Recording or live-performing vocal hip-hop tracks has a lot in common with singing or more “traditional” musical genres. Apart from the more obvious commonalities, such as instrumental accompaniment or an established song structure, you also need the proper vocal input hardware—a microphone.
Getting the appropriate microphone for classical, pop, jazz, and country songs is a bit more involved compared to shopping for the right mic for rap vocalists. These vocal genres have a lot of moving parts and a long list of considerations. But that’s not to say that rap vocals are inferior. They’re just different and have their own ledger of nuances that need fostering.
An incredibly produced track will fall to pieces without the right rapping microphone. A quick Google search will let you know that there’s no shortage of options. If you’re in the market for one, then allow us to be of assistance. We’ll go deeper than price, brand, and buzzwords in determining what may work best for you or your vocalists.
What To Consider in a Vocal Mic for Rapping
Before we get into our recommendations, here are several factors that should influence your decision in choosing the right rap microphone for you or your performers.
A microphone’s polar pattern is the direction from which it takes in sound. In the case of rap vocal mics, a cardioid polar pattern is recommended since it accepts sound from the front mostly and a little bit from the sides of the performer.
Rap vocals are expected to be clean and crisp. So you should probably avoid omnidirectional, stereo, and supercardioid (shotgun) mics since they tend to pick up sounds from unintended sources. Cardioid is good for a solo track but if, for some reason, you’re recording two vocalists at the same time, you may want to consider a bidirectional microphone. It processes sound coming from the front and back simultaneously. Keep in mind that you may not be able to completely isolate the voice of one performer from the other on their respective channels since the sound sources are close to each other.
Sound waves travel by vibrating air molecules until they reach our ears. Sound frequency is the number of cycles completed within a second and is represented by the unit Hertz (Hz). A microphone’s frequency response is the range of sound that it can capture and process.
Our ears, in general, can comfortably detect sounds with a range of 20Hz to 20,000Hz (20kHz). Getting a mic that has a frequency response that covers that scope is ideal. Be sure that you get a mic that’s meant to capture human voice. Some microphone types are specifically for non-vocal sources, such as musical instruments or ambient sounds, for example.
Most commercially available microphones are available in two transducer typexs: dynamic and condenser.
Dynamic microphones are the less complex of the two in terms of build and the technical bits within them. This means they are hardier and less prone to damage from handling. They are less sensitive, which enables them to handle loud sounds and reject background noise better than condenser microphones. Many professional broadcasters use them for the distinct “DJ-like” sound they put out. Most dynamics don’t have a wide frequency response range.
On the other hand, condenser microphones are more elaborate and technically advanced. They have better frequency response and higher output or sensitivity than dynamic microphones. The tradeoff is that they tend to be more structurally fragile. Condenser mics also handle super-loud sounds poorly, generally speaking. Since they have more electronic components, they produce more self-noise—the sound produced by microphones when there aren’t any sound sources. Self-noise is often represented by subtle hums, buzzes, hisses when the mic is turned on but not in use.
So condenser microphones are the way to go, right? It depends on a few factors. Condenser microphones are great for use in a controlled environment, like in recording sessions inside a treated or soundproofed room. They thrive in a low-background noise setting and conditions where you have full control of your audio. In short, condenser microphones will do more for you if you want your vocal audio to sound exactly the way you intend it to.
Meanwhile, dynamic microphones work well in a live performance setup where the venue can get a bit loud. Live renditions of rap tracks are often more “spirited” than studio recordings. You might get too into the performance and start shouting into your mic. A dynamic mic will not blow out your audio in this case. Its simpler and more durable construction also means that strong and sudden movements will not affect your sound as much compared to using a condenser.
The diaphragm is a critical component in microphones. It’s responsible for turning mechanical acoustic energy from sound waves into electrical energy or signals. In essence, it’s the microphone’s eardrums.
When it comes to capturing vocals, the larger the diaphragm, the better. Large-diaphragm mics put out more natural voice sounds and are better at handling bassy, low-frequency sounds at proximity effect. When your mouth is very close to the microphone, it will sound rich and full and not boxy and muffled.
They also take in sound well even if the vocalist moves their head a lot—especially useful for the more expressive performers. Mics with a large diaphragm also reject self-noise better. This is one of the main reasons professional recording engineers and mixers prefer them to small-diaphragm options for recording vocals.
Small-diaphragm microphones do well in processing sound from multiple musical instruments. They’re used mostly in capturing orchestral music as well as choir performances.
The User’s Voice
The vocal quality of the user is also one factor to consider. The usual fundamental frequency of a healthy adult male is 85 to 155 Hz. While the female voice typically falls between 165 to 255 Hz. Male vocals are often described as “round” and “dark”, while female voices are summed up as “bright”.
In many cases, a condenser microphone’s wider range complements a male voice’s darker tones. Meanwhile, a dynamic mic is often better equipped to handle a female voice’s higher frequencies. A condenser microphone might not be able to offset the brightness of her voice. Of course, there are men whose voices fall more on the top end of the register and vice versa. The right mic is the one that will “open up” a voice and vocal style and make it more able to cut through the backing rap music.
The Best Microphones for Recording Rap Vocals
With great consideration to the limiting factors mentioned above, here is our list of the best rap mics you can get today.
Audio-Technica AT2035: Best Mic for Rappers on a Budget
Price: From US$149
The Audio-Technica AT2035 is a relatively affordable, large-diaphragm condenser microphone. It’s a lightweight and compact option if you move from one studio to another frequently. It’s also an excellent first rap mic for beginners.
But don’t let the AT2035’s price and size fool you. It’s a surprisingly able budget choice that can keep up with expensive mics. For starters, it captures rap vocals with impressive clarity and imparts a warm and natural tone to the end product. It does a pretty good job at handling noise as well.
The switchable high-pass filter blocks low-end frequencies, making the AT2035 usable as a backup singing vocals mic. It has serviceable sound pressure level (SPL) handling, which means it can process loud sounds to a good degree before distorting. The Audio-Technica AT2035 is a versatile mic that performs well not just for rapping but also podcasting, live-streaming, and so on. It’s also easy to set up and use.
The package includes a custom shock mount and a carrying pouch. Oddly enough, the shock mount doesn’t fit in the protective bag.
- Good sound quality
- Good noise and SPL handling
- Versatile mic
- Can get quite sensitive
- Noticeable self-noise
Aston Origin Mic: Best Durable Microphone for Rap Recordings
Price: From US$299
If you’re looking for a visually striking rap mic that brushes off getting dropped, bumped, or swung around, then the Aston Origin is the one for you. Each unit is tumbled for four hours to give it its hard-wearing, beautiful galvanized finish. The 2mm stainless steel body and shock-absorbent wave-form mesh head assure that the delicate capsule within is protected from external impact. The mesh also shields the microphone from various electromagnetic wavelengths—no need to worry about electronic noise.
It has an in-built pop filter that massively rejects plosives—those harsh sounds associated with the letters p, t, k, b, d, and g. It’s stand mount-ready, with an integrated XLR and standard stand thread. The accessible design also makes the Origin home repair-friendly. The entire thing is rust-proof, making it perfect for those particularly sputtery verses.
Physical controls include a -10dB pad switch and an 80Hz high-pass filter. When it comes to sound quality, the Origin Mic does a fantastic job of giving off warm, rich audio that’s crisp to the ears. It captures vocal details extremely well. If you have a slight rasp or lisp, this mic will bring it out. Out of the box, expect this mic to perform well. You might find yourself hardly fiddling with EQ settings. You’ll have to try hard to distinguish the Origin’s audio quality from the more premium models.
On the other hand, acoustic guitar tests showed that the Origin captures more aggressive tones competently. However, upper frequencies sounded a bit overpowering when playing softer and quieter musical stylings.
The Origin is one of the better-performing and hardier cardioid mics out there. If you want an Aston microphone with switchable polar patterns, then you may want to look into the Spirit model. Expect a significant price bump, though.
- Excellent build
- Great default settings
- Built-in pop filter
- Works best for vocal recording
- Not exactly multi-purpose
- The mesh is a dust and hair magnet
- SPL and sibilance handling could be better
- A bit heavy
Shure SM7B Dynamic Microphone: Best Mounted Dynamic Rap Vocal Mic
Price: From US$399
The Shure SM7B has been the king of podcasting microphones for years now for its incredibly accurate voice reproduction and boomy, broadcast-level sound quality. However, its onboard controls and innate capabilities make it a wise choice as a rap mic as well.
At the bottom of the SM7B’s main body are the tone and mid-boost switches. The XLR inlet and mounting hole are fixed to a swivel bracket. It has an all-metal build that withstands a good amount of abuse.
This mic doesn’t look shock mount-compatible but it will take in most standard shock mounts. However, you might not even need one since the Shure SM7B comes with an internal air suspension system, which wards off handling noise and other vibrations.
You can set the tone (flat and low-cut filter) and boost switches to set the microphone to fit almost any voice type. The low-cut setting emphasizes the mid-range frequency of your vocals as well as the treble. With the mid-boost turned on, the mic hones in on higher frequencies without making them sound harsh. It comes with two foam filters with different thicknesses. And they do reduce higher frequencies noticeably. For this reason, the SM7B is also our top recommendation for female rappers or people with voices that are on the higher end of the register.
Because the SM7B is a dynamic microphone, it has excellent background noise rejection and loud sound handling—perfect for live performances and untreated rooms. The 180dB SPL handling will do you a lot of favor if you’re rapping style veers toward the more aggressive side.
It’s forgiving if you move off-axis slightly out of its cardioid polar pattern range. You have a bit of allowance even if you move your head around the mic while performing. The audio will not get cut off abruptly in this case.
Perhaps the biggest weakness of the Shure SM7B as a mic for rap vocals is its form factor. It’s meant to be mounted constantly as opposed to the handheld dynamic mics many live performers use. As mentioned, dynamics are not as sensitive as condenser mics. It would benefit the vocalist if they can bring the mic closer or farther from their mouths with their hands and not just their heads.
- Good as both a home and a professional studio mic
- High SPL capability
- Best for live and aggressive performances
- Will do well even without soundproofing
- A short-range mic
- Needs at least 60dB gain boost via a preamp to get the best sound
AKG Pro Audio C214: Best Rap Mic for Male and Low-Register Voices
Price: From US$349
If you have a deep voice, then we highly recommend the AKG Pro Audio C214. This large-diaphragm condenser microphone has a huge range in terms of dynamics. On the mic’s body, you have a -20dB attenuator and a bass-cut filter switch, which reduces the harshness of the proximity effect. Your vocal tracks will sound velvety and full-bodied.
Some outlets insist that the C214 works well for both male and female voices, with a few even claiming that it’s certainly not for performers with voices that are on the low-end frequencies. But based on the effectiveness of the built-in controls, we definitely think this mic suits deeper, cooler voices better. Expect to do a bit of equalizing on your end to get the perfect setting for capturing rap vocals.
It can sound a tad bit over-boosted on the high-end, which often translates to very noticeable sibilance—the grating sound perpetrated commonly by the letters s, t, and z. Voices on the higher register may even sound ever so slightly metallic or tinny with the C214. That said, it has a high SPL handling for a vocal microphone. It can take punchier rap stylings and loud sounds quite well. But it doesn’t come close to what a proper dynamic mic can do.
The AKG Pro Audio C214 is a sturdy microphone with sturdy accessories. You get a premium hard-shell carrying case, a windscreen, and a high-quality shock mount, which complements the microphone’s integrated capsule suspension. The wire mesh has a bit of give and absorbs impact quite well. As far as power supply goes, it has a phantom power requirement of 12 to 52 volts.
- Incredible proximity effect handling
- Best-suited for male vocal recordings
- Notable SPL handling
- Good plosives rejection
- Not the most well-rounded of rap microphones
- Requires equalizing
- Doesn’t work well for high-end frequencies
- Noticeable sibilance
RODE NT1-A Anniversary: Overall Best Microphone for Rapping
Price: From US$228
The RODE NT1-A is known for producing incredibly clean sound, thanks to its super-low self-noise. This cardioid condenser microphone preserves the natural tone and even the most subtle nuances of your voice. It captures vocals with such pin-point accuracy and crispness that you probably won’t need equalizing or post-editing.
The NT1-A hardly imparts any coloration, which means your rap vocals will retain their detail and clarity, and will cut through the mix easily. It has pretty good SPL handling for a condenser mic. It can sort out a good amount of loudness before your levels peak. It has impressive plosives and background noise-eliminating capabilities.
It’s quite a versatile studio microphone—usable for recording acoustic instruments as well as intense percussion riffs thanks to its wide frequency range. Handling noise is kept at bay by the internal shock absorber and the elaborate shock mount that’s included in the package. The same mount has an integrated pop shield with a prominent RODE branding. On top of everything, you get an anti-dust travel pouch for the microphone unit, a 20ft XLR cable, and an instructional DVD.
The RODE NT1-A truly is one of the best mics that you can get today. It holds its own against the hyper-premium Neumanns, Sennheisers, and Shures, which is a gargantuan feat for a mic that’s just a bit over $200. Get the NT1-A if you want to move up from your budget model and are ready to up the quality of your vocal hip-hop tracks.
- Excellent sound quality
- Remarkable vibration rejection
- Great voice quality preservation
- Good price for the performance
- Doesn’t process high frequencies well
- Small carrying pouch
- Bulky shock mount
Price vs. Sound Quality
You can easily find reviews and lists that recommend surprisingly cheap “professional-grade” microphones. Some even cost as low as $30. While we put great stock in value for money, when it comes to audio recording equipment, you really get what you pay for.
Even the simplest type of microphone is a complex piece of technology. They’re performance and recording instruments that literally recreate what human ears do and then some. It’s a fact that’s easy to overlook given the commonness of microphones. Developing microphones that sound amazing and will last for years and years is not an easy and cheap task.
Several brands we’ve included here have been around for decades. These manufacturers have perfected their craft and know what true quality entails. You don’t stay relevant for that long by selling cheap microphones that stop working after two or three uses. And you don’t charge hundreds of dollars for one that makes the rapper sound like a foghorn when clarity and precision are expected.
Content creation today is a constant battle of quality. If you want to improve your standing as an established hip-hop producer or stand out from the crowd as a newcomer to the scene, then investments must be made. We’re certainly not suggesting you put yourself in debt just to get a Shure microphone. Try out super budget models if you wish. Don’t rush and upgrade at your own pace.
We hope this guide has equipped you with the tools you need to make an informed decision when looking for the right rapping microphone for you. The operative word is “right”. Voices and, in this case, rapping styles are infinitely unique. A perfect match is not wholly decided by technical specifications. Those figures and terms serve as mere guidelines. Everything should give way to your usage and the intrinsic qualities of your voice and artistry.
Check out our other posts for more comprehensive content creation guides and tutorials.