Home / My Life / What to Listen for When Choosing a Vocal Microphone
1 May, 2017

What to Listen for When Choosing a Vocal Microphone

How do you know you have a perfect microphone for vocals? It doesn’t go with design or brand; it goes with what you pay attention to. If you are keen, you must have seen a wide variety of issues during vocal recording, though the issues are easy to fix. Let us look at the things you need to pay attention to, and the solutions to these issues.

Distortion/Saturation/Overloading

You can’t change anything when you end up with a distorted vocal. Well, at times the distorted vocal track might sound distorted (rarely), but most times your track will come out thin, flat and unprofessional. So, when can distortion occur?

  • When one of the singers is too loud such that the capsule becomes overloaded.
  • If the mic preamp receives too much gain your track gets oversaturated.
  • If you haven’t set the limiters and compressors properly, you end up with distortion.
  • You get unpleasant clipping when your converters receive too much level.

How do you fix this distortion? Well, there is no reason for you to push too much level into the DAW. Instead, hang out in the middle. The fastest way though, would be to work your way back through the chain and find the source of the issue. If you have problems determining the cause, start off by simplifying the signal path and eliminating any variables. This gives you a clue where the distortion is and the point where you need to turn the signal down.

If you turn everything down and you still experience distortion, then the gear might be failing. Check out the cables as well.

The Character

The character of your microphone is the shape it adds to your voice. The way the character fits together with your equipment is the key of a great sounding production. When choosing the perfect mic make sure it helps the vocalist take charge of the music depending on what genre is in play. Remember, every microphone emphasizes the different areas of your voice in a unique way and therefore choosing the right mic can help bring out the good stuff and eliminate the bad.

What happens when you don’t get the character you desire? First, change the mic. Each microphone sounds different. You might be surprised to find that microphones of the same model also sound differently. If this doesn’t work, change the polar pattern. Sometimes changing the polar pattern to another one helps you get the character you need to match your recording environment or vocalist.

The Detail

Detail means the tiny little things that the mic picks up, helping reveal the depth and the emotion of the performance. You get to identify some details that come out strong or that miss out. It is up to you to determine if you want to bring out the details or not.

The sensitivity of the mic dictates the detail you get. This sensitivity is measured in terms of dBV. In general, condenser mics are more sensitive and can capture more details as compared to dynamic mics. For instance, if you are recording a soft love song you want as much detail as you can get. You can use a sensitive mic for the lead vocals and then use a less detailed mic for the background vocals.

If you are missing out on the detail, then the first step is to change the mic. Go for a more sensitive or less sensitive mic. Look up some of the top rated vocal mics to find one that suits your needs.

You also need to change the distance between the mic and you. Remember, the closer you move to the mic the more detail the mic picks up. If these don’t work, try changing the preamp since it has a high impact on the character and detail.

The Pops

Pops come up when the air escape a vocalist’s mouth and hit the capsule of the microphone. This is due to the placement of the mic, and the close proximity to the vocalist’s mouth. Too many pops end up spoiling an awesome track.

To get rid of pops, you need to have a mic with a pop filter. The pop filter works to break the pop before it reaches the mic’s capsule. If the pop filter isn’t working as you expect, try a pop pencil. This is a nifty trick that uses a pencil placed just before the capsule. The pencil splits the pop before it reaches the capsule. Another solution is to tweak the placement of the mic. Instead of placing it parallel to the mouth of the vocalist, turn the mic a little bit so that the air reaches the capsule at an angle. However you need to be careful as this might change the tone.

The Sibilance

This phenomenon varies greatly from one singer to the next. However, it is one of the easiest issues to handle. Sibilance is one of the most important components of language. It forms the basis for different sounds such as “S” and “Z”. Your sibilance can be more pronounced than that of another person’s.

To handle this problem, make sure you coach your vocalists so that they are well aware of the sibilant delivery. Let them try to handle their “S” and other components early enough. You also need to change the placement of the mic regarding the distance and the angle. Lastly, try to change the mic. Some microphones are sensitive to the components of sibilance. If you find them too sensitive, then it is time to change the mic.

Choosing the Perfect Vocal Microphone

To eliminate all these issues, you need the assistance of the right mic. Mics differ according to the type, polar patterns, frequency response and diaphragm size.

Under type, you get to choose between condenser and dynamic mics. These two are the best mics for onstage use. Dynamic mics hold up under heavy use and easily handle loud volumes. They also deliver a high gain before the feedback sets in so that you can get the highest signal before feedback. Condenser mics provide a stronger signal and better sensitivity but they aren’t the perfect choice in high-volume settings.

Polar patterns represent the way a microphone captures sound. Cardioid-type frequencies are the best for vocals. Choose a mic with a wider frequency response depending on the purpose of the mic.

The Bottomline

You will definitely face various issues when recording your track. The problems arise due to your style and the mic you choose. However, one of the ways to resolve these issues is to change the mic. Get the right type, the proper polar pattern and choose the perfect frequency to make sure you get the output you desire. Don’t let such issues spoil the fun when the solution is just a tweak away.