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Can You Use a Condenser Mic for Live Vocals?

17/08/2022

We answer the question: “Can You Use A Condenser Mic For Live Vocals?” we provide a quick guide to using a condenser mic live and some of the best mics for the stage.

 

Condenser microphones provide incredibly detailed sound which, in most cases, is far superior to dynamic microphones. But they’re not for every live vocalist.

In this article, we’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions about using a condenser mic live and whether or not they’re actually good for vocals.

We’ll also discuss some of the best options out there.

So, can condenser mics be used live?

Professional solo singers, more so than singers in bands, often use condenser microphones as they have a tailored frequency response and generally provide a far more detailed and full sound than dynamic mics.

Industry-standard live condenser mics such as the Shure KSM9, Shure Beta 87A, and Sennheiser e865 all offer tailored frequency responses of 50 Hz – 20 kHz (Shure) and 40 Hz – 20 kHz (Sennheiser). They’re also some of the best live vocal mics ever made.

Whilst studio condensers provide 20 Hz – 20 kHz frequency responses, the live versions bottom out at around 40 – 50 Hz. This is to combat the proximity effect or unwanted “boominess” that happens when you have your mouth too close to the microphone.

As singers will hold their mic quite close in a live situation, the slight bottom end roll-off helps to reduce any undesirable bass. In a studio, you’re likely to be six inches away from the mic with a pop filter separating you so there’s no chance of the proximity effect.

Condenser mics are more sensitive than dynamic mics due to the diaphragm. This means they capture a lot of the subtleties and nuances of your vocal performance or acoustic instrument – more so than a dynamic mic would. If you’re a particularly emotive or subtle singer, this extra detail and clarity will really help with your performance.

So, to answer the question; yes, condenser mics can be used live, but they sometimes have certain drawbacks for louder bands like rock or metal bands, for example.

This brings me to my next point…

Are they good for live vocals?

Yes, they are. Condensers are perfect for singers with a wide frequency range. The frequency response is tailored to live vocals, commonly around 50 Hz – 20 kHz – which means you won’t get the low-end boom and proximity effect when singing up close.

The fact that they’re more sensitive is great for vocalists with a wide range as a condenser will respond beautifully to the subtle changes in your performance.

Vocalists with weaker voices or a “sing-speak” style will appreciate a condenser mic in a live situation as they won’t have to project their voice as much to be heard.

Condenser microphones react quicker to noise than a dynamic microphone, so you get a far more precise and fuller frequency signal than a dynamic microphone.

 

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Who are condenser mics for?

If you’re looking for a microphone with a high sensitivity response that can handle extended frequency ranges (very high pitched/low pitched sounds) and retain all the detail of your voice, a condenser is perfect for you.

If you play an acoustic guitar or piano and sing at the same time, you’ll appreciate the detail and added “life” a condenser provides.

If you’re a professional vocalist with good mic control, you’ll love the fact that the mic responds to how close the mic is to you.

Finally, if you’re a somewhat quieter singer, you’ll enjoy the higher output – so you won’t need to project as much.

They’re designed to give singers studio-quality sound on stage. And the right microphones do it exceptionally well.

If you’re performing in bars or cafés on your own, a condenser microphone is also a great choice as it will help your vocals stand out.

When shouldn’t you use a condenser mic for live vocals?

Due to the moving diaphragm in a condenser microphone, they’re far more sensitive to sound. You might not like this extra sensitivity when you’re singing extremely loudly into the mic as it will pick up every inflection and little detail.

In some cases, condenser mics are also far more sensitive to knocks and bumps and can damage easier than a dynamic. This won’t be a problem if you’re a solo vocalist or singer-songwriter. But if you’re in a rock or metal band – shouting, screaming, swinging the mic – a condenser might not be the best option for you.

Fortunately, the likes of the Shure Beta 87A have been designed to be a robust touring partner, capable of withstanding decades of touring. Some condenser mics, however, can be susceptible to damage from humidity, spit, and sweat.

You also need phantom power for your microphone to work, which means you’ll have to carry around a phantom power unit with you wherever you go. Fortunately, they don’t cost a fortune, and you can pick up a SubZero Phantom Power Supply for around £20. It’s worth having one as some venues may not be adequately set up to provide phantom power.

How should you use condenser mics for live vocals?

Condenser mics are incredible for live vocals, offering studio-quality sound onstage. But they do need some extra care.

Here are our top tips for using a condenser for live vocals:

Keep six inches away from the mic

Condenser microphones are more sensitive to plosives and sibilance, so you need to hold your microphone around six inches away from your mouth.

This helps with the proximity effect too, as the closer you get, the more bass response appears. Again, most live condenser microphones have a bass roll-off design to combat the proximity effect, but you’ll need to work on your microphone technique more so than you would with a dynamic mic. You can’t simply leave your top lip on the mic the whole time.

Move the mic away when shouting/singing louder

Condenser microphones are also more sensitive to volume peaks in your voice. This is perfect for capturing emotion but can be a nightmare for sound engineers trying to keep your vocals sitting nicely in the mix.

When shouting louder, simply move back or pull the mic away from your face a little more. The emotion will still come through, but you won’t get the massive volume increase that surprises everyone out front.

Don’t stand too far back though as you increase the chance of feedback from the monitor speakers.

Pick a condenser microphone designed for live use

You need to choose a condenser microphone that has been tailored for live vocals. As previously stated, live vocal condenser mics often have frequency responses of 50 Hz – 20 kHz (Shure) and 40 Hz – 20 kHz (Sennheiser). Anything lower than that and you risk the proximity effect ruining your sound if you get too close.

You also need a cardioid or supercardioid condenser microphone. Almost all live vocal condenser microphones will have a cardioid or supercardioid polar pattern, which rejects off-axis noise like the musicians behind or beside you. This also helps reduce the feedback as the mic won’t pick up the sound of your voice coming through the monitor speakers.

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Dynamic or condenser?

This comes down to personal preference. If it sounds good, trust your instincts! 

However, if you’re wondering whether dynamic or condenser mics are better for live vocals, consider your style of singing and what situations you’ll be using the mic in.

When is it best to use a condenser microphone?

It’s best to use a condenser mic for live vocals if you:

  • Are a seasoned singer with good microphone control
  • Need a microphone that responds quickly to the dynamics and subtleties of your voice
  • Need a vocal mic with a higher output
  • Play piano or acoustic guitar whilst singing live
  • Front a band and need your vocals to stand out
  • Have a wide frequency range and want to capture all the detail of your performance e.g. opera or musical theatre
  • Want studio-quality vocals in a live scenario
  • Often play in acoustically treated rooms

When is it best to use a dynamic microphone?

It’s best to use a dynamic mic for live vocals if you:

 

  • Don’t need the added detail
  • Scream or shout vocals in a rock/metal band
  • Spit a lot or sweat into the microphone
  • Run around on stage, potentially dropping the mic on occasion
  • Play in rooms with background noise
  • Need a less sensitive mic that can handle damage and years of (ab)use

What about phantom power?

Condenser mics need phantom power to work, otherwise, you won’t hear anything. This is a small downside to using a condenser microphone live as you’ll have to carry a phantom power module with you for each performance just in case the sound engineer doesn’t have one.

Usually, the desk they use will have phantom power capabilities, so don’t worry too much.

Does a condenser mic make you sound better?

A lot of times, yes. A condenser will make your voice sound better as it brings out the detail of your performance. If you were to record with a dynamic mic and then record with a condenser, you’ll notice the condenser has more “life” to it as the larger diaphragms allow them to capture every tiny vocal nuance.

They also enhance the higher frequencies of your vocal performance, which means those high notes will be full of detail without feedback.

Plus, condenser mics offer completely transparent sound, free from colouration.

Which condenser mics can be used live?

Shure-Beta-87A-Vocal-MicrophoneThe three industry standard options are:

Why are these so good for live vocals? As mentioned, these microphones offer frequency responses of 50 Hz – 20 kHz (Shure) and 40 Hz – 20 kHz (Sennheiser) with a bass roll-off to combat the proximity effect.

These microphones also offer cardioid or supercardioid polar patterns which reject the off-axis noise. Condenser mics are very sensitive to the sounds around them, so cardioid or supercardioid is ideal.

All these microphones have been designed for live use thanks to their built-in shock mounts which protect the diaphragm from damage if you drop them.

They also have specifically-designed heads with pop filters to reduce plosives and tame wind noise. Plus, they’re made specifically for live vocalists!

Check out some of the best condenser mics for live vocals here | https://www.gear4music.com/blog/9-best-condenser-mics-for-live-vocals/

Final thoughts

Overall, if you want higher levels of detail and an accurate representation of your voice, a condenser mic is perfect for live vocals. With options from Shure, Sennheiser, and others paving the way in terms of studio-quality sound onstage, you can’t really go wrong with a condenser for live vocals.

Dynamic microphones are always a great choice but if you’re a professional singer keen to give your performance more life, a condenser microphone is the logical next step.

Post a comment below and let us know your tips on how to get the best sound out of your condenser when using it live.

Guest Writer

Lee Glynn is a digital content strategist, blog writer and guitarist. Having toured extensively throughout Europe and abroad and releasing two albums with his previous band Sound Of Guns he now fronts his new band Shadow Mountains. In between creating music he finds the time to write articles for the music retail industry and help websites grow their traffic with his company Quarry Lake Content Limited.

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