Handheld Mics for Vocal Recording
As more people create video content, there’s an increasing demand for vocal recording options that sound great, but don’t obscure the faces of the people speaking. For a video recording primarily intended for listening (such as with a video podcast or music performance), the clearest recordings require that the speaker keep his or her mouth within several inches of the microphone. From a pure audio quality standpoint, large-diaphragm condensers (“LDCs”) like our favorite Audix CX-112B reign supreme, but unfortunately they’re rather large once fitted with a shockmount and pop-filter. In last Friday’s blog post, we mentioned how “lollipop” mics make for a smaller alternative to the traditional large-diaphragm condenser with negligible losses in audio quality. Despite the attractive visual aesthetic of lollipop mics, they’re still fairly large and significantly more expensive than other LDCs. For those who require an even smaller option, handheld electret condenser microphones make for an excellent choice but come at the expense of a small loss in audio quality.
Unlike “true” condensers, electret condensers have permanently charged backplates (as opposed to requiring external polarization), and typically have a lower frequency response as a result. Electret condensers lack the pristine, crisp sound high-frequency responses of large-diaphragm condensers like the Audix CX-112B, but are still superior to dynamic microphones like Shure SM58s and Sennheiser e835s. There are plenty of electret condensers on the market, but our personal favorite is the Audix VX-5 for its combination of sound quality and excellent price point. Side-by-side to more expensive options like the Neumann KMS-105, the VX-5 has more narrow supercardioid pickup pattern, offering better off-axis rejection to ambient and environmental sounds. Even better, these retail for $245 new, and can be purchased for about $180 used. These offer superior sound quality to common handheld dynamic microphones without breaking the bank.
Due to the supercardioid pattern of this microphone, it has the added advantage of slightly better isolation compared to large-diaphragm condensers like an Audix CX-112B. Likewise, you’ll want to address these fairly closely, as the volume level will drop off as you move further away from the microphone. For optimum results, this microphone will need some EQ, boosting somewhere around 10 kHz, attenuating 2 kHz and 500 Hz, so don’t expect perfectly crisp sound right off the bat. With some post-production and proper technique, you can capture excellent results from this mic.
The Audix VX5 was designed for stage use, and though not as rugged as a dynamic handheld mic like a Shure SM58, they’re quite robust. Modern condensers are quite reliable, but electric condensers generally offer some added durability from their permanently charged backplate. Your mileage may vary, but we’ve used several of these as our most used vocal microphone and have yet to see one fail.
Handheld microphones are great for noisy environments and work well for use on location, and also are great for stage use. Use these for interviews in on the street or at music venues for a great combination of audio quality and isolation. They’ll also suffice for use on guitars and guitar amps in a pinch, but aren’t the best options for studio instrument recording. That said, VX-5s are our favorite microphones for recording scratch vocals with a band, offering an excellent combination of off-axis rejection and sound quality. Despite some minor versatility, these microphones work best as vocal microphones, and won’t make as good choices for studio music recording as an Audix CX-112B.
Handheld electret condensers make for good options for vocal recording on camera, as they’re quite small and but offer excellent audio quality. They lack the crisp, pristine high-frequency response of large-diaphragm condensers, but do sound great with some EQ in postproduction. As electret condensers, they provide a wider frequency response than handheld dynamic microphones like the common Shure SM-58, sounding more clean and crisp by comparison. Designed for live stage performance, they’re fairly robust and can withstand some moderate handling abuse. These can work for studio music recording in a pinch but are best suited for vocal recording in the studio, on location, or for scratch vocals. Few options exist with this combination of small size, sound quality, and price point. The Audix VX5 is a great handheld electret condenser microphone for vocal recording and often gets our recommendation.
Do you have a favorite handheld electret condenser or another small microphone that sounds great on vocals? Let us know in the comments.