynamic mics you can grab is the Electro-Voice RE20, a broadcast-style mic with a large diaphragm, capable of picking up extra low end and featuring a humbucking voice coil for low noise and exceptional clarity. This mic is very popular among broadcast announcers, podcasters, and even studio engineers looking for a dynamic mic that can handle kick drums and bass cabinets.
For even more broadcast-friendly recording, the famed Shure SM7B is an industry standard, widely used for voice-overs, podcasting, streaming, and vocal recording in studios. With a smooth, polished vocal sound, rich low-end response, and prominent proximity effect that can deliver a bigger, more present vocal sound the closer the mic is to the sound source, the SM7B is an obvious choice in the realm of podcasting.
Sporting some very useful features aimed at the modern content creator, the RØDE NT-USB+ evokes the sound of a large diaphragm condenser with the versatility of a modern digital mic. The internal Revolution preamp is extremely low noise and high gain, providing 20 dB of gain and feeding into a quality 24-bit / 48 kHz digital converter. And with APHEX-powered DSP, you can process your vocals internally without taxing your CPU.
Still going strong after years of popularity in the field of digital mics, the Blue Yeti is a simple yet powerful tool for podcasters, streamers, and general content creation. This mic easily integrates with macOS, Windows, and mobile devices, and features four selectable polar patterns, including a stereo mode that’s perfect for ASMR. You can easily monitor directly on the mic with zero latency and mix control, plus you get VOICE FX software on tap for sweetening vocal recordings in rapid fashion.
Known worldwide as one of the kings of modern ribbon mic design, Royer Labs’ R-10 is a fantastic midrange ribbon mic that will deliver professional-quality audio without making you bankrupt. With a high maximum SPL, wide frequency response, and a three-layer windscreen, the R-10 provides ultra-low noise performance and strong protection from plosives and proximity-related bass pickup. Hand built in California, this microphone will perform stridently on vocals, drums, loud instruments, and room mic duties, all with a durable, vibration-free ribbon element and a completely passive design, no phantom power required.
Ribbon mics are often used in a stereo Blumlein configuration for drums, guitars, horns, and more, and the Golden Age Project R1 ST lets you engage in immersive stereo recording with only a single microphone. With two figure-8 mic sections and a transformer-balanced output, the R1 ST takes inspiration from classic RCA mics to deliver a warm yet musical tone, perfect for handling a wide array of sound sources, including very loud SPLs up to 160 dB. You can record in full stereo or use either side of the R1 ST for standard mono miking techniques.
There are lots of options, and this is just the tip of the iceberg! Hopefully this article helped to make your holiday shopping a little easier, whether you’re trying to find a deal to upgrade your own studio space or a perfect gift for an enthusiast in your life. Whether you go with a top-of-the-line performer or a budget diamond in the rough, the key is to find the right tool for your specific needs and interests.
As usual, if you have any thoughts of your own, or inquiries that weren’t covered in this article, feel free to drop us a line below, and we’ll do our best to answer all your comments and questions.