5 Great Microphones for Recording Vocals on a Budget

One of the keys of a good vocal performance is making sure your singer is singing into the right microphone. You want a microphone that'll flatter your vocalist without picking up outside noises or adding unwanted distortion, so flat, neutral mics that promise lower self-noise and wide-range frequency responses are always where to look first.

Today, we've gathered a list of five vocal mics that we think do it best for the money. Featuring many solid large diaphragm condenser mics (often the go-to when recording vocals) that excel at more than just vocal performances, as well as a few outliers—like the handmade ribbon offering from boutique brand Stager Microphones or the Shure SM7B dynamic—any pick from this list has our seal of approval when it comes to tracking a great vocal.

What is it? What makes it cool? What does it cost?
Audio-Technica AT2020 Swiss Army knife for a small studio. $50-$100
AKG C214 Where value meets quality in large diaphragm condensers. $170-$399
Shure SM7B More than a vocal mic. $275-$399
Stager SR-2N Rev 2 An affordable handmade ribbon mic. $599
Neumann TLM 103 Top-quality Neumann name for less than the classics. $600-$949
Audio-Technica AT2020

When it comes to recording vocals, it's hard to go wrong with a large diaphragm condenser mic. They typically feature an extended frequency response and promise a really clear and accurate capture of a vocal performance. However, LDCs can also be prohibitively expensive, so we wanted to make sure this list included a solid alternative for anyone who might not have hundreds of dollars to spend.

The Audio-Technica AT2020 cardioid condenser keeps costs low by not packing as many of the frills that more expensive offerings of this type of microphone have, like the ability to adjust polar patterns or high- and low-pass filters. But even with these features stripped away, AT2020 users are still left with a microphone capable of capturing a clear, uncolored recording, which makes it a really versatile tool for recording more than just vocal performances.

If you're looking for a vocal track that's a bit more effected than the neutral recording the AT2020 will get you, you can always add the color you're looking for with comparatively affordable plugins.

AKG C214

The AKG C214 is a large diaphragm FET condenser mic that shares a lot of similarities with its more expensive sibling, the AKG C414 B, including a similar shock-mounted capsule design. The C214 is often referred to as the "lite" version of of the C414 B because it strips down a few of the features that make the latter more expensive, and though it is somewhat similar, don't expect an identical replication of the C414's sound.

Instead of switchable polar patterns, the C214 is a cardioid microphone that's not quite as transparent as the C414 B, and with 13 dBA of self-noise to the C414 B's five dBA. Still, you're getting classic AKG build quality for hundreds of dollars less than you'd spend on a C414 B, and that's a hard bargain to pass on.

The C214 notably features a -20 dB pad and high-pass filter, which cuts bass at six dB per octave past 160 Hz, allowing the mic to handle 156 dB SPL when engaged. This makes it another versatile tool that's capable of tracking more than just vocal performances well, if you're looking to get even more bang for your buck out of a vocal mic buy.

Shure SM7B

Despite being a dynamic microphone (and the only non-condenser mic we've included here), the Shure SM7B makes this because in addition to being a solid vocal mic, it's also a total studio Swiss Army knife—great for any home recordist without the budget to support picking up a slew of specialized mics.

The SM7B features bass rolloff and presence boost controls, and its smooth, flat, and wide-range frequency response and tight cardioid polar pattern make it great for capturing an uncolored vocal without a lot of bleed from off-axis sounds.

In addition to its standard and highly effective pop filter, the SM7B also ships with a the detachable A7WS windscreen for even more protection against plosives and is a really popular choice for hip-hop vocalists, radio broadcasters, and even those looking to mic up their guitar amps or snare drums. If it's good enough for Quincy Jones and Thriller, you can bet it'll be good enough for you.

Stager SR-2N Rev 2

Our boutique option on this list is the SR-2N ribbon microphone from Stager Microphones in Nashville, Tennessee. This is a great option if you're looking for the classic sound of vintage ribbon mics without having to spend a fortune or learn about what can be complicated, tedious, and sometimes expensive maintenance.

The SR-2N employs the same size ribbon and proprietary toroidal output transformer as Stager's flagship SR-1A while managing to keep the size impressively small, weighing in at just under a pound. The SR-2N also trades the SR-1A's larger alnico magnets for a more contemporary neodymium motor. With its impressive low-frequency pickup, neutral midrange, and gentle high-frequency rolloff, the SR-2N beautifully captures transient detail, flattering vocal performances and percussive material alike.

Neumann TLM 103

Since it was brought to market in 1998, the Neumann TLM 103 has been a great, large diaphragm workhouse in bedroom and professional studios alike. It utilizes the classic transformerless circuit found in many other Neumann mics, with a directional cardioid pattern capsule derived from that used in a U 87.

The TLM 103 is super low self-noise (only seven dBA) and is acoustically well-balanced, promising to deliver a very clear and defined vocal performance. Another mic capable of accurately capturing much more than just a vocal performance, this TLM 103 is a great choice for recordists who can spend an extra few hundred dollars exchange for the Neumann name and impressive technical specs.

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