As we thought about rolling our favorite features from Christian Musician into Worship Musician, articles on recording were high on our list. Because our digital distribution includes CCLI’s email list, we realize our content has the potential to reach and influence the next generation of songwriters as they shape the sound of worship in their local church and beyond. Being wise stewards of this opportunity means doing our best to share great content, including that from key partners like Sweetwater.
Our friends at Sweetwater recently released the “Vocal Mic Shootout,” featuring 50 different vocal mics recorded at their world-class studio. From concept to realization this project was executed with the kind of creativity and excellence we felt we had to share with our readers. Led by Lynn Fuston (whose recording credits read like a Who’s Who of worship), the Sweetwater team endeavored to go to amazing depths to produce a great vehicle for male and female vocalists to objectively hear the sound and character of just about every mic they could possibly dream of owning. To help tell that story, the good folks at Sweetwater have agreed to let us repurpose their “Making of the Vocal Mic Shootout” video, as well as Lynn’s insightful InSync article on all that was involved in pulling this off! To hear all 50 mics in action, follow this link to the Sweetwater site.
VOCAL MIC SHOOTOUT
By Lynn Fuston, Sweetwater Manager of Written Content
Our goal with the Vocal Mic Shootout was to select a wide variety of mics, set them up side by side, and record vocals so we could not only listen to the differences, but also share the files with our friends. Our hope was that we (and you) might discover some vocal mics that we otherwise might not have a chance to hear.
The fundamental challenge when setting up a shootout to compare mics is assuring a level playing field — presenting each mic with the same (or extremely similar) source material. The best source for comparing vocal mics is the human voice, recognizing that no two takes will ever be absolutely identical in level, inflection, passion, pitch, etc. And then we did everything in our power to make sure that mic position, singer position, and microphone levels were all as close to uniform as we could get them.
We decided to limit the selection to a very specific type of mic. We specified large-diaphragm, side-address condenser mics. Then we whittled the list of over 100 mics down to a list of just 50 that we were most interested in hearing, based on A) popularity, B) availability, and C) price.
Once we finalized a master list, we set them up in the studio in groups of eight on the same horizontal plane, approximately 12″ apart, so they would all pick up similar but minimal reflections from the room, but not so close that they might interfere with the sound of adjacent mics. The studio glass was 17′ behind the mics.
The signal path was microphone > preamp > analog-to-digital converter (ADC). All the sound files of the solo mics are completely flat. There was no audio processing in the signal path whatsoever. All mics were connected using 30′ Sweetwater mic cables.
For these recordings, we worked in Sweetwater’s Studio A, a large Russ Berger-designed room with well-balanced acoustics, not too live or too dead. It’s also very, very quiet.
All mics were recorded using the incredibly clear and transparent Millennia HV-3R mic preamp. We recorded through the industry-standard Avid HD interface set to 24-bit/96kHz with an Antelope Trinity master clock.
All mics were positioned at a uniform height (61.5″) on Latch Lake mic stands that allowed for very precise adjustments without worrying about the boom arms sagging and changing the mic position. Why 61.5″? That was judged to be the right height for our first singer, Nick D’Virgilio. Once the mics were positioned and calibrated, they stayed in the same place for Kat Bowser, our female singer. She stood on a riser to get her mouth to the same height so that we didn’t have to reposition and recalibrate all 50 mics. The singers stood on a rug that extended the full length of the mic positions to keep reflections from bouncing off the floor into the mic.
Recording the Performances
In order to preserve the singers’ voices (who were performing the same 60-second sample 50 times), we didn’t try to produce perfect vocal takes. There was some punching when lyrics were forgotten or misplaced, but most of what you hear will be single takes from start to finish. The tracks were selected, recorded, and mixed by Mark Hornsby. You’re hearing raw vocal tracks just like you would with any singer in the studio.
Fifty (Yes, That’s 50) Mics!
We had a staff of four engineers who worked for two days to handle the technical bits, not counting the unboxing and reboxing that took another two days. Several of the microphones offer features including highpass, lowpass, pad, different voicings, multiple patterns, or even an internal preamp in the case of REDD Mic (we used the REDD with the +4 setting into the Millennia preamp), but we decided to listen to all the mics in cardioid pattern with all switches in the OFF (bypassed) or normal position without any filters or alternate voicings. While having lots of sonic options in a single mic can be a real asset, exploring all those options for each mic was not a possibility during this time frame.
I hope it is clear that we went to great lengths to make sure this was a fair and unbiased comparison, showing each microphone in the same light. We think you will find this a very educational and informative resource and that you will learn a lot as you listen to all the sound files of 50 mics.