Vocal Mic Selection

I have always thought it was important to choose your first vocal mic carefully. After you build your home studio mic collection you may find a number of mics in your cabinet which could all work wonders on a vocal recording. Once you have the luxury of multiple mics at your disposal it can be quite a bit of fun selecting the mic that most complements your vocalist’s voice. This article will show you an effective way to quickly make a mic selection.

Home Recording Microphones

I have three mics available that I think sound great on vocals in a home recording situation.

AKG C 3000 B Condenser Microphone

AKG C 3000 B price check


I recommend the C3000B to a lot of people as their first large diaphram home studio condenser microphone. It has a very clean and true sound. It is great on everything from vocals and acoustic guitars to drum overheads and 4×12 guitar cabs!
CAD Equitek e100 Condenser Microphone

CAD Equitek e100 price check


The e100 really shines on vocals. It has a very warm and traditional sound quality to it. If you want a home studio microphone with a lot more of its own character than this is a great choice. Using this mic into digital can really warm up the signal.
Oktava MK-319 Large Diaphragm Condenser Mic

Oktava MK-319 price check


I picked one of these up for a steal when they were closing them out at Guitar Center. This mic has quite a following. It has a somewhat dirty sound. It works well when you want a vintage tone. That’s vintage as in lo-fi not vintage as in warm.

Setting up the mics

When judging mics against each other it is important to make sure you are comparing accurately. This means you don’t want to track each microphone separately and compare the takes. You want to eliminate the differences that can come singing the same part over and over. The way I handle this is to set up the mics with their capsules in as close to the same place as possible. I set up my three mics in a line. I could also have set them up in a triangle but with just three mics a line is close enough. The picture below shows how I have the mics arranged. You can see a bit of tissue placed between the microphones so they don’t rub or click together while we’re testing.

Vocal Mic Placement
Mic placement for testing vocals

Vocal mic audition

My DAW is set up to record each mic to its own mono track. If you don’t have the capability to record three mono tracks at once then you will want to audition the mics in pairs using a process of elimination. Have the vocalist record a portion of a take. Singing just one verse or one chorus is enough to check out the mics. If the vocalist or song is very dynamic (with a quite verse and loud chorus) then you will want to record enough of the song to allow you to judge each microphone based on the full range of what it will be asked to do. Sometimes a mic sounds good on low notes but bad on high, great on the loud parts but loses definition during quiet parts. Once you’ve recorded your test take you can start comparing the mics. Mute all but one of the vocal mic tracks and start playback with all the instrumental tracks playing as well. The reason for this is to judge the mics based on how they will sound in the mix. Some mics will help the vocalist to cut through better even if they aren’t the most pleasing when solo’d. Take turns with each microphone track, unmuting it while muting the others. It is a pretty simple process at this point to just keep listening back to the different mics and pic the one you and the vocalist like best.

Once you pick your favorite mic you will want to solo just that track and listen back. You are primarily concerned with the way the mic sits in the mix but it is important to give yourself a sanity check on the sound of the mic. There are things you might not hear during this initial audition that you will start to hear once you listen to the song about a hundred times in a row while mixing.

We talked a bit about really dynamic vocalists or songs and it could be possible you pick more than one mic. It is not unheard of to use one mic for the verse and a different mic for the chorus. Your home studio is your creative playground, be sure to have fun and experiment!

Share
Share this Post[?]
        

2 Responses to “Vocal Mic Selection”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. Cubinoid says:

    Good information on choosing a vocal mic.

    However…

    Whilst I realize that teh quality of a microphone’s “sound” is largely subjective, I would ask readers to suspend their view of the sound of the Oktave MK319 until they actually listen to it.

    If you want a second opinion, this is an excellent little mic. I use it in favour of my Neumann from time to time and do not find anything ‘lo fi’ about it at all.

    They benefit from a cradle and mods…

    http://www.oktavamodshop.com

  2. bvesco says:

    I agree with you! In fact this article http://benvesco.com/tonemonster/tracking/2008/miking-drums/ explains how it has become on of my favorite mics on drums. I also recently used it on a vocal recording where it blew my C3000B out of the water on this guy’s voice! My opinion of this mic is changed forever.

    …and thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!