Miking for Great Lead Vocal Sound

You have a lot of options for miking lead vocals in your home recordings. The type of microphone that you use dictates not only the sound quality but where you place it in the recording studio.

Dynamic mic

Dynamic mics sound best when you place them close to the singer’s mouth. The effect that you get is gritty. Huh? Okay, gritty means dirty. That’s no help either? . .

  • Sound: Dynamic mics produce a midrange sound (the high frequencies aren’t reproduced well). When someone sings with the mic right in front of her mouth, the sound lacks even more high frequencies due to the proximity effect (an enhanced low-frequency response at close range).

    The result is a deep, bass-heavy sound that’s often described as gritty or dirty. This type of sound can be great for some styles of rock and blues music.

  • Setup: To set up a dynamic mic for this purpose, just put it on a stand so that the singer can get his mouth right up against the windscreen.

Large-diaphragm condenser mic

Large-diaphragm condenser mics are the most common types of mics for vocals.

  • Sound: These mics can clearly reproduce the entire audible frequency spectrum and slightly accentuate the low-mid frequencies (200–500Hz) at the same time. Their sound is nice, warm, and full-bodied. The proximity effect (how close the singer is to the mic) determines how nice and warm-bodied the sound is. The closer the singer, the deeper and richer the tone.

  • Setup: When you set up a large-diaphragm condenser mic for vocals, you need to place the mic so that nasty sibilances (the sound from singing s and t sounds) and pesky plosives (pops from singing p syllables) don’t mess up your recordings.

    To deal with plosives and sibilance, you can either use a pop filter or have the singer sing past the mic. If you want the singer to sing past the mic, you can do one of the following things:

    • Place the mic above the singer and set it at an angle pointing away from him (left panel of the illustration).

    • Put the mic off to the side and face it toward the singer (center panel of the illustration).

    • Set up the mic below the singer and angle it away from him (right panel of the illustration).

      You can place the mic at different angles to control sibilance and plosives.
      You can place the mic at different angles to control sibilance and plosives.

Small-diaphragm condenser mic

The small-diaphragm mic won’t be your first choice in a vocal mic, unless you are recording a female vocalist with a soprano voice and you want to catch the more ethereal quality of her higher frequencies.

  • Sound: The small-diaphragm condenser mic creates a much more bright or airy sound than the large-diaphragm mic. This means that it doesn’t contain the low-mid (200–500 Hz) warmth of its larger-diaphragm counterpart.

  • Setup: You set up the small-diaphragm mic in the same way that you set up the large-diaphragm mic.

Ribbon mic

The ribbon mic is a good choice if you’re looking for a crooner-type sound (think Frank Sinatra).

  • Sound: The ribbon mic is thought to add a silky sound to the singer’s voice. By silky, is a slight drop-off in the high frequencies (not as severe as a dynamic mic, though). Ribbon mics have a kind of softness that the large-diaphragm condenser mics don’t have. The sound is more even, without the pronounced low-mid effect.

  • Setup: If you use a ribbon mic, you can set it up in the same way that you set up a condenser mic. Just be more careful about singing directly into a ribbon mic because the ribbon can break if you sing, speak, or breathe too hard into it.

Many digital studios (the SIAB and computer-based systems, especially) contain mic simulator programs as part of their effects packages. Mic simulators allow you to use a relatively inexpensive mic (a Shure SM57, for instance) and make it sound like a much more expensive vocal mic.

The mic simulator doesn’t match the sound of a great mic perfectly but does give you more options, especially if you don’t have the bucks to buy a handful of top-notch vocal mics.

One of the great things about using a mic simulator is that you can choose the exact sound you want after you’ve recorded the vocal part. This way, you can spend less time trying to choose the perfect mic and get down to the business of recording before your singer gets worn out.

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