So you’re a singer… you’ve practiced your vocal chops, you’ve got your sound nailed and now you want to record yourself? Well for that you’re going to need a microphone. If this is your first time looking for a microphone, a quick search online could induce a mild panic. Fortunately, we’ve never been in a better time for getting great studio equipment at competitive prices and with just a little bit of knowledge. you can get a pro sound for very little cost. Most people’s first thought, and rightly so, is what a mic will sound like, but unless you are able to use your mic in a really well treated recording studio then technical constraints of each mic and how they relate to your voice and recording environment will have a much bigger impact on the quality of your recordings than just the sound of the microphone alone. There are many different types of microphones available but most of the one’s you’ll come across as a recording vocalist will be one of the following two:
Large Diaphragm Condenser (LDC)
LDC’s are probably the first mic you think of when you imagine a singer in the studio. They come in various shapes and sizes but commonly have a metal grille around the side of the mic that the vocalist sings into. LDC’s often have an airy top end, can sound very intimate and capture a huge amount of detail. The good news is this makes them very versatile and flattering for most voices. They’ll often bring out the brightness in smoother sounding vocals and make the vocals sound close and present. They can, however, sound brittle if you have a particularly bright or nasal sounding voice and they’ll pick up every unpleasant detail if you have less than perfect mic technique. The other potential downside is they are super sensitive to background noise so they’ll capture the natural acoustics of your room whether you want them to or not, and unless you want that dog barking in the distance on your new single you’d better make sure you record somewhere quiet. Great budget examples of LDC’s for singers are the Rode NT1-A and Lewitt LCT 440.
Consider if: You have a quiet room to record in, a smooth or neutral sounding voice.
Tread with caution if: You have a noisy/reverberant recording environment, a particularly aggressive sounding voice.
Dynamic mics are the most common vocal mic type for live performances, in no small part because they predominantly pick up what’s directly in front of them (you) and much less background sound (the noisy drummer!). For this reason they are often used for vocals in the studio if tracking a band all in the same room, or if you need to reject some of the room’s natural reverb from the recording. They also capture much less detail than a LDC would which makes them great for smoothing out aggressive vocals where a LDC might sound ‘brittle’. For this reason they are popular amongst rock and metal vocalists, even in the studio. Great budget examples of dynamic mics for singers are the Shure SM58, Shure SM7B, and EV RE20.
Consider if: You have to record in a sub optimal environment (room reverb/background noise). Have a vocal sound which doesn’t sound good through a LDC.
Tread with caution if: Most dynamic mics don’t flatter vocals in the same way LDCs do, so you can have to work harder at the mix stage to coax out some brightness and get that intimate ‘studio’ sound. Knowing the differences between these types of mic is a great starting point, but I would always recommend trying some beforehand if you plan to buy one. Don’t be afraid to experiment with other types of mics, too – for example ribbon and valve mics can also sound great on vocals but they are usually less budget-friendly and they have their own unique characteristics you’ll need to be aware of.
Remember that any mic can sound bad if not used properly and the most important thing to get right is the source material (you!).