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What Microphone Is The Right One?

Date: Wednesday, July 12, 2006 8:47:08 AM

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The use of microphones may seem a simple concept: Stick a mic in front of whatever is making a noise and turn it up, right? Wrong. Picking the correct microphone and using it correctly is as important to a band as a guitarist being in tune - do it badly and everyone will know.

As a music arranger working with singers on a daily basis, the number of vocalists who do not own a microphone permanently amazes me. They constantly want to borrow or hire one from me! While the ability to sing is obviously the main factor, (though not always the case!) a mic is the equivalent of a guitarist's amp - it is of huge influence to the sound produced. Add to that the nasty things that are lurking on the mic from every other singer that has used it…

So, vocalists should have their own mic. But what should they choose? It is dependant on the individual and certain mics will suit certain voices but there are a few likely candidates that provide an excellent starting point.

The most commonly used mic is the Shure SM58 (around R1000). Everybody has seen them, everybody has used them and for a good reason. They produce a sound suitable for the majority of vocal: they can take high levels without distorting, they have fairly good feedback rejection and they look like an ice cream. On the more technical side, the frequency response has something referred to as a "presence peak" between 1kHz and 4kHz. Since this frequency range covers much of the sound which makes speech/singing clear this therefore helps in producing a sound which is clearly audible over your backing track.

However SM58's can be a little bass heavy (take a look at any EQ setting for a vocal SM58) and lack a certain "sparkle" (around 12K). Therefore some vocalists, especially female singers may want to try the Shure Beta 58A (around R1300). They are a little more expensive, but produce a brighter sound and have better output level compared to the SM58. They also have a different directional response, which means the feedback rejection is better (if you or your live engineer knows where to put the monitors!).
Many people never look further than these two mics. However if you can try others here are some options:

Shure: Beta 87A (around R2000) higher quality all round than the Beta 58 - you get what you pay for!

Sennheiser: Evolution series (E835 = R800; E845 = R950): produce a warmer sound than the Shures at the expense of a some clarity - useful for "quieter" music

Beyer Dynamic: Opus series: a range of mics from the Opus 39 (under R600) to the Opus 81 (R1100). Good feedback rejection (so I'm told, never seen it personally) and a flatter frequency response - a good choice if you trust your engineer!

AKG D3700/3800: (3700 = R950. 3800 = R1700): similar to the SM58's though the 3800 leaves Shure behind in terms of overall frequency response.

A good mic isn’t a good mic simply because it looks nice. (You know what I mean: it should “look” like lollipop)! A cheap mic, although there might be exceptions, is in general a dangerous move for your performance and can (and probably will) break your show. Spend that extra little cash on a good mic and you’re set for a good performance with quality vocals!


© Lothar Woehler BAMus(Hons)

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