Here is an interesting topic, but I will need to lay down some parameters before I begin. First off, what exactly do I mean when I say the best vintage microphones?
Well, many of the microphones that could be considered ‘the best’ are no longer available. Microphones go back a long way, and many have been discontinued, replaced by upgraded and slightly different versions.
So, what exactly does Vintage mean?
Obviously, it has something to do with age, but it is a bit more than that in my view. To be placed in the ‘vintage’ category, it also needs to have built up an iconic status. To be a respected mic that has been, and in most cases, is still used by the very best.
I have therefore created my list based on their status as well as their performance. But also on their current availability or the availability of the upgraded versions.
Let’s start with a classic, the…
Top 10 Best Vintage Microphones On The Market in 2021 Reviews
1 AKG Pro Audio C414 XLS Instrument Condenser Microphone – Best All-round Vintage Microphone
There are microphones, and there are microphones. The C414 is one of those considered a legend by those who record for a living. If you go into any serious recording studio around the world, you are likely to find one, if not many.
Just Say The Name
Since its establishment in Austria just after the second world war, AKG has built an enviable reputation. This is now at a level where you just need to say the name, and there will be knowing nods. Accepting you are working with the very best.
Studio’s on the Move
With the music explosion in the 60s, manufacturers of all music equipment, but especially recording, had to raise their game. The mercurial 414 was a product of that time.
Released in 1971, it has since had many who have tried to copy it. Some have even tried to emulate it. They shouldn’t have bothered. The 414 is still one of the best microphones you can buy. And the C414 XLS, the latest incarnation, maintains the standards.
This is a multi-pattern condenser mic that is manufactured from the highest quality components and materials. With its nine polar patterns, it sets new standards. Whatever you want to record, there is a suitable pattern. All backed up, of course, with AKG quality, performance, and reliability.
Four new patterns have been added that sit in between the five original patterns. This broadens the scope of the sound capture. Whatever it is you are recording, find your setting, and away you go.
More Sound Control
There are some extra built-in sound control parameters to assist with your sound creation. There are attenuation pads at -6,-12, and -18dB, as well as three separate bass filters. To prevent any clipping, there is an LED light, and it has a monster 140dB Sound Pressure Level (SPL).
The sound reproduction is guaranteed to be rich and warm, courtesy of its large-diaphragm design.
Not A Cheap Option
It doesn’t come cheap, of course, but you would expect it to be? This quality has to be paid for, and quality is what it is. Certainly, one of the best recording microphones ever made.
Therefore, if you are looking for the best vintage mic, this will take some beating. But that will apply to most on this list.
- Quality design with excellent components and very well-built.
- Real quality from one of the top manufacturers.
- Not cheap.
2 Shure SM58 Vocal Microphone – Best Vintage Live Vocal Microphone
Next in my rundown of the Best Vintage Microphones, we go from one household name in microphones to another. Shure hasn’t got a bad reputation either, have they? Another mic that was born out of the explosion that was music in the 60s. They were, at the time, something a little different from most other microphone manufacturers in many ways. They still are.
Originally from Chicago, the mics are now made in Mexico and still deliver what Shure are renowned for. When bands and singers of all levels take the stage, the music might be different. But one thing that is likely to be the same is they are using an SM58.
Anything New to Say?
There isn’t really is there; it has all been said already. It has a Cardioid polar pattern which is great for isolating the sound from the target source, usually a vocal, especially live. And it reduces any unwanted surrounding noises.
Extra removal of unwanted ambient noise is reduced further by the built-in spherical filter. This helps to prevent interference from noise from the wind if you’re using it outside. And also reduces ‘pops’ from vocalists.
Not A One Trick Pony
Over the years, it has become one of the favored mics for many singers (Bono from U2 and Chris Martin (Coldplay) in the studio, and every singer you can think of when singing live). But there is more in the cupboard than that for this mic. It is true it has a frequency response that is ideal for vocals, but it can handle most things very well.
Sound-wise, the SM58 has a brighter middle frequency response than most. It also has a bass roll-off. This means the sound of this can be tailored to an individual’s performance easily.
Its suitability for stage and hand-held use is improved by its shock mount system, reducing handling noise. And these days, you can also get SM58s with an off and on switch. Something that was not available on earlier models.
And if a mic earns that accolade, then it has to be tough. And that is one thing all Shure mics are. These are built to handle anything, including a Who performance, and that is saying something.
And one last positive. Check the price. You might have to look twice. It could be the best affordable vintage mic available, considering the incredible price point.
- An all-around great mic at an excellent price point.
- Well-built with legendary quality.
3 Shure SM-57 Cardioid Dynamic Instrument Microphone – Best Snare Vintage Microphone
Staying with Shure, let’s include another one of their iconic microphones, the SM57. The SM58 may be the choice for performing with and recording vocals. But the SM57 is my favorite for using with instruments. Though it has to be said that both can do either rather well, for example, an SM57 is Paul Rogers from Free’s favorite recording microphone, as well as Lemmy’s from Motorhead!
Another industry standard from Shure, it could be thought of as one of the most well-known mics there are. There aren’t many singers or musicians that haven’t used one at one time or another. And the same goes for recording engineers; in fact, most quality studios will have ten or more available for any session.
A Workhorse of a Mic
This is one of those great mics that you can use just about anywhere and for anything. It is great on stage and doesn’t mind a bit of rough use. But it is equally at home in a studio. It does a good job recording anything from vocals to miking up amps to drums, especially snares, where it is reckoned that over 98% of all the snares ever recorded on hit records have been with an SM57.
Designed to Please
Its Cardioid polar pattern allows it to be used in so many ways, and it has been designed that way. It is a mic that you would have in a studio not only to use but as a default go-to mic.
Being able to cope with just about anything has made it a firm favorite. Even in live situations on stage, the pickup from any instruments nearby is minimal. This also helps to reduce the potential for feedback, therefore, giving you some more gain if you need it.
Having a frequency response of 40-15kHz and a natural presence helps to produce its great sound. And that applies to not only instruments but vocals as well.
You might expect that a mic capable of so much at such high quality would be expensive. But just like its ‘58 cousin, it represents great value; in fact, it is the best value for money vintage microphone you can buy. And it would be hard to find something so versatile that is so good at a better price.
The Usual Shure Build
Being a Shure mic, we all know what that means. That you can throw just about anything at it, and it will come back for more. Tough and rugged, it will last the course.
An excellent mic that has earned its legendary ‘vintage’ status. Don’t even think about it; buy one; everyone needs at least one 57.
- Versatile and great with vocals and instruments.
- Shure build quality at a great price point.
4 Neumann U 87 – Best Vintage Vocal Microphone
Next in my Best Vintage Microphones review, considering their history, it seems a miracle that we have Neumann microphones at all. Founded in Berlin in 1923, in 1943, the factory was firebombed and was moved east of the city. After the war, it fell into the Soviet sector and became a Communist ‘state-owned’ business.
It wasn’t until reunification that we finally got to see what they were capable of. And it was worth waiting for. They are impressive, to say the very least. The U47, assisted by Telefunken, was one of the mics that made their mark early. After its initial release in 1967, it was regularly used by some artists but no one of any great importance.
Just Sinatra, Presley. Bing Crosby and those four blokes from Liverpool. Beatles or something? Not a bad CV to have.
They are most known today for producing some of the greatest music we have seen. And the U87 probably sits at the top of the pile. This is a remarkable microphone, is used in studios all around the world, and has probably been used to record more hit record vocal performances than any other microphone.
It is a pressure-gradient transducer large-diaphragm condenser mic with a double membrane capsule. It has three directional patterns available to give it a variety of options for use. There is the standard Cardioid, plus a Figure of 8 and Omnidirectional. There is a 10dB pre-attenuation switch and a roll-off for lower frequencies which is also switch controlled.
Being a condenser mic, it will require phantom power, of course.
For Most Applications
The way it is designed is suitable for most studio applications. But it is with vocals and especially instruments like a grand piano it is famous.
It comes in a wooden box for safety, a shock mount, and a pop filter. And you are right about what you are thinking. It isn’t cheap. But as I have already said about another mic, if you want the best…
- Recognized as excelling in studios covering most recording applications.
- Well-designed with plenty of quality and features.
- Price will scare some away.
5 Shure 55SH Series II Iconic Unidyne Vocal Microphone – Best Looking Vintage Microphone
The Unidyne was the first professional mic that I can remember. It was lent to us when someone felt pity on us for what we were using. By then, it had already been around for a while. It was first introduced in 1939 but only made a limited impact. Marketing and Sales were different then. It was Billie Holiday’s mic of choice for a while.
That meant something and may have been a contributing reason why Mr. Presley picked it up in the 50s. It was when he got hold of it people began to take notice.
Not his favorite mic
It wasn’t Elvis’s favorite mic. That was his beloved Electro-Voice RE-15. But those iconic images of him strutting his stuff with the Unidyne will never fade.
The mic is still available if you want a bit of nostalgia in your studio. Along, of course, with a great sound. The shape is the same, but the internals are full of modern technology, which only enhances the sound. But when you see it, it still screams ‘Jailhouse Rock,’ even though many diverse singers, including James Hetfield of Metallica, use one as their main live vocal mic.
Something Old Something New
That is one of the things that appeals about this mic. It doesn’t have to try to be vintage; it just is. One look is all it takes. But while it has the visual inside are the ‘goodies’ that make it a great mic to own.
Inside is a Cardioid polar pattern and a frequency response of 50 to 15,000 Hz. It has been designed to be a vocal mic. Inside the metal grille is a foam filter to reduce plosives and fricatives. There is also a built-in internal shock-mount system if you do use it handheld.
But all that internal sound reduction doesn’t mean it can’t be put to work in the studio with instruments as well.
As Good As The Gym
If it has a downside, it is that it weighs just under two pounds. That makes it a heavyweight in terms of the weight of modern mics. And at 7.5 by 2.18 by 3.1 inches, you could call it substantial. After two hours on stage with this, you won’t need the gym.
Maybe these days, it might not suit a handheld performance on stage. It might be better confined to a stand in a studio.
The Shure Build
That goes without saying, of course, with its rugged die-cast metal casing; it is a tough mic. Don’t drop it on your foot. You will come off worse. It has been given a self-tensioning swivel mount. It tilts 45 degrees and will move 80 degrees backward. And the off and on switch can come in useful if feedback is an issue.
A great mic with plenty of nostalgia attached to it.
- Strong, secure build with swivel mount and plenty of the look.
- Attractive price point for such a good vocal mic.
- Rather heavy to be used by hand.
6 Electro-Voice RE-20 Cardioid Microphone – Most Durable Vintage Microphone
Founded in Minnesota in 1930, Electro-Voice is another company with a reputation for producing popular mics. The RE-20 first arrived in 1968, about the same time as Electro-Voice was sold to Bosch.
Ready For Anything
The thinking behind the design and the build of this mic must have been an interesting meeting to be at. We usually recognize Shure as being the rugged, road-ready mics, but this one goes a stage further.
It is made from steel and has tough grilles that look like they could withstand just about anything. Its tough build has made it one of the preferred mics for those conducting outside broadcasts.
It has a Cardioid polar pattern with a frequency range of 45Hz-18kHz. The design of the microphone is interesting in that it is omnidirectional in its use options. This is because it has been given all-around acoustic openings.
Behind every opening is a tough wire metal grille. This protects the wind and blast filters that are built-in. They also allow you to use the mic near the mouth without getting too many plosives. The filters, in turn, reduce most of the ambient noise and any unwanted external sounds. A great advantage in outside broadcasts. And to remove any localized interference or hum, a special coil is fitted.
Where is it At its Best?
As I have already said, it excels in outside broadcasts because of its build and internal design. Internally it has Variable-D technology. This has positive effects, but it has a downside. If you are too close to the target source, it can dissipate the bass frequencies. Something to bear in mind if you are using it in a studio to mic up.
But if you want to record more than one voice on a mic, it is excellent. The omnidirectional design could take up to three vocalists at the same time and still produce great results.
It is the preferred studio and unusually live microphone of Thom Yorke from Radiohead, and Joe Strummer from the Clash also loved it. It’s also amazing on kick drums and bass cabinets. Plus, along with the Shure SM7, it is the most widely used microphone in radio stations.
- Tough build and omnidirectional design that gives it plenty of options for use outside.
- Some very good internal noise reduction features.
- Not cheap.
7 Sennheiser MD 421 – Best Vintage Tom Microphone
Next, in my review of the Best Vintage Microphones, we have another name in the microphone world that needs little introduction. Some would say legendary German engineering at its best with products found in the best studios all around the world.
Released to Much Acclaim
When it was first released on the market in 1960, it received wide acclaim. The Cardioid pattern is tight, bordering on being Supercardioid. The frequencies across all the ranges were clear, and the sound was superior to just about everything else available at the price.
It has since become one of their most respected and popular mics, partly because of the quality of the reproduction. But also because of its versatility in different recording situations.
More Than Just a Vocal Mic
It has a reputation for being a great mic for vocals and can also be used for group singing. But it goes further than just the vocal booth.
It has a Cardioid design with five settings for bass control. This gives you plenty of room to use it with a variety of instruments, and on toms, it is the undisputed world leader. Even when the mic is placed close to the target source, the results have a natural and very clear sound. The frequency response is 30-17,000 Hz.
Its rejection of feedback is very good, and the polar pattern ensures that any wanted sounds are reduced to almost nothing. Sennheiser always prides themselves on the sound quality of their mics, and this certainly delivers.
Even though it can be used with a wide variety of instruments, it is for its performance with vocals it is noted. The five-way bass roll-off we mentioned offers a range of tonal options. This makes it suitable for any voice type.
The high SPL capability makes this a suitable mic for recording instruments that have a high transient response.
Made from steel and hardened glass composite, it is a rugged and secure mic. If there is a downside that may affect some people, it is the size. It is quite large and not lightweight either. But on a stand in a studio, you aren’t going to notice that.
The other downside is the insanely over-engineered microphone clip. It is totally unnecessary and super prone to leaving the microphone drop to the floor like a stone. You will actually struggle to find a vintage used one that doesn’t have severe dents in the front grill because of the stupid design. Thankfully they keep on working just fine, just look a bit worse for wear.
Not a cheap option but a great addition to any studio.
- Versatile mic is famous for its ability to record toms and its vocal sound.
- Excellent bass roll-off and feedback rejection.
- Quite large in size, as is the price point, which might put some off.
8 Neumann TLM 102 Condenser Microphone – Best Modern Vintage Microphone
I am going to bend the ‘vintage’ description rules a little here to allow me to include the Neumann TLM 102. I don’t need to emphasize the quality of Neumann. Everybody already knows who they are and what they can produce.
Why the TLM 102
It was first released in 2009. Hardly vintage then, and you would be right. But the concept of the directional patterns still used in this mic were invented by Georg Neumann in the 1920s. That was before he had even formed the company.
It may have changed in size, shape, and even color. But the principle behind the mic is very much vintage in my book.
A Different Approach
Most of the ‘big’ guns aim their mics at the high-end professional market. Most for studio use. Neumann has taken a different approach with this mic. This is marketed at the consumer and not the professional studio.
Top studios, of course, will get great service from it. But if you have a small or even home studio, you won’t find much better in terms of recording vocals at the price point.
What Is It All About?
The 102 is a large diaphragm mic that will give you a big, warm sound. It has a Cardioid pattern in its compact build. There are a lot of features built-in that make this mic stand out.
- High Sound Pressure Level of 144dB.
- Slight boost in presence over 6kHz gives the vocals a great sound.
- Frequency response of 20 Hz to 20 kHz.
- Can handle lower volumes with its fast transient response rate.
As you might expect, it is well built with its metal casing. It has a compact build and sits in its bracket, which attaches to the mic stand. Internally it sits on elasticated suspension to remove any handling or mic stand noise. There is also a pop screen built-in.
Being a condenser mic, you will need phantom power.
- An excellent mic that is perfect for a newer and growing studio.
- Excellent performance for both vocals and voiceovers.
- Some may need a higher presence boost.
9 Sennheiser MD 441-U – Best Vintage Vocal Microphone for Female Vocals
One more from the Germans. No apologies; they have been making some of the best mics for quite a few years now. This mic, though, has a slightly different look and design.
This has been given the Supercardioid polar pattern as against the usual Cardioid. That means it has more focus on the sound source. So while the Cardioid does cut out peripheral sound from the sides, this will reduce that even more. That will also help to reduce any feedback.
As with all things, there is a negative aspect. For this mic, it can be hard to get it in the best position to record sometimes.
It has a bass roll-off that has five settings and to remove the possibility of any hum, a ‘humbucking’ coil. As it is a mic that has been designed to hold if you choose, there is a built-in shock suspension system.
The numbers stack up as well. The frequency range is 30Hz to 20kHz, and there is an impressive signal-to-noise ratio. Separation is also good due to the supercardioid design and isolates what is being picked up at the front of the mic.
This mic has managed to keep its vintage look in its design and shape. It has a very rugged design with a nickel-plated all-metal body. There is also a very strong wire mesh over the head.
As you might expect from Sennheiser, a very good mic, but especially for recording vocals, and even more so, female vocals, Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac even used one live, even though it is very, very long. But it is also excellent with acoustic instruments like the piano or acoustic guitar. And as an added extra, it can even handle drums. A very classy mic indeed.
- Very good build with some very good internal; features.
- Great for vocals, especially female, but versatile to be used with other instruments.
- Might be too expensive for some.
10 AKG C12VR Reference multi-pattern tube condenser microphone – Best Vintage Tube Microphone
Let’s end this look at the best vintage microphones with the AKG C12VR. King Arthur, in British folklore, made it his quest to find the Holy Grail. He was a few hundred years too early and in the wrong place. It was in Vienna, Austria, all the time, and AKG brings it to you.
The Holy Grail of Microphones
The C12 is considered by many the Holy Grail of microphones. One of the great mics. It was first built in the 1950s, and it became one of, if not the, most revered tube mic ever.
Its original life span was between 1953-1960. Its successor today is the C12VR. Handcrafted in Vienna, complete with the original 6072A vacuum tube and the CK12 tube.
It has nine polar patterns that are chosen by remote control. This gives this mic the ultimate in flexibility and sound management. But these are not a variety of patterns to make up the number.
Each one has a significant function to produce the best sound you may have ever heard. The original designs supported by today’s state-of-the-art components guarantee low-noise excellence.
What More Can You Say?
AKG and their C12 rocked the world in the 60s. And this time it’s back… and it’s better. Nothing more needs to be said except maybe an apology to King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Sorry fellas, it was in Vienna all the time.
- One of the greats reincarnated and improved (if that was at all possible).
- Uses the original 6072A vacuum tube and the CK12 tube.
- Sit down before you look at the price point.
Looking for more great microphone options?
Then take a look at our in-depth reviews of the Best XLR Microphones, the Best Kick Drum Mic, the Best Dynamic Microphones, the Best Shure Microphones, and the Best Wireless Microphones currently on the market.
Or, if you’re looking for a mic for a certain job, then check out our reviews of the Best Microphones Recording Electric Guitar, the Best Microphones for Recording Rap Vocals, the Best IOS Microphones, the Best USB Microphones, the Best Vocal Mics, the Best Dynamic Microphones, as well as the Best Microphones for Youtube you can buy in 2021.
You may also enjoy our comprehensive review of the Best Microphone Preamps to really make your next microphone shine.
So, which is the very best of the Best Vintage Microphones?
Every one of these microphones is a legend in its own right. They have all played their part in music and classic recordings in so many ways. Both in the studio and on stage, from their brutal toughness to their nuanced excellence of sound.
For me, to choose one is nearly impossible, but if money is no object, it would have to be the…
Nothing else comes close to this in terms of quality on the right singer, so start saving now!