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The 5 Best Microphones for Vocal Recording

Whether it’s Frank Sinatra’s silky baritone, Ariana Grande’s astonishing range, or Freddy Mercury’s powerful belting, these singers have all come to rely on the greatest microphones ever manufactured to record their most iconic songs. Some microphones, due to their physical construction, the type of transducer they use, or their polar patterns, are especially well-suited to capture all the nuances of the human voice. When tasked with choosing microphones though, an audio engineer or producer will likely take things like the song’s genre, as well as the singing style into consideration, in an effort to obtain the best possible sounding vocals.


Considering the countless ways in which the human voice can vary, whether that be in terms of timbre, range or articulation, it’s easy to see why some singers might gravitate towards certain types of microphones over others. For instance, one microphone might be great at capturing the natural sound of the room the singer is in, another might slightly accentuate the higher frequencies of a vocal, or yet another might be prized for its neutral frequency response. This is why large-diaphragm condenser microphones –which offer the widest frequency response, and most sensitive transient response– have been historically favored over ribbon and dynamic microphones for recording vocals.


With that said, not all microphones are created equal. The construction and circuitry of the most sought-after contemporary microphones dates all the way back to the 1950’s, which proves that there really wasn’t much that could be done to improve an already stellar design. Not only have these technological wonders stood the test of time, but have also made the names of the companies that manufacture them synonymous with the highest standard of audio. One need only look at the prices of some of the original versions of these microphones to understand how prized they are now, and how instrumental they were to the history and development of recorded music.


Although determining what microphone sounds “best” is ultimately a subjective decision, the ones on this list have been consistently featured on some of the most successful records of all time. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what genre of music, or type of vocalist you’re working with, these next microphones would be a welcome addition to any recording studio’s arsenal of gear.

1. Sony C-800G 

Starting off the countdown is the Sony C-800G, a large-diaphragm tube condenser microphone that is revered for its high-quality detailed sound, and its ability to maintain low noise and distortion levels. Due to its high-sensitivity, it does an outstanding job at capturing the high frequencies of a vocal, without ever sounding harsh, and can even shine when used on other gentle instruments like an acoustic guitar. This microphone is truly a product of innovation, boasting an on-board cooling system for its 6AU6 vacuum tube, which maintains optimal operating temperature and ensures a consistent sonic performance. Our very own Steve Catizone used it to record artist Ma’ayan Castel’s vocals for her song “Walk On Water”, off the album of the same name.

Features:

  • Type: Tube Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid and Omnidirectional
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz – kHz
  • Impedance: 100 ohms
  • Maximum SPL: 134dB
  • Price: $10,700
  • Manufacturer: Sony Corporation

Microphone Demonstration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82h9QVEMGGM

Used on: https://open.spotify.com/track/6AmaJLFcLMW3YdhFthYsJc?si=17ca032626a347c2

2. Telefunken C12

Based on the original AKG C12, this large-diaphragm condenser microphone is famous for its clarity, and its airy top-end, which can be used on anything from vocals to drum overheads. Also, a large part of this microphone’s sonic imprint can be attributed to its use of vacuum tube technology, which gives it its slightly saturated warm tone.  Even though it bears a different name, the Telefunken version is built using the specifications of the AKG version, and even has its Haufe T14 transformer made by the manufacturers of the original. What really sets this microphone apart though is its versatility, allowing the user to change the capsule’s polar pattern response between cardioid, omnidirectional and figure 8, as well as hybrid patterns in between these three, from a switch on the power supply itself. The original AKG C12s are famously prominent in the star-studded music video for the recording of “We Are the World”, which Quincy Jones employed in a U-formation to capture all the performers in groups of three.

Features:

  • Type: Tube Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid, Omnidirectional and Figure 8
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz
  • Impedance: 200 ohms
  • Maximum SPL: 138dB
  • Price: $8,995.00
  • Manufacturer: Telefunken Elektroakustik

Microphone Demonstration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xfFzKlnQXA&list=PL2QnKxpkW46e3YRpHlbYs8j4uWWjXvK8p&t=4s

Used on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AjkUyX0rVw

3. Telefunken ELA M251E (Infinite’s Soundelux ELUX 251 is modeled after this legendary microphone)

Following the C12 on the list, comes the ELA M251E, another legendary large-diaphragm tube condenser from Telefunken. The history of the development of this microphone dates all the way back to when Neumann, the creators of the famous U47 microphone, decided not to renew their distribution contract with Telefunken, which prompted the latter to reach out to AKG Acoustics to see if they could develop a “U47 like” microphone. The resulting product proved to be an excellent microphone in its own right. On top of having that distinct, warm tube sound, this microphone is characterized as having a tight low-end response, as well as a clear mid-range, and a smooth top-end. Additionally, it has a distinctly very low self-noise floor, requires less maintenance than most microphones in its category, and also is incredibly durable. Additionally, its designer wisely decided to combine the polar pattern options of both the legendary U47 and U48 microphones -cardioid, omnidirectional, and bidirectional–, into one mic, which made it an even more versatile option. Here at Infinite Recording, we have a Soundelux Elux 251, which faithfully recreates the sound of the ELA M251E. Swing by and have your vocals sound like the legends!

Microphone Demonstration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1G0Q6NMikI

Used on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zG11rkZ7c_c

Features:

  • Type: Tube Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid, Omnidirectional and Figure-8
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz
  • Impedance: 200ohms
  • Maximum SPL: 138 dB
  • Price: $10,995.00
  • Manufacturer: Telefunken Elektroakustik

4. Neumann U 47

Possibly one of the most iconic studio microphones ever made, the Neumann U47 is the preeminent large diaphragm condenser. The first switchable pattern microphone, the U47 has been a mainstay in studios across the world ever since it was originally released in 1949, and was a favorite of artists such as Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, and Ella Fitzgerald. On top of the tube condenser tonal qualities we’ve already mentioned, the design of this microphone also takes into consideration the acoustical effect that the capsule has on the voice or musical source itself. This results in a vocal sound that has a hefty low-end, a clear mid-range, and peaks in the 2-4 kHz range, and 10 kHz, which make it sound present, but not too bright. Since its creation, there have been numerous iterations that have modified its design, and the materials it was constructed with. Although these have had varying degrees of commercial success compared to the original one, they have also been found to be useful to record sources other than vocals. For example, the U47 FET, which employs solid state electronics, rather than tube amps, became the go-to microphone to record kick drums, which would have been nearly impossible to do with the original U47. Also, this was Frank Sinatra’s microphone of choice for the recordings he made when signed to Capitol Records.

Features:

  • Type: Tue Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Omnidirectional and Cardioid
  • Frequency Response: 35Hz – 15kHz
  • Impedance: 200 Ohms
  • Price of original: $27,500
  • Price of U47 FET: $4,195.00
  • Manufacturer: Neumann

Microphone Demonstration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-84WhqZdx0

Used on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1AHec7sfZ8

5. Neumann U67

The successor of the famed U47 tube condenser microphone, the U67 was made in an effort to improve upon the already legendary design of its predecessor. Like the U47, the U67 is a tube powered condenser microphone, and it employs an updated version of the former’s M7 capsule called the K67 capsule. The K67 capsule, among other things, was successfully designed to lower manufacturing costs, be more durable, and achieve a more consistent performance. Also, the polar pattern options that the U47 had were expanded by adding a figure-8 pattern, as well as low cut, and pad switches. These last elements made the U67 incredibly suitable for the more modern recordings of the 1960’s, which were incorporating techniques like close miking, and thus needed microphones that could handle high sound pressure levels. The U67’s versatility resulted in it becoming a true studio classic, given that it could be used for almost any recording task, and on any instrument. With that said, these additional capabilities made the U67 a more neutral microphone compared to its predecessor. Nonetheless, some audio engineers might prefer to track vocals on a more transparent sounding microphone, which allows them to shape the tonal qualities of the voice with more freedom through additional signal processing. Need more proof of this microphone’s greatness? It was famously used for Paul McCartney’s vocals on The Beatles’ seminal track, “Hey Jude”.

Features:

  • Type: Tue Condenser
  • Polar Pattern: Omnidirectional, Cardioid, and Figure 8
  • Frequency Response: 30 Hz – 16 kHz
  • Impedance: 200 Ohms
  • Maximum SPL: 116 dB
  • Price: Original: $12,000.00 – Reissue: $7,225.00
  • Manufacturer: Neumann

Microphone Demonstration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bvO8CdGq00

Used on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQER0A0ej0M

References:

Buskin, R. (2021, August 1). Classic tracks: Frank Sinatra ‘I’ve got you under my skin’. Retrieved October 2021, from https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/classic-tracks-frank-sinatra-got-you-under-my-skin

C-800G. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2021, from https://pro.sony/ue_US/products/studio-microphones/c-800g

C12 microphone. TELEFUNKEN Elektroakustik. (2021, September 29). Retrieved October 2021, from https://www.telefunken-elektroakustik.com/microphones/c12

Ela M 251 microphone. TELEFUNKEN Elektroakustik. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2021, from https://www.telefunken-elektroakustik.com/microphones/ela-m-251

Elux 251. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2021, from https://soundeluxmics.com/product/elux251/. 

History of the AKG C12: Sweetwater. inSync. (2020, May 27). Retrieved October 2021, from https://www.sweetwater.com/insync/history-of-the-akg-c12/

The Neumann U67 set reissue: Unparalleled versatility and performance: GC Riffs. The Neumann U67 Set reissue: unparalleled versatility and performance | GC. (2019, January 24). Retrieved October 2021, from https://www.guitarcenter.com/riffs/product-demos/recording/the-neumann-u67-set-reissue-unparalleled-versatility-and-performance

Neumann. (n.d.). U 47 FET I. NEUMANN. Retrieved October 18, 2021, from https://en-de.neumann.com/u-47-fet

Neumann. (n.d.). U 67 set. NEUMANN. Retrieved October 2021, from https://en-de.neumann.com/u-67. 

Recordinghacks. k67 microphones | RecordingHacks.com. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2021, from http://recordinghacks.com/microphones/tag/k67

Recordinghacks. Neumann U 47 | RecordingHacks.com. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2021, from http://recordinghacks.com/microphones/Neumann/U-47

Sony C-800G large-diaphragm condenser microphone. Sweetwater. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2021, from https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/C800G–sony-c-800g-large-diaphragm-condenser-microphone

Telefunken C12 large-diaphragm tube condenser microphone. Sweetwater. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2021, from https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/C12–telefunken-c12-large-diaphragm-tube-condenser-microphone

Telefunken ela M 251e large-diaphragm tube condenser microphone. Sweetwater. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2021, from https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/ELAM251E–telefunken-ela-m-251e-large-diaphragm-tube-condenser-microphone

Vintage King. (2018, January 4). The Neumann U 47 and U 48. The Neumann U 47 Large Diaphragm Tube Condenser Microphone – Vintage King. Retrieved October 2021, from https://vintageking.com/neumann-u47-u48-microphone