The Best Microphones For Recording Rap Vocals From The Biggest Artists In The World


Eminem & Dr.Dre: Sony C800G

This microphone is ridiculous. It has its own cooling system. It’s also $10,000. But don’t worry, not all rapper microphones cost this much.

Not to put these two in the same boat – they just happen to both like the same mic. Along with a host of other artists on the Aftermath label.

This monstrous thing is one of the best condenser microphones around and is noted for extremely low noise along with insanely crisp vocal clarity. They’re so fond of these mics that they own several as they tend to burn through them. Eminem even carries one with him in case he goes to a studio that doesn’t have one. Also with it being a pretty modern mic they are very interchangeable as they are practically identical. There are no unique nuances that a particular vintage Neumann U87 might have for example. Dr. Dre on the Sony C800G:

“I like my vocals to sound ‘crystal,’” states Dre. “I use the Sony C-800G for vocals because it has a clean sound and about 85% of the people that get behind it sound great. My main objective is that the vocal sound is present and clean and ultimately does not distort.”

Eminem will thicken up his vocals by doubling up tracks using this mic. It takes a lot of talent and practice to be able to get the vocals to sit really tight using this technique but if you get it right it’s much easier on the guy mixing your track.

If you have the money for one you can check it out here: Sony C800G Studio Condenser Microphone

For a superb alternative but still expensive mic we would highly recommend the Manley Reference Cardioid Microphone

This mic is really next-level stuff but for lower budgets you can’t go wrong with an Audio-Technica AT2020 or an AKG C214

Kanye West: Audio-Technica AT4050, AT4060 & Sony C800G

Kanye has used several different microphones for his recordings. It comes as no surprise he has used the aforementioned Sony C800G on occasion as noted by Sound On Sound magazine:

Kanye West’s ‘Through The Wire’ would have been a challenge to any engineer. The track was about the serious car accident that left the artist’s jaw wired shut during the recording schedule. “It does sound unique, yeah — it’s hard to sing when you can’t open your mouth,” Marroquin chuckles. He used a Sony C800 condenser microphone to take advantage of the Sony’s higher sensitivity under the circumstances, but running it through his usual signal chain of a Neve 1073 EQ and a Tube-tech CL1B compressor straight into Pro Tools.

Kanye West’s “The College Dropout” featured Audio-Technica’s AT4050 and AT4060 as main vocal mics.

“The AT4050 is what I used for most of Kanye’s vocals,” said Record Plant staff engineer Jun Ishizeki. “It has a slight but very effective bump in the upper-midrange that’s right where many engineers start to push, so it really enhances the vocal at that critical point. At the same time, the AT4050 is a very flat-response microphone, so you’re always getting the actual sound of the singer, not the curve of the microphone itself. I love that combination.”

These are both fantastic mics and you can check them out here: The Audio-Technica AT4050 and the more expensive AT4060

Again we recommend their baby brother Audio-Technica AT2020 if you’re on a budget.

He has also been known to use Neumann U87s and U47s but usually hard to come by vintage ones.

Tupac Shakur: Neumann U87

For the majority of his recordings for Death Row Records Tupac would use a vintage Neumann U87. This would be fed into a Neve or SSL 4k preamp and a Studer® A800 Multichannel Tape Recorder.

The number of artists who have used this legendary mic could make a list a mile long. You can purchase a brand new Neumann U87 or spend a bit more (or a lot more) for a vintage one second-hand. These can be very expensive but usually have a great history attached to them as so many people love them.

Jay Z: Neumann U87, U47 & TLM67

with Jay Z being one of the biggest rappers in the world and a hugely successful businessman it is no surprise that the quality of the microphones he uses are second-to-none. Like a lot of other musicians he is also a big fan of the Neumann U87 and Neumann TLM67. He recorded ’99 Problems’ using a Neumann U47 – a hugely popular tube microphone.

With regard to recording Jay‑Z at Roc The Mic, Young Guru relates,

“My signal chain is normally a Neumann 87 or 67 going into an Avalon 737. I love the way the Avalon preamp sounds with his voice. It’s a perfect match. I use the 737 compressor as well as the preamp. I recorded Kanye’s vocal with a Neumann 67 going into a Neve 1073 and then an [Urei] LA2A. From there I go straight into input 1 of Pro Tools, at 24/44.1. I am not a big fan of super‑high sample rates. One, the files gets too big, and two, I don’t hear enough difference to make higher sampling rates worthwhile for what we do. The music itself is often coming from a 16‑bit sampler, so arguing about bit depth is not going to make a big difference. Also, I have to go down to 44.1/16‑bit at the end of the day, which makes higher resolutions even less relevant.”

Beastie Boys

The Beastie Boys recorded some of their early stuff using cheap mics from radio shack. It gave them that rougher sound that they liked when they were starting off. As they progressed their main microphone of choice was the Neumann U47. It was actually a microphone that was shared by many other big artists in the same studio including Gwen Stefani, Beck, Blink 182 and others. Once a sound engineer finds a mic he likes he tends to get some great mileage out of it.

They have of course used other mics during their many albums. One of their studio engineers remembers a session using AKG 414s:

“I recorded the Beasties back in 1984 at Shakedown Studios in NYC…they were 4, with a girl named Kate also in the group. I set them up facing each other with 4 AKG 414 mics in hypercardiod. They would do a pass all together and then go back one by one and fix. This way we could mute each one’s original vocal with very little bleed during the overdub. I think that they just had a 12″ deal at the time. I remember being there with Andy Wallace when he showed them the John Bonham samples on the Emulator.”

Owning an AKG C414 Condenser Microphone could be the best thing to happen to your studio considering how versatile it is. A cheaper alternative but still amazing mic is the AKG C214

If you want to go the pricier Neumann route you could consider getting a U47 FET Microphone

If you’re sticking to a tight budget and want to keep your spending under $50 then you can’t go wrong with some of these cheaper microphones:

4 responses to “The Best Microphones For Recording Rap Vocals From The Biggest Artists In The World

  1. Judson Kirckof says:

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  3. Thysta says:

    Technology changed the game. I have no reason to ever replace my AT2020USB+. It is easy to use, and has stunning sound with a very low noise (lower than the non-USB version I used to own that too). I’m amazed at this $150 mic every single time I use it.

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