Best Home Studio Recording Microphones 2018 – Buyer’s Guide and Reviews
When it comes to buying a microphone for your home recording studio – whether it’s your first or your tenth – you want the best studio microphone for studio recording. There’s a whole lot to think about, and striking that fine balance can be tricky. The types of microphones and uses can be overwhelming.
You should know how you plan to use the mic – that should go without saying.
For example, you might be recording vocals for your acoustic tracks, or blaring drums for your nu-metal band, and you probably wouldn’t buy the same mic in each case.
Besides, that’s only the beginning of your journey.
There is also a horde of technical specifications to understand, like frequency response, polar patterns, and self-noise.
Your environment plays a key role in finding the optimum microphone, as well as more subjective factors like how the mic feels to hold, and its aesthetic.
Of course, there’s no escaping the matter of price, either.
However, thanks to all the digging, testing, and reading we’ve done to produce this review, we can show you just how much bang you can get for your buck on ten different mics.
Ready to Get Started?
We know this is a lot to take in, so we’ve prepared a separate Buyer’s Guide to help you understand the types of microphones and techy details. It’s at the bottom of the reviews and might be worth reading before you get started on the reviews themselves.
Now it’s time for the main event.
Let’s dive right in, and start examining the best home studio recording microphones 2018 has to offer!
If you’ve been in the recording business for a while, then you’ll know about the SM57: one of the world’s most decorated mics, and still topping rankings more than 50 years after its first release.
Say hello to the Shure SM57.
Professional Sound Quality
Part of what makes the SM57 a first-class studio mic is the cardioid pickup pattern which effectively cuts background noise and focuses closely on the source.
This superb off-axis attenuation leads to a clean, pure sound.
Not only that, but the SPL handling of this thing is insane: you can sit it in front of a blaring half-stack amp or a set of drums without a hint of distortion.
While instrument recording performance is through the roof, the Shure SM57 is also a fan-favorite among vocalists.
The SM57 boasts a broader frequency response than many vocal pickup mics – 40Hz to 15kHz – and delivers a natural, true-to-life recording. Some vocalists will (understandably) prefer the localized tuning available on other vocal pickup mics, but as an all-rounder in the studio, you can’t beat the SM57.
Despite being the most famous on-stage mic in history, the SM57 features in recording studios around the world, from YouTube beginners to multi-platinum superstars.
Its huge frequency range means it can be used for guitar amplifiers and drums without missing a beat, as well as heavy vocals, spoken word, or anything in-between.
The White House even uses one for their presidential addresses!
Shure has a famous test designed to show off the robustness of their mics: drop them 10 times, from 10 feet, and inspect the performance.
We didn’t risk it ourselves, but according to Shure there is no perceptible performance difference whatsoever. We’re happy to take them at their word!
The reason Shure’s SM57 is at the top of our list, however, isn’t the superhuman durability. Nor is it the excellent sound performance, its proven 50-year history, or its versatility.
It’s because you get all of these features for just over a hundred bucks.
And that’s if you’re buying new; you can probably pick up a second hand one for half that if you shop around.
Suppliers like Amazon offer bundles for around $250 which include useful extras like windscreens, stands, and pop filters, so you can get a seriously high-level studio recording setup for a fraction of what you’d expect.
If you’re serious about recording in your studio, then we strongly recommend the SM57.
If the budget is tight, you can use it for all of your instruments, and then pack it up and use it during your live gigs, too!
- Cardioid pickup pattern
- Incredibly durable
- Versatile instrument recording
- Value for money
If you’re in the market for a dedicated vocals mic, and you have the cash to spend on middle to high-end equipment, then you’re in the right place.
Second on our Top 10 list is the AKG C214.
The main talking points of the C214 are its 1” large diaphragm and the renowned AKG Back-Plate Technology, which combine to provide the mic’s signature, superior sound.
The C214’s edge-terminated capsule is probably the best in the business, and it uses the exact same technology as the world-famous C414, its fancier (and considerably more expensive) cousin.
So why does the C214 get second place on our list, when we’ve just admitted there’s a higher-performing C414 on the market, too?
For one, the C414 is between 2-3 times the price, with an audio quality is virtually indistinguishable from the C212.
In fact, even in our own testing we couldn’t really tell the difference.
What the C414 does bring to the table is a variety of polar patterns, which means it goes beyond the needs of most single recording artists.
Two words: accuracy and realism.
Not a single detail is lost when recording with the C214.
The output is both smooth and natural, meaning artists can get true sounds on their tracks. There’s even a 20dB attenuation pad for close micing, as well as a low cut filter. The full thing is made of metal, and is super robust.
If you’ve got the right setup at home, this mic will transform your sound.
Unfortunately, most of us have quite noisy or reflective rooms at home. Trust us: if you’re playing or singing in a non-acoustically-treated room, the 214 will pick up those extraneous details and make sure you know about them.
The Mic for You?
Whether you’re going for heavy close micing with the low cut filter and attenuator pad activated, or will be quietly picking away at your acoustic guitar, this mic will get the job done and then some.
- 1” edge-terminated capsule
- 20dB attenuation pad
- Low cut filter
- Natural, true-to-life sound
Low Noise, High Performance
When buying a large-diaphragm condenser microphone on a budget, users should always be wary of self-noise, aka that irritating hum produced by the internal electronics.
Thanks to Rode’s unique double-Lyre suspension system, the internal noise vibration is incredibly low, and the NT1A claims a self-noise level of only 5dB-A.
For context, we generally consider anything below 15dB-A to be excellent.
When coupled with the mic’s high sensitivity, you’ve got yourself a pretty high-spec device that’s capable of recording every nuance of your vocal tracks.
At just over $200 for the mic alone, this sits comfortably in the “middle ground” in terms of price.
If you’re serious about recording, then the NT1A is a pretty minor investment for the quality.
A Real Studio Mic
One top tip for home studio recording would be to make sure your room is as acoustically neutral as possible, with very little ambient sound: in addition to having low self-noise, this mic is highly sensitive and picks up on all sorts of unwanted details when you’re not careful!
Bright, Attractive Audio
The NT1A from Rode brings a presence peak at 12kHz with a lift at around 120Hz. If you’re new to vocal recording, this basically means you’ll experience a brightness and elevation around these frequencies, which can have quite a flattering effect on the track.
The mic also has highs which are very crisp, and other online reviews are divided on whether they add or detract from the experience, and we can see where they’re coming from. To be safe, we recommend testing it in person before buying.
The mic has a cardioid polar pattern, a frequency response of 20Hz – 20kHz, and requires 24V or 48V DC phantom power to run.
- Ultra-low self-noise
- Good bang for your buck
- Great for vocalists and acoustic instruments
- High sensitivity
Any man with a microphone can tell you what he loves the most.
As we approach the halfway point in our list of the top 10 best home studio recording microphones, we’re delighted to introduce a bunch of firsts:
- First multi-directional mic!
- First USB-powered mic!
- First mic that looks like a Star Wars character!
A Studio-Quality USB Microphone – Really?
We acknowledge that USB microphones are usually considered cheap alternatives to real recording equipment.
We’ll even concede that most Blue Yetis are used for recording podcasts or twitch streams. But we’re keeping it on our list.
And here’s why.
First of all, it offers four different polar patterns: cardioid, stereo, omnidirectional, and bidirectional. See our Buyer’s Guide at the end of the article to learn exactly what these mean, and what the benefits are of each pattern.
For now, it’s enough to say this adds a huge amount of versatility to your recordings.
Layering audio tracks? Use the cardioid mode.
Recording some acoustic guitar? Switch to stereo for a more balanced sound.
It’s Just So Good
Surprisingly (to most users, at least!) the Blue Yeti captures sound with exceptional accuracy. Even though we knew it was good before testing, we were still surprised at the clarity and brightness of the audio. It can pick up sound from up to 10 feet away, though we recommend being no more than 2 feet from the mic during use.
To save us going on too long, here are just some of the additional features you get with the Blue Yeti:
- Physical (if slightly flimsy) buttons for headphone volume, pattern selection, instant mute, and microphone gain
- Instant “plug ‘n play” functionality
- Easy integration with your recording software
- Headphone output
- Solid metal body
Oh, and you don’t need preamps or any other equipment to achieve that near studio-quality sound. You can even work with just a laptop. Isn’t that ridiculous?
A Matter of Price
What’s truly incredible about the Blue Yeti microphone is that you get all this performance for about $130, including the stand.
You won’t find another USB mic on the market that’s as portable, high-performing, versatile, and affordable as this one right here. If you do, make sure you tell us so we can witness it for ourselves!
- Plug ‘n Play
- Four polar patterns
- Excellent sound quality
- Good noise cancelling
We’re going to kick off the SM7B review by stating that it’s easily the best studio vocal mic on this list.
We’ll then move on to qualifying why it’s halfway down our list and not sitting right at the top.
Intrigued? Let’s begin!
A Thrilling Microphone
Want evidence that this is a killer vocal mic? MJ used it to record his tracks for the Thriller album, one of the greatest musical accomplishments of all time. At roughly $400-500 apiece, however, this isn’t a light purchase for the average home studio.
The frequency response is wide and flat, which means exceptionally clean and natural vocal reproduction, while the cardioid polar pattern captures everything in front of the mic and virtually nothing around it. The off-axis rejection means that, even in busy studios, your audio comes out crisp, clear, and untainted by the sound bouncing off every surface.
Requires a Technician’s Touch
More than your average dynamic mic, the sensitivity of the SM7B is a bit lacking, so it’s important to combine it with a well-matched preamp of at least 60dB+ gain.
This way, you’ll get to witness the SM7B in all its glory.
Overkill for a Home Studio?
We touched on it briefly, but you really do need to get a top-tier preamp to get the best sound out of this mic, and that could easily set you back $1,000 on its own.
Then there’s the price of the mic itself: $400-500 is a lot of money, especially when you consider the quality of the other mics we’ve discussed here.
While some users do use the SM7B for instrument recording, it’s really designed for vocalists.
Unless you’ve got plenty of cash and want to really focus on your vocals, we’d recommend getting a lower-cost mic, and using the rest of your budget to kit out other important areas of your studio.
The SM7B isn’t ranked low because it’s a bad mic – it’s probably just far too good for most of our needs!
- Sensational sound
- Off-axis rejection is precise
- Professional studio quality
Straight off the bat, we’ll be transparent and admit that there’s a drop in quality between the first 5 entries and the MXL 770.
However, there’s also a big step down in price from the AKG, Shure, and Rode models.
For all that, the MXL 770 is probably only running at 10-15% less than the top mics on our list, and at a fraction of the price.
This mic retails for about $75, and offers a comparable performance to a product retailing at many times that – and we’re not exaggerating.
The Sound of Hip Hop
Straight out the box, the MXL 770 delivers a bright, bassy sound which goes straight to the heart of hip hop artists, especially rappers.
This mic would also favor piano players, any vocalists, and strings players looking for high performance recording on a budget.
The target market for the 770 is generally artists who are just starting out, or who just can’t afford pro gear.
However, there are also tonnes of seasoned professionals who adore the simplicity, cost, and performance of this mic.
With balanced bass, low frequency roll-off, and beautiful high end clarity, it’s no wonder the 770 has garnered a 4.6-star average from over 450 reviews on Amazon!
The Perfect Home Studio Addition
There’s no doubt that the microphone is a critical component of any home recording studio, but there’s more to it than just that.
Grabbing a MXL 770 gives you a seriously high-quality mic, but also frees up your budget to invest in the other technologies you need to run a professional home studio.
Seriously, this mic is good enough to carry your vocals right to the top, and if you have the cash in future to get that extra 15% performance, then go for it.
We can’t overstate the value for money you get with this mic!
An Imperfect Microphone
That said, there are obviously reasons this mic is sitting in 6th place: it does have faults, albeit quite minor ones.
Some users report an issue with moisture getting into the diaphragm, for example. To prevent this, store it in a very dry environment.
You may also struggle to find a consistent “sweet spot” in terms of distance from the mic (to balance the sound), and you’ll need to do a bit of calibration work to get it sounding right.
However, despite all that, it’s still an exceptional bargain for the price.
- Unrivalled value for money
- Bright and bassy sound
- Low frequency roll-off
- Great for hip hop vocalists
Rick Rubin said, well, I don’t know that we will sell records. He said, I would like you to go with me and sit in my living room with a guitar and two microphones and just sing to your heart’s content everything you ever wanted to record. I said, that sounds good to me. So I did that. And day after day, three weeks, I sang for him.
To those who know microphones, the MD 421 II from Sennheiser is a household name.
With a proud legacy, and a well-earned reputation for performance, it’s one of the top options available today for recording drums, guitar, or any other instrument.
Employing a cardioid polar pattern, the MD421 shrugs off ambient noise, effectively attenuates all off-axis sounds, and even rejects feedback due to monitors.
It also offers a 5-position bass roll-off switch which, combined with the noise attenuation, means artists can record in virtually any environment.
However, we should recommend that you build your studio to be as quiet and noise-absorbing as possible, rather than reactively compensating with noise cancellation!
The mic has a strong presence peak at 10kHz, which means musicians can tailor their sounds with more precision than with most microphones.
Compared to most rival dynamic mics, the MD421 II offers serious versatility. It has an unusually impressive high end, with great capture up to around 17kHz, and studio pros are known to use it for just about anything: soft strings, heavy electric guitar, drums (particularly toms) and so on.
With its excellent low end response, it’s also popular among male vocalists.
While it shouldn’t really be a factor for a studio mic, this Sennheiser has a beautiful aesthetic. From the deep black color, to the metallic mesh, and hardcover carry case, this is a gorgeous piece of technology.
Of course, it’s also pretty expensive, and the mic does have its problems.
Not Ticking All the Boxes?
The first issue is the clip: it sucks. It’s cheap, it’s a non-standard size, and many users report that it snaps with incredible regularity.
For a piece of kit costing upwards of $400, this is a huge let down. Sound quality is not a million miles away from the SM57 (which itself isn’t the best-sounding mic on our list) but at four times the prize, it’s hard to say it represents fair value.
There’s no doubt that this is a great mic for seasoned musicians, but if you’re a YouTuber hashing out your first tunes, then you can get nearly as good a mic for a fraction of the price.
- Longstanding positive reputation
- 5-position bass roll-off switch
- Excellent low end response
- Generally high-quality performance
The marketplace for home studio mics in 2018 is a crowded one: lots of manufacturers, very similar products, and it’s never been easier to search for online bargains.
One of the steadiest performers in all this chaos is SE Electronics, and the SE2200A is one of their best-selling models!
A Focus on Performance
The SE2200A retails at around $300-400 bucks, which plants it squarely in the mid-range in terms of pricing.
While it’s no Neumann, we still expect an impressive performance if we’re being asked to fork over that much cash!
Fortunately, the mic delivers.
In addition to injecting a little low-end warmth, the sound is very natural and accurately captures what you’re playing, be it vocals, electric guitar, or percussion.
To be specific, there’s a presence jump at 10-15kHz which adds a lovely, flattering brightness. If you’re using louder instruments, you can flick the pad attenuator switch to keep things level.
However, with the max SPL at 140dB, you probably don’t have much to worry about.
There’s a low-cut switch as well, so you can erase any low rumble you encounter.
Suitable for All Instruments
The mic is available in both cardioid and multi-pattern models.
We recommend the cardioid-only version for any standard home studio. Unless you have a very specialized or unusual setup, there’s generally little benefit to having omnidirectional recording.
Of course, if you’re recording multiple people at once, then that’s a different story.
We’ve tested this on pretty much every instrument we could find, and the results were incredibly consistent: it just sounds good, all the time.
Adding to the mic’s existing appeal, the design is pleasing on the eye. It also ships with a shockmount (though unfortunately not the pop filter it is usually pictured with) and is ready to roll straight out the box.
If you’re in the market for a mic which may not wow you with its quality, but does work with almost any instrument with very little hassle, then we recommend the SE2200A II.
- Suitable for a range of instruments
- Easy to use
- SPL handling up to 140dB
There are three different modes: playing piano, just me at the microphone, and me at my effects units. And I can mix those up in different ways.
The AKG P420 is the second mic by this brand to worm its way into our top 10 home studio recording microphones list.
You could think of the 420 as being a step down from the 214, but it’s also designed for a completely different audience.
Let’s check it out.
A Studio Workhorse
On the AKG website, the P420 is described as suiting “demanding project studio recording applications,” and being ideal for “ensemble recording, grand piano, woodwind and brass instruments.”
Well, after inspecting this mic ourselves, we have to agree.
The P420 is a side-address mic – as you’d probably expect from its intended use with ensemble recording – and boasts a dual-diaphragm using 1” back-to-back capacitor capsules to provide its various polar patterns.
Like the more expensive C214 design, users also get access to a 20dB attenuation pad and a low-cut filter.
From a technology standpoint, this thing is jam-packed with everything you need for a great mic. It may look pretty average, but emphasis on recording gear should always be on performance, not aesthetic.
While we’re on the subject, the heavy duty shockmount – which comes as standard, by the way – is excellent.
As we said, there are also 3 different polar patterns you can trigger using a small switch:
What Does it Deliver?
That’s a lot of technical speak we’ve just gushed out in a few short paragraphs – but for the layman, what’s the end result?
Clear, natural, and warm sound.
The mic’s ability to cut through ambient noise – despite its long reach – means that you only hear what you actually play: exactly what us musicians are looking for! It’s not quite as sensitive as some mics, but for the applications it’s intended for, that’s not a big issue.
Because of the sheer amount of axial variation that comes with the 420, you’ll need to do a fair bit of R&D with mic positioning and tinkering with surroundings to get your ideal sound. However, once you get there, the result is top class.
Of course, it should go without saying that you can use this mic for podcast recordings, or vocal tracks, but there are better options out there within this price range if that’s your primary goal.
- Ideal for woodwind, grand piano, or ensemble recordings
- Excellent technical specs
- Hugely versatile
- Perfect for a busy studio
Audio-Technica is a big name in the studio recording space, so you might be surprised that we haven’t featured any of their products so far.
That’s because, quite simply, the competition for the top spots is seriously tough!
A High Performance Entry-Level Microphone
The major selling point of any USB-connected microphone is always simplicity: if you’re going to skip the preamp and go straight to source, the quality is not going to rival a more expensive, calibrated setup. As long as it’s easy to use, and delivers good enough quality, most users will love it.
The AT2020 USB+ is a side-address mic with a medium-diaphragm, 20Hz to 20kHz frequency response, and a high-quality A/D converter with a 16 bit, 44.1/48 kHz sampling rate. With a little presence boost at 9-10kHz, it delivers a natural and full sound for vocal recordings, softer instruments, and any sort of podcast or script reading.
Of course, when you buy an entry-level mic, you don’t get pro studio performance. That said, the sound quality of this mic is unreal when you consider its price point. If you’re looking for a simple, compact, and affordable cardioid mic, then you’re in the right place.
A Much-Needed Upgrade
Audio-Technica broke into the USB microphone market a few years ago with the original AT2020, but it was full of holes. This renovated option includes:
- A standmount swivel arm
- A tripod desk stand
- A 10-foot USB cable
- A direct headphone output
These might seem like small changes, but when combined, this device is a world apart from its previous iterations. The tripod stand is still pretty crappy (it doesn’t really dampen vibration and is easily knocked over) but otherwise the build quality is superb, with the full mic made of durable metal.
Not as Rare as the Blue Yeti
The AT2020 USB+ is a good mic, but there’s a reason we put the Blue Yeti USB mic much higher up the list. For one, this one only offers the cardioid polar pattern – the Yeti offers 3 more: stereo, omnidirectional, and bidirectional. The Yeti also boasts a heavier, more reliable stand, gain control, and a physical mute button.
The Technica device is a neater package, however, so if you don’t require those extra features, you may as well go for this prettier option!
- Plug ‘n play
- 10ft USB cable
- Very attractive
Best Microphone Buyer’s Guide
Whether you’re a professional musician, a podcaster, or a budding YouTuber with no idea what’s going on, buying a new microphone is an exciting time.
That said, it also means entering into a world of confusing acronyms, tech jargon, and hugely divisive opinions.
We’ve put together this short buyer’s guide to help ease you into the process.
We’ll touch on the two main types of microphone (condenser and dynamic mics), explain a few of the key technical specifications you’ll meet for every product, as well as a quick rundown of the important “extras” you might encounter.
There’s no sense hanging around, so let’s start with the different types of microphone.
Condenser or Dynamic Microphone?
Historically, the robust dynamic mics have been dedicated to live performances since they can endure a beating without a drop in performance.
In fact, they can actually survive a literal drop in performance, and have generally been less fragile than condensers. As you might guess, condensers became the go-to choice for studio recording.
This rule is no longer set in stone.
Dynamic mics today are generally known for:
- High SPL-handling capability (aka you can be really, really loud)
- Lower cost
- Internal shock mounting (so you can hold it in your hand)
- No external source required
Conversely, condenser mics do require an external power supply, usually supplied through a preamp.
However, they also tend to be more sensitive (can replicate more details) and are therefore less common among rock and metal-style musicians.
Many experts agree that condenser mics, in general, provide a better sound quality across most frequencies.
We’ll be honest: if you don’t already know what your preference is, it probably doesn’t matter much.
Microphone Technical Specs
Just to help you out while reading the review, here are a few examples of the jargon used throughout:
- Polar patterns – Also known as “directional pickup” patterns, this basically describes how well the mic picks up audio coming in from different directions. For example, cardioid mics pick up everything in front of the mic, and decreasingly little around the sides and back. Here are the most common patterns:
- Frequency response – The range of frequencies the mic can physically pick up.
- Presence peak – Areas of the frequency response where the curve jumps above 0dB. This tends to result in a bright or trebly sound.
- Sensitivity and SPL-handling – Sensitivity is a measure of how well the mic picks up quiet sounds; SPL-handling refers to the maximum audio level the mic can withstand without compromising performance.
- Roll-off – Cutting off frequencies within a certain range to prevent unwanted sound effects.
- Self-noise – A measure of how noisy the microphone is itself. For sensitive mics, this value needs to be as low as possible.
- Side address – The mic picks up audio best from the side, not the front or back.
Which Mic Should You Buy?
Ah, if only it were that easy with all the types of microphones to choose from! There is so much to consider when it comes to buying a microphone that you really do need to do a lot of research. If money isn’t too tight, you could always choose a highly recommended mic and try it out for a few months or a year: after that, you’ll have a much better idea of your needs and preferences.
For now, our guide will provide you with a ton of good options, with specific recommendations for vocalists, voice over actors, and all sorts of musicians. If it’s possible, we also recommend visiting a physical store and testing out various mics – after all, the only way you can really understand a microphone is by using it.
Remember, buying a new microphone is a journey, and it should always be a fun and rewarding one. Don’t stress too much, and good luck with your future recordings!