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A review by: Alphonso Soosay

Vocal recordings in a recording studio create additional emphasis on the importance of capturing and recording a vocal performance as perfectly as possible. The disappointing part is that young Vocalists tend to become tired or lose their feeling for a song easily during a vocal session, but interestingly their initial few takes tend to be the most excellent from my experience.

Take advantage of your best condenser microphone for all your vocal recordings perform, because it will allow you to pick up the natural vocal tone and details of the singers characteristics. If you work with vocals recordings much, then invest in a good quality condenser microphone as it will pay off in prominence.

Prior to the audio recording session start, the recording engineer has to set the correct input level for recording and headphone (monitor) mix, also making sure that the atmosphere for singing is to be at its best for the vocalist.  Some Vocalist can be a sensitive lot, so experienced recording engineers sometimes start off the session with some entertaining encouragement of words and whatever else it takes to make them feel like a celebrity. It is very important to settle down a vocalist and make them feel confident in a recording session.

The Singers vocal can be a challenging timbre to re-create in the studio because fans and friends of theirs are evidently used to hearing their voices. Listeners can be critical if the singer’s voice does not sound exactly as it should. So that’s why, selecting the accurate vocal microphone is so essential.

Vocal Microphones are manufactured in all shapes and sizes, importantly, understanding of how they work will be of assistance in any assessment of which one you choose. Most microphones work in a similar way. Microphones consist of a diaphragm (ribbon), which responds to changes in air pressure. This movement or vibration is in turn converted into an electrical signal, which is then amplified to produce sound. This is the basic of science in the wake of creating a sound with a microphone.

The options of: Condenser, Ribbon and Dynamic microphones.

There are three main recording types of microphone to choose from: Condenser, Ribbon and Dynamic microphones.

1) Condenser microphones are extra sensitive to sound pressure changes. They also produce a greater frequency response and dynamic range than dynamic microphones. For this reason condensers have a tendency to be the first choice for recording vocals in studios. Condenser microphones require a power source, called “phantom power” (supply to function). This is required to power the built in preamplifier of the microphone and also to polarize (power) the capsule.

2)  Ribbon microphones are often richer in tone compared to the options. They are smoother in timbre and more fragile in handling it; On the other hand, Ribbon microphones do not have the glorified top-end frequencies like the Condenser microphones and unlike dynamic microphones they are very sensitive to Sound Pressure changes. For this reason, Ribbon’s have to be treated with complete care as the ribbon will not tolerate excessive movement from either loud sources or being thrown around. They also normally uphold a much lower output level compared to condensers and dynamics and subsequently need more gain from a recording pre-amplifier.

3) Dynamic microphones are generally used in recordings for close miking purposes such as acoustic drums, electric guitar amplifiers and others. Dynamic microphone sounds are usually more mid-range focused and they can deal with higher sound pressure levels especially with heavy snare beats, kick bass drums and screaming rock singers.

The options of using the correct Microphone Patterns

Choosing the correct microphone pattern for the required microphone is another important subject. In actual fact there are three essential popular patterns, Omni-directional, Cardioid, and Bi-Directional for anyone to consider and at the same time trying to understand the area where the microphone pickup’s up sound:

1)    Omni-directional: As its name suggests, is a microphone that will pickup sound equally from all directions within a “Circle” format. It is useful if you want to record multiple backing singers and the entire ambience around the source.

2)    Cardioid:  On the other hand is known as “Heart-Shaped’ It picks up the source mainly from the front as a heart shape format, while rejecting most sound from the sides and rear. The quality advantage here is that the microphone captures only the lead singer at its best level when the singer is focused directly at the recording source.

Another good cardioid family option is Hyper-cardioid is similar and often ranks itself as in the same category. This option purely has a narrower field of pick-up than the normal cardioid and are very well suited for lead singers where more isolation is required in recording studios and where feedback can be a problem.

3)     Bi-Directional: Is known as “Figure of Eight”. It is a pattern that picks up sound equally from the front and rear of the microphone, whilst any signals from the sides will be rejected. Ideal for 2 or 4 backing singers facing each other.

As a final objective check while deciding on a suitable microphone for your audio recording requirements you should look into the following 3 practical points:

1)    Importantly consider microphone frequency response for its use. If the microphone is flat response, then it will consequently produce a more natural vocal result. Make sure it does not boost particular mid frequencies as it will change the vocal tone (timbre)

2)  Check the microphone’s polar pattern; Make sure it has the pick-up pattern you require for your recording purposes. Check the sensitivity. How much gain will you need on your preamp to get the compulsory level for recording?

3) Finally check the dynamic range and the noise level. Make sure that the microphone can handle the softest and loudest levels for capturing your vocal performance?

Dynamic microphones can be noteworthy because they handle demanding sounds well and also reject other noises from the sides, and are also virtually indestructible. Although dynamic microphones are more precise for the live stage purpose, on the contrary they are not the accurate application for vocal sessions in the recording studio. Most average priced dynamic microphones do not produce the full range frequency spectrum extremely well, In this case it can be a problem which sometimes shows itself in unnatural sounding vocals where lacking of certain high frequencies in vocals is required. On the other hand, a dynamic microphone is your best choice if you are working with loud singers who scream their head off, that’s because it handles the high volume (dB) at its best. Otherwise, always choose a large-diaphragm condenser microphone for studio vocal recordings. Large diaphragm condensers are those microphones with the large chubby heads. It helps the recording engineer to pick up all the required natural tone, (harmonics) and critical frequencies existing in a human voice.

Other practical guidelines for vocal recordings

As a singer gets nearer or further away from a microphone the bass frequencies increase or decrease accordingly. A typical cardioid microphone will boost or cut frequencies around 100Hz by as much as 5 to15dB if moved from 20cm to 5cm. and back again. This occurrence is known as the ‘Proximity Effect’. You can use this to your advantage if you are a recording singer, it producers a richer, deeper and often a more powerful sound that Pop or Rock singers really enjoy.

In general it is beneficial to use a shock-mount filter when recording vocals. By doing this, it puts a stop to “Plosives”, or exaggerated “Per” and “Si” noises from getting into the microphone. Often when a singer stands too close to a microphone, unexpected puffs of air will occur such as ‘Per’ or ‘Si’ sounds which will create unwanted noises into the microphone. This unexpected puff (plosive) of air is capable of really messing-up a good recording take. I am sure as a “Singer” you would not want to sing the song again when you have got the lyrics, intonation, structure of melody, diction, tempo, the phrasing and emotions of the song spot on.

Alphonso Soosay

Audio Recording Engineer


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