In last Friday’s post, we discussed using “lollipop” mics like the Audix SCX-25a as a smaller profile alternative to large-diaphragm condensers and traditional radio broadcast microphones like Shure SM7/SM7Bs and Electrovoice RE-20s. The Audix SCX-25a’s small size and built-in shock mount offer a better visual aesthetic for capturing vocal aesthetics on screen. If you’re going for high-quality audio in a small package, why not go even smaller with a “pencil” small-diaphragm condenser mic?
It’s still rare but becoming more common to see people small-diaphragm condenser mics used for vocal recording. Using a small diaphragm condenser mic for vocal recording will under the right conditions, In this post, we’ll discuss when to choose a small-diaphragm condenser (SDC) for vocals and compare them to other options.
The advantage of small-diaphragm “true” condensers (true condensers have externally polarized backplates and typically have wider frequency responses than electret condensers) is their excellent frequency response and relatively narrow pickup pattern. That said, they’re often oriented for music recording, lacking the high-frequency presence peak you’ll find in large-diaphragm condensers made for vocal recording. Side-by-side against an LDC like our favorite Audix CX-112B and an SDC will sound “dull” by comparison. This can be corrected quite easily with EQ.
We’re big fans of the Audix SCX1 cardioid and hypercardioid microphones, but find that there’s a rather unappealing a peak in the 2k range that can be tricky to correct. From a pure sound quality perspective, a good LDC will sound better right off the bat, but an SDC can still suffice and make for a great option in its place.
Pencil mics got their name for their incredibly small size, but there’s a reason why they aren’t more commonly used as vocal mics. Microphones without built-in windscreens are subject to popping from breaths and plosives when addressed closely. Small-diaphragm condensers on their own are quite small, but once fitted with a pop-filter and a shock mount, they aren’t much smaller than “lollipop” SCX-25a microphones. When considering visual aesthetics, large-diaphragm “lollipop” mics and handheld mics make better choices for vocals over SDC pencil mics.
There exist small diaphragm condensers with built-in windscreens on microphones like the Audix VX-10. In fact, our recommended Audix SCX1 and the Audix VX-10 are virtually identical, save for the external housing.
A dedicated vocal microphone makes for a smaller all-in-one package with all of the sound quality advantages of a true condenser. We’re also big fans of the Audix VX-5, which even as though it’s an electret condenser, offers better pop attenuation than the VX-10 at a lower cost and smaller size.
SDCs for off-screen audio recording
Microphone manufacturers recommend hypercardioid small-diaphragm condensers for use in vocal and dialogue recording in place of traditional shotguns mics. The logic being that the more narrow pattern of a hypercardioid microphone offers better off-axis rejection than a cardioid microphone, and therefore picks up sound well for video recording when placed off-camera. We’ve used hypercardioid Audix SCX-1s on video shoots on location and were disappointed with the ambient noise levels. When recording in anything but an acoustically treated environment (e.g., a professional recording studio), microphones sound best when used in very close proximity to the person speaking. For hidden or off camera microphones, we much prefer using a lavalier mic with a vampire clip, or a for quiet environments, a true shotgun microphone (like a Sennheiser MKH-416).
Small-diaphragm condensers are great-sounding small microphones but ultimately are best suited for instrument-recording. That said if you happen to have a small-diaphragm condenser laying around and need to do some vocal recording, then, by all means, grab a pop-filter and put the microphone to use. If you’re in the market for a vocal microphone, however, stick with our favorite Audix CX-112B for ultimate sound quality, or opt for a handheld electret condenser like an Audix VX-5 where the size of the microphone is a concern. For off-camera use, hypercardioid small diaphragm condensers make for poor choices compared to lavalieres with vampire clips and traditional shotgun mics.
Do you have any experience recording vocals with small diaphragm condensers or have any personal favorite mics? Let us know in the comments below.
Photos by Eryk Thompson. Instagram: @ErykThompson