Microphones have been an essential recording device since the days of Edison, and like everything, they've come a long way since then. Digital equipment has caused a boom in recording -- manufacturers have met demand and prices for good equipment dropped. There are selections of microphones at all quality and price points that were unheard of 20 years ago, and when choice is extensive, choosing wisely becomes more difficult.
Choosing By Use
Will the mic be used onstage or in the studio? A combination? Those are the first questions to ask. For example, a wireless mic will likely not be used in a studio situation, so cross it off your list if that's in your plan. The road is tough on equipment, so dynamic mics dominate there, but many are also used in the studio. Expensive condenser mics are typically at home in studios, but there are live sound applications at which they excel, though they usually are not used for live vocals.
Dynamic mics are rugged and can handle loud sound levels. By nature, sounds are compressed to varying degrees, and dynamic mics tend to color voices more than condensers. This is not necessarily a problem. In live situations, it can help vocals cut through a mix. In the studio, it is more difficult to get a larger-than-life vocal sound, though the mics are frequently used on drums and guitar amps. Perhaps the most familiar dynamic mics are Shure's SM57 and SM58. Both are workhorse mics used in studios and on stage. The mics are identical electronically, though the SM58 has an integral windscreen, adapting it for vocal use.
Condenser microphones have two major "flavors": small capsule and large capsule. Large capsule mics are the studio standard for recording vocals. Their sound is full-range, warm and rounded. The gold standard is generally regarded to be the Neumann U-87. The old rule of thumb used to be that large capsule condensers were more expensive than dynamics, but this is less prevalent in today's market. Many manufacturers make large capsule mics, each of which have a slightly different sound. Compare several head-to-head prior to purchase. Different mics will match different voices.
Something of a rarity today, the ribbon mic is a specialty dynamic microphone that has a history in broadcasting. The sound from these mics is very much colored, but colored in a way that is often pleasing on vocals. RCA made the classic ribbon mics, and there are manufacturers who replicate them as well as emerge with new designs. Ribbon microphones are comparatively delicate.
Large capsule mics with tube electronics are available and add a touch of analog warmth that is often flattering. Old-school "bullet" mics are still favored by harmonica players and singers wanting a vintage look. The "best" microphone for voice is a subjective opinion. Whenever possible, try out different mics and trust your ears.
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