Are you recording vocals, making a podcast, or live streaming performances from home? If so, you need a better microphone than the one in your tablet or laptop. For studio-quality recording capabilities, you need a studio-quality condenser microphone.
Whether you’re recording vocals for your latest album or your need a microphone for voice over work or even for YouTube or podcasting, chances are, you’ll choose a microphone from the same category: large-diaphragm condenser mics.
Below, we’ve rounded up 10 of the best home studio mic options for 2021, with info and feedback on each model. But before we get to that, we understand that not every reader is an experienced studio pro.
You might have questions about whether you need a studio-quality microphone for singing, rap or recording live vocals. Or you might be unsure how to actually get your microphone working with your computer. We’ll answer some of these common questions before diving into the recommendations.
What can I use a home studio microphone for?
Home studio microphones serve a wide range of purposes. The most obvious is for recording vocals: if you’re laying down vocal tracks on top of an existing audio source, you need a high level of audio quality and sound isolation. You also need a great frequency response, the right response curve, and that certain combination of materials and design that separates a clunky microphone from an excellent one.
The microphones embedded in your laptop or headphones have a different function: they are designed mostly to pick up a narrow range of frequencies and exclude extraneous sounds. This kind of filtering is why no one sounds very good on Zoom, but you can generally understand everyone.
Trying to use this kind of microphone for recording vocals will result in very poor quality audio, creating a disappointing overall sound.
Singing isn’t the only use for a quality home studio microphone. Any kind of spoken word project will also benefit from a better quality microphone. Spoken-word use cases include podcasting, recording for live streaming, creating new rap tracks, and anything else that involves the melodious tones of your voice!
This is why all your favorite streamers have a gigantic microphone in the frame. It’s not for the looks: it actually allows them to capture and produce much higher quality audio.
If you really want to level up your work-from-home game, it’s even possible to use a studio microphone for your Zoom and Teams calls.
Can I plug a studio microphone directly into my computer?
Maybe. It depends on the type that you buy. Since the advent of podcasting (and computers that could handle a direct input), USB microphones from makers like Blue have hit the scene. Some of these are really quite good, even competing with the XLR-style condenser microphones built for the studio.
However, most studio microphones can’t connect via USB. The standard method is an XLR cable, and your computer cannot natively accept — or power — an XLR microphone connection.
To connect a studio microphone with an XLR connection to your computer, you’ll need another small device called an audio interface. This little device does the heavy lifting of translating the analog microphone signal into a digital signal your computer can read over USB. Your audio interface also will provide the needed 48 volts of phantom power back to the microphone.
If you’re reading this and are wondering what the heck an audio interface is, never fear. We’ve produced some helpful guides, including the Best Budget Audio Interfaces as well as Lance’s Picks: My Own Home Recording Studio Equipment. Check out those guides to learn all about these little technological marvels, plus find the model that best suits your needs and budget.
What software do I need in order to use my studio mic?
The good news here is that microphones are pretty universal. As long as you can connect it to your computer (see the previous section), your microphone will work with just about any sort of recording software on your device.
But where there’s good news, there’s bad news. Windows PCs don’t come with any recording software that’s worth using for anything beyond very basic tasks. Mac users at least have GarageBand, which is decently capable for simple recording projects. (Don’t expect to punch in and fix an error mid-track, though.)
Using your studio microphone to the fullest requires a better software solution. Your audio interface likely comes with a lite version of one of the major digital audio workstations, so that’s a good place to start. There are also freeware and online options to look into, like Audacity (freeware) and Soundtrap (cloud-based).
If you’re doing podcasts and not music, you might look into a specialized recording suite that’s built for podcasting. These are beyond the scope of this post, but you can find some solid recommendations over at Podcast Insights.
What types of microphones should I consider?
There are a whole host of microphone types on the market today, but only two (OK, maybe three) types make sense for a home studio microphone.
The vast majority of microphones worth considering for at-home vocal recording are condenser microphones. Large-diaphragm condenser microphones, in particular, are very well suited for recording vocals, especially if you have a low speaking or singing voice. These microphones are extremely sensitive, though, and must be shock-mounted to avoid picking up noise from bumps and vibrations.
Some dynamic microphones can also work well in recording environments. Dynamic microphones aren’t as sensitive and are usually much more shock resistant. Handheld mics are almost always dynamic. Their narrow pickup patterns allow them to reject peripheral noise, making them perfect for live sound. Some singers prefer them in the studio as well. The Shure SM58 is a stalwart in this category.
Ribbon microphones might also make sense for home studio use, but only rarely. Ribbon microphones are delicate — fragile, even — and they can be prohibitively expensive. For these reasons, you tend to see them only in professional studio environments, and even there, they see limited use.
Best Home Studio Mic Options for 2021
Aston Origin Large Diaphragm Cardioid Condenser Microphone
An Amazon top seller and earning the coveted “Amazon’s Choice” designation, the Aston Origin is a solid large-diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone, beautifully crafted from laser-cut stainless steel. This microphone has that coveted Aston sound, produced by a one-inch gold evaporated capsule.
The Aston Origin uses an XLR connection and requires 48 volts of phantom power, so you’ll need to use it with an audio interface.
The look of the microphone is unique and stunning, yet functional at the same time. The wave-form mesh head combines with a built-in pop filter to both protect the capsule and keep your plosives out.
The end caps are custom molded, with both the XLR and stand adapters built right into the microphone body. The Aston Origin features superb internal shock absorption, allowing you to mount this microphone directly without a shock mount.
Higher-end mics often have some onboard controls, and that’s the case here. You’ll find a -10dB pad switch, plus an 80Hz low-cut filter.
The Aston Origin is a fantastic vocal microphone, and it also excels with acoustic instruments— even soft ones like acoustic guitar.
Aston Spirit Large Diaphragm Multi-Pattern Condenser Microphone
The Aston Spirit is the bigger and more expensive sibling to the Aston Origin. The Spirit is physically taller but otherwise possesses most of the same visual and technical attributes as the Origin. That is to say, both the Origin and the Spirit deliver gorgeous, open sound with just the right embellishment of harmonics.
The big difference here is that the Aston Spirit is a multipattern microphone, allowing you to switch between omni, cardioid and figure-eight polar patterns. This is a huge gain in versatility— if you expect you’ll be in a scenario where you’d use that versatility, that is.
Most vocal recording mics use a cardioid pattern, which picks up most of its sound directly in front of the diaphragm or capsule. You can test this out by snapping behind a cardioid microphone, then directly in front of it. Look at the waveform that was recorded (and listen to it, too). The snap from behind will be very quiet—almost imperceptible in the context of a loud band track. The snap in front, however, will be very live and present.
Cardioid is the way to go for nearly all live performance scenarios. When singing or playing live, you don’t want to pick up any extra sound, or you’ll run the risk of feedback. It also makes sense for most vocal recordings because the singer is going to sing into the front of the microphone regardless.
Omni microphones pick up sound in a 360-degree pattern. You’d use this when you want to record an entire room, not just a single source.
Figure-eight microphones have some specialized uses (like stereo recording), but one of the most relevant is isolating close-proximity sources that can’t be physically isolated. If you want to record two speakers on a single mic (maybe for a podcast where you aren’t equipped to multitrack), you could seat them on opposite sides of a figure-eight microphone.
The Aston Spirit is simply a fantastic choice. In fact, it wins both our prize for best home studio mic and for best condenser mic for vocals. Seriously, it’s that good!
That said, so is the Origin. If you won’t need the flexibility of omni and figure-eight polar patterns, save the extra cash and go with the Origin. But if you suspect you’ll ever need those modes, get the Spirit, so you’re prepared ahead of time.
Shure SM7B Cardioid Dynamic Microphone
The Shure SM7B Cardioid Dynamic Microphone is built like a tank. It’s heavy and durable and can take a beating. It also has a legendary history, being the microphone of choice for several significant pop stars.
In some ways, it’s a dynamic microphone masquerading as a condenser microphone. It has a condenser-like look and seeks to emulate the response curve of one as well. But it is, in fact, a dynamic microphone.
What does this mean for you? It’s an excellent choice for picking up vocals at a sufficient volume level. If you speak or sing with presence and volume, this microphone will do great things for you. However, it’s just not as sensitive as most condenser microphones. If you’re soft-spoken, this isn’t the microphone for you.
One highly rated Amazon reviewer mentions that you need a solid preamp to do this microphone justice. If you’re using a very inexpensive audio interface, you might run into trouble on this front.
This is an XLR-style microphone that ships with a nut mount, allowing you to attach the microphone to your favorite stand. That does mean no stand is included here.
Podcasters and streamers will love the shielding in this microphone, making it a great choice for use close to your computer monitors. And the two included pop filters provide enough protection for even the most aggressive pronouncers out there.
As a solid all-around microphone, the Shure SM7B also gets used for recording acoustic instruments and even amp outputs. Just don’t expect to get good volume out of quieter instruments without the right preamp magic.
Shure SM58 Dynamic Microphone
If you’re an experienced audio engineer, you’re probably grimacing at seeing the Shure SM58 on this list. But given its devoted following among musicians at all levels, we feel compelled to include it.
The Shure SM58 is an iconic dynamic vocal microphone. Shure knows this, and even says in their marketing materials that if you’ve ever seen someone use a vocal microphone live, it was more than likely an SM58. And they’re not wrong.
The SM58 is cheap and effective, and very widespread. Is it the best microphone for studio use? No. But it is astoundingly durable and consistent. Singers with plenty of live stage experience may prefer to stick with a microphone they know. And for those who just have to hold the microphone while they sing can do so without issue on this model.
For this microphone, Shure intentionally boosted the midrange and added a bass roll-off, creating a response friendly to live vocals. The uniform cardioid pickup pattern does the same, picking up what’s in front of the microphone and just about nothing else. Even the iconic metal ball tip serves a vocal-friendly purpose as a built-in windscreen and pop filter.
If you’re budgeting for a new microphone exclusively for studio use, this probably isn’t your top choice. But if you want a microphone that can literally do it all (including live vocals and studio work), give the Shure SM58 another look.
Of particular note: Shure has created an XLR to USB signal adapter for the SM58, allowing you to plug your microphone directly into your computer via USB.
Blue Yeti Pro USB Condenser Multipattern Microphone
We mentioned earlier that most studio-grade condenser microphones use an XLR connection and require phantom power. If you don’t want to mess with getting an audio interface and simply want to start recording right away, the Blue Yeti Pro is one of the best microphones designed from the ground up to run over USB. And yet, this Yeti Pro can also run an analog signal over XLR, should you ever upgrade your gear.
Early Yeti microphones were far better than the typical computer microphones of their time, but they couldn’t hold up against the Shures and Astons on the market. Despite their marketing glitz, they weren’t really in the same ballpark in terms of studio-level quality.
The Yeti Pro works hard to close that gap (especially in XLR mode) while retaining the ease of use over USB of the earlier models.
This microphone is also multipattern, but it adds one more pattern that the Aston Spirit doesn’t have: stereo mode. Most multipattern microphones use two cardioid capsules to achieve three modes. This one uses three capsules to achieve four modes.
Another unique feature here is a built-in headphone amplifier. You can plug headphones directly into the microphone for instant monitoring — no audio interface necessary.
The Blue Yeti Pro is a competent microphone for a range of scenarios. The desktop stand is perfect for podcasting, streaming and the like. You can also mount it on a full stand for use in a conventional studio setup.
As far as quality, the Yeti Pro will be a huge step up from the starter microphone that comes in those budget studio bundles. But if you’ve worked with higher-end gear from established players, the Yeti Pro isn’t exactly going to knock your socks off.
Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ Cardioid Condenser USB Microphone
The Blue Yeti Pro above is our higher-end USB microphone pick, but there are others worth considering as well.
If you’re looking for an entry-level studio-grade USB microphone, one that’s not for singing or live vocals as much as it is for voice over work like podcasting, the Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ is a great place to start. It doesn’t have the bells and whistles of the Blue Yeti Pro, but it does come from a respected audio brand and will perform effectively for your recording needs.
The AT2020USB+ is a cardioid microphone, so it picks up what’s in front of it and nothing more. It runs over USB, so you can get recording even without an audio interface or other hardware. Just plug it in and get going.
Like the Yeti Pro, the AT2020USB+ has a headphone jack for instant monitoring, and you can even control the mix of your microphone and a prerecorded track directly on the mic.
The included tripod stand is better than nothing, we guess. But you’re going to want to upgrade to a more substantial stand very soon.
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly USB microphone for YouTube Streaming or for voice over work— and you want to stick with trusted brands—the AT2020USB+ is a worthy choice.
Electro-Voice RE20 Broadcast Announcer Microphone with Variable-D
Popular among radio deejays and others who make a living with their speaking voice, the Electro-Voice RE20 Broadcast Announcer Microphone is a solid choice for voice over work, rap, recording for YouTube and more. With its strong low response, it works well for vocals in the studio as well, and even kick drums and bass amps. The bass roll-off switch gives some needed flexibility as well.
This is an old-school microphone that’s been relatively unchanged since it was first introduced in 1968. The low-end strength makes this a best condenser mic for vocals for those with lower voices. In fact, if you have a particularly low voice (like most of the professional male broadcasters seem to), the Electro-Voice RE20 might be the best home studio mic for you, period.
The Electro-Voice RE20 is a studio-grade dynamic cardioid microphone, but it’s designed to produce audio like a condenser would. It has an internal shock mount to reduce vibrations, plus a heavy-duty built-in pop filter. Unless you’re particularly plosive, you won’t need a fuzzy external pop filter with this microphone.
AKG C636 Handheld Vocal Microphone
Most studio environments are a bit buttoned-up, so having the ability to hold the microphone isn’t typically essential. But some musicians need that tactile experience to express their music freely. Finding large-diaphragm condenser mics that can be held in hand is tricky.
If you don’t look closely, you might mistake the AKG C636 for a much cheaper microphone. It looks a lot like a matte black and less bulbous version of the Shure SM58, after all. But there’s far, far more going on here than meets the eye. (And there better be, given the $500 price tag.)
The AKG C636 combines everything that people love about the handheld feel of cheaper dynamic microphones with the much more complex internals of a large-diaphragm condenser microphone. You get true studio-grade cardioid vocal microphone performance. But thanks to the proprietary and double shock suspension system, you don’t have to worry about hand noise or vibrations like you do with most condensers.
This microphone has an impressive triple-layer pop filter built in, and the rugged zinc alloy body will hold up to whatever you throw at it.
Condenser microphones are more complex than dynamic microphones, and there’s a price premium associated with that complexity. If you’re looking for the best condenser mic for vocals at a midrange price point, the AKG 636 has got to be in the running.
Neumann TLM 102 Condenser Microphone
Neumann makes some very expensive and extremely desirable condenser microphones (as you’ll see in the next entry), so a model that goes for $600-700 garners attention quickly. Such is the case with the Neumann TLM 102 Condenser Microphone, an impressive unidirectional cardioid condenser mic from the German maker.
This large-diaphragm condenser microphone is surprisingly compact. Yet it has a great maximum sound pressure level of 144 dB, thanks to its transformerless circuitry. There’s a bit of a presence boost, as is common for vocal microphones, but it’s done in a way that only Neumann can deliver.
As a budget-friendly (as far as Neumanns go) entry, you get a ring mount rather than a shock mount in the box (and the box itself is definitely a budget product). But you aren’t buying a Neumann for the mount or the box. You’re buying it for that gorgeous Neumann sound and quality.
The TLM 102 gives a great linear response across most of the frequency range, with a boost in the 6 to 10 kHz range for that vocal sparkle. Definition is clear, sound is focused, and self-noise is impressively low.
The small size of the TLM 102 might garner some fears about its low-end effectiveness. But the one-inch diaphragm does the job perfectly, even if in a smaller overall package.
The integrated pop screen here should be effective for most spoken-word applications. Studio singers might benefit from an additional pop filter.
Neumann U87 Ai Large-Diaphragm Condenser Microphone
Did we mention that really great condenser microphones could get a little expensive? The Neumann U87 is a prime example, sitting at a cool $3,200 apiece. Make no mistake: this is no entry-level microphone. But if you have the cash, a high-end condenser microphone like the Neumann U87 will transform your work at recording vocals. It’s by far one of the best—if not the best condenser mic for vocals. Unfortunately, it sits outside the price range of many home studio musicians. Typically it’s the domain of commercial-grade studios and professional artists. (In fact, hundreds of bands and AAA acts have recorded their vocals on this microphone.)
Let’s take a look at what this kind of investment gets you.
The Neumann U87 features a very high-end finish (available here in matte black and a switchable polar pattern with the standard three choices, thanks to the large dual-diaphragm construction. There’s also a 10dB pad and a high pass filter here.
The microphone is immaculately balanced, producing a sound that’s as warm and intimate as it gets. The truth is, there’s no singular mind-blowing feature here. Nothing obvious on paper that would make it the best. But make no mistake: it is one of the best. There’s a lot of je ne sais quoi about what separates good microphones from phenomenal ones. Whatever it is, Neumann found it for the U87.