A microphone is a device used to capture sound and change it into an electrical signal. The microphone can then send that signal down a wire for further processing or recording. Some famous singers use different microphones on stage depending on what type of music they are performing. Today we will examine the microphone preferences among some of the top singers of the present and the past.
How do microphones capture vocal sound?
To capture vocals in an optimal way using microphones, it is essential that the microphone enhance the vocal qualities the singer possesses. Before we talk about the best vocal mics, we’ll discuss how mics capture vocals and how they sound. The selection of microphones for singing is crucial for many reasons. The microphone must accentuate the singer’s qualities; if not done correctly, the microphone can alter the singer’s voice in a negative way. Some of the best known brands of mics for singers are Shure, Sennhesier and AKG. Also for choral music there are special mics and some other high quality products.
Dynamic mics are the most popular for live performances because they are typically rugged and resistant to moisture. One popular microphone is the Sennheiser e614 dynamic microphone, which has a cardioid pickup pattern that rejects off-axis noise while focusing on vocals in front of the microphone. Other types include the Shure SM58, an industry standard microphone used by singers all over the world for live performances; the microphone has a cardioid pickup pattern and provides warm vocals. The microphone features a sturdy construction for rough performances.
Another microphone, the Shure Beta 58A microphone, is also great for live performances – read more about this mic in my other post here.. This microphone has an on/off switch so singers can turn off the microphone when not singing to eliminate noise from the mic being picked up by instruments or the audience.
Condenser microphones are typically used in studios because they are sensitive to the sound around them. However, one microphone that is popular for singers who want studio quality on stage is the Rode NT2000 microphone. The microphone has a fixed cardioid pattern providing warm vocals while minimizing off-axis noise. This microphone also features a -20dB microphone pad that can help singers overdrive their microphone preamp.
Wireless microphone systems are the standard for many singers because they do not limit their movements, although you do have to give more attention to controlling pa feedback.
The microphone provides freedom for singers without them having to worry about dangling microphone cords getting in the way of their performance. The best wireless microphone system is singer-friendly, meaning it does not compromise sound quality for convenience.
How does vocal range affect the choice of a microphone?
A microphone can alter the voice of a singer in one way or another. This is why it is important that singers choose microphones that match their vocal range. For example, some mics are more appropriate for lower voices while others are more appropriate for higher voices.
If you have a lower voice, you will want to choose a microphone that captures your voice in its lower-end frequencies. This microphone must not only capture the low-frequency range, it should also provide clarity within this specific frequency band without creating too much bass or noise.
If you have a higher voice, you will want a microphone that captures your voice in its higher-end frequencies. This microphone must not only capture the high-frequency range, it should also provide clarity within this specific frequency band. It needs to do this without creating too much treble or unwanted noise.
In essence, any microphone you choose must not alter your voice in a way that is unfavorable to who you are as a singer. Singers need to select microphones that enhance the qualities of their voice and suit their vocal range.
How can plosives affect the choice of a live vocal mic?
Plosives are extremely strong bursts of breath near the microphone that create popping noises, which most individuals do not like. The microphone must attenuate these pops to prevent this from occurring. A microphone whose diaphragm is made out of metal will often better at preventing plosives than one whose diaphragm is made out of a softer material, so microphone choice can sometimes depend on the use of a pop filter or windscreen.
A pop filter or windscreen placed between the microphone and singer can prevent pops because it will catch the burst of air before it reaches the microphone, diffusing it. This will make mixing and monitoring for vocalists much easier.
Mics used by famous singers
One of the most widely used and best microphones for live vocals is the Shure SM58, but professional singers use a wide variety of dynamic microphones and condenser mics. Even though the Shure SM57 is more commonly used for instruments, it is still popular as a vocal mix in recording and podcasting situations. Read more about the SM57 here.
Ariana Grande, a singer who has gained worldwide fame for her song “Problem” and her role as Cat Valentine on the show Victorious, mostly uses a microphone made by Sennheiser: the e835 cardioid vocal microphone. The microphone has an extremely tight pickup pattern to stop unwanted noise, and with it’s wide frequency response, it provides warm vocals.
Taylor Swift is known to often use an Avantone condenser microphone for recording but has used mainly Audio-Technica mics for live performances.
Billie Eilish has used the AT2020 by Audio-Technica. The microphone provides detailed vocals and it has a cardioid polar pattern to prevent unwanted noise from the audience. It is a fairly inexpensive microphone that is compatible with most microphone preamps.
Elton John uses a wide range of mics during his live performances, although he uses Sennheiser mics in general. He has also used the Audio-Technica AE6100 hypercardioid dynamic vocal microphone.
The Beatles’ lead vocalist John Lennon used a number of AKG microphones on stage and in the studio, such as the AKG C60, C28 and the D19. He also used at times, the Shure 556S for live shows.
The late Michael Jackson used the Shure SM7b a lot, and was used to record the Thriller album.
Lady Gaga has used a number of mics on stage, but is best known for using the Shure Beta 54 headset mic. This mic can be seen in many videos and photographs of her performing. Lady Gaga is often photographed wearing in ear monitors, so you might also be interested in my post on the reasons singers wear ear pieces.
The Shure Unidyne Model 55 is one of the most famous vocal mics ever and was used by Elvis Presley on stage. It was designed to be worn attached to the microphone stand using a microphone clip, unlike most microphones that are held in the hand. There are so many iconic photos of Elvis holding this mic in its stand, it is instantly recognisable.