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XLR microphones are the logical next step up from using USB microphones. The sound quality is generally better and, since you have to plug it into an audio interface, you usually have a lot more control over how the microphone records. This is professional-level stuff as studios use XLR microphones plugged into massive audio interfaces. However, you can get some of the same results at home by using a good XLR microphone. In fact, some studios use microphones that are fairly inexpensive for home use as well.

Read more: Best Bluetooth microphones: Wireless mics for video production, streaming, and conference calls

There is some subjectivity to a list like this. For example, the ELA M 250 costs upwards of $11,000 new and still several thousand dollars for a used model. Now, we're not going to recommend such expensive microphones, even if they are among the best, this list is more for home studio use. Don't worry though, there are some amazing microphones that are well under $1,000 - and we did the leg work to round-up the best XLR microphones for your home studio.

Best XLR microphones: Our top picks

Shure SM58
Shure SM58
1. Best overall XLR microphone

One of the world's most popular XLR microphones

The Shure SM58 is a jack of trades. You can use it for essentially anything and it'll do a good job. It won't break the bank, either.

  • A rock solid microphone for its price
  • Used by musicians all over the world for live shows
  • Under $100 makes it an accessible choice
  • Other purpose-built microphones may be better in some scenarios
  • May require external accessories for studio recording

The Shure SM58 is a very popular microphone - you have likely either seen live performances or YouTube videos where the musician was using one of these. It's a jack of all trades microphone that is good at everything. You can use it for instruments, vocals, or Podcasting. However, if using it in a studio set-up, you'll probably want a pop filter to get rid of those plosives. In any case, this is an easy recommendation since it can do almost anything.

The drawbacks are few but they are present. There are microphones that are purpose-built and tuned for exact tasks that are better than the SM58 at the specific tasks they are designed to perform. For instance, Shure's stablemate, the SM7B, is built for vocal reproduction and Podcasting. It also costs four times as much as the SM58. In any case, you can't really go wrong with an SM58, especially as a live or beginner studio microphone.

Neumann TLM 102
Neumann TLM 102 Condenser Microphone
2. Best premium XLR microphone

Expensive, gorgeous, and functional

The Neumann TLM 102 is a prosumer-level microphone with the price tag to match. It sounds good all the time no matter what it does,

  • It delivers excellent clarity and sonic performance
  • Wonderful, classic design that looks professional
  • It's even usable as an instrument mic
  • For its high price, we would've liked a carrying case
  • You'll still need a shock mount and a pop filter

The Neumann TLM 102 is in a weird place. It's cheaper than most of Neumann's other microphones, by quite a lot. However, it's vastly more expensive than many home studio-capable microphones. What you get for the price is about right, though. This thing delivers excellent performance and clarity, specifically for vocals. There are reviews out there that used this mic for instruments with good results as well. This is definitely more for studio use than the Shure SM58, so we don't recommend taking this anywhere on the road.

It's not perfect; you'll need to purchase accessories like a shock mount and pop filter to get the very most out of the excellent mic. Additionally, for over $700, we think including a carrying case would've been a good move. Regardless, professional studios use Neumann quite a bit, albeit the more expensive ones. These are good, just not very affordable.

GLS Audio ES-57
GLS Audio
GLS Audio ES-57
3. Best budget XLR microphone

A surprisingly good mic for under $25

The GLS Audio ES-57 is a budget-oriented competitor to the Shure SM57. For a scant $21, you can get some seriously good audio out of this thing, and it'll last a while if you take care of it.

  • It competes favorably with the much more expensive Shure SM57
  • Good for instruments and vocals, although it favors instruments
  • Less than $25 and will run on any audio interface
  • It won't replace more expensive, vocal-dedicated microphones
  • Dynamic microphones aren't as sensitive as other mic types

I have owned the GLS Audio ES-57 for eight years. I used it in podcasts and YouTube videos, and I received plenty of compliments on my audio quality. While I'm sure there are competitive microphones in this price range, this is the one that I know and trust. It's a direct competitor to Shure's more expensive SM57, and it holds its own when you consider its price. You can use it for instruments or vocals, although it will do a hair better with instruments in a home studio.

For less than $25, it's really hard to complain about the performance of this thing. It's a dynamic microphone, which is its only potential drawback. Vocalists tend to prefer condenser microphones because they're more sensitive and have a wider frequency response. However, on a budget, there aren't a lot of great condenser mics in this price range. The ES-57, on the other hand, is an excellent dynamic mic, so it might be the better buy.

Audio Technical AT2020
Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Studio XLR Microphone
4. Second best budget XLR microphone

One you can keep for a while without breaking the bank

The Audio-Technica AT2020 is an excellent sub-$100 cardioid condenser microphone. It delivers all-around good performance at a lower price.

  • Neutral, wide sound that works great for vocals and podcasting
  • Less expensive than many other vocal-focused microphones
  • Optional kit includes mic arm and studio headphones
  • Not the cheapest budget-oriented microphone
  • You'll need to make sure your recording space is whisper quiet

The Audio-Technica AT2020 is a good choice for podcast beginners and vocalists just starting out. It costs under $100, which is less expensive than many vocal-focused XLR microphones. The AT2020 makes up for it by having great sound characteristics, which gives it a surprisingly good price-to-performance ratio. Audio-Technica also sells a shock mount and pop filter specifically for its 20-series of microphones, so you can get the whole family and have a good overall setup.

Like almost all cardioid condenser microphones, it has a tendency to pick up sound pretty easily. Thus, you'll want to make sure your space is as quiet as possible. Most audio software has noise reduction features to help with little blips that might make its way into the recording mix, so it's not the biggest deal. All said, the AT2020 is a clean looking, smooth operating XLR microphone that's well worth its price tag.

Rode NT1
Rode NT1 5th Generation
5. Best XLR microphone for podcasting

Ready to go out of the box

The Rode NT1 is a large-diaphragm condenser microphone with some killer features. The package also comes with a shock mount and pop filter for added convenience.

  • Clean, warm sound makes voices sound good
  • Useful accessories included in the box
  • Can either be connected via XLR or USB
  • While it'll work for instruments, it can be tricky on occasion
  • Wide pickup pattern may capture unintended sounds in your area
  • Sound quality is notably better on XLR over USB

The current Rode NT1 is the fifth generation of a long line of good Podcasting microphones. It's a large diaphragm condenser mice, so it's great at picking up sounds. The drawback is that you'll want a decently quiet room, otherwise you'll get extra noise. Other than that small blip, you can expect excellent sound quality out of this microphone, especially for vocals. The box also comes with a shock mount with an integrated pop filter, which means you don't have to buy any additional accessories to get started.

There are only two real downsides to this mic. The first is that it doesn't have a dB pad, which means loud instruments may cause peaking if set up incorrectly, which is an annoyance. The other is that while the mic can be used over USB, you'll notice that XLR sounds vastly better overall. It's nice to have the versatility, but we recommend using it only in emergencies. Rode's NT1 is expensive at $249, but you shouldn't need an upgrade for a very long time.

AKG Pro Audio P420 Dual Capsule Condenser Mic
AKG Pro Audio P420
6. Best condenser XLR microphone

Versatility and style make this a good choice

$175 $186 Save $11

The AKG Pro Audio P420 is about as good as it gets for condenser microphones until you start getting into professional-grade stuff. It's versatile enough for almost anything.

  • -20 dB pad switch means it works for both vocals and instruments
  • Multiple pickup patterns to choose from
  • Good sound quality with above average clarity
  • All the various settings create a learning curve for beginners
  • For the price, there are plenty of competitive vocal-focused mics

The AKG P420 is a unique microphone. It comes with a bunch of features that other microphones in its price category don't have. That includes a switch that lets you choose between three pickup patterns, including figure-eight, omnidirectional, and cardioid. That means you have three options when most other microphones have one or two at the most. That, plus the -20dB pad and bass cut filter switches means you can use this microphone for basically anything, and it'll handle it without issues.

The package is nice too. It comes with the microphone, an included shock mount, and a hard shell case for transportation. You'll essentially just need a pop filter for vocal recordings and that's it. In terms of sound quality, the microphone is clear and capable of some excellent recordings, although it's merely competitive with other microphones in its price range. The real treat are all the various settings, which may pose a problem to beginners who don't know how they all work yet.

Shure SM7B
Shure SM7B dynamic microphone
7. Best dynamic XLR microphone

A true legend has entered the chat

The Shure SM7B is a legendary microphone, and among the best prosumer XLR microphones on the market. It's expensive, but its silky smooth delivery is great for voice work.

  • It's good at almost everything
  • Excellent, smooth sound quality that's great for voice work
  • Dynamic microphones are generally more forgiving with background noise
  • Its warm sound may cause issues with naturally bassy voices
  • Expensive

The Shure SM7B is an endgame microphone for a lot of home studio folks. Whether it's for Podcasting, streaming, or just messing around, there are few dynamic microphones that can match the SM7B pound-for-pound in terms of performance. The microphone is better at throwing away background noise than similarly priced condenser microphones, and the warm sound quality makes everybody's voice sound better unless your voice is already very bass-heavy. If you're one of those people, you can certainly try it, but it might not go well.

It's an expensive microphone and that's honestly it's only real downside. Almost any other complaint is fixable in software or with the audio interface it's connected to. It does everything exceedingly well. There is even a variant with a built-in preamp if you want to go that route, but it'll cost you an extra $100. You may need to fiddle with your settings a bit to get the best out of this mic, but there's a reason so many people use this.

Electro-Voice RE20 Broadcast Announcer Microphoen
Electro-Voice RE20 Broadcast Announcer Microphone
8. Best professional XLR microphone

Actually used by broadcasters on FM radio

The Electro-Voice RE20 has an excellent pedigree as a vocal-oriented microphone. It's used by Podcasters, FM radio hosts, and broadcasters across the industry.

  • Variable-D design adds consistently to recordings
  • Internal pop filter alleviates the need to buy an external one
  • Also surprisingly good for instruments
  • Unique shape can make shock mount shopping complicated
  • Documentation is a little difficult to find online

The Electro-Voice RE20 doubles as our professional pick and also our diamond-in-the-rough pick. Audiophiles and veterans in the business are likely familiar with this microphone, but a lot of beginners aren't. What makes this microphone special is its variable-D design, which almost entirely negates proximity effect. The proximity effect is a phenomenon on typical microphones where low frequencies get amplified as a sound source gets closer to the mic. The Electro-Voice RE20 doesn't have that problem.

Aside from that unique feature, the microphone also excels at voice work of any kind, whether it be Podcasting or singing. It's used in real FM radio studios as well as by broadcasters. The internal pop filter lets you keep your set-up a bit cleaner since you don't need the extra accessory. This is a great microphone for folks who haven't perfected their mic technique yet, thanks to how forgiving it is. The only downside aside from its size and weight is that it's quite expensive.

The best XLR microphones: The bottom line

There are so many great options in XLR microphones that it was honestly difficult to choose. You can go with surefire choices like the SM58 or its cheaper competitor, the GLS Audio ES-57 for good all-around microphones. The Rode NT1 and Shure SM7B are excellent microphones in their own right while classics like the Electro-Voice RE20 almost always get it right.

Shure SM58
Shure SM58
Editor's Choice

The best XLR microphone is mostly up to personal taste. Your voice characteristics also matter a lot. If you have a deep, bassy voice, then you probably don't want a microphone that adds a lot of low-end warmth to the recording, or it'll sound bad. Of course, you'll also want to make sure that your audio interface works with whichever microphone you buy. Fortunately, most mainstream brands can handle the above microphones without much of a worry.

How did we choose the best XLR microphones?

We initially gravitated toward the microphones that the most people tend to use. While there is a level of hype that goes into popularity, people in general tend to stray away from awful products. There's a reason why so many professional musicians use the SM58 and why Michael Jackson used the Shure SM7B during the recording of Thriller - it's because they're good microphones.

For the GLS Audio ES-57, that was a personal preference pick. I've used mine for eight years without issues, and for around $20, it's probably the best ultra-budget microphone in the game right now. The rest have positive pedigrees, good reviews, and plenty of anecdotal evidence of their greatness.

What is the difference between condenser and dynamic microphones?

That's a long and complex answer, but we'll try to shorten it as much as possible. Dynamic microphones capture sound similarly to how speakers play sound. Sounds vibrate a diaphragm, which then sends voltage signals which are amplified on their way out of the microphone. Condenser microphones are similar, but they use magnets and external equipment to boost the electrical signal.

In terms of performance, it's a lot easier to explain. Condenser microphones tend to be more sensitive while dynamic microphones tend to be a lot more resilient to loud noises. Thus, condenser microphones are commonly used for things like ASMR, soft singing, acoustic guitars, and things like that. Dynamic microphones are best for loud vocals, amplified instruments, and live performances. However, with proper technique and a high quality microphone, you can do just about anything with either type of microphone.

Are XLR microphones better than USB?

In terms of sound quality, the answer is yes. However, it also depends on user experience. USB microphones are adept at being plug-and-play with little fuss, similar to Bluetooth microphones. You get the best sound out of a USB microphone out of the box without much configuration needed. XLR microphones, on the other hand, require much more complicated setups, but return the extra investment by sounding better.

Now, don't get us wrong. If you plug your expensive microphone into a bad audio interface and then compare it to a top-tier USB microphone, the USB mic will obviously sound better. There is some overlap there. However, assuming you're plugging it into quality gear, an XLR microphone will almost always sound better.

Why do microphones use XLR connections?

The short version is because it provides a clean signal path. XLR cables are balanced, which means it has two conductor wires and a ground wire. This not only provides a clean signal with longer cables, as seen in many live performances, but also protects the microphone from electrical damage.