Live Sound for Singers – Microphones – Overview

Microphones are a massive part of a singer’s sound as this is the way they can amplify their voice so they can be heard over the band (especially those hard hitting drummers and that guitarist who always turns up their amp). Microphones are more than just a means to amplify a singer’s voice, it adds to the overall tone of the vocalists voice.

 

It is important that singers, no matter where they are professionally. Whether it is their first gig on stage or a seasons professional it is important to understand the fundamentals of a microphone so you can use the one that bests suits your voice.

 

Types of Microphones

There are 2 main types of microphones for the live vocalist

 

  1. Dynamic
  2. Condenser

 

Dynamic Microphones

 

Dynamic microphones are your most common form of microphone. They work using a magnet voice coil that converts the sound waves (i.e your voice) into an electrical signal and send it to your mixer via a cable (or wireless), Dynamic microphones can withstand extremely high sound levels making them really good for being in front of loud sound sources.

 

Dynamic microphones give more of a warm, rich tone and are very robust.

Dynamic Microphone

Condenser Microphone

These are based on an electrically-charged diaphragm in front of a rigid metal or metal coated ceramic backplate. This element is called a capacitor (which is where the word “Condenser” comes from – I bet you didn’t think you’ll be reading this for a lesson in Physics…)

 

Condenser microphones all have active circuitry which means that the microphone needs to be powered by either batteries or phantom power (supplying the power to the mic via the microphone cable).

 

Condenser microphones have a superior sound, they have a larger frequency response, and gives clarity and texture of the sound (like the voice), better than a dynamic microphone.

Condenser Microphone

Polarity Patterns

 

The polarity pattern of a microphone is the direction and/or angle from the capsule of the mic where it is most sensitive to pick up the sound.

 

Live vocalists only need to know 2 types

 

Cardioid

Cardioid microphones are most commonly seen as the iconic Shure SM58 microphone is a Cardioid microphone. Cardioid means that the area where the mic picks up the sound is in-front of the mic. Cardioid mics have great rear rejection of sound, which means that where you hold the mic it won’t pick up the sound that comes from that direction. (i.e from a loud foldback speaker).

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Other common vocal mics that have a Cardioid pattern are:

 

Sennheiser e835

Sennheiser e935

Shure Beta87C

 

Supercardioid

Supercardioid microphones have a narrower pickup than cardioids which leads to less ambient noise being picked up from the sides of the microphone. Because of this, the sound source i.e vocalist, needs to sing right into the capsule of the microphone for it to capture your sound.

 

Unlike the cardioid microphone, supercardioid microphones pickup some sound from directly at the rear of the mic, which means that you need to place the foldback speakers correctly.

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Common vocal microphones for supercardioid are:

Shure Beta58A

Sennheiser e945

Shure Beta87A

 

Microphone maintenance

It is important in keeping your microphone in perfect working order to clean the pop filter (which is the mess around the top of the mic). You can unscrew this part of the microphone to take out the foam pop filter and wash it in warm soapy water. This will help get rid off all the spit that is collected in the pop filter and other bits and pieces that microphones collect over the years.