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Real World Gear: Condenser & Dynamic Microphones For Live Vocals

Condenser and dynamic microphones to capture live singers.

There are dozens of types and styles of microphones on the live audio market, and many can be used in both voice and instrument applications. For the most part, we tend to classify mics based on how they turn sound waves into electrical signals, with two types – dynamics and condensers – employed most often for vocals.

Dynamic designs work on the electromagnet principle where a coil of wire is attached to the diaphragm and moves by a magnet, creating electricity as the sound waves push against the diaphragm. They can be very rugged and resilient to rough handling, and many can handle high sound pressure levels. However, because there’s added mass attached to the diaphragm, they may not respond as quickly to changes in sound pressure as other types.

Condenser designs have two plates with a voltage between them. One plate is made of a very light and flexible material, and acts as the diaphragm. The diaphragm vibrates when struck by sound waves, changing the distance between the two plates, which in turn changes the capacitance, producing an electrical signal.

They don’t have the added mass of a coil attached to their diaphragms and tend to be more sensitive to softer sounds and higher frequency details than dynamic mics. Condensers require power, usually supplied by phantom power from a console or a battery.

A variation of the condenser is the electret, which uses a fixed charge on one of the plates. These designs also require power. Higher-end models often have added features to benefit vocals. One phenomenon that comes into play is proximity effect – as a singer gets right up on the mic, the lower frequencies become more pronounced. On one hand, it can fatten up a thin voice, but on the other hand, it can make add mud and change a singer’s tone as he/she moves closer and farther away from the mic. Many premium vocal mics address this issue with acoustic tuning, low-cut switches, and even electronic processing so the singer’s voice stays more consistent.

Vocal mics should be designed to deal with “pops and plosives,” the breath noises that happen when a singer uses a hard consonant like a P or B. Models designed specifically for live performance have windscreens, but the better vocal models tend to use multi-stage or layered screens to reduce the problem.

Handling noise is another issue. As it’s moved around, noise from the mic body can get transmitted to the capsule. Advanced capsule isolation to curtail this issue is a hallmark of well-designed units.

Frequency response is another aspect to consider. A model may specifically be designed with a reduced frequency range that better suits voices, or in some cases, there are boosts and/or cuts at certain frequencies that can help a vocal better stand out in the mix. There can also be the ability to tailor (via switches) the response of the mic for particular voices.

Experimentation is the key, as different designs are better suited to different vocalists (and their particular vocal styles). What works great with one singer may not be the best choice for another. Enjoy the following round-up of recent microphones for live vocal applications.

Condensers

ENHANCED LISTING

Electro-Voice RE420 & RE520
electrovoice.com

The RE420 (cardioid polar pattern) and RE520 (supercardioid polar pattern) are the next generation of the Electro-Voice RE series of premium-grade, high-performance condenser vocal microphones for live performance. Each new model is engineered for refined, best-in-class performance, benchmarked across critical technical categories including dynamic range, maximum SPL, self-noise and transient response – all with the pure, accurate audio quality for which the RE series is renowned.

The RE420’s cardioid pattern combines effective acoustic control with a comfortable working range, allowing freedom of vocal expression. It provides warm low-frequency response, open mids and clear highs. The RE520’s supercardioid pattern ensures superior sonic isolation and high gain-before-feedback, to maintain a vivid vocal presence – even in the most challenging stage environments. It provides tight low-frequency response, natural-sounding mids and detailed highs. Both are outfitted with a selectable high-pass filter the reduces undesirable low-frequency content when engaged as well as vibration-absorbing internal shock mounts that minimize handling noise.

The RE420 and RE520 are the next generations of the RE410 and RE510 – microphones with a reputation in the live sound industry for outperforming comparable condensers costing significantly more. The updated design and engineering of the new models – including elegantly tapered metal handles and dent-resistant “Memraflex” grilles – evolves the professional performance, look and feel of their predecessors, while extending the RE series’ reputation for exceptional value in the premium vocal microphone segment.

TECH SPECS: RE420
Type: Self-biased condenser
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
Frequency Response: 50 Hz to 20 kHz
Sensitivity: 5.6 mV/Pa
Maximum SPL: 149 dB
Dimensions: 7.6 x 1.95 inches
Weight: 11.5 ounces
Go here for more on the RE420.

TECH SPECS: RE520
Type: Self-biased condenser
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
Frequency Response: 40 Hz to 20 kHz
Sensitivity: 5.6 mV/Pa
Maximum SPL: 150 dB
Dimensions: 7.6 x 1.95 inches
Weight: 11.7 ounces
Go here for more on the RE520.


DPA Microphones 2028
dpamicrophones.com

Type: Condenser
Polar Pattern: Supercardioid
Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz
Sensitivity: 5 mV/Pa
Maximum SPL: 160 dB
Dimensions: 7.4 x 1.9 inches
Weight: 10.1 ounces
Of Note: Adaptability to all major wireless systems

Sennheiser e 965
sennheiserusa.com

Type: Condenser
Polar Pattern: Cardioid, Supercardioid
Frequency Response: 40 Hz to 20 kHz
Sensitivity: 7 mV/Pa
Maximum SPL: 142 dB
Dimensions: 7.8 x 1.9 inches
Weight: 14 ounces
Of Note: Switchable pick-up pattern; low-cut and pre-attenuation options; large diaphragm

Audix VX5
audixusa.com

Type: Pre-Polarized Condenser
Polar Pattern: Supercardioid
Frequency Response: 40 Hz to 16.5 kHz
Sensitivity: 5 mV/Pa
Maximum SPL: ≥140 dB (w/ -10 pad)
Dimensions: 7.1 x 1.8 inches
Weight: 8 ounces
Of Note: Well suited to capture acoustic instruments such as guitar, woodwinds, brass, percussion toys, drum overheads, hi-hat and piano

Audio-Technica Artist Elite AE5400
audio-technica.com

Type: Condenser
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz
Sensitivity: 10.0 mV/Pa
Maximum SPL: 147 dB
Dimensions: 7 x 2 inches
Weight: 11.6 ounces
Of Note: Integral 80 Hz high-pass
filter for switching from a flat frequency response to a low end roll-off

Shure KSM9
shure.com

Type: Condenser
Polar Pattern: Cardioid, Supercardioid (switchable)
Frequency Response: 50 Hz to 20 kHz
Sensitivity: -51 dBV/Pa
Maximum SPL: 152 dB
Dimensions: 7.52 x 1.9 inches
Weight: 10.6 ounces
Of Note: Dual gold-layered, low-mass Mylar diaphragm; available as wireless handheld transmitter SKUs

Neumann KMS 105
neumannusa.com

Type: Condenser
Polar Pattern: Supercardioid
Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz
Sensitivity: 4.5 mV/Pa
Maximum SPL: 150 dB
Dimensions: 7.1 x 1.2 inches
Weight: 10.6 ounces
Of Note: Electronic compensation used to control proximity effect; low self-noise; high-pass filter

beyerdynamic TG V96
north-america.beyerdynamic.com

Type: Condenser
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz
Sensitivity: 4 mV/Pa
Maximum SPL: 150 dB (@1K)
Dimensions: 7.3 x 1.8 inches
Weight: 11.6 ounces
Of Note: Specially shaped back plate electrodes help optimize diaphragm vibrations; 5-stage pop protection

Earthworks SR314
earthworksaudio.com

Type: Condenser
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 30 kHz
Sensitivity: 10 mV/Pa
Maximum SPL: 145 dB
Dimensions: 7.1 x 1.6 in
Weight: 1.5 pounds
Of Note: Extended flat frequency response; available in three body versions (stainless, black/stainless screens, black/black screens)

Dynamics

Sennheiser e 945
sennheiserusa.com

Type: Dynamic
Polar Pattern: Supercardioid
Frequency Response: 40 Hz to 18 kHz
Sensitivity: 2 mV/Pa
Maximum SPL: N/A
Dimensions: 7.3 x 1.85 inches
Weight: 12.87 ounces
Of Note: Presence boost for improved intelligibility; shock-mounted capsule; supplied with carrying pouch and mic clamp

Telefunken M80
t-funk.com

Type: Dynamic
Polar Pattern: Supercardioid
Frequency Response: 30 Hz to 18 kHz
Sensitivity: 1.4 mV/Pa
Maximum SPL: 135 dB
Dimensions: 7.2 x 1.9 inches
Weight: 13.1 ounces
Of Note: Low mass; thin yet rugged
capsule membrane; available in a range of finishes and custom colors

Shure KSM8 Dualdyne
shure.com

Type: Dynamic
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
Frequency Response: 40 Hz to 16 kHz
Sensitivity: -51.5 dBV/Pa
Maximum SPL: N/A
Dimensions: 7.4 x 1.9 inches
Weight: 11.6 ounces
Of Note: Patented cartridge design with two ultra-thin diaphragms (one active and one passive) and inverted airflow system

Audio-Technica Artist Elite AE6100
audio-technica.com

Type: Dynamic
Polar Pattern: Hypercardioid
Frequency Response: 60 Hz to 15 kHz
Sensitivity: 1.7 mV/Pa
Maximum SPL: N/A
Dimensions: 6.97 x 1.9 inches
Weight: 10.9 ounces
Of Note: Back-cavity assembly “floats” inside the handle shell for more
isolation from handling noise

Electro-Voice ND96
electrovoice.com

Type: Dynamic
Polar Pattern: Supercardioid
Frequency Response: 30 Hz to 15 kHz
Sensitivity: 3.3 mV/Pa
Maximum SPL: >140 dB
Dimensions: 6.7 x 2 inches
Weight: 11.4 ounces | Of Note: Selectable voice presence booster reduces certain low-mid frequency areas and emphasizes key upper-midrange vocal presence areas

CAD Audio D90
cadaudio.com

Type: Dynamic
Polar Pattern: Supercardioid
Frequency Response: 50 Hz to 16 kHz
Sensitivity: 2.8 mV/Pa
Maximum SPL: >150 dB
Dimensions: 7.5 x 2.1 in
Weight: 18 ounces
Of Note: Trueflex diaphragm and PowerGap high-gauss neodymium magnets contribute to high yet articulate output

AKG D5
akg.com

Type: Dynamic
Polar Pattern: Cardioid, Supercardioid
Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 17 kHz
Sensitivity: 2.6 mV/Pa
Maximum SPL: >160 dB (calculated)
Dimensions: 7.29 x 2 inches
Weight: 11.3 ounces
Of Note: Patented laminated Varimotion diaphragm helps foster a “crisp” sound that cuts through the mix

Heil Sound PR 35
heilsound.com

Type: Dynamic
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
Frequency Response: 40 Hz to 18 kHz
Sensitivity: 2.26 mV/Pa
Maximum SPL: 140 dB
Dimensions: 7.7 x 2 inches
Weight: 9 ounces
Of Note: 1.5-inch shock-mounted humbucking voice coil helps ward off handling noise and electronic interference

beyerdynamic TG V71G
north-america.beyerdynamic.com

Type: Dynamic
Polar Pattern: Hypercardioid
Frequency Response: 35 Hz to 18 kHz
Sensitivity: 3.2 mV/Pa
Impedance: 420 ohms
Dimensions: 7.3 x 2.1 inches
Weight: 12.2 ounches
Of Note: Progressively damped capsule suspension for reduced handling noise; compensated proximity effect

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