More and more hits are being produced in home studios these days. Although we shouldn’t undervalue the technical skills and equipment found in professional studios, many musicians simply prefer to record at home. Whilst this is often due to budget constraints, some artists prefer the workflow of a home studio and the ability to record whenever inspiration strikes!
Which microphone is best for home recording?
If you want to achieve great sounding vocal recordings at home, the first thing that you’ll need is a great sounding microphone. Whether you’re recording home demos or your next number one hit, the quality of your vocal mic will make or break you.
Here we’ve listed the top 10 microphones for recording vocals at home on a low to medium budget. We’ve picked the very best you can buy between £100 and £1500 ($100 and $1500), suitable for musicians and producers of all levels, from beginner to professional.
Best home studio microphones on a budget…
If you are looking for the cheapest way to get started recording vocals at home, a USB microphone may be worth considering. One advantage of these is that they do not require an external audio interface as they connect straight into the computer. This does compromise the sound slightly when compared to higher-end setups, however, for demos and quick recordings, it may be all you need.
Pros and Cons:
No external interface or phantom power required.
Decent sound quality for demos and podcasts.
Good build quality.
There are better microphones for more money.
By getting a USB microphone and not a separate mic and interface, you can’t as easily add additional microphones or upgrade your mic when you have a larger budget.
British manufacturer Aston Microphones make a range of budget mics that can outperform users expectations in their price range. This cardioid microphone is particularly well suited for vocal recording and delivers a modern “hi-fi-esque” sound. It is a great choice for recording great-sounding demos at home and for making YouTube videos with top-notch audio.
Pros and Cons:
Capable of good sounding vocals for minimal financial outlay.
Also works well on other sources such as guitar and percussion.
The sound is not as refined as higher-end microphones.
Although it has an integrated pop filter, it still requires an external pop filter in most vocal applications.
Lewitt LCT 440 PURE
Although the LCT 440 PURE is one of Lewitt’s cheapest microphones, it is still capable of producing fantastic sounding vocal recordings. It is voiced to give vocals a slightly forward sound that has presence without getting harsh. It comes with a nicely designed magnetic pop filter that clips onto the microphone when recording vocals, and also includes a shock mount, windscreen and carry case.
Pros and Cons:
Nice sounding studio microphone that offers great value for money.
The magnetic pop filter is much nicer to use than an external pop filter clipped onto a mic stand.
Some singers may prefer a warmer sounding microphone.
Lewitt’s more expensive microphones offer a range of polar patterns making them more versatile.
The AT4040 is a large diaphragm condenser microphone that has a fixed cardioid pattern. It has a clear, full range sound that works well on a range of sources and vocals. You might also want to look at the similarly priced AT4047, which has a slightly daker sound that might suit some voices better.
Pros and Cons:
Capable of professional sounding results.
It is a multipurpose microphone that handles high SPL, meaning you can use it on a wide range of instruments as well as vocals.
Very few at the price; although some singers may prefer a microphone that adds more character.
Although condenser microphones are often preferred in a studio environment this dynamic mic is often the first choice for singers. Shure’s SM7B (and its original version the SM7) has been used on recordings by acts such as Metallica, Michael Jackson, Ryan Adams and Sheryl Crow (just to name a few). One really useful thing about the SM7B is that, like a live mic, it is much more forgiving to room acoustics than most studio condenser microphones – making it a great choice if you’re recording in your bedroom.
Pros and Cons:
A microphone that’s been used on vocals on hit records that’s in the price range of home studio owners.
Particularly well suited to male rock singers.
Also great on guitar cabinets and drums.
Requires a good quality preamp with plenty of gain to get the best out of it.
Does not have the detailed sound of a condenser microphone that some singers may be looking for.
Warm Audio WA47
Neuman’s U47 is one of the most popular high-end studio microphones of all time – it is also VERY expensive. However, if you have always dreamed of recording on one, Warm Audio make a more wallet-friendly version of this classic microphone (as well as others; such as a U87, 251 and C414). It’s not an exact replica, however, it is probably as close as you can get for under a grand.
Pros and Cons:
U47 style sound on a budget.
Good build quality and modern reliability.
The tube adds a lovely warmth to vocals that non-tube microphones cannot replicate.
Still not an actual U47 and lacks a bit of the magic of the original.
Slate Digital ML1
Slate Digital’s ML1 is a bit different to the other mics on this list as it models the sound of a range of microphones using software. It is designed to mimic the tone of high-end studio mics and preamps using a plugin within your DAW. This gives great flexibility if you are working with a range of singers and only have one microphone. You can also change the type of mic after you record until you find the one that suits your voice best.
Pros and Cons:
Great selection of microphone models.
If you are after one mic to record a range of singers this could be the perfect option.
Additional mic expansion packs can be purchased.
Does not sound identical to the mics it models.
Can be a bit prone to sibilance.
Will only work with the software.
The Aria is a large diaphragm tube microphone from British microphone manufacturer Sontronics. It features premium-quality components with manufacturing split between China and the UK to keep costs down. It delivers a bold, clear and open sound that helps vocals sound larger than life, and it competes favourably with microphones costing several times its price.
Pros and Cons:
The Aria is a high-end microphone that is within the budget of home studio owners.
It is voiced to give vocals presence without becoming sibilant and harsh.
The tube give vocals a nice touch of warmth to the lower mid-frequencies.
The included shock-mount isn’t the most robust.
Sony’s C800G is a classic vocal microphone that’s particularly a favourite among female pop singers and rappers. However, if you don’t have the $10,000-$20,000 budget for one, you might want to look at the C-100, which shares some similar characteristics and is around a tenth of the price. Although it is not a clone of the C800G, it does have a similar enhanced high-end to it that is desired in certain genres. (Neuman’s TLM 103 has a similar tone and would also be worth looking at if you are after a vocal mic for pop and rap music.)
Pros and Cons:
Has an articulate and airy sound that is great for pop and rap vocals where you want to hear every lyric.
The boosted treble frequencies remain natural sounding and not harsh.
Also great for recording acoustic guitar.
Not particularly forgiving of bad room acoustics.
The mic lacks a bit of lower-mids when compared to a C800G.
It’s bright, crystal clear sound won’t suit all voices and styles.
The Copperhead is a condenser mic that sounds as good as it looks. It features a “new old stock” American-made 5654W tube and an all-brass K67-style capsule that delivers a warm and classy sound that is particularly well suited to vocals.
Pros and Cons:
Helps vocals sound rich and three-dimensional.
Offers premium sound quality for vocal recording.
Is much cheaper than many of Telefunken’s other tube microphones such as their reissue U47 and C12.
It is primarily a vocal mic – meaning it is not the best suited for other sources (although it can work well on acoustic guitar).
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What other equipment will I need for home studio recording?
In addition to a great sounding studio microphone, there are other things that you’ll need to consider for your home recording studio including an audio interface, studio monitors / speakers, possibly an external mic preamp (if the budget allows), and don’t forget the importance of acoustic treatment to your room (although, if you’re on a budget, hanging a duvet behind you can really help!).
Tips for Recording Vocals at home
Now that you’ve found yourself a great home recording microphone, let’s take a quick look at how to get the most out of it.
When recording vocals, it’s essential to get things right from the outset. That means taking more time with the initial set up and recording and less time tweaking during production.
1. Warm up the Voice
This goes without saying. Any time a singer is about to perform, it’s essential to warm up the voice to ensure everything is working at its optimal level. That means basic breathing exercises and vocal warm-ups, so you’re not going in cold.
2. Use a Shock Mount
Condensers are sensitive to vibrations and are prone to picking up unwanted low frequencies. You can avoid these rumbling sounds by using a shock mount – essentially suspending the mic with elastic to absorb the vibrations.
3. Use a Pop Shield
When singing, the mouth naturally creates a strong blast of air when pronouncing ‘P’ and ‘B’ sounds. This makes an undesirable popping sound in the low frequencies, which you’ll want to avoid. A pop shield is a simple solution to fix this, acting as a barrier between you and the mic.
3. Position the Microphone
The position of your microphone can make a massive difference to the tone of the recording, so it’s important to experiment.
When recording with a condenser mic, you’ll need to be aware of the proximity effect. In short, the closer you get to the microphone, the boomier the vocals will sound, and vice versa.
A good distance is usually somewhere around 15cm away, but you can experiment until you find the desired tone.
If using a dynamic mic such as an SM58, you can afford to get a little closer as these are designed to work this way. Start somewhere around 5cm away and adjust from there. Try not to touch the microphone if you want to avoid those unwanted muffles!
Great singing posture is one of the fundamentals of a good vocal sound, and that remains true when in the recording booth. You may find moving the microphone just above or below lip level gives a slightly different tone, but always remain facing forward to project your voice correctly and avoid straining your voice.
5. Set up your Recording Environment / Vocal Booth
Never underestimate the importance of your room acoustics, as it’s more often than not the weakest link for home producers.
There are numerous resourses online that go into detail, but in short, you’ll need to treat your recording space to remove the natural reverb of the room (unless of course, you have an incredible room – which most of us don’t!) using a combination of foam panels and diffusors.
If you don’t have a dedicated space to record, proper sound proofing may not be possible, in which case, you can also look into reflection filters which are a handy, low budget way to get a similar result.
7. Set your Levels Correctly
Try to leave plenty of headroom when setting up your levels. Try to get an average of -18dBFS, peaking at around -10dBFS. If you set your levels too hot, they may sound too harsh, making them difficult to mix.
6. Record Multiple Tracks
Always record more takes than you think you need! Whilst you may think you’ve made a hole in one on the first take, you may find flaws once you start to home-in later down the line – at which point it’ll be too late!
By recording a minimum of three takes, you can comp your vocals to achieve the very best result possible.
7. Closed Back Headphones
Ensure you’re wearing a decent pair of closed back headphones. This will ensure you’ve got good monitoring and the backing track isn’t spilling out and being picked up by your mic.
What other vocal microphones should I consider?
When it comes to choosing high-quality recording mics, this is really just the tip of the iceberg. Whether you’re looking for a new mic for home studio recording, or are on the hunt for the best mic for live vocals, there are plenty of options to consider. Check out our Best Microphones For Vocals article where we review a whole range of live mics, dynamic microphones, large-diaphragm condenser mics, high-end mics and more.
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