One of the most crucial aspects of nearly any live performance is the lead singer. Seeking musical perfection, other bandmembers spend thousands on their keyboard/drum/guitar/bass rigs. Yet there's a certain irony that — far too often — vocalists will grab whatever is handed to them before they hit the stage. And even with all eyes on the singer in the spotlight, the need for matching a performer's vocal timbre and style to just the right mic that complements that particular voice is essential. The time and money spent in mic selection to improve a vocalist's sonic signature is an investment that should at least be as important as picking hi-hat cymbals for the tour.
Fortunately, there isn't a live sound engineer on the planet who hasn't spent countless hours auditioning every vocal mic available in search of that perfect blend of response, sensitivity, pattern control and resistance to feedback. Today's latest handheld vocal mics not only offer studio-quality response and superior rejection, but also, in some cases, provide quality rivaling their studio recording siblings. If you're in the market for a nearly indestructible, road warrior-grade dynamic or a high-end condenser for the ultimate in diva-quality response, there has never been a better time to go shopping. All mics featured in this article have debuted in the past 18 months.
Recently, AKG (www.akg.com) added three new vocal handhelds to its line of performance mics. The D5 ($160) dynamic features the company's patented Laminate Varimotion diaphragm, neodymium-iron-boron magnet and a supercardioid pattern for excellent bleed and feedback rejection. The mic has a stated frequency response of 70 to 20k Hz. A double shock-mount minimizes handling noise.
The AKG C5 features the company’s Presence Boost adapter.
The C5 ($299) is a hard-wired cardioid condenser featuring a 24-carat, gold-plated transducer. The mic is designed to help vocals cut through dense mixes, and features AKG's Presence Boost adapter, which adds a 5dB boost from 4 to 8 kHz. The C5 boasts a frequency response of 65 to 20k Hz, handles SPLs as high as 140 dB and includes a double shock-mount to minimize handling noise.
For female vocalists, AKG offers the new Elle C (price TBA). Similar to the C5, the Elle C features a tailored frequency response of 60 to 20k Hz and a slim, low-profile design. It also comes with the company's Presence Boost adapter pre-installed. The mic is available in white and silver finishes.
The latest additions to the Apex (www.apex.com) line include the Apex115 ($159), a hypercardioid handheld condenser, and the Apex381 ($109) dynamic. The phantom-powered 115 features an electret condenser design. The mic boasts a stated frequency response of 70 to 18k Hz and a signal-to-noise ratio of 65 dB. The 115's low-frequency roll-off is designed to minimize proximity effect. Internal dampening ensures minimal handling noise, and the hypercardioid design delivers maximum off-axis rejection. The 381 is a low-impedance, handheld dynamic that is built around a high-energy, neodymium magnet; a double-dome diaphragm; and an aluminum-alloy voice coil. The mic also features an internal double shock-mount to minimize plosives and excessive handling noise, a rugged heat-treated grille and the company's new “leather feel” grip for easier handling.
Audio-Technica phantom-powered AT2010
Audio-Technica's (www.audio-technica.com) new AT2010 ($169) delivers the essential components of the company's AT2020 studio condenser in a road-worthy, handheld design. Featuring the same 16mm low-mass diaphragm as its studio sibling, the phantom-powered 2010 boasts a flat frequency response of 40 to 20k Hz and a dynamic range of 133 dB. It can handle SPLs as high as 136 dB. The 2010 is intended for lead vocals, and the fixed-cardioid pattern provides excellent side and rear rejection.
Rounding out Audix's (www.audixusa.com) line of mics is the new VX-5 ($299). Designed for a wide array of live and studio applications, the VX-5 is a supercardioid condenser. The mic features a 14mm gold-vapor diaphragm, a -10dB pad, a bass roll-off filter and a ported steel-mesh screen. The VX-5 can handle SPLs as high as 144 dB and is capable of rejecting up to 20 dB of ambient noise. According to the company, the mic is intended for use on everything from lead vocals and acoustic instruments to guitars cabinets and drum overheads.
German manufacturer Beyerdynamic (www.beyerdynamic.com) has added two new products to its collection of live vocal mics: the Opus 89 ($299) and TG-X 48 ($124). The 89 is a hypercardioid dynamic that uses a neodymium magnet. It also boasts an internal pop filter and is designed to fight handling noise. The budget-oriented 48 brings together a number of elements from the company's higher-end products. Featuring an internal pop screen, hypercardioid polar pattern and a soft lacquer finish, the ruggedly designed 48 is intended to deliver years of worry-free performance.
Equation Audio DS-V10 with supercardioid capsule
Nashville-based Equation Audio (www.equationaudio.com) expands its Dominion Series of live performance mics with the DS-V10 and DS-V9. The DS-V10 has a supercardioid dynamic capsule with a high-output neodymium magnet structure. The $179 (retail) mic features a 40 to 17.5k Hz response, 140dB SPL handling and a hardened steel grille over a multistage plosive/pop filter. The electret condenser DS-V9 model features max SPL handling of 129 dB, a multipoint internal shock-mount for its mid-diameter, graded cardioid capsule, a low-noise head amplifier and a 30 to 18k Hz response. List is $199.
The Heil PR 20 is aimed at miking lead vocal/snare.
The PR 20 ($179) from Heil (www.heil sound.com) is an all-around live dynamic with an emphasis on lead vocals and snare drums. This mic features a frequency response of 50 to 18k Hz (with a 3dB bump at 4.5 kHz) and 30 dB of off-axis rejection. It is built around a special magnet structure and 1⅛-inch aluminum low-mass voice coil. The dynamic element is built into a shock-mounting system that delivers low handling noise. The PR 20 is also designed to deliver minimized proximity effect and the ability to handle extreme SPLs. The standard-edition PR 20 features a matte-black finish and heavy steel construction. More fastidious users can opt for the Pink Pearl 20, Red Pearl 20 or White Pearl 20 (each $210), which all offer the same components as the PR 20 but in pink, red or white finishes. All feature a fixed-cardioid pattern and include three microphone screens (of varying colors) and a foam windscreen.
The Heil Handi Mic Pro Plus ($110) checks in at a diminutive four inches, yet is anything but short in the features department. Featuring a cardioid pattern, this dynamic boasts a frequency response of 50 to 18k Hz (with a 3dB bump at 4.5 kHz) and 30 dB of off-axis rejection. Its small footprint makes it useful for close-miking drums and cabinets, in addition to use on lead vocals. The mic ships with a wall-mount, a ⅝-inch mic clip and a foam windscreen.
Nady’s VHM-7 lets the user adjust volume level.
Although not strictly a vocal mic, Nady's (www.nady.com) VHM-7 ($149.95) is the perfect solution for harmonica players or vocalists who desire a secondary mic channel with a gritty, overdriven tone. This cardioid dynamic features an innovation volume control that allows users to adjust the level with virtually no risk of feedback. And for additional flexibility, the VHM-7 can be plugged into an amp or a standard vocal channel. Engineered by Bushman Music Works and distributed by Nady, the VHM-7 features a retro-chrome finish.
Neumann’s cardioid KSM 104
Similar to the original KK 104/105 S, the cardioid/supercardioid KK 105 HD from Neumann (www.neumannusa.com) brings together the KK 105 capsule with Sennheiser's SKM 5000 N wireless technology. The mic borrows heavily from the venerable KMS Series of wired mics and features the same low-handling noise, excellent rejection and tonal characteristics. The stated frequency response is 80 to 20k Hz. And like the KK 105 S, the HD includes a nylon pouch designed to carry the capsule, transmitter, batteries and other necessary accessories. Also available from Neumann is the new KMS 104 ($849) condenser, which is a cardioid version of the KSM 105 and features an internal, elastic shock-mount design.
SE Electronics’ H1 is geared for studio and live use.
Blurring the line between studio and stage, the SE Electronics (www.seelectronics.com) H1 ($299) delivers the attributes of both a true studio condenser and a road-worthy handheld. Featuring a handcrafted gold diaphragm, an internal shock-mount and a five-layer wind/pop screen, the H1 is designed to handle it all. A specially tailored response minimizes proximity effect, and the mic can handle SPLs as high as 145 dB for even the loudest live sound applications.
Engineers using the Sennheiser (www.sennheiserusa.com) 5000 Series of wireless mics now have another capsule at their disposal. The new MD 5235 (price TBA) is a cardioid dynamic based on the 935 vocal mic and is designed for vocal applications on very loud stages. The capsule's enhanced rejection characteristics and punchy response make it especially suited to rock and pop acts that use a lot of guitar and monitor cabinets. Available in black or silver finishes, the MD 5235 is the ninth available capsule for the 5000 Series and is compatible with the SKM 5000, SKM 5000 N and SKM 5200.
Another offering that delivers studio-grade condenser technology in a handheld design is the KSM9 ($850) from Shure (www.shure.com). The mic features a dual-diaphragm design (34-inch, gold-layered Mylar) for higher gain before feedback, switchable cardioid or supercardioid patterns, and minimized proximity effect. Stated frequency response is 50 to 20k Hz, and the KSM9 can handle SPLs as high as 153 dB. Adding to the mic's smooth response is its Class-A, transformerless preamp circuitry. And to minimize handling noise, the KSM9 features a proprietary two-stage internal shock-mount.
Violet Pearl medium-diaphragm cardioid condenser
Violet's (www.violetaudio.com) Pearl ($669) and Grand Pearl ($749) are medium- and large-diaphragm cardioid condersers, respectively, that include copious internal shock-mounting, making them suitable for handheld vocal applications and a wide range of live and studio miking duties. The Pearl features a 17mm, gold-sputtered Mylar capsule; a multilayer brass-mesh grille; Class-A, fully discrete, transformerless electronics; and two internal shock-mounts. The Grand Pearl ups the ante with a 26mm diaphragm. Both mics have a stated frequency response of 20 to 20k Hz. The Pearl can handle SPLs as high as 140 dB, and the Grand Pearl tops out as 136 dB.
Robert Hanson is a former editor at Mix and Remix. When he's not watching the sun come up in San Francisco and wondering where all of his cash went, he works for the Internet and manages to sit down in his studio, at least once a week, and contemplate Depeche Mode.