I believe there is no greater instrument in existence that is as beautiful, intricate, and stunning as the human voice. With proper technique and a melody worth singing, the human voice is capable of producing music like no other instrument on earth. As I record a vocalist in the studio, I oftentimes find myself mesmerized by an emotional performance. It is my favorite part of recording and well worth the time and energy spent learning how to perfect the craft of vocal recording. A great vocal microphone is also worth the financial investment. Here are some tips for choosing a great vocal microphone!
WHAT TO LISTEN FOR
When choosing a vocal microphone the number one factor to consider is what I like to call the "inspiration factor." Choose the microphone that draws you in and inspires you to sing. Choose the one that accurately portrays all the nuances and characteristics of your voice. This microphone should have...
– Full sounding low end without being 'boomy'
– Warm low-mid range without being too scooped
– Exciting "forward" presence in the high-mids
– Sweet sounding top end without being too harsh or sibilant.
You must know that not every vocalist will sound great on every microphone. Like finding a perfect pair of jeans, not every pair is going to make you look your best or fit just right. Try out a lot of microphones and determine your favorites. Try expensive ones, cheap ones, and all the ones in between. With all the great microphone makers in existence today, do not be fooled into thinking that price is the indicator of a great microphone. You could save a lot of money if you trust your ears!
VOCAL MICROPHONE TYPES
Large Diaphragm Tube Condenser Microphones
You can record vocals on just about any type of microphone and yield favorable results, but engineers have generally gravitated towards large diaphragm tube condenser microphones because of their big sound and full-bodied response. Microphones like the Telefunken U47, Neumann U67, Telefunken ELA M 251, and the AKG C12 are among the more famous (and expensive) large diaphragm tube microphones. These types of microphones find their origins in the days when tubes were used almost exclusively as the amplifiers in recording equipment in the 40's-60's. Solid state microphones and recording equipment did not find its place in the music industry until the 70's. Technology has advanced beyond tubes as a necessity for recording circuitry, but there is still something musically pleasing about tube microphones.
Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphones (Non-Tube)
Oftentimes as desirable and effective as tube condenser microphones are non-tube condenser microphones like the Neumann U87 or AKG 414. As I mentioned above, these microphones are "solid state" and do not rely on a tube. These microphones are powered by phantom power and also possess large full-bodied frequency responses. These microphones are also typically a bit more affordable than tube microphones because they are less expensive to manufacture.
Though not as popular or versatile, engineers have been known to choose dynamic microphones like the Shure SM57 or SM7 in the studio. Though these microphones do not capture as wide a frequency range as a large diaphragm microphone, a dynamic microphone can be just what the doctor ordered for a particular track, even when more expensive tube microphones are available. I find myself reaching for an SM7 when I am working with rock bands, or anything with more of a raw quality to the sound. Dynamic microphones are also very inexpensive and can be used on a host of other applications other than vocals.
Listed below are a few great vocal microphones you may want to consider. Each of these microphones is capable of yielding professional results and a pleasing sound when placed in front of the right vocalist and utilized in the right song. A vocal microphone can be a big investment, but it doesn't necessarily have to be. For this reason, I've included microphones at varying price points, from very expensive to inexpensive in hopes that you'll be able to find a great microphone no matter the budget.
Manley Reference Cardioid - The Manley Reference Cardioid Microphone is one of my favorite tube condenser microphones. It has a wonderfully clean sound and a crisp top end and sounds great on pop vocals.
Neumann U87 - The U87 is a classic large diaphragm condenser microphone and well known for its fantastic reproduction of the human voice. Used on countless hit records, the U87 is rugged and versatile. The ability to record in several different polar patterns is very useful.
Blue Kiwi - The Blue Kiwi is a fantastic large diaphragm condenser microphone with a modern sound. Full sounding in the low mids and brighter on the top. This microphone is especially wonderful on female vocalists, though great at recording just about any instrument.
Mojave MA200 - This microphone shows up in most of my reviews. It is an amazing large diaphragm tube condenser microphone and has some similar characteristics of a Neumann U67. I am not saying it's a replica, but I do tend to use it in place of a 67 with great results. Warm and exciting, this is a great vocal microphone.
Shure SM7 - The Shure SM7 is a wonderful dynamic microphone and is known for its reproduction of vocals, both spoken and sung. The SM7 has a mid range presence boost that favors a vocal nicely.
You're going to have to do some research. It's going to take time, but don't worry, you will find that "holy grail" microphone. The one that makes you sound like a million bucks. If you are a producer, you may need to have a few microphones in order to accommodate the different vocals that come in and out of your studio. Either way you are going to have to start your search somewhere. I hope the information above aids you in that search. When you're recording gorgeous sounding vocals you'll be glad you took the extra time to find just the right mic for you!