Are You Finding The Best Mic For Your Home Recording Studio? Tips For Selecting A Microphone 2021: Tip 3

This is the third in a 5 part series by our friend Mike White about how to choose the correct microphone. Be sure to check out Mike’s fantastic blog. It’s jam packed with real world engineering and production advice. And he happens to be a darn fine human being too!

Fits Like a Glove

Microphones are like gloves, good ones don’t say, “one size fits all” on the tag. Your voice is as unique as your hand and requires a fit much in the same way a glove does. A glove that looks and feels great on my hand may feel tight and constricting on yours. So it is with microphones.

Finding a Match

If you have done any kind of recording with your voice, take note of what mic you used. Was it a dynamic, condenser, or tube mic? Was it warm, muddy, bright and clear, or harsh sounding to you? It is very important to note what attributes you like and don’t like in order to find a good fit. What you are really looking for is a mic that will enhance the strengths in the tonal quality of your voice while offsetting your weaknesses.

If you find that your voice is sounding too bright or brittle with the current mic you are using, you will need to find a mic that offsets the natural brightness in your voice. If you find that your voice sounds indistinct, dull, muddy, or lifeless, then you will need to find a mic that will capture and enhance whatever brightness and presence naturally exist in your voice.

If you have never recorded your voice or are not aware of what makes you have used, find a friend or hire someone to record your voice in a small or home studio. Have them try out a few different mikes to see what they sound like. You may find your perfect fit right there. Take careful note of make and model numbers. Find out if the mic is a dynamic, condenser, or tube mic, but don’t dismiss any category from this small sample. There are many levels of quality within each.

It’s not always the microphone’s fault

There are many misconceptions about the best way to record a voice. This is particularly true in the home recording environment. The main culprit is early reflections and the amount and quality of reverberant energy in the recording space. Basically, if you are closer than 10 feet from any surface, reflections coming back from that surface into the mic will blend with the direct sound of your voice and change its tonal characteristic.

This does not mean you should try to eliminate reflections, but rather to be aware of their effect and how best to control it. It would take at least 10 feet of foam in all directions including up and down to eliminate this effect. Additionally, what you would be left with is even more unnatural sounding because there is almost no place you have ever gone that is completely free of reflections. The reflections are necessary to make the voice sound natural but need to be controlled to limit the negative effect of parallel walls and flat surfaces.

Get Out of the Closet Already

Closets may be the worst possible environment to record vocals in. The small space will add far too many low mid frequencies due to constructive interference from the close walls. Throw in some room modes due to the parallel surfaces and you have a perfect recipe for indistinct, muddy recordings of your voice.

In the home recording environment, most rooms are smaller than 20 x 20. To compensate, the best approach is to build a semi-circular wall that covers left, right, and behind you. Never block the sound from projecting in the direction you are singing. A 1-foot thick foam that is at least as tall as you are is ideal if not practical. In a pinch, heavy packing blankets can achieve a similar effect if suspended from the ceiling or tall mic stand.

So What Are My Options?

After working with the acoustics of the recording space you should be much closer to what you are looking for. Now it’s time to take the next step and consider the following information about the different types of microphones and how they will affect the quality of your voice.

  • Dynamic Mikes: Dynamic mikes can be a great option if everything else you use leads to an overly bright or brittle sound. Look at radio broadcast mikes as a good starting place to add warmth and body while still preserving some presence.
  • Condenser Mikes: Condenser mikes, when used with USB-powered interfaces can be very brittle sounding. If you have a mic preamp or interface that plugs into a wall socket for power, you will be taking a major step in the right direction. Always look at large-diaphragm mikes when you consider a condenser mic as an option. The size of the capsule is necessary to add the body to your voice. Make sure you get a good pop filter to help prevent plosives. A plosive is a loud thud that occurs when a burst of air from your mouth hits the mic capsule.
  • Tube Mics: If you can afford it a tube mic will give you the best of both worlds between the dynamic and condenser. Because a Tube mic is essentially a condenser mic with a tube amplification stage, you will get all the clarity and presence of the high frequencies but also have the added warmth of the tubes to thicken up your voice. Keep in mind that tube mikes are sensitive to the environment and require delicate handling. They can be noisy at times and require a warm-up time of approximately 1 hour so the tube can stabilize to give you a consistent sound.

Final Thoughts

If you do not have access to a big music store with a mic room where you can audition mikes, you will have to do careful research. Book a local studio for an hour, or find someone with a good home recording setup and try out a few different mikes. It is well worth the investment to get direct evidence of what works and what doesn’t. Once you have narrowed down what type of mic is best, you can then focus on features and price range. Look carefully at reviews of the mikes you have targeted and pay close attention to flaws that may work against you. If you adapt the information provided here, the same approach can be applied to almost any instrument.

In the next tip, I will talk about selecting mikes that can serve multiple purposes. If you cannot afford to have a dedicated mic for vocals, then you need to find a mic that will give you everything you need.

Check out the microphone tips collection here!
Tip 1
Tip 2
Tip 3
Tip 4
Tip 5

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