Home Studio (4): Microphones – Condensers vs. Tubes vs. Dynamic

I scoured pawn shops and Craigslist, searching for that magical, affordable microphone that would capture my voice exactly the way I wanted. You can do a lot with just a cheap mic, EQ and compression, but I wanted to go to the next level. I have pretty aggressive vocals, and I wanted them to cut through a mix without cutting someone’s ears off.

Choosing the right mic can get complicated. Which type of mic did I need? Again, I’m no technical expert so I’ll speak in the simplest terms.

Dynamic mics are ideal for live performances; they handle aggressive sounds well and they’re good for avoiding feedback. The Sennheiser e835 is my dynamic mic of choice for live gigs. Why? Guitar Center let me test it in-store against a Shure SM58, and I liked this one better. It was the first one I bought and I’ve never had a reason to change.

Condenser and Tube mics are more common in recording studios. For my style of music (mostly pop), they capture a high level of detail that shines through in recorded tracks. If you want to know the difference between a condenser and a tube mic, Google it. Nice tubes have a reputation for being “more musical” because they can handle sudden volume spikes better than condenser mics – in other words, transients are less harsh. This opinion is based on what I’ve read and heard from different people.

Different microphones have different frequency responses. Some mics compliment a high/bright voice, while others might make one sounds hissy or shriek-y. Since every mic and every voice is different, experimentation is the only way to find your true love. For pop music I use a forward, bright voice. I didn’t want to spend over $1000 on any microphone, so that U87 crap was out of the question.

Here are all the mics I’ve tried at one point or another (they are all condensers, unless specified “tube”):

  1. MXL 990
  2. MXL 991
  3. MXL V67i
  4. Rhode NT1-A
  5. Rhode NTK (Tube)
  6. AudioTechnica AT4033
  7. AKG C414
  8. Studio Projects C1
  9. Neuman TLM-102
  10. Avantone CV-12 (Tube, modified)
  11. SE 2200-A IIC

The mics I use primarily use for vocals now are the Avantone and the SE. The SE is my favorite, and was relatively cheap (about $300?) I heard that Amy Winehouse used it once – what other convincing did I need? Out of all my mics, the SE requires the least amount of vocal processing in Logic in order to get the tone and clarity I desire. I adore this mic. Again, what works for me might not work for a warm-sounding male singer.

At Clear Track studios, they used a tube mic on my vocals and swore that tube was the only way to go. So I bought into all the hype and purchased the Avantone CV-12 to try it out. I modified it with a different tube and capsule (actually, Harry did this for me because he has better soldering skills). It’s nice, but the SE still requires less vocal processing in my rookie opinion. I hold on to it because it’s pretty, it’s a tube, and maybe someone else will come over and sing on it. So there you go.


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