The 8 Best Microphones to Buy in 2017

Amplify your vocals and instruments with these top microphones

Blue Microphones Yeti
Photo from Amazon

You can spend your whole life studying sound and still feel baffled by the complexity of audio recording. Whether you’re an audiophile or a newbie musician, there’s a mic for every conceivable situation. Here, we’ve put together a list of the best microphones for a good chunk of those purposes. Keep reading to see which one works for you.

When it comes to recording vocals—whether live or in the studio—you probably want to go with a dynamic cardioid mic. This design works best for limiting ambient input and focusing a single voice onto the diaphragm, thereby capturing the basic essence of a vocal track. If you’re recording backing vocals, you’ll want to shoot for a larger diaphragm to capture that wave of sound produced by multiple voice boxes. To that end, there’s the Sennheiser e935. This is a powerful, affordable, professional vocal mic that will work well in the studio or on stage. It has a frequency response of 40 to 18000 Hz — ideal for cutting out those hissy treble frequencies that tend to come through on vocal tracks. It has a durable metal construction, ensuring that it will perform well on the road and last for many years. It also has a simple, straightforward design that won’t draw attention away from the singer. This is an all-around great mic for any vocal recording — whether it's singing or talking.

If you’re looking for a studio mic that can handle a variety of recording situations but you don’t want to spend a whole lot of money, look no further than the Audio-Technica AT2020. With a large diaphragm and a cardioid pattern, it’s built to deliver an isolated pickup while also capturing a dynamic spectrum of audio fidelity — but it’s not a dynamic microphone. It’s a condenser, meaning you can also expect it to deliver a richly detailed frequency response in the range of 20 to 20,000 Hz. That’s huge, especially for the sub-$100 price point. All this points to a mic that is highly affordable, versatile and well-built for studio purposes. If you’re an aspiring musician or producer and you’re just getting into the (highly complicated) world of microphones, this is a good place to start. It will serve as a great go-to mic well into your future, and you won’t have to spend much in the first place.

If the Shure SM57 is the classic drum microphone, then the SM58 is the classic vocal mic. This thing pretty much set the standard for recording vocals — whether on stage or in the studio. It looks like what you think a microphone looks like, and it costs (roughly $100) what you think a microphone should cost. It’s a dynamic cardioid mic with relatively low sensitivity and a frequency response of 50 to 15,000 Hz — perfect for recording a range of vocals while ensuring that no background noise makes its way onto the track. It’s got a rugged construction with a steel mesh grille, which promises to endure road abuse and stage mayhem while still delivering the performance you demand of it. Whether you’re new to recording or simply looking for a cheap stage mic to amplify your bar’s open mic night, the SM58 is the standard-bearer for vocal mics — and for good reason.

The AKG P170 is a small-diaphragm condenser microphone ideal for recording overheads, percussions, acoustic guitars and other strings. While not great for vocals or live performances, condenser mics are perfectly suited for acoustic instruments because they offer a wide frequency response, a high sensitivity and a standard cardioid pattern.

The P170 has a frequency response of 20 to 20000 Hz with a sensitivity of 15 mV/Pa (millivolts at 1 Pascal, which is a sound pressure metric). Thanks to its switchable -20dB pad, it can handle SPLs up to 155dB SPL, allowing you to record up close with instruments with high pressure levels such as drums. Its signal-to-noise ratio is about 73dB, so while there are quieter mics out there, the P170 will do the trick when close-miking instruments. When it comes to the P170’s size, this stick mic is pretty standard, measuring 22 by 160 mm, or roughly the size of a large test tube.

In the world of microphones, Shure is just one of those classic brand names — like Technics is for turntables or Moog for synthesizers. And the Shure SM57 is one of the most popular, best-selling mics the company has ever produced, especially for recording drums. Now, you could debate at length about which type of mic works best for which part of the drum set (cymbals, high-hat, snare, bass kick, toms, etc.), but for general, all-purpose drum recording, the SM57 is king. As a dynamic cardioid mic with a comparatively narrow frequency response (40 to 15,000 Hz), the SM57 is sure to deliver a wealth of percussive fidelity without drowning out the track in high-hat hiss or bass kick rumbling. Found for less than $100, it’s a highly affordable option for musicians on a budget, and it is versatile enough to take on the road for touring gigs. It will even serve well as a back-up option for recording guitar amplifiers. There’s a reason this thing is a classic. 

By far the most expensive mic on our list, the Sennheiser MD 421 II is a multi-purpose mic that will work well for recording anything from podcasts to studio orchestras. It’s a dynamic cardioid mic with a medium diaphragm and a frequency response of 30 to 17,000Hz, which is wide enough to deliver robust fidelity for any recording situation. It’s also got an low impedance of 200 Ohms, which means it will carry the signal accurately over large distances — an ideal factor for live performance. All these specs make the MD421 II a highly versatile microphone, for which it is better to ask what application can’t it handle? Really, not many. Whether you’re recording individual instruments, a string quartet, a radio broadcast, or four-part vocal harmonies, consider this mic if budget isn’t much of an issue and you’re looking for a good go-to mic.

Recording amplifiers are a whole other bag, although you certainly apply many of the same tricks of the trade for studio and stage. It’s a tricky business because there are so many different types of sounds that can come out of an amplifier, and that doesn’t even begin to account for the variety of instruments that can be plugged into them, or the live performance environments they may be used for. In general, though, you want something with a large diaphragm, something that will capture a good cross-section of the amp’s dynamic output, while also limiting feedback and noise coming from elsewhere on stage or in the studio. The Sennheiser E609 is a large-diaphragm dynamic mic with a super-cardioid design, meaning it delivers a more directional response but with a diaphragm that covers more space. It has an ideal frequency response of 40 to 15000 Hz, which ensures that any pitchy feedback or guitar squealing will be well contained. It may not suit every need you have for recording an amp, but it’s not likely to disappoint—especially for the $100 price point.

While traditionalists and audiophiles may sneer at the very idea of a USB microphone for any purpose other than Skype calls, these affordable, convenient little gadgets are getting better every year. While we wouldn’t recommend buying one if you’re serious about sound and have the budget for a decent dynamic or condenser mic, we understand they have their appeal. The biggest beef people have with USB mics is that the onboard preamp and analog-to-digital converter drastically reduces the sound quality and fidelity. But, sound quality aside, they’re super easy and super convenient — you don’t need a mixer or preamp to immediately begin recording on a computer. For this purpose, we recommend the Yeti from Blue Microphones. It’s the only mic on this list that offers a choice of polar patterns: cardioid, omnidirectional and bidirectional. It’s got an impressively wide frequency response of 20 to 20,000 Hz, and a medium- to large-sized diaphragm for greater versatility. We can’t make promises about the sound quality, but if you’re more concerned about simply recording digital audio (maybe for a YouTube video?), this is probably your best option.

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