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Famous Studio Mics: Muse, Madonna & More

Ever wonder what top selling artists use in the studio to get their vocals sounding great?

Norah Jones, Chasing Pirates – Telefunken ELA M 250 (vintage) paired with a Placid Audio Copperphone


Telefunken’s ELA 250 is a highly regarded vocal microphone that was first introduced in 1958 and is a long-time favorite of Norah Jones. In the song Chasing Pirates, its sweet and rich sound was combined with a Placid Audio Copperphone to give the vocals more color. “It’s basically an old pay phone telephone voice element in a custom copper enclosure. I put that right next to the 250. It has a very frequency limited, old time gritty, edgy sound and gave the vocal a little more texture”. – Producer: Jackquire King

Green Day, ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tré! – Shure SM7


The Shure SM7 is a large diaphragm dynamic microphone that was originally designed for radio broadcasts and has since become a popular choice for male rock singers. “I wanted to use something that was more handheld, ’cause I was so used to that doing demos. I feel like I have more control over my voice using a handheld mic. And I wanted more of a live approach to my vocals, and this is more of a live approach than we’ve ever captured with my vocals than on any album, ever”. – Billie Joe Armstrong

The Killers, Battle Born – Shure SM58


Sometimes it’s more important to feel comfortable and capture the best vocal performance you can sing rather than worry too much about perfect sound quality. “I am so used to performing live with a [Shure SM] 58. That’s where I feel comfortable, gripping that sucker. I have my hand over the ball. I think it makes it more directional and it also distorts it. The emotions come across a certain way when I’m really up on the mic like that. It’s about being comfortable, but it does affect the mic detrimentally when I grip it like that. But sometimes if it’s an edgier song, that can sound cool.” – Brandon Flowers

Madonna, Like a Virgin – AKG C24


The now discontinued AKG C24 is a stereo tube condenser microphone. It is closely related to AKG C12 microphone, which is a popular choice for many female singers. However the C24 uses two capsules in order to offer the option of stereo recording. Stereo recording is typically used for instrumental recordings and not for vocals; in the case of “Like a Virgin”, just the top capsule of the microphone was used to create a mono recording of Madonna’s vocals.

Pavarotti, Nessun Dorma – Neumann KM64


When recording classical vocals it is common to record them at a larger distance than you would in contemporary genres – and often with small diaphragm microphones such as the Neumann KM64. “For ‘Nessun Dorma’, Pavarotti was recorded on stage, standing about eight feet behind a KM64 that was focused on him, while those for the singers on either side provided width by way of his voice bleeding into them, too. At that distance, there was no need for pop shields, no threat of capsules succumbing to the sheer force of the vocals”. – Engineer: James Lock

Muse, The 2nd Law – Neumann U67


The Neumann U67 is a multi-pattern large-diaphragm condenser microphone that combines a tube-and-transformer design. It was introduced by Neumann in 1960 with the intention of replacing the U47 in Neumann’s product line and was used by artists such as The Rolling Stones on “Sympathy for the Devil” and The Beatles on “Hey Jude” (although a U47 was still used on most of their other recordings).

Sinead O Connor, Nothing Compares 2u – AKG C 414B


Since 1971 the AKG C414 has remained a popular choice for instrumental and vocal recording because for its clear neutral sound. “With Sinéad and most other artists, I use an AKG C 414B-ULS for vocals. It’s one of my favorite mics because it can take a lot of dynamics, whereas if I used a Neumann her vocal would have been distorted all the way through, thanks to her terrible mic technique. The 414 can take a lot of punishment and still be clear with practically no background noise.” – Producer: Chris Birkett

Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On? – Neumann U87i


The Neumann U87 is one of the most popular vocal microphones ever made. It was designed as a solid-state version of the U67 tube microphone and has been used on countless hit records on both vocals and instruments. There have been several versions of the microphone produced over the decades and Neumann still produces a modern version that remains faithful to the 1967 original.

You can about about what live microphones other singers use in our previous article Famous Studio Mics.

Chris Kennedy is the principal product reviewer for voicecouncil.com. Chris is a musician in the United Kingdom – you can see more about his work at www.chriskennedymusic.co.uk You can also see more articles by Chris here.

  • bobo65

    We recorded “What’s Going On” with a Neumann KM86!
    Lots of pop vocals were recorded 5 to 8 feet back from the microphone exactly like classical. That way we needed little or no compression to compensate for the singer’s head motion. It did require first class studio acoustics to avoid noise and coloration.

  • Thanks for your comments and the further information about the technique – very interesting. My source for the use of a U87 was an interview with Ken Sands who was an engineer on the track.

  • bobo65

    I was sitting next to him! I don’t think we had our 87s at that point.

  • Jay

    Wow This is cool! Exactly what I was looking for today. It’s not really weird that you see the Nuemann’s being used a lot.

  • Nat Stringer

    This piece on Michael Stavrou’s (Paul McCartney, Kate bush etc) favourite studio mics is super interesting too – http://enmoreaudio.com/michael-stavrous-favourite-mics-of-all-time-so-far/

  • Thank you very much. Interesting read. Love Luciano Pavarotti, Green Day, Muse, Madonna etc.