After taking just enough voice lessons to be dangerous (six, to be exact) and performing with some very patient folks here at Shure HQ, I’m starting to explore the music world that lives in nooks and crannies around Chicagoland…and lo and behold, the time has come for me to buy a live vocal mic.
Luckily, I work with a slew of people who are massively overqualified to help me with that.
Dean Giavaras and Travis Duffield of the Shure Performance / Listening Center hooked me up with eight live vocal microphones, from value-priced to high-end, dynamics and condensers, so I could experience for myself the differences between them and figure out which one I preferred. Granted, this preference is completely subjective. There isn’t a right or wrong answer. Even so, I hope you’ll find this journal of my experience useful if you’re wondering what exactly to consider when considering a vocal mic. So, without further ado…
For the test track, I chose something that spans my chest and head voice, and that goes loud and soft, just so I could hear how each part of my range and each dynamic level sounded with each mic.
Below are a few pointers from Dean regarding the setup, which he and Travis handled:
“Something VERY important to remember with this and any comparative listening exercise: the samples MUST be at (or very near +/- .5db) the same perceived listening volume, or you will almost always prefer the louder one. The input stage of whatever you listen through will need to be adjusted to account for differences in microphone sensitivity. In this case, recording the same clip through each mic one at a time, it also meant slightly adjusting the recorded clips for playback to compensate for minor performance irregularities. Slight differences in performance can also bias your perception when making a comparison like this. To assist with consistent timing and pitch, we had Allison sing along to a prerecorded track, which she heard through headphones.”
As you’ll hear in the sound clips they recorded of me singing into each mic, I’m an alto who spends most of her time in chest voice. When you listen, keep in mind that the files below are compressed, so you won’t hear exactly what I heard in the studio playback of the raw files on big fancy speakers.
One thing that caught me by surprise: what drove me toward the mic I chose wasn’t just the way it sounded. The way it’s shaped influenced me too.
Click here to check out the sound clips of different Shure mics.