In all the magazine ads and music videos, this one thing is a staple.

Whether it’s a documentary on your favorite band, a movie scene in a recording studio, or a full-page ad in Sweetwater‘s latest catalog, one common theme exists: vocalists use large-diaphragm condenser mics.

I’m not a big fan of the phrase “that’s how we’ve always done it.” Certainly we should learn from the experience of others, but doing something JUST because everyone else does it leads to a fairly boring experience.

Do I use a condenser mic on vocals? Sure…but not exclusively.

I’ve mentioned this before. On my album, I used three different microphones — a tube condenser mic, a regular condenser mic, and a dynamic mic. Why? Because I chose the mic that sounded best for that particular song.

Some days one mic just didn’t sound that great. I switched it out, liked what I heard, and moved on.

More and more, I reach for the dynamic mic when I need to record a vocalist. Here are 3 reasons why.

Less Room Noise

If you record in a noisy room (and most of us do), then you’re constantly battling picking up noise in your recordings. Whether it’s the computer fan, hard drives, lawnmowers outside (or inside) — it’s a common problem.

Condenser mics are wonderful. They’re detailed and crisp, but they sometimes pick up EVERYTHING.

Because dynamic mics are less sensitive than condensers, you can record the vocalist without all the extra noise. This reason alone should be enough to convince you to try it.

Less De-Essing Needed

Sibilance can make or break a lead vocal track. Condenser mics tend to really emphasize the S’s and T’s of a singer. Typically, you’ll reach for your handy de-esser plugin…but they don’t always work perfectly.

A dynamic mic, on the other hand, doesn’t capture all that extra high frequency material, and it tends to not need a de-esser at all, even with heavy compression.

Less Likely to Be Harsh

Dynamic mics don’t have the high end of condensers. That’s a given. In some scenarios this may sound dull or dark, but I submit to you that condensers can sound overly bright and harsh at times.

If you’re getting a harsh sound with your condenser, it may be time to switch to a dynamic. It won’t have nearly the high end detail of a condenser, but it probably won’t have the harshness either.

One final point on dynamic mics, if you don’t have a decent preamp with a lot of gain, you may have problems. Dynamic mics have a much weaker signal than condensers, so you need to have a preamp that can give you enough gain without adding a lot of additional noise.

So…are you going to try using a dynamic mic on your next vocal session?

[Photo Credit]

  • Badyard

    Dynamic mics are also susceptible to the impedance of your preamp, so a variable impedance preamp would certainly help getting the most out of it, same goes for ribbons obviously.

  • Harold Svenssen

    I’m an audiobook narrator and use dynamic mics for my recording sessions for one very important reason: their off-axis noise rejection allows me to control the sound of my narration much easier than the condenser mics I formerly used. A secondary benefit is they are less sibilant and less harsh on high frequencies (except for high-end condenser mics, today’s condensers use cheap capsules that cause this condition), reducing the time in post-production needed to EQ, de-ess, and de-noise.

    Since audiobook production is a marathon effort, tools that decrease my labor costs (like a dynamic mic) are a significant advantage.

    • YES!! Dynamics are the best for narration.

  • Quan Chi

    Honestly, I think that one important key component that people forget about is having a good headphone amp. This can make a huge difference on how loud you need to turn ANY mic signal up including dynamics.

    People tend to turn up the pre amp because the headphone level is too low so they instead turn up the mic signal. Instead of doing this, get a better headphone amp. Doesnt have to be expensive. I use the Presonus HP4 and its a steal for the price these days. It makes a big difference though on how hard you need to push your mic signal.

    You see, no matter whether its a dynamic or condenser, you really should have a fairly low mic signal when recording anything. No need to have the pre amp turned up to the max. You may need to push a dynamic mic a little more than a condenser with a pre amp but remember that the goal is to simply get the gain level to a SUITABLE LEVEL FOR RECORDING. Capitalizing that because this is key.

    Once that mic signal is at the right gain level for recording, it is up to the headphone amp to make sure you hear that signal as loud as you need to hear it. If you push the headphone volume, you only affect what you are hearing, not the actual mic signal. So you will be able to hear the mic more but there will be no need to push the pre amp signal thus making less noisy recordings because you wont be messing with the actual micpre amp signals.

    You can use dynamic mics even with cheap pre amps that come in a cheap recording interface. You just need two things. One…a good headphone amp so you can push the headphone signal, not the mic signal. And two, you need a cloudlifter, a fethead, or an ss 1 from simply sound which i just recently learned about from Joe Gilder to give you an extra 20-25db of clean gain so that way you can push the mic level more without getting extra added noise. Thats what these mic booster devices were made for. Hope this helps!

  • Ace Mclovin

    There’s some application for this. When recording with a condenser, i find i have to set my gain to 15db or less to minimize room noise, and that’s with foam protection . A dynamic lets you record a loud signal much more easily.

  • Czyszy

    Less room noise. OK, fine. However, keep in mind, that dynamic mics have usually terribly low signals . Therefore, a cheap preamp will generate more whyte noise.

    • Bluart Stack

      Yeah, and that’s why you don’t buy a cheap preamp. Lol. Really? To get the best results out of a dynamic, you have to set up the chain properly. It’s called research?

  • Nirmalya

    Hey friend thank you for your suggestion. I have AT 40/40 .focustite24 pro sound card. Preamp. Decent headphone and Yamaha HS 50 monitor. I work on Cubase 5, wish to upgrade please suggest me.

  • Dan

    I always have terrible problems with background noise so I started doing some tracking with my SM58 and it seemed to help considerably. I just bought an EV RE20 and am going to give that a try on vocals. I always have trouble with my vocals being too harsh and the background noise being too high.. Unfortunately right now I only have the TRP preamp, which is mostly for ribbons but it gives out a lot of game so I’m going to try it with the RE20 on vocals and see how it does. Will report back. Thanks Joe for the article and responses!

    • Nice! Thanks Dan.

      Joe

    • sonofnothing

      I love my re20 on vocals. Warm honest dynamic with little in terms of proximity effect, great syllibance rejection and doesn’t pick up all the sounds of the room for us small room studio people.

  • John Teele

    Sorry to say, some of the information you present is incorrect, and sadly you are confusing people. For example you state “Because dynamic mice are less sensitive than condensers, you can record the vocalist without all the extra noise”. It turns out that this is a myth. I strongly encourage you to learn more about the subject and update this article. Take a look at the excellent info from DPA, here: http://www.dpamicrophones.com/en/Mic-University/Tech-Guide/10-Statements-on-Condenser-Microphones-vs–Dynamic-Microphones.aspx

    • Thanks for the link John! To quote that article:

      “Statement #3: Condenser microphones are louder than dynamic microphones. Comment: No, one microphone is not louder than the other, this is just a question of sensitivity. In general, condenser microphones exhibit a higher sensitivity than dynamic microphones. Either way, the sensitivity should always be chosen relative to the requirements of the job. In other words, if the microphone has to handle very high sound pressure levels, it would be advantageous to select a unit with a low sensitivity – whether it is a condenser or a dynamic microphone.” They’re still saying condenser tend to be more sensitive than dynamics, so they tend to “hear” a little bit more, even if it’s just that they hear more high frequencies, the net effect is when I record in my home studio I tend to hear more room when I use a condenser.

  • Siana Gearz

    What if i wanted one mic to start with, and i didn’t want to go with an expensive one… For example i’d have the likes of AT2010 (condenser) and AKG D5, AKG Perception or Superlux (dynamic) to pick from, which are the ones that i happen to like… what is the caveats of these constructions? What should be the initial choice? Is the practical difference between individual models larger than that between the families by operational principle that they belong to?

    I’m aware that condensers need phantom voltage on the preamp while dynamic do not.

  • Kevin Dorland

    Ehm dynamic mics do not need a pre-amp. Condensers need a pre-amp.

    • Hey Kevin, I’m afraid you’re wrong on this one. All microphones need preamps. A mic-level signal is unusable until it goes through some sort of amplification to bring it up to line level. That’s what a preamp does.
      Maybe you’re confusing “preamp” with “phantom power”? If so, you’re right, dynamic mics don’t need phantom power, but condensers do.

  • Cozmos Jones

    ok but what if you record rappers and hiphop artists??? then what type of mic would be best???

    • The one that sounds best! (I know it seems like a sarcastic answer, but there’s NEVER a one-size-fits-all solution. You need to try things and see what sounds best to you.)

      • Germanicus

        This answer is very close to what I was going to write, I am an electronics engineer and passionate musician as paid hobbie (most of the times is just for fun) (musicians know it !). I totally agree with Mr Gilder, there are several kinds of microphones, the difference comes from the materials used, the diameter of the diaphragm even the weight of the coils or the strength of the diaphragm and the rest is carpenters logic, if you use a lot of gain you will amplify the noise, if you use a high sensitivity mike you will get everything, if you amplify the high frequency end WITH ANY MIKE you will amplify that side of the noise, the same with the low frequencies so.. if you have a great and really insulated and anti-sound reflection recording space and a lot of money you can record in separated cabins with special enclosures or deflection pads etc for each mike and multi-controls electronics to do whatever you want (even simulate an SM-58 with a ninety thousand dollars equipment. The big musical stores allow you to try different equipment before buying it, so spend some time there and get what you want!

    • sonofnothing

      Shure smb7 gets that crown for hip hop, but I suppose an EV re20 or most any mic would work.. Same strokes for same folks.

  • Jolly Roger

    great article!

  • amrit singh

    I hate the sound of condensors on vocals they are ok for pop
    Music but they dont belong in bhangra or rock

    • Eh. I think blanket statements like that don’t hold up. I’ve used many a dynamic AND condenser on rock music. Both work great. You just need to match the right mic with the singer.

  • Jarod

    Awesome summation of the issues for home users. Glad I moved from home studio stuff a long time ago. I used to have the exact issues

  • Nunya

    Personally, the only mics I use are dynamic. They can handle more noise, pick up less ambient noise, and they sound “darker” which is a character I like. Thom Yorke and Michael Jackson are examples of singers who use (used) dynamic mics in studio frequently. I’ve tried singing into condensers and I have never enjoyed the experience. Engineers want to fight w/ me on what to use on my voice but once I start singing into my Shure SM7B , it feels like home.

    • I used an SM7B for all the vocals on my latest album, “Help of the Helpless.” Loved it. (You can listen here: http://www.joegildermusic.com .)

      • Mark Herrera

        thats so cool man i looked up your link and heard a Godly song !!awesome praise the Lord im actually getting started on recording as well so God bless you brother and may the peace of the Lord be upon you in every stage of your walking with Jesus 🙂

        • david310

          Mark, I can’t decide if you’re being super nice…or a bit condescending about religion. I went to the link too… I thought the music sounded awesome. Did you record that in a studio, Joe? It sounded really professional, great songs too. I’ve been debating getting a condenser mic for some garageband demo recording in my apartment. Not sure I need one now. I have a sure dynamic that I’ve been using.

          • sonofnothing

            Get a UAD Apollo duo and a thunderbolt equipped laptop and get rocking. And that is why I can’t stand overtly religious folks because it’s just over the top all the time. Give it a break for one minute ‘brother’

            • Zoran Ciboci

              be nice

              • sonofnothing

                I don’t think I was mean. I never name called or singled out anyone on this board, I merely said extremism is annoying. Maybe take about 10-20% off there, eh bahd?

                • Zoran Ciboci

                  yes extremism is not only annoying but deadly, I did not see Joe that way, first visit here stay well

  • myst

    I didn’t like it because I think it wasn’t very fair. The only correct answer to the question like “should I go dynamic or large diaphragm?” will be: “It depends…” 🙂

    • myst

      Ok, I just noticed your another article “Why should you use condenser on vocals”… That’s funny because they aren’t very ballanced so I couldn’t believe they are written by just one guy. 😀 Especially the headlines! but now I see the balanced opinion. .;) Anyway, I think that most of things(not all!) that go against condensers are just basic mistakes…

  • I think you just answered my own questions about what mic to use. I was using the Samson C01 condenser mic but it’s very harsh and it picks up everything (I’m recording in an apartment). Thanks for the write-up!

    • Let us know how it works!

    • David Scargill

      I`m still not Shure. Ha ha. Thank You all for an illuminating discussion. I am an Amateur who has only used my Mic for live performances.I have recently been trying to build myself a Home Studio and i was looking for advice on what the essentials are. I have an interface,a midi keyboard and a shit load of Guitars. I am experimenting with DAWS (free & trial),i have some spare cash at the mo and was under the impression that my Shure (cheapo) dynamic Mic would not be as good as a Condenser Mic for my purposes,but from what i`ve read,i can make do with my Mic and spend my cash on something more important. Sorry to tag this to Your stuff Jason.I`m a bit wasted but just wanted to add my bit `cos it all helped me

  • anuk999

    excellent article, what would you recommend ? akgd5 or shure sm58?

    • I like them both, but the D5 is a bit brighter…if that’s the sound you need.

      • torcamaniac

        Audix OM6. I use it live and prefer it in my recordings too.

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  • bob

    Sorry to say that but it is not 100% true. You need more volume to record with dynamic mics and you gonna get all the sounds behind you including the reflexion of the sound of all your stuff in your room that bounce on the wall behind you.
    A cardioid condenser microphone like the tlm103 from Neumannn do a better job on this. Try it and see.

    • Not necessarily. You can put a dynamic and a condenser at the same volume, but one will sound very different from the other…and the dynamic (in my experience) doesn’t pick up as much room noise.

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  • Hey Joe, which dynamic mic do you recomend for vocals? I already have the SM58 and SM57…

    • CamBam

      those are great mics! try them both, and then if you feel like upgrading, get a better one.

  • Question though: Do “live” condensers like a Shure SM86 respond differently then a large diaphragm condenser?

  • I actually saw a good example of a dynamic mic this week. A christian rock group called Hillsong Live released a new album tuesday. I was watching the recording of some of the acoustic songs and I noticed that EVERY mic was dynamic. All the way down to the beta’s on the acoustic guitar. However when you close your eyes and just listen, IT SOUNDS GREAT! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23vkW-hCabk&ob=av2n

  • already do. for all the reasons you mentioned. i have experimented with setting my LDC and my surprisingly great-sounding no-name dynamic next to each other, doing a vocal take and seeing which sounds better in the mix–seems to be the dynamic every time. i use the LDC all the time on my own voice, but i’m going to try switching to see what happens.

  • I did this the other night when I started tracking vocals for an album.  The singer has a really high/harsh kind of voice and is mocking the 80’s glam/power metal, so were some issues when I started tracking with the condenser.  Tracked him with an SM58 and, while I lost a little bit of detail, I believe the end result to be more desirable.

    Also, whenever I’m tracking harsh vocals for a heavier band, especially if it’s someone without a lot of range in their screams/yells, I tend to end up using a dynamic.  Good article, Joe.