Element 5 - Vocals

Down to the final element - recording the singer. Two of the selection concerns of the other stuff aren't as important here: mic placement and preamp. Why?

Mic Placement. Any value of experimenting with moving the microphone around the singer's mouth is immediately canceled out by the fact that it's a living human being we're trying to capture. More important to me is that the singer can reliably place his/her self in the same spot relative to the mic over and over while still feeling comfortable enough to concentrate on the singing. This means not so close that breathing, mouth noises and proximity effect are a big deal. Gettting a little distance also limits the effect of small movements back and forth - at 1cm away, a 1cm head movement to the side is the same distance, at 12cm away it's not even 10%. And you want to make sure that you're close enough so that the direct sound is most present in the mic, beating out the impression of the refelctions.

Justin uses the following guide: hold your hand as though you were pointing your finger, but extend all of your fingers. Put the tip of your finger at the grill of the mic (or pop filter, if you're using one). Place your lips against the heel of your hand. Now you've got a good enough distance from the mic that can be consistently and easily reoriented if the singer moves.

Preamp Selection. We know that we're going to want the vocals to break up a little bit during some songs, giving some edge of distortion. We have one amp that does this - the Hamptone HJFP1. Done!

But vocals have the highest dynamic range of anything we're recording here. (In other words the difference between really quiet and really loud is gigantic on the vocals compared to the same difference on bass, guitar or drums.) It's so high, in fact, that we've got to bring it down to a more managable level so that the recorded vocals will all be audible. This means that we've got to bring a compressor in. We'll do that after we pick the microphone and pre.

Mic Selection

We're going to pick between six different mics. Justin's singing two phrases over and over again.


1. Beyer M160

2. Royer 121 (front facing)

3. Royer 121 (rear facing) (etc.)

4. Audio Technica 4033

5. EV RE-20

6. Beyer M201


Still two versions: one with the singing only and one blended into the rest of the stuff. This time we're trying mp3s (196 kps) to see if it's worth the faster load time.

Vocals - 6 way microphone comparison - solo.

Vocals - 6 way microphone comparison - full


Aha! Finally some dramatic differences.

First things first - we used the generic compressor inside Protools to tighten the dynamic range. This doesn't effect the main differences that you really hear across mics. The different mics also have difference impedence, meaning that the preamp sees a hotter signal on some than others. On this preamp, this means the signal begins to distort on the louder microphones, even though it's at the same level setting. We tried to compensate for this by adjusting all of the faders so that the sound files had the same apparent volume. But the 4033 especially sounds like it's frying a little bit.

The m160 and the RE 20 are immediate standouts. Both sides of the 121 sound pretty wooly, like there's something over the speakers. The 4033 (and to a lesser extent, the m201) are the opposite - way too much treble relative to everything else that's there. They both come off as thin.

Comparing the m160 and the RE20, we get the impression of a little more clarity in the RE20 in a way that's not unpleasant. The throat-y ness of the vocals still comes through, but the greater mid, mid/hi and hi frequency details helps to separate the vox from the rest of the music, once the other instruments come in. Although the smoother sound of the m160 might take the edge off any unwanted (as opposed to what's wanted) harshness, the additional emphasis of the EV sounds good.


It's the EV RE20 for vocals. We used the m160 for Black Madonna; it was fine but this should add a little more presence.

Next up we'll set the preamp at the right amount of overdrive/distortion and then wrap things up by determining the best compression settings.

"Justin! Don't make the same mistake I did! Do not let any of your solo vocal tracks leak onto the Internet."


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