If your craft is music recording, owning the right microphones is essential. The right mic for the job will usually sound great and the wrong mic for the job will sound terrible.
It’s absolutely necessary for you to have the right mic for the job no matter what it is that you are recording. I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite microphones that get used all the time.
It’s ironic that every mic on this list sounds bad on something. That’s what I look for in a microphone…character. Sometimes the ability to ruin one thing is what gives the ability to fix another.
Best Microphones for Screaming Vocals (Metal/Rock)
Shure SM 57
If you don’t own a Shure SM 57, you probably should. Even if you hate the sound, you can throw it at someone, make them bleed, and not feel bad about the money you spent on the mic.
SM 57s are still my favorite screaming vocal and electric guitar mics. I find myself using EQ when I use various condensers or even ribbon microphones, but I find it hard to lose with the 57 for most guitar amps.
The 57 has a little dip at around 500Hz and a large rise at 6KHz, this mic has tons of presence. It’s not perfect for every task, but it’s my “bite” microphone.
Shure SM 7
This is a microphone that is slightly lesser known that the Shure SM 57. This mic is sometimes marketed as a voiceover microphone, but it’s capabilities go way further than that.
Its claim to fame is it was used on Micheal Jackson’s “Thriller” for the main vocal when they could have used any other microphone.
I’ve read that this mic is used on vocals for every Red Hot Chili Pepper recording. For recording live vocals with the band, this is my first choice. It has a certain sound to it that is pretty cool on the right singers. It definitely has a different sound that you will find on your typical condenser microphone.
Sennheiser MD 421
The MD 421 is also a dynamic microphone. I call the sound of this mic “rude”. Its peak is a little lower than the SM 57 and it comes off sounding a little more aggressive in the 2-3k range. This can be great for recording certain metal guitars which really need this portion of the frequency range boosted.
I would not call the sound of this mic pleasant by any means. It will not give the bite of the 57, but it will help cut through a mix. It’s a favorite on toms and the old guys seem to love it on kick drums.
On kick, it’s a little tamer than the average modern rock drummer may want, but was used on a lot hit records in the late 70s and early 80s. It can be fun on electric guitar and is a favorite on electric bass.
I was a little surprised when I first bought this microphone. The Royer R121 is a ribbon microphone. This mic is supposed to be amazing on electric guitars.
After owning it one year, I’m still learning to appreciate it. I may like a little more fizz in my guitars than most so it’s taken me some time to love this mic for that purpose although I still use it often. This mic is extremely smooth sounding.
Another word would be “dull”. You may be asking when someone would want a dull mic. Think about that one for a second. How about on an excessively bright source? When recording terribly bright cymbals, the Royer R121 is gift from heaven.
Condenser mics which are typically known to be used for overheads will take bright cymbals, spread them on a pencil, and stab you in the ear with them. In other words, super bright cymbals combined with condenser mics can hurt your ears. This is where I grab for my Royer R121. The Royer has a boost at 2K that gives it a little rudeness from time to time which can be very nice depending on the source.
What To Look For In A Screaming Vocals Microphone
Okay, so you are ready to hop face first into the world of home recording. You’ve chosen a soundcard to record with and you’ve chosen your recording software. Now you are looking for the best microphone for screaming vocals.
You are probably looking for a microphone that doesn’t sound too bad. You don’t expect to sound like Metallica or Michael Bolton anytime soon but you don’t want to buy a microphone that is going to hold you back.
Well, guess what! Your microphone isn’t going to hold you back unless it’s broken. If you have a functional microphone that actually performs the way that it was designed, your gear will be more than adequate to make a very good sounding recording.
The only thing holding you back from making great recordings is your recording engineering/mixing abilities. A great engineer could take a $200 soundcard and an $80 mic and come out with something that would blow your mind.
Focus More On Music, Less On Shopping
Yes, I know. When I type “shopping” it sounds like I’m referring to 13-year-old girls wasting their time in the mall. Well, I have a feeling that the average recording newbie spends more time shopping than that 13-year girl when he should be burying his face in his studio monitors and recording and mixing like crazy.
There is so much gear out there that it makes choosing the “right” gear a real chore. In reality, the difference between this $100 mic and that $100 mic is so slight that there is no way a seasoned recording guy (like myself), can recommend one over the other most of the time.
I’m sure that if I lined up 20 microphones in the under $500 range, I’d probably love a few and hate a few. However, if you don’t know the difference yourself, then it won’t matter anyway.
In other words, if you don’t know exactly what it is that you love/hate about a microphone you may as well save your money for a while.
When you buy more microphones down the road, you’ll find that certain problems you used to have suddenly go away and you’ll find new problems that come up.
Over time, you’ll develop a certain taste and if you are dumb enough to stick with recording long enough you’ll be able to argue ferociously about how one mic is WAY better than some other mic even though to the average home recording beginner there is virtually no difference at all.
One Mic Won’t Cut It
Serious professional producers and engineers have entire mic collections. They will have many $100 microphones and they will have several (maybe many) multi-thousand dollar mics.
There is not one microphone that is great on everything. Dull things generally need bright mics. Bright sources generally need dull or neutral mics (depending on what you are going for).
If one microphone sounded perfect on everything, you would walk into live recording sessions and see 20 mics set up all over the room. There would be no need to buy more than one microphone.
However, microphones are just like guitars. A Strat sounds way different than a Les Paul. Which is better? Well, that’s subjective and generally depends on what tone you are looking for. The same is true with microphones.
Just keep in mind that since no one microphone is going to work on everything, it’s very difficult to recommend one microphone to get started with.
Also, keep in mind that I have no idea of your budget. An AKG 414 is a great all-purpose microphone, but I’m not going to ask you to blow $500-1000 on a mic unless you’ve bought some acoustic treatment such as Rockwool, blankets, or whatever for your vocals.
I wouldn’t recommend you spend $500 on a mic if you are mixing on terrible home stereo speakers. I think you get my point here. Having a strong link in a weak chain isn’t going to do you much good. And I guarantee you that on any given vocalist, there is probably a cheaper mic that sounds better than an AKG 414.
My First Screaming Vocals Microphone Recommendations
So with all this being said, I recommend that you start out cheap. Do not blow your budget on one expensive microphone, because there will certainly be sources that this mic doesn’t work so well on.
High-end condenser microphones are usually bright. Put that in front of a fizzy guitar cabinet and you’ll hate it!! Either that or the low end will engulf your mix. (Or you’ll love it).
So I always recommend two different microphones. Get a dynamic microphone and get a condenser microphone.
You can’t go wrong with an SM 57. Some guys prefer this mic or that mic over the 57. That’s fine, but the difference will be fairly subtle to a beginner.
On guitars, I love my Royer R121 ribbon microphone which costs about 15x as much as a used SM 57. However, it sounds a little different. Not mind-blowingly different. …Just a little different.
I have a feeling that something like the Sennheiser 409 would be a nice choice, too. However, you probably will pay more for one and sell it cheaper than you would a 57. Just get a 57 and be done with it. If your guitars suck with a 57 then more than likely the problem isn’t going to be solved with a new microphone.
For the beginning home recording guy on a shoestring budget, the MXL mics are great! Which one? Who cares? You won’t know the difference anyway. Buy a $100 one and learn with it. Then when you buy a new mic you’ll know the difference. This isn’t something that can be demonstrated in an article or a forum.
I really like the MXL V69. It’s the $300 tube mic. Just remember it has to warm up for 30 minutes before using it. This can cause problems when you are in a hurry. This is why I recommend getting one of the cheaper, $100 models. Then work your way up.
There are many other $100 condensers out there. Don’t over think it. Just buy one so you can get busy recording. You can put more thought into purchasing future microphones. If you can get some bundle that includes a soundcard and a microphone pretty cheaply, do it and be done with it!
I don’t mean to suggest that you shouldn’t research your purchases. You should always plan ahead and know exactly what you are getting before you get it. However, I know of a lot of recording people who spend way too much time browsing the internet and not nearly enough time actually learning to use their home recording gear.
Home recording is a lot like sex. You learn by doing. Books, videos, and forums can give you tips, but it’s up to you to get to the promised land.
Good luck with both!