The best microphone for recording vocals?
December 20, 2005 10:13 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone recommend a high quality, reasonably priced, project studio microphone specifically for vocals? Are preamplification and compression as important as the microphone?

My partner has been compiling information on microphones via the usual search engines and web sites specific to home recording equipment reviews, but he's now looking for recommendations based on personal experience. His studio is running Pro Tools, for what it's worth.
posted by stagewhisper to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A good microphone sort of begs for a good preamp.

The Rode K2 is a really good tube mic.

Sytek is selling preamps half price until Christmas, or something. You can also get kits for Neve clones somewhere on the net.

If you're using Protools, it's my experience that all mics sound equally crappy through their preamps. Get some nice preamps.

Compression is nice for vocals, but not as "important".
posted by jon_kill at 10:27 AM on December 20, 2005

Best answer: I have had excellent results from this MXL 990 microphone. It does require phantom power (preamp) but for the price I have yet to use anything which delivers the same fidelity.

Alternatively, I have heard excellent things about the Heil PR 40 although it's quite a bit more money.

Shure SM57s and SM58s are good all-purpose mics as well. YMMV....
posted by TeamBilly at 11:04 AM on December 20, 2005

Shure SM57s and SM58s are good all-purpose mics as well

These are not good microphones.
posted by jon_kill at 11:37 AM on December 20, 2005

I'll also throw in a recommendation for the MXL 990 (holy crap, MF has them for $50 now?? Buy a dozen). I don't think you'll find a more capable vocal mic for a home studio without spending way, way more money than it's worth. Honestly, depending on what you intend to use the projects for, you can get away with using a lot of cheap Chinese equipment in a home studio. To me, it just doesn't make sense to use top-of-the-line mics in a sub-standard space (apologies if your home studio is acoustically perfect; most of us don't have that luxury).
posted by uncleozzy at 11:39 AM on December 20, 2005

To me, it just doesn't make sense to use top-of-the-line mics in a sub-standard space

But that is like saying it doesn't make sense using a tuned guitar with a substandard microphone. A quality recording is the accumulaltion of many quality components.
posted by jon_kill at 12:43 PM on December 20, 2005

I agree with jon_kill - a good (or great) mic can make all the difference - my studio's noisy and awkwardly laid out - I use really crappy instruments, but I have pretty decent mics and I get really nice recordings out of that setup.
posted by soplerfo at 12:46 PM on December 20, 2005

Best answer: >> Shure SM57s and SM58s are good all-purpose mics as well
> These are not good microphones.

Whoa! Watch what you're saying their buddy. The SM57 and the SM58 (actually, the same capsule in a different body/windshield configuration) are excellent mics that have served recording engineers and performers alike for many, many years.

In a project studio setting, however, they are not ideal for vocals. They are dynamic mics, rather than capacitor microphones, and are thus inherently less sensitive, particularly in the upper ranges. The capsule also has a pronounced spike in the mid-ranges, which makes for faithfully recording a vocal performance difficult. But they are not "not good microphones" - many well-known artists use them both live and in the studio because they deliver the sound they want...

For a project studio microphone specifically for vocals though, I'd go along with the Rode suggestion, or look at the Studio Projects mics. Large Diaphragm Condensors are becoming ludicrously cheap in terms of diminishing returns and you really don't need to spend a lot of money nowadays to make good vocal recordings at home.
posted by benzo8 at 1:04 PM on December 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

It's all very circular. Artists want the snare and guitar sound of a 57 because it's what everyone uses and what they are used to. I guarantee if they tried something else they'd have better luck (a beyer m201 comes to mind). You outlined all the nails in the 57s coffin for me.
posted by jon_kill at 1:08 PM on December 20, 2005

That's a difficult guarantee to make given the sweepingness of your comment - what will you guarantee Bono to change from his '58? Or Bonnie Raitt? Or Sam Endicott (a beta 58. granted)? "Better luck" is so undefineable in an arena where we're trying to catch character on tape - but it's undeniable that many singers have found those same particular "nails in [its] coffin" to be the ultimate sweetener when choosing their vocal microphone.

In a studio environment, the only microphone choice one can make when kitting out is "all you can afford" - you can never have too many mics in a studio because every artist, every guitarist, every record will sounds different with every different microphone. In a project studio "all you can afford" is very limited, and so yes, a decent LDC as a first mic is the best way to go. But to say the 57/58's have had their day, and are not "good mics" is to deny that thousands of good (and great) recordings have been, and still will be, made with them...
posted by benzo8 at 1:20 PM on December 20, 2005

Bono uses a 58 in the studio to record?

The 57/58 is suited to live applications quite nicely, I will admit.
posted by jon_kill at 1:31 PM on December 20, 2005

Yeah, all the artists I mentioned use the 58 in the studio for vocals.
posted by benzo8 at 2:08 PM on December 20, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the responses so far!

The home studio is quite professionally done for being in the basement, the acoustics are good thanks to input from people who are pros at sound studios. Alas, these same resources have the funds to purchase the highest end equipment and mics, hence the Ask Metafilter query.

These answers are all very helpful.
posted by stagewhisper at 3:46 PM on December 20, 2005

I've had great success using a Samson CL8, which costs less than $200 street. It's a large diaphram condenser mic, and as others here have mentioned, this type of mic is definitely better for studio vocal work than condenser mics such as the venerable SM58 (which I also own and love, but it's simply not as crisp sounding as the CL8).
posted by dbiedny at 4:09 PM on December 20, 2005

Thanks benzo8, I never knew that Bono tracked vocals with an SM58, nor that a 58 was used as a single mono overhead on Larry's drums. You just made me spend a good hour on the Google machine.

SoS article

Oh, and another vote for the MXL990. I have a pair, and it doesn't get better at that cheapness level.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 5:11 PM on December 20, 2005

And yet ANOTHER vote for the MXL990. I have one and its lovely.
posted by gergtreble at 7:59 PM on December 20, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, I think he's going with the MXL990, a mic he hadn't really considered before. You guys Raaaawk.
posted by stagewhisper at 7:03 AM on December 21, 2005

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