Choosing a Microphone

Choosing a Microphone

 

If you plan to record vocals or any acoustic instruments you will need a microphone. Microphones range widely in quality and function and it’s the place I would recommend investing the most your budget allows. In the world of microphones, you do generally get what you pay for. You can use all the studio wizardry in the world but it’s really hard to get audio to sound good if it wasn’t recorded well to start with. By the same token, you hardly have to do anything to audio that was recorded well with a nice microphone to get a great sound.


 

Your first big choice is between USB mics which plug straight into your computer, or standard XLR mics which require an interface to connect with your computer. Let’s look at the pros and cons and give you some options for both.

 

USB Microphones

PROS

  • Dead simple, just plug and play.
  • Good option if you just want to record acoustic instruments and vocals. 
  • No Interface required
  • Portable

CONS

  • You can’t plug in your guitar or any other electric instrument into to them
  • The quality only goes so high. At a certain point if you want to keep upgrading your studio you will need to get an interface and start using XLR mics.

 

Apogee MiC+ 

Apogee Hype MiC More expensive and similar to MiC+ but with some extra features like a built-in compressor and pop-filter. Not essential things, but certainly worth it if it works for your budget.

Rode NT-USBRode is a quality brand that has been around for a long time. This one has good reviews from what I’ve found.

Blue Yeti Multi-Pattern – Slightly cheaper option. Blue tends to make quality products

 

 

 

Standard XLR Microphones

You will need an audio interface as well as a mic stand and XLR cable to go this route. The cable and stand are not expensive, but just FYI 🙂

PROS

  • This option allows for more flexibility in the future and more room for growth. You can always upgrade your microphones and/or your interface to higher quality versions and they will be compatible with each other. There’s really a ceiling on quality with the USB mics whereas the sky’s the limit with standard XLR mics.
  • With an interface that receives 2 inputs, like the Scarlett Focusrite or UA Apollo, you can record your microphone AND your electric instrument (guitar, bass, keyboard etc.) at the same time. 

CONS

  • Require an audio interface to use

IMPORTANT: there are two primary types of microphones- DYNAMIC and CONDENSER. Most likely you will want to go with a condenser mic, but let’s look a bit at both…

 

Dynamic Microphones

These are generally used for louder sounds and on stage for live shows. The classic dynamic mics are Shure SM57s and SM58s which you have almost certainly seen people using at almost every live concert you have attended. These are great for live shows because they only pick up what is right in front of them. Generally in the recording studio however, they are used more on snare drums or electric guitar amps since those are VERY LOUD. If you’re planning on recording either of those things a lot I would recommend picking up an SM57, otherwise they are not necessary for your starter studio. 

The other dynamic microphone to consider is the Shure SM7B which is a beloved studio microphone by many engineers, especially for vocals. Michael Jackson famously used this mic to record his vocals on the album “Thriller”. Yeah, the best selling album of all time. If you’re planning on recording mostly vocals or electric guitar amps then this is definitely a great mic. However, if you’re looking to record more acoustic guitar or other softer sounding instruments in addition to vocals, you probably want to consider a condenser mic as the first mic in your collection.

 

Condenser Microphones

These are much more sensitive. They are designed to pick up softer sounds and the more subtle nature of those sounds. They require “phantom power” which any respectable audio interface will provide. Here are a few recommendations in different price ranges:

 

Under $200

 

Audio-Technica AT2035

Decent quality and most affordable option.

 

Under $500

 

AKG c214 

More on the expensive side, but this would be my top recommendation if it works with your budget. A classic mic and an upgrade from the Rode and Blue (below) to be sure. You’re starting to get into Pro territory with this one. 

Rode NT-1A 

A solid, affordable industry standard.

Blue Microphones Bluebird SL

These look great, and sound great too.

$500-$1000

If you’re looking to go all out here are some recommendations in the higher quality and price range:

 

Neumann TLM 102

Warm Audio WA-47


Lauten Audio LA-320

 

Want to Learn More About Recording at Home?

We’ve also got an overview on everything you may need to start recording your music at home. Check out the full blog here.

 

 



Dylan Charles is a teacher, singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, co-writer and studio musician based in New York City and has toured nationally as a solo act, bandleader and sideman. His music runs the gamut from acoustic americana and rock/blues to jazzy soul and indie-pop. He has been playing guitar for over 20 years and teaching almost as long. He started teaching with New York City Guitar School in 2012 and is currently the program director for the school’s Rock Band and Music Production programs. His positive energy and encouraging teaching style has helped so many students reach their music goals. Call or email us to set up a lesson with Dylan yourself and visit www.dylancharles.com for music, videos and a calendar of his upcoming performances.

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