Does your live vocal sound lack the clarity and detail of your studio recordings? Then you may want to switch over to a capacitor model. Here's a selection of current options, with links to the SOS review where available.
Made in the USA, this high‑end model employs a five‑micron‑thick diaphragm, which Earthworks claim gives it the fastest transient response of any live microphone. Its feedback rejection is impressively high, and although it's expensive for a stage mic, its quality and technical performance mean it should also find many uses in the studio.
Earthworks +1 603 654 6427
This high‑end offering from Sennheiser has a relatively large (one‑inch) diaphragm and a frequency response of 40Hz to 20kHz. Like the Shure KSM9, it can be switched between cardioid and supercardioid operation, and, with the ‑10dB pad engaged, is capable of handling SPLs of up to 152dB.
Sennheiser UK +44 (0)1494 551551
Sennheiser USA +1 860 434 9190
The STC6 competes in price terms with established dynamic models, yet offers a hotter output and extended high‑frequency response. It's capable of handling SPLs up to 140dB, and features a switchable ‑10dB pad as well as a 75Hz high‑pass filter.
Sontronics +44 (0)1202 236862
A premium model, the D:Facto is brand new to the market, and it has been designed to offer a similar sound to DPA's highly regarded 4011 studio mic. It has a built‑in pop shield and boasts a very high SPL‑handling capability. The capsule basket can be removed and fitted to a wireless mic system from third-party manufacturers Wisycom.
Sound Network +44 (0)20 3008 7530
DPA Microphones +1 303 485 1025
The supercardioid KMS105 offers low self‑noise (18dBA) as well as the ability to handle SPLs of up to 150dB, and so should work well with both up‑close and more distant sound sources. A 'Plus' version, optimised for female vocals, is available, as is a cardioid version, the KMS104.
Neumann USA +1 (860) 434‑9190
The supercardioid polar pattern of the S1 should make it somewhat easier to control spill from the rest of the stage. It is also said to provide a fairly hot output, and so shouldn't require much preamp gain. The S1 has a five‑layer mesh head designed to minimise breath noise, wind noise and plosives.
Rode USA +1 805 566 7777
The affordable CL5 has a supercardioid pickup pattern, an even frequency response (100Hz-20kHz, ±5dB), and a respectable SPL‑handling capability of 141dB. It's available in a black or a nickel finish, and ships in its own aluminium carrying case.
Samson Technologies +1 631 784 2200
Shure are well known for their dynamic mics, but they've got the condenser market covered too, with this premium model. The KSM9 has a switchable polar pattern (it can work in cardioid or supercardioid modes), and has been engineered to minimise the proximity effect. It also boasts impressively low handling noise, and is very resistant to popping.
Shure UK +44 (0)1992 703058
Shure +1 800 257 4873
The cardioid-pattern C5 has a fairly neutral sound, albeit with a slightly exaggerated low end. It's pretty resistant to plosives, however, and is both solidly built and easy to grip. The C5 represents a relatively inexpensive entry into the stage capacitor market, yet offers good technical performance and rugged build quality.
AKG USA +1 818 920 3237
The H1 is based around the same capsule that SE use in their small‑diaphragm SE2A instrument mic, so it should find uses in the studio as well as on stage. It has the high‑frequency extension and detailed sound typical of 'pencil'-type mics, yet it is rugged enough to withstand regular live use. It also has an easy-to-grip rubberised coating for hand-held use.
SE Electronics +44 (0)8455 002500
Thinking of upgrading your stage vocal mic to a capacitor model? Here's what you need to know.
For many years, whenever you went to a live music event you could almost guarantee that the vocals you were hearing had come through a dynamic microphone, more often than not a Shure SM58. This model, and many others like it, can be found in venues around the world, thanks largely to the ruggedness associated with such mics.
The SM58, and its closely related cousin, the SM57, is a moving‑coil design, meaning that it has a coil of metal attached to its diaphragm. The movement of this coil within a magnetic field is what turns sound into an electric signal, which can then be amplified. As well as being durable, this relatively crude design is capable of handling very high SPLs, and in live sound these qualities are very desirable. The down side, however, is that the coil is rather heavy, which means that it moves fairly slowly. This limits its frequency and transient response, leading to a somewhat muffled sound and compromising vocal intelligibility.
Fortunately, recent years have seen capacitor mics (also known as condensers) become increasingly popular for stage use. These employ the same capsule technology as the vocal and instrument capacitor mics we use in the studio, and they have an accordingly more 'hi‑fi' sound, thanks to their extended frequency response and increased sensitivity. There are two obvious advantages: they allow lyrics to be heard more clearly, and they require less preamp gain, which helps reduce noise levels.
If you're thinking of buying a capacitor mic for live vocals, however, there are a few things you'll need to watch out for. The extended high‑frequency response means that they can pick up more spill from cymbals — which can, in small venues, be too loud even before they've been amplified! They are also more susceptible to high‑frequency feedback, and on some singers they can emphasise sibilance quite dramatically.
On a more practical level, the majority of capacitor microphones also require phantom power (although some are capable of running on batteries). While most mixers are quite happy to supply this, some desks (mostly older models) can't, so you may need to buy a separate phantom‑power supply or upgrade your mixer before you can use a capacitor mic.
As you can see from the previous pages, there are numerous models available, at a very wide range of prices, so how do you know which one's right for you? The usual advice on buying studio microphones applies equally here: if you're going to be using it for your own vocals, what matters most is whether the mic suits your voice. If you're an engineer and you expect to use the mic on a range of voices, however, a model with a neutral tonality will probably be more appropriate.
There is, of course, a very strong correlation between price and quality. The more upmarket models will probably have better specifications (increased dynamic range, lower noise floor, and so on) compared with those at the budget end of the market, but before you spend your money, it's worth considering the gear you're going to be using the mic with. If you've got a cheap mixer with noisy preamps, the mic's self‑noise may not be an issue at all. Similarly, if the PA system you're using isn't particularly great, some of the sonic benefits of a premium mic may be not be especially audible, and a cheaper model might well suffice.
That said, if you do both studio and live work, a top‑quality stage mic could obviate the need to buy another mic for recording. In general, stage capacitors sound fairly similar to 'pencil' type microphones, and so could be useful for both vocals and instruments in the studio.
Also, if you're buying a stage capacitor mic as an upgrade to a dynamic model you already own, don't get rid of your old mic straight away! Not only is it useful to have a variety of mics in the studio, but for live work where there's more than one singer, using different mics on each of them can help significantly with separation.
Finally, as with any microphone purchase, it's best to try out as many of the models on your shortlist as you can. Specifications are useful and can tell you part of the story, but listening for yourself is invariably the best way to decide which mic is right for you.
Multi-pattern Condenser Microphone
Audio-Technica have added multiple polar patterns to one of their already successful designs, bringing increased versatility in the studio.
Multi-pattern Condenser Microphone
Audio files to accompany the article.
Stereo Condenser Microphone
There's more to this variation on Audio-Technica's flagship microphone than the simple addition of a second capsule...
Paul White explores the capabilities of the understated-yet-powerful Studio Pro M2.
Schoeps make some of the most revered mics on the planet, so when they release a commercial version of the mic preamp they use for testing, you have to take it seriously...
The following charts, made using an Audio Precision Analyser, accompany our review of the Schoeps VSR5 microphone preamplifier.
Handheld Condenser Microphone
Designed as a hand-held live vocal mic, this mic has a cardioid pickup pattern, and seems very robustly engineered.
Mono Valve Equaliser
British 'boutique' outboard manufacturers seem to be rather thin on the ground these days, but if this Pultec clone is anything to go by, newcomers Cartec look set to make a big impression.
Prodipe say they wanted to offer a high-quality, live-sound, cardioid-pattern dynamic mic at a very affordable price.
Multi-pattern Condenser Microphone
Sontronics mics usually sound as distinctive as they look - and this one looks more distinctive than most!
Multi-pattern Valve Microphone
Hot on the heels of the impressive Genesis cardioid valve mic, MXL have unveiled their flagship multi-pattern model, the Revelation. Does it live up to its name?
Multi-pattern Valve Microphone
These audio files accompany the SOS September 2010 review of the MXL Revelation microphone.
USB mics are nothing new, but the Samson Go Mic is probably the smallest and cutest I've seen to date. This metal-bodied mic,...
Does AKGs Chinese-made Perception 820 maintain the Austrian companys impressive reputation?
Hear for yourself how this mic performed during the SOS tests.
A-Ts brand-new transducer technology has produced a robust design intended to deliver high signal levels as well as that prized ribbon character...
Snare & Tom Condenser Microphones
Despite the ubiquity of the SM57 for use on snare, there are other options — and Earthworks aim to help you capture a more natural sound.
Cardioid Valve Microphone
We put MXLs Genesis through its paces alongside a much pricier model, to find out just how good a tube mic can be at this price.
Hear For Yourself
To accompany our July 2010 Genesis review, we recorded a series of standard tests with the review mic alongside a more established mic (in this case, the AKG C12 VR).