Updated: Jan 27
I recently had the opportunity to assess 4 different microphones. It was interesting to find out which one showcased my soprano coloratura voice the best. When selecting a microphone, an important point to consider is what it will be used for: a live performance or recording? In this particular situation, I was looking to use a microphone to record myself at home in the style of Stevie Wonder's “Don't You Worry 'Bout A thing” (Tory Kelly's version).
You see, this song represents very well what I typically enjoy singing. It is super dynamic, going from soft at the beginning verses and later digging into the lowest part of my register. It also gets incredibly loud towards the second half of the song as the third verse is introduced. In addition, there are quite a few high powerful notes and fast runs, again covering my range at great lengths during the last chorus and grand finale.
Next of course, you'll want to consider how genuinely the mic captures your voice. Listen for the natural quality of your tone. Does it come across as thin, flat, breathy and shrill or warm, full, clear and vibrant?
It is noteworthy to say that some microphones respond better than others to loud and high pitch singing and since I do not know much about audio engineering, I reached out to Jon at MH Studios here in Toronto for some wise expert advice.
Upon my arrival, Jon suggested that I try a couple of high-end microphones along with more affordable options to better compare the results. I also wanted to experiment with the one that I already own but wasn't happy with. Check it out:
1) Shure SMV7
First, we started by putting my current microphone to the test. I use the Shure SMV7 when I teach and it works great but I've tried recording at home with it and wasn't too thrilled with the results. This is a dynamic microphone that comes with Micro-B to USB-C and USB-A cables which is neat because I can plug this mic right into my MacBook Air and record on the go. What's cool about this particular microphone is that it has an integrated auto level option feature that is perfect for podcasting, and in my case, teaching. Since the level adjustments occur in real time, I don't have to worry about blowing off the microphone when I sing during lessons. But when listening to the recording of a song made with it, I could hear the level changes kick in. The levels of the loudest parts were sometimes brought down too much and that created lots of inconsistencies. The interface it comes with also lets you adjust the gain, compression and EQ manually for better control. Still, something was off. My voice felt very thin. The Shure SMV7 sucked the life out of my voice so to speak in the way that it didn't reproduce the vibrant quality of my tone. It felt flat and even sometimes shrilled. I think this mic is best suited for the speaking voice or speech-like singing and live podcasts. It's relatively cheap at $320 CAD at Long & McQuade. I am including below the track I sent to Jon prior to our session to describe the challenges I was facing. I used the auto-level option for this recording.
2) Neumann U87
Second, we went right away to the other end of the spectrum with a higher-end microphone: the Neumann U87. This condenser microphone is described as warm, versatile and well balanced. It certainly provided a clear and clean recording although I felt like my tone appeared breathy with it. That is not how I perceive my voice so that was a bit of a deterrent. This microphone is certainly very sensitive which accounts for amazing accuracy but also a problem if you are recording at home or unless you are recording in an extremely quiet room. Since my home studio is not soundproof, I would not consider purchasing this mic. I believe it would give me more headaches than anything else but it could be perfect in different circumstances. I'm not sure how easy it is for a loud singer to get satisfying results with this ultra responsive mic... I was asked to back off quite a bit from it on high dynamic parts. I got the impression that riding the wave was rather interesting for Jon as he was quickly moving the knobs up and down to avoid any clipping. In the mic's and Jon's defence, this could also be attributed to the nature of Tori Kelly's version of Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing that has multiple fast range and volume shifts. A more predictable song would probably work best for this mic. But again, I'm not an engineer so what do I know?! If cash flow isn't an issue for you, than you won't mind putting about $4550 CAD forward at Long & McQuade towards this crême-de-la-crême highly regarded microphone. With that said, the investment is certainly worthwhile if you have the audio-engineering skills and an optimized environment to adequately record music. I'm sure its a must for any respectable professional recording studio.
3) Neumann TLM 103
Our third option was a Neumann TLM 103 with a large-diaphragm condenser. Jon referred to it as the U87's little brother! You should be prepared to pay a little less than $2000 CAD for this mic on Amazon. I enjoyed singing with it but like the other Neumann, I could hear some breathiness in there that I tried to ignore. I think that for the difference in price, this is certainly a more affordable choice. Listening back to the two tracks, I can definitely hear less clarity in this one but the overall sound is still pretty awesome. I am also noticing that the gain appears lower on the high parts which makes me wonder if a) the mic had a tendency to clip more easily so more gain needed to be taken away or b) it's just a coincidence. Again, each voice is unique and each song requires special conditions, so results may differ from song to song and person to person.
4) Shure SM7B
The next microphone that we played with was a Shure SM7B. It's well known in the business knows to have been Michael Jackson's favourite for his Thriller sessions. If it was good enough for MJ...! It's a large diaphragm cardioid dynamic microphone. I'm interested in buying this mic for my personal use because my voice sounded vibrant with it and without breathy underlying. When I heard my voice during playback, I immediately thought: "Now, this is ME"! It does lack somewhat in clarity when compared to the others but overall it seems to respond well to the higher frequencies of my coloratura voice. Obviously superb engineering skills are an asset in recording this kind of performance. Thank goodness for Jon's help!! In addition to its super sharp sound, I recognized the authentic tone of my voice with no extra coloration and that was incredibly gratifying. Or perhaps this mic is simply more forgiving, haha! I also appreciated that it rejects off-axis audio; I hate it when I've got the perfect take only to hear a passing car in the background... Problem solved! This mic gets extra points for its affordability. Long & McQuade will let you have it for only $520 CAD! No doubt, this mic is a winner for small home studios. The only downsize is that it requires an extra tool such as a Cloudlifter to get decent levels out of it. I would have preferred to spare the extra $200 expense... Oh well!
The goal of this studio session was to determine what mic would work best for me in a home studio setting. I found the answer to this question. But after I watched Jon work, something I already knew was confirmed once again: I do not enjoy mixing! Why bother when I can leave it to the pros! Spending extra money for studio time in order to get a high standard stellar finish product makes sense. I would happily trade the frustration of home recording and mixing for the pride of loving hearing myself on a track well produced. So I booked more time to record Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing in its entirety. When I showed up to the studio a few days later, Jon surprised me with a new microphone: a Manley Man-Refcard! I will be sharing the fruits of our efforts shortly...
With that said, if I suck at audio engineering, my area of expertise is SINGING! The better your performance, the better the outcome. There is only so much magic the audio engineer can make out of your voice during recording. Remember that the longer it takes to record your song, the costlier it gets.
Be proactive! If you are open to increasing your vocal skills, take your confidence through the roof and excel at performing all of your songs, I am happy to get you in your best vocal shape ever! Hit me up for a free consultation at: