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In The Studio: Condenser Or Dynamic For Vocals? The Cases For Both

Doing something just because everyone else does it sometimes leads to a fairly boring experience...

Condensers are, by far, the most common type of microphones to track lead vocals. While I do love a good dynamic on a vocal, sometimes the session calls for a condenser. I would say I use a condenser microphone on a lead vocal at least 70 percent of the time.

So you may be asking how do I decide when to use a condenser? Let me share with you three reasons.

1) Less Gain Needed At The Preamp

Condenser microphones require a voltage in order to work. That’s why you send 48-volt phantom power to the microphone from the preamp. This voltage charges a metal plate which, when moved by sound waves, generates an electric current. This current is the audio signal.

That’s probably more detail than you wanted to know, but the point is this: condenser microphones have a higher output than dynamic mics. As a result, you don’t need as much gain at the preamp to get the signal to a usable level.

The problem with dynamic microphones is that they need a lot of gain at the preamp. Cheaper preamps typically don’t have enough gain, or introduce too much noise when cranked all the way up. You don’t usually have this problem with condenser microphones.

2) Lots Of Detail

Because we’re dealing with a charged metal plate and an extremely thin diaphragm, condenser mics capture much more detail than dynamic mics. This makes a condenser mic ideal for capturing the subtle nuances in a singer’s voice.

This may not matter if you are recording a screaming rock singer, but for the singer-songwriter ballad, it’s perfect.

3) Defined High-End

If there’s one thing a dynamic microphone lacks, it’s high frequencies. If you look at a frequency chart for a typical dynamic microphone, you’ll see that the frequency response starts to roll off around 12-15 kHz.

If you’re wanting a nice, breathy vocal sound, you probably won’t get it with a dynamic mic. When people talk about having a vocal track with a lot of “air,” chances are the vocal was recorded through a nice condenser microphone.

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