10 Most Legendary Studio Mics of All Time

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10 Most Legendary Studio Mics of All Time

Get to know the mics behind music's biggest hits

There are certain microphones that have stood the test of time to deliver massive hits over the last century through today. From capturing The Beatles to Nirvana to Adele, these microphones were and are used to capture the world’s biggest artists, in the most elite studios, by the most discerning engineers. Some have the ability to capture amazing tone across a variety of sources, while others are specialists that can’t be matched when it comes to specific instruments and sounds.

It wasn’t easy, but we compiled the all-time top 10 studio mics whose sound profiles have musicians & engineers chasing that unattainable tone, earning these mics the title of “legendary” status.

We’ve also added six honorable mentions; these “studio staples” are foundational to any mic locker and are found in most professional studios worldwide.

AKG C12

The list of famous recording artists who have never used a 12-style microphone is likely shorter than the list of those who have. Some of the most notable artists to create music with the C12 include The Beatles, Lupe Fiasco, Tom Petty, Michael Jackson, Alanis Morissette, and My Bloody Valentine, just to name a few. With a limited original production run of only 2500 mics, the original AKG C12 was produced in Austria from 1953 - 1963 and is the definitive version of the 12-style mic featuring the CK12 Capsule. These originals are highly lauded for their natural sound and coveted for their ability to capture the natural beauty of vocal performances, room sounds, and other far miking techniques. This is the sound profile of a few generations of iconic music. While these are no longer in production and the cost of the originals is generally out of reach, this legendary sound is one that is still in high-demand.

  • *Price Of The Original: $15,000 +
  • Faithful Recreation: WA-CX12, $999
  • *Prices based on sold listings from Reverb.com & Vintage King
Tom Petty recording on a C12

Tom Petty on AKG C12
Photo Credit:Robert Sebree

Neumann U47

Tom Petty recording on a C12

Cornell on Neumann U47
Photo Credit:IMBD

If you can find one, vintage U47 microphones are one of the most coveted pieces of studio gear on the planet. Certainly one of the first microphones known for delivering present, up-front vocals, original Neumann U47s are a known favorite of Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, David Bowie, Chris Cornell, and St. Vincent. Production of the U47 microphone ran from 1947 - 1963 after initially debuting in Berlin in 1947. The original U47 microphones quickly became the industry standard for professional recordings as the German-made condenser mics started to give American Ribbon mics a run for their money.

  • *Price Of The Original: $30,000 +
  • Faithful Recreation: WA-47, $949
  • *Prices based on sold listings from Reverb.com & Vintage King

Neumann U67

How do you follow one of the greatest studio microphones of all time? By completely re-thinking what a great studio mic can be. This is the origin story of the original U67 condenser microphone. Particularly “magical” on vocals, the vintage mics have recorded countless #1 hits from Bob Dylan, Nirvana, John Mayer, Jack White, The Weeknd and many more. Not only a vocal mic, the U67 may have been one of the first high-end “all-rounder” condensers, with many engineers noting they use it on a variety of sources with excellent results. Pairing vintage tube tone for warmth and balance with a more modern capsule for pristine high end, the U67 mixes the best aspects of vintage and modern sound for a unique tonal profile. There’s a reason that U67s are the most visible microphones around the studio setting during Disney’s “Get Back” Beatles documentary - they sound great on everything. Because of this “magic” touch, vintage ’67’s became one of the most sought-after and widely-used studio microphones, recording a massive collection of some of the most memorable songs of the last 50 years.

  • *Price Of The Original: $10,000 - $15,000
  • Faithful Recreation: WA-67, $899
  • *Prices based on sold listings from Reverb.com & Vintage King
Bob Dylan recording with a Neumann U67.

Bob Dylan on Sony Neumann U67
Photo Credit:Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Neumann U87

Justin Timberlake recording on the Neumann U87.

Justin Timberlake on Neumann U87
Photo Credit:YouTube

The breakout success of the U67 inspired further development and advancement in microphone technology. The next step in this lineage is the Neumann U87, widely considered to be one of the greatest studio microphones ever created. Original Neumann U87s are synonymous with #1 hits, and the vintage releases serve as the most popular studio lead vocal microphones of all time. The original units boast an artist roster that spans Paul McCartney and David Bowie all the way to Calvin Harris and Ed Sheeran. A marvel of innovation in the1960s, the vintage U87 featured FET technology, onboard 10dB pad, hi-pass filter, and 3 polar patterns, which modernized vocal recording at the time and remains the industry standard large diaphragm condenser to this day.

  • *Price Of The Original: $5,000 - $7,000
  • Faithful Recreation: WA-87R2, $699
  • *Prices based on sold listings from Reverb.com & Vintage King

Telefunken ELA M 251

Vintage Telefunken ELA-M 251s bring a smooth and mellow tone with natural sound reproduction to just about any source. These qualities are likely behind the massive popularity of the microphone for artists like Ariana Grande, Nora Jones, Jason Mraz, Fiona Apple, and Tom Petty. The original Telefunken ELA-M 251 started development in 1958 as a way for Telefunken to bet on themselves due to lost business from a newly-discontinued metal tube that they manufactured for Neumann. Take this history, mix in a little collaboration with AKG, add some new components, and what do you get? A legendary tube microphone and the decades of timeless music that comes with it.

  • *Price Of The Original: $20,000 +
  • Faithful Recreation: WA-251, $849
  • *Prices based on sold listings from Reverb.com & Vintage King
Telefunken ELA M 251

Ariana Grande on Telefunken ELA M 251
Photo Credit: arianagrande - Instagram

Royer R-121 Ribbon

Royer R-121 Ribbon

Royer R-121 Ribbon
Photo Credit: Gear4Music.com

If there’s one “modern classic” on this list, it’s the Royer R-121 Ribbon microphone launched in 1998. Along with another mic on this list, the 121 is the definitive guitar cabinet microphone of the last 20 years. Unlike the classic 44 and 77 RCA ribbons known for sultry vocal sound reproduction, the Royer R-121 is forever-tied to recording electric guitar amplifiers as the ribbon can handle high SPLs and reproduce natural sound with more clarity and slightly more bass response than your typical dynamic mic. The frequency response of the R-121 is very consistent even when changing the mic’s distance to the recording source.

  • *Price Of The Original: $1,300
  • *Based on advertised prices from authorized dealers

Neumann U47 FET

Known as a high-SPL, low-noise classic celebrated as a 'secret weapon' across world-class studios, the original Neumann U47 FET was released in 1969 as a modern answer to the discontinued U47 valve mic. Taking the sound of the 47 tube mic and swapping the valve for solid-state technology, the 47 FET gained massive popularity inside recording studios for its ability to handle fast transients with exceptional detail. From classic vocal recordings by Bon Scott and David Lee Roth, to holy-grail kick drum sounds of Dave Grohl and Daft Punk - the vintage units are versatile studio tools that can add instant vibe to a track. As another successor of the U47 tube mic, the U47 FET has earned its legendary reputation inside elite recording studios.

  • *Price Of The Original: $7,000 +
  • Faithful Recreation: WA-47F, $799
  • *Prices based on sold listings from Reverb.com & Vintage King
ACDC recording on the Neumann U47 FET.

ACDC on Neumann U47 FET
Photo Credit: PHILIP MORRIS / DALLE / RETNA LTD

AKG C414

Queen recording on the AKG C414.

Queen on AKG C414
Photo Credit: pintrest.com

Having more clarity, detail, and a wider frequency response than typical jack-of-all-trades dynamic mics, vintage AKG C414 takes true and honest sound reproduction to the next level. Methodically flat from the low end all the way to the midrange, vintage 414’s are an absolute “must have” for any professional recording environment. There are countless artists who have used the C414 in major studio productions, with a very short list including Freddie Mercury, The Police, The Smashing Pumpkins, Selena, and Green Day. Vintage 414’s are known as the ultimate condenser workhorse mic in the studio. If there were to ever be a “reference” condenser microphone for the studio, the vintage AKG C414 might just be it

  • *Price Of The Original: $3,000 - $7,000
  • Faithful Recreation: WA-14, $499
  • *Prices based on sold listings from Reverb.com & Vintage King

RCA 44 Ribbon

Before German and Austrian-made condenser microphones became popular in America, there was a homegrown King of studio and broadcast vocal applications - the RCA 44 Ribbon mic. Artists spanning decades have found the 44 mic to be a great fit for silky smooth vocals. Nat King Cole, Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Josh Homme to name a few. Like many on the list, the 44 is more than just a vocal mic. Engineers have long-praised the RCA 44 on upright bass, acoustic guitar, drum overheads / rooms and many other sources. If your song or sessions demand the ultimate in vintage vibe and natural sound reproduction, a 44 just might do the trick.

  • *Price Of The Original: $3,000 +
  • *Prices based on sold listings from Reverb.com & Vintage King
RCA 44 Ribbon

Frank Sinatra on RCA 44 Ribbon
Photo Credit: Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (LC-GLB13-0779)

Sony C800G

Sony C800G

Drake on Sony C800G
Photo Credit:DazedDigital.com/Courtesy of Instagram @champagnepapi

The original 90’s version of the Sony C800G microphone made its way onto countless platinum recordings starting in the early 90s and continues today. The OG lead mic for Rap, Hip hop, and R&B, the original mic has delivered hits for artists ranging from Dr. Dre, Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men and Brian McKnight to Eminem, Rihanna, Drake and more. Boasting a natural and open top end, supremely clear midrange, and the ability to render detail in a vocal performance unlike most other mics on the planet, the vintage mics from the early 90s stand out as modern classics.

  • *Price Of The Original: $14,000 +
  • Faithful Recreation: WA-8000, $1,199
  • *Prices based on sold listings from Reverb.com & Vintage King

Honorable Mentions & Studio Staples

Neumann KM84

Some microphones become so intertwined with quality results that they simply become ubiquitous in recording setups across studio, home, stage, and broadcast. The vintage KM84 small-diaphragm condenser microphone by Neumann is that mic. With the clarity and detail of a condenser and a design ideal for noise rejection, 84-style mics are the industry standard for drum overheads, and a favorite on acoustic guitar neck mics, Hi-hats, close-mic’d strings, broadcast / VO applications, horns, and a lot more. Listen to 100 drum kits tracked in professional recording studios in the last 50 years and chances are, 84’s are on most of them.

  • *Price Of The Original: $14,000 +
  • Faithful Recreation: WA-84, $399
  • *Prices based on sold listings from Reverb.com & Vintage King
Neumann KM84

Steve Gadd on Neumann KM84
Photo Credit: YouTube

Shure SM57

There’s one mic out there that just isn’t flashy, won’t “break” Reverb or eBay, and isn’t going to be called a “secret weapon” any time soon. The secret is out. The Shure SM57 is one of the most important microphones of all time - live and in studio. Their reliability, durability, and practical frequency response make them a natural choice to stock up the mic locker for any scenario recording can throw at you, especially guitar cabinets.

  • *BONUS: Price of predecessor, 60s Shure Unidyne IV: $2,000 +
  • *SM57 Street Price: $99
  • *Prices based on sold listings from Reverb.com & Vintage King
    *Based on advertised prices from authorized dealers

AKG D12 / D112

Much like the Sennheiser mics above, AKG managed to release both a classic and modern re-imagination of the most popular dynamic kick drum mic of all time. Released in 1953, the D12 was specifically designed for increased bass response, with a bump from 60-120Hz. The vintage D12 became a favorite choice to mic kick drum beaters. Fast-forward to 1986 and AKG would introduce the more cost-effective D112. With a 4kHz bump, the newer mic could handle the more modern, attacking kick drum beater tones of the time. This increased midrange presence helps the D112 pair very well with external kickdrum condensers like the FET-style 47 mics. You get the “snap” from the D112, and the “thump” from the 47.

  • *Price Of The Vintage D12: $1,000 +
  • *Modern D112 Street Price: $229
  • *Prices based on sold listings from Reverb.com & Vintage King
    *Based on advertised prices from authorized dealers

Coles 4038 Ribbon

The 4038 mic debuted in 1952 as the culmination of research, development, and trial & error by the British Broadcasting Company. The predecessor to the 4038, the BBC-Marconi Type A was developed in the 1930’s and provided 17 years of service. The BBC wanted to emulate the sound profile of the RCA 44’s built in the USA as they could not afford to purchase the expensive units. What came in 1952 is a design that remains basically unchanged today, delivering a natural, balanced tone ideal for many recording and broadcast applications. A favorite on drum overheads, guitar/bass cabs, vocals, and strings, the 4038 mics deliver natural sound with detailed present low end response.

  • *4038 Street Price: $1,480
  • *Based on advertised prices from authorized dealers

Sennheiser MD 441 / 421

The microphone that started as a bet. The first of two Sennheiser dynamic classics, the MD 441 was created as a dynamic mic that had the properties of condenser microphones. Popularized in studios as a very versatile but detailed mic, the 441 allows engineers to handle many sources with detail-rich, durable mic. The 421 acts as the natural successor, which has become the de-facto tom-tom mic in major studios. Other popular uses include vocals, guitar/bass cabs, and any situation where detail and noise rejection are required in an economic package.

  • *Modern 441 Street Price: $999
  • *Modern 421 Street Price: $400
  • *Based on advertised prices from authorized dealers