7 Best Mics For Rap Vocals – Record Your Rhymes Like The Pros
Whether you’re a seasoned rapper or just starting, having a great microphone is essential for nailing those perfect vocal tracks. A mic specifically designed for rap vocals will help you capture all the nuances of your performance and give you the professional sound you’re looking for.
There are a lot of great microphones on the market, but not all of them are created equal. Luckily, We’ve put together a list of the best mics for rap vocals.
Let’s dive right in!
First thing first – The microphones are evaluated based on the following attributes. These are essential to get a clean, detailed, and accurate vocal recording:
- Signal-to-noise ratio (only applicable to condenser mics)
- Frequency response
- Frequency range
Based on the criteria, I found that AKG C214 is the best mic for rap vocals. It ticks all the boxes and is one of the most affordable well-rounded mics you can get your hands on.
Moreover, the “in-your-face” sound is suitable for rap, as well as other modern genres of music.
Note that all our top picks are cardioid microphones. What does this mean?
They’re unidirectional and most sensitive at 0° (on-axis) and least sensitive at 180° (off-axis).
This is beneficial when recording rap because it helps to isolate the vocals and reduce any ambient noise that may be present.
At A Glance: Our Picks Of The Best Rapper Microphones
- Best Overall: AKG C214
- Best Versatile Pick: AKG P420
- Best Budget Pick: Audio-Technica AT2020
- Best Premium Pick: Neumann TLM 103
- Best Dynamic Microphone: Shure SM7B
- Best Large-Diaphragm Condenser: Røde NT1-A
- Best For Live Performances: Shure SM58
AKG C214 – Best Overall
Quick specs – Sensitivity: 20 mV/Pa | Frequency Range: 20 – 20.000 Hz | Signal-To-Noise Ratio: 81dB
The AKG C214 is the best overall rapper microphone for a variety of uses. It is a condenser microphone with a cardioid pattern, which is the most common setup used in professional recording studios.
Because of the large diaphragm, the C214 is extremely sensitive to quiet sounds and can capture all the details and nuances of your vocal performance.
Additionally, the switchable 20 dB pad allows you to record loud sounds up to 156 dB SPL without distorting the sound.
So how does it sound?
Describing the sonic signature as “in-your-face” and well-defined is fitting. These are also characteristics that I found suitable for modern rap vocals.
The frequency response stays relatively flat up to about 1 kHz. Then, there is a slight drop at 1 kHz and 2.5 kHz alongside a high-end boost.
All things considered, it’s fair to say that the AKG C214 is a true workhorse that delivers sound quality beyond its price point.
The treble enhancement might feel unnatural to some artists but it didn’t bother me. At a third of the cost, you can’t expect it to deliver the same smoothness as the big brother AKG C414.
- Superb build quality
- Delivers in-your-face vocals
- Strong transient response for a large-diaphragm condenser
- The sound might be too harsh for some rappers
AKG P420 – Best Versatile Pick
Quick specs – Sensitivity: 28 mV/Pa | Frequency Range: 20 – 20.000 Hz | Signal-To-Noise Ratio: 79 dB
The AKG P420 is an excellent microphone for rap vocals that offer tons of value for its price. It is superbly constructed and provides accurate and consistent vocal reproductions.
Furthermore, it has a switchable bass roll-off filter that will remove some of the unwanted low-frequencies from your vocal track.
The P420 is a side-address microphone that comes in a sturdy metal housing with a shock mount.
Speaking of versatility, the P420 offers 3 different polar patterns including Cardioid, Omnidirectional, and Figure-8. This makes it suitable for a wide range of applications that expand beyond vocal recording.
Even if Cardioid mode is usually the best option for any vocals, you can experiment with the other patterns to get interesting results.
The frequency response is relatively flat across the whole range, giving it a well-balanced sound. Sure, it’s not as smooth as more high-end options and it lacks some presence commonly found on dedicated vocal mics.
Still, the price-to-performance ratio is excellent. You can get a very nice vocal sound right out of the box, without much EQ’ing or further processing.
Overall, it’s a great choice for any rapper looking to upgrade from the stock mic that came with their interface.
- Well-balanced sound
- Includes a solid shockmount
- 3 switchable polar patterns
- Even slight angle changes result in massive tone alterations
- No noticeable presence peak found on other vocal mics
Audio-Technica AT2020 (XLR) – Best Budget Pick
Quick specs – Sensitivity: 14.1 mV/Pa | Frequency Range: 20 – 20.000 Hz | Signal-To-Noise Ratio: 74 dB
The Audio-Technica AT2020 is a great option for any rapper looking for an affordable microphone without sacrificing too much sound quality. It’s easy to get fooled by the affordable price, but this is hands down the best condenser microphone I’ve tried for under $100.
Sure, the AT2020 lacks bells and whistles. It’s stripped-down in features but that means that there are fewer costs associated with it. There are no switchable polar patterns as on the AKG P420, meaning you’re stuck with the cardioid pattern.
As you would expect at this price range, the frequency response isn’t exactly flat and accurate. Still, the AT2020 is designed for recording vocals, whether it be rapping or singing. The frequency enhancements add sound signatures that I found suitable for vocals.
As an example, there is a nice presence boost at 5 kHz all the way until 15 kHz. More often than not, this is warmly received by vocalists as it helps their vocals cut through the mix.
Additionally, there is an enhancement at 8000 – 9000 Hz which makes the vocals airy and crisp.
Furthermore, the convenient attenuation of low-end frequencies helps to filter out unwanted rumble noises, commonly produced when touching the stand or stomping your feet to the beat.
Check out our full Audio-Technica AT2020 review
- Probably the best condenser you can buy for under $100
- Can handle high SPL without distortion
- Well-balanced sound for vocals
- Lacks additional features
- The signal-to-noise ratio is below average
Neumann TLM 103 – Best Premium Pick
Quick specs – Sensitivity: 23 mV/Pa | Frequency Range: 20 – 20.000 Hz | Signal-To-Noise Ratio: 87 dB
Neumann TLM 103 is a high-end studio condenser mic that shares the same capsule as the classic flagship U87. The best part? It costs one-third of the price. Still, it’s an expensive mic but you can’t argue with the superior sound quality.
So who is it for?
Firstly, it’s a great mic for capturing rap vocals and other instruments in the studio.
Secondly, the TLM 103 has a supreme signal-to-noise ratio, meaning it produces pretty much inaudible self-noise. In fact, it outperforms the U87 in this regard.
Now, let’s talk about the sound!
As you would have guessed, the sound quality is crème de la crème with a subtle presence boost around 5000 – 15.000 Hz.
In my opinion, what really makes this mic shine is the high-end frequency response. It delivers super-clean recordings with tons of nuances that would be lost using cheaper models.
However, the Neumann TLM 103 lacks features that you would commonly find on other mics at this price point.
For example, there are no multiple polar patterns, switchable pads, or filters. It’s worth mentioning that this microphone still can handle high SPL without an attenuation pad.
Still, switchable polar patterns would make this mic even more versatile but it would add to the costs of an already expensive product.
- Incredible high-end frequency response
- High max SPL
- Low self-noise
- No shockmount included
- Lacks features
Shure SM7B – Best Dynamic Microphone
Quick specs – Sensitivity: 1.1 mV/Pa | Frequency Range: 50 – 20.000 Hz | Signal-To-Noise Ratio: N/A
When recording vocals, condenser mics are generally preferred over dynamics. Why? For their superior sensitivity.
Shure SM7B is the only dynamic microphone I would recommend when recording rap in a controlled studio environment. How come? Because the reproduction is clear and crisp.
In addition, users can cycle through three different frequency responses: flat, bass roll-off, and presence boost. The presence boost amplifies treble frequencies, adding air while compensating for the proximity effect.
The SM7B has a very low output level and requires a lot of microphone gain to function correctly. Shure recommends at least 60dB of gain when recording vocals. The problem is that most mic preamps are designed for condenser microphones with higher sensitivity.
The mic activator Cloudlifter CL-1 is a common companion to the SM7B as it’s relatively affordable and provides clean gain without raising the self-noise.
Furthermore, the SM7B can’t be used as a handheld mic due to its bulky design. In addition, the switches for changing frequency response are caved-in, and can only be adjusted with a sharp object.
Check out our full Shure SM7B review
- Smooth and warm vocal reproduction
- 3 frequency response settings
- Low self-noise
- Not handheld due to chunky design
- Proper gain can only be achieved with additional gear
Røde NT1-A – Best Large-Diaphragm Condenser
Quick specs – Sensitivity: 25 mV/Pa | Frequency Range: 20 – 20.000 Hz | Signal-To-Noise Ratio: 88 dB
The Røde NT1-A is a large-diaphragm condenser that offers incredible sensitivity. The 25 mV/Pa allows it to pick up even the most low-volume sounds with great detail and richness.
Additionally, its dynamic range is fantastic as it can capture high SPL levels without distortion. It’s an understatement that this microphone can capture both whispers and screams with ease.
This is an intermediate to a mid-level microphone. It’s not as affordable as the AT2020, but far from the expenses of the Neumann TLM 103.
The flat frequency response delivers a transparent sound that is very customizable. Furthermore, the mid-range presence boost is a great feature for vocals, as it makes your rap stand out from the other instruments in the beat.
Moreover, the full metal chassis is rock-solid and heavy. Still, condensers are not the most durable microphones due to their delicate electronics, so they should be handled with love and care.
One disadvantage of the large diaphragm is the sensitivity to sibilance issues from the letters s, z, sh, and zh. This can be mitigated by using a pop filter but it’s something to be aware of.
Speaking of pop filters, the included one is flimsy, so you’d want to upgrade at some point.
- Incredible dynamic range
- Exquisite sound quality
- Low self-noise
- Heavy design
- Sensitive to sibilances
Shure SM58 – Best For Live Performances
Quick specs – Sensitivity: 1.88 mV/Pa | Frequency Range: 50 – 15.000 Hz | Signal-To-Noise Ratio: N/A
Shure SM58 is a legendary microphone for a reason. It’s a simple dynamic, meaning it can handle high volumes without distorting. This is ideal in live settings where sound levels tend to be unpredictable.
Furthermore, the low sensitivity prevents your vocals to get drowned in background noise and crowd chatter. Plus, its rugged construction can take a beating and survive accidental drops, and keep on going.
The frequency response is tailored for live vocals, and the nice emphasis on midrange frequencies brings out the rap in a mix. Also, the proximity effect is greatly reduced thanks to a nice roll-off in bass frequencies.
The Shure SM58 lacks bells and whistles. However, the removable grille is a nice feature as it’s easy to replace if it gets damaged. It also helps you maintain the microphone after long periods on the road. Also, the plosives are well-controlled as it acts like a built-in pop filter.
Overall, this is a great choice for any touring rapper looking for a durable, reliable, and consistent microphone.
- Very affordable
- Built to stand the test of time
- Replaceable metal grille controls plosives effectively
- Only suitable for live vocals
- Somewhat muffled sound reproduction due to its low sensitivity
Choosing The Best Rapper Microphone
Condenser vs. Dynamic Microphones
When it comes to choosing a rapping microphone, there are two main types to consider: condenser and dynamic mics.
Both have their unique attributes, making them more or less ideal in certain situations.
Condenser microphones are generally more delicate and sensitive than dynamics. They’re able to capture more of the subtleties and nuances of a sound, making them ideal for recording vocals or acoustic instruments.
However, they are also more susceptible to feedback and background noise. Furthermore, their internal electronics produce self-noise.
In addition, phantom power is necessary for condenser microphones to function properly. Without it, the microphone will not be able to produce sound.
So what is phantom power?
Phantom power refers to a DC voltage. It’s supplied through the audio interface or preamp and is typically +48 volts. The voltage is sent through the XLR cable to the microphone where it powers the internal capsule.
If you are using a condenser microphone, be sure that your audio interface or preamp has phantom power turned on. This will ensure that the microphone has the power it needs to function properly.
Dynamic microphones are more durable and can handle higher SPLs (sound pressure levels). They are often used for live performances because they can better withstand being dropped or bumped around.
They also tend to have a narrower frequency response than condenser microphones, which means they may not pick up all the subtle details in a sound. However, this attribute is preferred when performing live, as it prevents crowd noise from being picked up.
Small vs. Large Diaphragm
In addition, there are two main types of condenser microphones: small diaphragm and large diaphragm. The size of the diaphragm (membrane) gives the mic certain characteristics and attributes when it comes to capturing sound.
Let’s break it down below:
Small Diaphragm Microphones
Small diaphragm microphones are typically more accurate and have better transient responses than large diaphragm microphones. But, the smaller membrane can’t vibrate as heavily as their larger counterparts, making them less ideal for capturing low-frequency sounds.
The pen-shaped design makes them a great choice when recording in small spaces, as they will easily fit into tight spots.
In addition, they capture sounds from the top and not from the sides. This makes them easy to point directly at the sound source.
However, they’re very sensitive to angle adjustments and even the slightest change can make the recording sound “off-axis”.
Due to the superior transient response, small diaphragm condensers are often used when recording sounds with a fast attack such as drums and other percussive instruments.
Common use cases:
- Orchestral Instruments
Large Diaphragm Microphones
Due to the wider frequency response, large diaphragm microphones generally do a better job of capturing low-frequency sounds than their small-diaphragm counterparts.
In addition, they are more sensitive and can capture all the nuances of a performance.
Even so, they tend to be less accurate and natural. You see, the internal circuitry applies harmonic distortions to the sound.
Common use cases
- Acoustic guitars
Frequency response is a measure of how well a system reproduces sound across the frequency spectrum.
On microphones, it tells you how accurately the microphone converts input sound waves into electrical signals. The frequency response curve shows how much output signal there is at each given frequency.
The range of human hearing is 20 Hz to 20 kHz. Most microphones have a frequency response in this range, though their accuracy diminishes at the extremes.
For example, a mic might have flat response from 20 Hz to 15 kHz but then roll off sharply at higher frequencies. This is because the microphone’s diaphragm can only move so fast, so it can’t accurately reproduce very high-frequency sounds.
The response is typically represented as a graph, with the x-axis representing frequency and the y-axis representing output. The shape of the curve can tell you a lot about how the microphone will respond to different types of sound.
A flat response indicates that the microphone will output all frequencies at roughly the same level. A boost in the low end, for example, would make the bass notes sound louder than they actually are.
Frequency responses can vary widely from one microphone to another. Some microphones are designed to have a very flat response, while others may have more pronounced boosts or dips in certain frequencies.
Polar patterns specify the directional sensitivity of a microphone. That is, how well the microphone can pick up sound from different angles. The three most common polar patterns are omnidirectional, unidirectional, and bidirectional.
An omnidirectional microphone can capture sound waves from all directions equally.
In other words, it captures at a 360-degree radius and can pick up sound from all directions with the same gain.
Omnidirectional microphones are often used in recording studios and live music venues to capture the overall sound of the space, or ambiance.
Examples of omnidirectional microphones:
- Rode Reporter
- Blue Yeti
- Sony ECM-CS3
A unidirectional microphone picks up sound from one direction, meaning they’re most sensitive at 0° (on-axis) and least sensitive at 180° (off-axis). This is in contrast to an omnidirectional microphone, which picks up sound from all directions.
Cardioid microphones are the most common type of unidirectional microphone. Why? They’re good at rejecting sound from the sides and back, making them ideal for use in noisy environments.
Therefore, cardioid mics are often used for vocals as they do a good job of isolating the voice from background noise.
Examples of unidirectional microphones:
- Shure SM7B
- Shure SM58
- Rode NT1-A
A bidirectional microphone is a type of microphone that is equally sensitive to sound waves coming from the front and rear.
This type of microphone is often used in recording studios and live music venues.
The figure-8 pattern of a bidirectional microphone allows it to pick up sound from two directions, making it ideal for capturing both the performer and the audience.
Bidirectional microphones typically have a pickup pattern that is shaped like a figure-eight, with two lobes that are perpendicular to each other.
These lobes are usually about ±90° apart. This means that the microphone will be most sensitive to sounds coming from directly in front of it or directly behind it, and less sensitive to sounds coming from the sides.
Examples of bidirectional microphones:
- Coles 4038
- AKG C 411
- Sennheiser MKH 30
Microphone sensitivity is a measure of how much electrical voltage the microphone produces per given unit of sound pressure.
The unit of sound pressure is the pascal (Pa), and the unit of voltage is the millivolt (mV). The ratio of these two units, mV/Pa, is called microphone sensitivity. The higher the number, the more sensitive the microphone is.
For example, a microphone with a sensitivity of 20 mV/Pa will produce 20 mV of voltage when exposed to a sound pressure level of 1 Pa.
So why is mV/Pa an important metric?
Microphones with a higher mV/Pa (sensitivity) require less sound pressure to produce the same voltage output as microphones with lower sensitivity.
This means that high-sensitivity microphones are better able to pick up soft sounds, such as a person speaking in a quiet room.
However, microphone sensitivity is not the only factor that determines how well a microphone can pick up sound. The capsule and the size of the diaphragm also play a vital role.
Signal-To-Noise Ratio (SNR)
The signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) applies to active microphones (condensers) and is a measure that compares the level of the desired signal to the level of background noise. SNR is usually expressed in terms of decibels (dB).
A high signal-to-noise ratio means there is a low level of self-noise in conjunction with a strong signal. This results in clear, quality audio.
On the other hand, a low SNR means there is a high level of background noise and a weak signal.
A good vocal microphone should have at least an SNR of 80 dB or higher.
You can think of SNR as the contrast on a TV screen. A high contrast ratio means there is a big difference between the darkest black and the brightest white. A low contrast ratio means the difference between black and white is small.
Dynamic Range is the difference between the lowest level that the microphone can pick up while still producing a usable signal and the highest level before it starts to distort.
The specific range varies from mic to mic but is typically around 125 dB for higher quality microphones.
To put this in perspective, if you were recording someone speaking in a quiet room, the sound pressure level (SPL) would be around 60-70 dB.
So, if you had a mic with a dynamic range of 30 dB, it could handle anything from somebody whispering at 30 dB up to shouting at 100 dB before it started to distort.
When it comes to microphones, you kind of get what you pay for. If you cheap out, you’ll end up sacrificing sound quality.
Sure, there are tons of microphones for under $50, but the quality of mics increases as the prices increases.
A dynamic microphone such as the Shure SM58 is an ideal choice if you’re planning to use it in live settings.
Condenser microphones are commonly used in studio environments with controlled acoustics and minimized background noise. Why? They offer a sensitivity that can’t be matched by a dynamic and can capture all the details of a performance.
The AKG C214 is my top pick because of its high sensitivity and signal-to-noise ratio. Furthermore, it can be used for a range of applications that expands beyond vocal recordings.
And there you have it! If you think another product should have made it into this list, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll try to get my hands on it.