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Knowing how to choose the best vocal mic is an important skill given the hundreds and thousands of vocal microphones in the market. It’s easy to feel confused about how to navigate such a saturated market, but you need not be overwhelmed thanks to this guide!
We will be laying down the general properties you must look for when choosing vocal microphones based on what work best for you, your vocal type, and your intended application.
Knowing the mic type to use will help vocal sounds stand out and shine from the background noise or backup instrumentals. You will also need to know and use the right microphone type depending on the location and application you intend to use it for.
Regardless of vocal type, the best microphone for vocals would either be a dynamic microphone or a condenser microphone. These are the two microphone picks a vocalist would often choose from but the final decision would depend on how and where the mic will be used.
If you’re a live performer, then the right mic for your vocal sound is a dynamic microphone. Dynamic mics are the best vocal microphones that can capture live sound and live vocals while withstanding loud noise before signal distortion sets in.
A few different mics that fall under this type also have built-in high-pass filters to help attenuate any sub-bass frequencies, which will come in handy when you are performing live to prevent your voice from getting drowned out by the bass response from instruments or background noise.
Another reason why a dynamic microphone is a good mic for live, loud singers is due to its strong and durable build. Unlike other microphones, dynamic mics can be thrown and passed around and you are assured it won’t break. For vocal performances wherein you want to personally hold the mic, a dynamic microphone will work best as it won’t be as sensitive and shaky.
For live applications, make sure that the mic pre-amp and stage monitors are situated accordingly from the microphone so as to prevent live feedback that may not be pleasing to the ears.
For studio vocals, a condenser mic is the best type of microphone to use. A condenser microphone is excellent for picking up delicate voice sounds. If you want your own voice and the smallest nuances and details to be picked up in the recording, then condenser mics are your go-to.
A condenser mic also has a wider frequency response and dynamic range, which makes it a great mic choice for recording quality. When used in a quiet and controlled recording setting such as a recording studio, one’s unique voice and vocal range will shine making it every musician’s friend. Just make sure to use a shock mount for added clarity.
Not all vocal microphones are built the same. Depending on the model and manufacturer, there are specific properties and characteristics of these microphones that will make them different from one another. Hence, an expensive mic is not necessarily an automatic gauge as the best microphone option. With that, it’s important to know the different properties to look for when choosing a great-sounding mic for vocal applications.
At the start of this guide, we discussed that the two mic types best for singing are dynamic and cardioid.
Dynamic microphones are great vocal mics because they can handle high volumes and are not as sensitive when it comes to picking up subtle nuances, mouth noises, and vocal sounds. This is the type of mic you would like to use if you plan on recording a group of loud singers without worrying about the possible sound distortion of the human voice.
On the other hand, condenser microphones are more sensitive but they do provide a stronger signal. With that, they are great mics to use for a controlled recording setting as each sound source can be easily picked up by these highly sensitive mics.
There is another type of mic that is great at recording one’s voice, specifically one’s speaking voice, and that is a ribbon microphone. Ribbon microphones are dynamic microphones that are side-address and bi-directional with a figure-8 pattern.
Unlike the common dynamic microphones, ribbon mics are extremely sensitive because of the way their diaphragms are built; with a thin strip of metal ribbon that is suspended within its magnetic field to convert an electrical signal into sound waves. This delicate design gives a ribbon microphone a rich, warm, and natural audio quality that not only sounds good but also vintage and iconic. Thus, many radio broadcast stations from before opt to use a ribbon mic to make their sound rich and warm, regardless of the vocal types of the speakers.
That is not to say that ribbon microphones can also be used as vocal mics for singing. Plenty of legendary recording artists such as Elvis Presley, Franky Sinatra, Billie Holiday, and Nat King Cole use a ribbon mic as the best microphone that will give them a smooth, warm, and vintage sound of their voice while retaining clear clarity sound on top of the other instruments. This all makes the difference for any audio engineer who would have to do some equalizing and post-processing to the sound recording.
Microphones are able to capture sound perfectly and clearly depending on the polar pattern they have. These polar patterns capture sound in relation to the head of the microphone because of the regions that are able to detect one’s voice or the source. This is the reason why there are times when you angle and position a microphone a certain way, the way it captures sound will differ.
Knowing the polar patterns of the microphones you will be choosing will allow you to focus on the sound, in this case, one’s voice, more clearly and accurately. The best microphone polar patterns for vocals are usually a cardioid polar pattern, omnidirectional polar pattern, or a figure-8 polar pattern. You will have to choose which of these polar patterns you want your mic to have depending on where the sound is coming from and where the sounds you want to reject are located in.
Cardioid mics are most sensitive at 0° and least sensitive at 180°. This makes it a great mic to use if the voice it has to pick up is directed right in front of it because it can also effectively reject unwanted sounds, like a drum kit, from the back. Since these mics will have to be situated in front of a person, it’s best to make use of a mic stand to keep it steady and a pop filter to prevent any plosives and wind noise pickup.
Do check if the mic you are using already has a shock mount and a built-in pop filter, which they usually do. In case it doesn’t, buying a new mic is not necessary right away since pop filters are generally affordable.
Omnidirectional microphones are sensitive to sound from any direction and angle. For this reason, it’s a great microphone to use if you plan on recording a group of people or voices from all parts of the room. It is also capable of producing a stellar bass response while retaining a flat frequency response so it can create a natural reverb to one’s voice.
Figure-8 microphones are sensitive at 0° to 180° but are least sensitive at 90° to 270°. For this reason, this microphone is often used for stereo recording techniques where rejected sounds from the side are preferred. This is a good microphone to use if you want to record one’s voice coming from in front and behind while slightly picking up the instruments or ambient sounds from the side.
Based on how a microphone is designed, the way it will respond to frequencies will differ. The frequency response of a microphone will make one’s voice sound “flat” or not, which is why it’s important to know and understand what a microphone’s frequency response can do in manipulating the sound and voice quality of a recording.
Generally, you would want to choose a microphone that has a roll-off bass frequency under 200 Hz. This will allow the microphone to roll off high frequencies in about the 10 kHz range and bump lower frequencies in the 3 kHz-9 kHz range. A microphone with a frequency range of 80 Hz to 15 kHz is also a good basis to have for any type of vocal range and type.
To also prevent the proximity effect to occur, one should also be mindful of a microphone’s low-frequency output. Such occurrence usually happens in directional microphones and unless you want to give your voice a greater bass boost, you should avoid the proximity effect for a balanced sound. On the other hand, a microphone with an extended frequency response is ideal for vocal types that are low and “boomy” since this will help balance out the voice and minimize the proximity effect.
It’s good to consider vocal types as a factor in choosing the frequency response settings of a microphone. This will significantly affect how natural or the overall quality of one’s voice will sound like through the microphone and recording.
A microphone’s diaphragm is where it receives the sound waves. It is the plate wherein the waves will hit to make it move. A microphone can be classified to have a small diaphragm, a medium diaphragm, or a large diaphragm.
Large-diaphragm condensers are often the choice for recording loud sounds and vocals since their thick size is durable enough to accommodate high SPL situations. This also helps in adding color to a sound. Subjectively, they also sound better on low-frequency sounds especially when recording the human voice.
Small-diaphragm condensers do a better job at recording transients and high-frequency sounds because they have a greater sensitivity. They’re better at recording delicate sounds and voices.
Now that you know what to look for in a vocal microphone, it’s time for you to choose the best and perfect vocal mic for you. Take your pick in this guide on the best microphones for vocals we’ve created and allow your vocals to shine even further!
Yes, there are great USB microphones you can use for vocal applications. Although they have the reputation to be “cheap” microphones, they can actually produce impressive and quality recordings.
There are even USB-XLR microphones that can produce audio of higher quality than most USB microphones. These types of microphones have a microphone capsule and a built-in analog-to-digital converter that will give you the sound quality of an XLR microphone at a more accessible price. Although you will need an XLR connector, the setup of a USB mic is still fairly easy.
Yes, the cable of a microphone will affect the overall quality of your vocal recordings. Do make sure that the cables you are using have no damage.