What is the Best Mic for Recording Hip Hop Vocals Under $1500? Calling All Audiophiles

in HIVESICIANS4 months ago (edited)

I have a fairly dynamic voice, and have had many producers tell me how easy it is to record my vocals... even though I am doing hip hop which isn't always easy to get right. I am currently running an AT 4040 condenser mic into a Great River ME-1NV pre amp into an RME UCX interface, so you could see how I would want to upgrade my mic. I am also running the dynamics and EQ in the Total Mix software for live tracking through the dsp chip on the UCX, although I have not yet fully figured out how to properly dial these in, or my preamp for that matter.

I love the way it sounds when you slightly push the input gain on the GR, but with the AT 4040 there is way too much peaking no matter what I set the gain/fader to, and if I can get it to even out then there is not enough signal drive for my liking. I am aware that the two most important aspects you can upgrade to improve vocal recordings is a proper recording space with planned acoustics (which I have done building everything from scratch including the traps/panels), and the part of the vocal chain closest to source - i.e. the mic.

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My first pick would obviously be the Neuman U87ai, but coming in at a $3600 price point I am forced to find an alternative. The current list of contenders for a severe mic upgrade are (in this order atm):

  • THE BEESNEEZ BU87I C (Australian clone of the OG U87i - every part hand made)
  • Soundelux U195
  • Warm Audio WA-87 R2 - Improved 2nd rendition of the botched 1st attempt - much better reviews
  • Warm Audio WA-47
  • Neuman TLM 102
  • Neuman TLM 103

I am also open to possibly using a Telefunken brand mic or possibly a tube mic if it fits better with my vocals.

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Images from Official Company Sites

It is important that whatever mic I choose will pair well with my Great River pre. I thought I was sold on the TLM 103 until I found out it is transformerless which limits the functionality/versatility of my pre disallowing the "loading" feature. In the following video, I explain well what I am looking for in terms of what I need my mic to highlight harmonically. I want something that has character and color with a forward mid-range, gives the top end a nice shine and sparkle without being overly bright, and accentuates the low end well without being too bassy. I feel the BU87i C fits most of this well but is slightly lacking in the high end missing that sparkle that the WA clone version does capture well but that one is missing the forward presence in the mids that the BU posses - so I am having a little trouble - it could even be a mic not on my list.

I am also starting to realize that I am going to need outboard compression for hip hop vocals (which is also going to be pricey), and with that there is seemingly only two options "in my price range" (still over budget lol), either the WA pair (WA-2A & WA76), or more likely the Empirical Labs Distressor with the UK mod. I would be willing to pay $1000+ for a used one in great condition if any of you have a lead please lmk.

I would also love some outboard EQ but with that my budget would be limited to a few hundred dollars and I am not sure there is something in that range worth getting that would actually improve my vocal chain more than the DSP chip EQ on my RME in Total Mix... I also still have no idea what I am doing with EQ yet... getting there in my studies.

U87ai & TF47 - the real dealz
Neumann_U87Ai-horz.jpg
Images from Official Company Sites

Ultimately I am looking for a mic that will let my vocals sit in the mix very well on their own requiring only minimal mixing afterwards. I want what I am hearing in my headphones in the booth to translate to the recording accurately - this is currently not happening. I need the high end to shine without being overly bright, forward mid-range, with an accentuated low end. I basically need a U87ai without the $3600 price tag, so either the best clone considering all the aspects I require outlined here... or simply an actual UA87ai - preowned in good condition with a less than $2000 usd price tag. Any advise/assistance would be greatly appreciated folks. NO WHERE IN STORE OR ONLINE IS LETTING ME TEST MICS BECAUSE OF THE PANDEMIC. Dang coodies makin' it hard for me. Tough and expensive choice to make without having the ability to try anything.

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Also will I need to get pads for my setup with any of these mics? That GR REALLY drives.

The answer btw - Stellar CM-5 or CM-6 (made in Portland, Oregon). The company is out of business and those mics are kind of rare now, but I nabbed a CM-6. Still looking for a CM-5 to compare it to. Crazy good deal for such a high caliber mic, I will link my post about it here when its published.