On the road, dynamic microphones tend to make a lot of sense. They’re less expensive than condenser mics, more rugged & can handle to wear and tear that comes with being stored in a trailer that can drop below freezing and reach well over 100 degrees over the course of a tour.
A lot of those same characteristics are what makes them great on stage where they could easily get abused night after night. They can handle higher volumes with ease and won’t make you cringe nearly as much when they get dropped.
In the studio, engineers often take a different approach – using condenser microphones for instruments that require a higher level of detail. Large diaphragm condensers are great for capturing things like vocal performances where every small breath and idiosyncrasy of the human voice can be captured for later. The quality a great large diaphragm condenser can add to your session is invaluable.
But even still condensers aren’t the right choice for every voice, song, or performance. There are vocalists that I would never consider using a condenser on, simply because I know I’m going to get a better result out of a dynamic mic. Let’s talk about why that is.
Harmonics & Overtones
Just like any other instrument, a vocal has harmonics and overtones that shape the way the voice sounds. It’s these harmonics that create distinction between two different voices or we’d be hearing the same thing from every single singer. While there are other elements like pitch accuracy and pocketing with the song, harmonics are the biggest factor for me when determining the potential of a certain voice to sound a specific way.
If a singer has a lot of harmonic variation in their voice, it can be difficult to capture the root of their performance using a condenser mic. It actually becomes almost too detailed – making it difficult for tuning software and other plugins to work their best on the source.
Swapping in a dynamic microphone for these types of performances is a great way to limit the impact those harmonics and overtones are having on the post-processing. You’ll still capture the essence of the vocal, and the harmonics will still be present. The dynamic mic will just be suppressing them in the recording a bit to give you a more usable sound.
Probably second in line behind harmonics is the timbre of the voice itself. Tonality is a huge piece of a great vocal. Many singers with high singing voices can come off as nasally or shrill. Great singers are the ones that are able to achieve a timbre that is neither of those things. Even still, some singers can vary from one song to another and need help getting the right sound.
This is once again where dynamic microphones can step in and save your session. A nasally voice is the perfect candidate for a dynamic mic and the more unique the voice is, the better it can seem to sound through a dynamic. Just like with the harmonics, a dynamic microphone can roll off some of that high end – not getting rid of it, just reducing its presence in your vocal track.
The end result is a smoother top end on a vocal recording that sounds clear and even.
Once you’ve captured a vocal performance with a dynamic mic, you might look to dial in some of the upper harmonics that you’ve reduced during tracking. Whether too much was removed or you need it to cut through a dense mix can vary from session to session, but to add some back in takes the same approach.
Using a plugin like Gain Reduction Deluxe, engineers can add both compression and saturation at the same time. The compression is going to help bring presence to the vocal performance while the saturation works to add some of those harmonics to your track in a much more controlled environment than using a condenser mic would have.
Adding Presence To Other Instruments
Are you struggling to add that same kind of presence you give your vocals to other parts of your mix?
If you’re looking to add some punch or body to your drums or are looking to make your guitar solos pop out of the mix, be sure to check out the JST VIP group. VIP members get access to tons of great resources, including free mix critiques from yours truly.