We understand that not everyone can afford Neumann U47s, Neve 1073s, or Fairchild 670s. With that being said, most people still want their recordings to sound like they have used these titans of the studio for tracking and mixing. Read our blog below to discover some microphone, preamp, and compressor options that will get you a big sounding vocal chain for right around $1,500.
When it comes to microphones, top-tier engineers often reach for vintage tube mics to capture big, breathy vocals. Thankfully, there are plenty of modern tube mics that deliver classic tube tones at an affordable price. Modeled after the legendary C12, the Avantone CV-12 uses a hand-selected Russian-made 6072A tube to deliver a warm, pleasing sonic character. With nine selectable polar patterns, the CV-12 is versatile enough to suit any session. Vanguard's V13 tube condenser mic also offers up warm sounding tones with its custom-voiced, edge-terminated 34 mm dual-capsule assembly with 3µm gold-sputtered Mylar diaphragms. The AKG P820 Tube is a high-performance multi-pattern tube microphone equipped with a one-inch diaphragm capsule and advanced ECC83 dual-triode circuitry for big, rich tone.
For a more polished aesthetic, try using a classic broadcast microphone. These large-diaphragm dynamic microphones are known for their radio-ready sound. The Shure SM7b features a fixed cardioid pickup pattern and a nearly flat frequency response for powerful vocals with plenty of low-end. The ElectroVoice RE20 is known for its thick, rich sound. Its Variable-D design and heavy duty internal pop filter help prevent boominess when recording vocals at close range.
For a more colorful sound, go for a ribbon microphone. The Beyerdynamic M 160 features an unusual hypercardioid polar pattern, which is perfect for recording a vocalist in the same room with a live band. Its warm, silky sound and high transient response make it a perfect fit for close-miked vocals. The Cascade Fat Head II is another excellent choice for adding character and vibe to your vocal tracks.
If you’re looking for something a little more versatile, try a large-diaphragm condenser microphone without a tube. While they won’t share the same depth and harmonic richness of a tube mic, large-diaphragm condenser microphones offer a clean, smooth sound that takes well to signal processing.
For a quality mic that won’t break the bank, check out the Aston Origin, a high-performance cardioid condenser mic that has taken the recording industry by storm since its relatively recent release. The Origin’s bigger sibling, the Aston Spirit, features selectable polar patterns and a one-inch gold evaporated capsule for a warmer, richer tone.
For something a little more colorful, check out the Audio-Technica AT4047, which emulates the sound of FET microphones for a classic vintage sound. The Neumann TLM 102 is another excellent option, which packs the classic Neumann sound into a compact, affordable package.
Recording interfaces and plug-ins have come a long way since the advent of digital audio, but nothing compares to the sound of a high-quality discrete preamp. Since many classic console manufacturers are creating compact, affordable 500 series preamps, it's easy to pick up a couple of outboard mic pres to have more colors at your disposal.
The API 512c and 512V 500 series mic pres faithfully recreate the original API circuit design, including the famous API 2520 Op-amp. The Rupert Neve Designs Portico 511 mic pre combines the legendary Neve sound you know and love with some of their most popular features, like the 517 preamp module and the sweepable high-pass filter of the 5012. The SSL VHD mic pre uses the brand's patented Variable Harmonic Drive system to deliver an array of tones from ultra-clean to heavily distorted.
Plenty of modern manufacturers have affordable preamp designs modeled after vintage units. The Heritage Audio HA73 Elite is a hand-soldered, fully discrete, three-stage Class A mic preamp designed to emulate the Neve 1073. The Phoenix DRS-1R combines a transformerless Class A and discrete mic input with a Class A output stage for a surprisingly tube-like sound. The Kush Audio Omega works with Omega Trafo plugins to recreate the sound of legendary Neve mics or API mic preamps.
A quality outboard compressor goes a long way in creating a professional sounding vocal recording. You’ll find plenty of plug-in emulations of classic compressors out there, but sometimes, the sound of analog compression is all you really need.
The Phoenix N90-DRC is a VCA compressor/gate, making it an excellent choice for punchy, aggressive rock vocals. With a discrete Class A input and Class A transformer-balanced output, the N90-DRC delivers plenty of rich, warm harmonics. The Elysia Mpressor 500 is a 500 Series version of the powerful rack-mount Mpressor. Known for its punchy, detailed sound, the Mpressor is a workhorse compressor. With extreme time constants, negative ratios, antilog release, and Elysia’s innovative gain reduction technology, there’s no sound the Mpressor can’t achieve.
If you’re looking for classic tones at an affordable price, check out the UK Sound 176. Modeled after the iconic 1176 compressor, the 176 sounds and operates just like the original, making it an excellent choice for vocal compression. On the other hand, the Black Lion Audio Seventeen is a 1176 emulation that takes this classic compressor to a whole new level. Equipped with Black Lion’s custom-designed output transformer and a redesigned circuit path, the Seventeen is able to achieve detail and nuance the 1176 could only dream of.
As always, make sure you use a quality pop filter while recording and don’t overdo it on the reverb!