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40 l February 2014

livefeature Gainafter

IN THE studio, the vocal mic is a sacred cow: untouchable, shielded from spit but never short of polish. It connects with the singer only as an X-ray connects with a patient, delicate and remote, peering into the very bones of a performance from a glass cage. On stage, well… seize it, bite

it, caress it, wrap it around you like a lover and – if you’re really good – do this in a way that becomes your signature, a gait or a grasp as recognisable as the voice itself. Think of the way Elvis leaned into the stand, the way Roger Daltrey coiled the cable like a whip in a rodeo, even the way Alvin Stardust held the mic above his head in a gloved hand as if he couldn’t find a seat on the Tube. From sublime to ridiculous, the lead vocal mic is the epicentre of a production.

TWO WORLDS COLLIDE The industry has always observed an according divide. Condensers were the fragile conduits of recording, while dynamics bounced along from one venue to another with the robustness of a coach full of drunken pensioners. They were made differently, for very different purposes. But, over the past few years, this divide has come under scrutiny and is now

“The Digital 9000 represents the first time in the history of wireless microphones that we can honestly claim that it sounds just like wired,” states Kevin Jungk, portfolio manager for wireless microphones at Sennheiser. “We managed to push uncompressed audio through the air, basically – and that’s a tough requirement. It’s part of

Phil Wardexamines how the mic industry is reinventing the lead vocalist’s second-greatest asset


showing signs of being breached – precisely because, everywhere else in the system, noise is down and quality is up. Live sound has improved

incrementally, an evolution kept in motion by a series of breakthroughs that generate the next adaptation fit for survival. In-ear monitoring brought down on-stage SPLs, exposing signal paths elsewhere and inviting better loudspeaker solutions. These in turn prompted greater access and control, made available by digital consoles, management systems and networks – ever more forensic analysis of the unpredictable behaviour of waveforms when exposed to a paying audience. And so we arrive at a point

where most of the major manufacturers of microphones and their ancillaries are re-examining the possibilities of the live vocal mic in the light of these gains. “I think as sound systems and monitoring systems have become more sophisticated, the choice and use of studio-type condenser microphones has opened up,” says Chris Pyne, renowned FOH engineer for Kylie Minogue, Il Divo and others and now product specialist at Martin Audio. “As well as this, the more advanced sound systems still


the move towards higher sound quality on the live stage, and opens up a whole plethora of new applications. “Monitor engineers are telling us that, with the Digital 9000, they’re running the EQ much flatter and they have less noise in the system as a whole. It’s a slightly different approach to mixing, but quite an easy changeover.”

Chris Pyne at front of house for Kylie Minogue in Athens

allow for the nuances of mics that have been around for 30- plus years – like some old favourites of mine, the AKG 451 and 414 and the good old Shure SM57. Both large and small diaphragm studio-type mics have appeared more frequently on riders: the advancements in construction and materials have allowed them to become more roadworthy but still retain their quality and sensitivity. “Radio systems and vocal mic

capsules seem to be the area that’s leaped ahead over the last few years,” says Pyne, “with the advancements in signal processing and the movement into digital processing. Sennheiser linking up with Neumann changed the game in the early 2000s. I remember trialling and testing Neumann 105s with Kylie on the Fever tour, and these mics allowed me to push that little bit extra and gain more headroom and clarity. “As a matter of interest, my

current role at Martin Audio is to train and support clients using the Martin Audio MLA array system. We believe it does allow for studio-quality sound and controls the acoustic environments in a way that helps these new, advanced microphones shine through.”

Sebastian Schmitz, Senn-

heiser’s portfolio manager for wired microphones, agrees. “With our e965 vocal condenser we have made studio sound suitable for the rock’n’roll stage,” he says. “The e965 is a double-diaphragm microphone with a 1-inch capsule, and can be switched between cardioid and super-cardioid polar patterns to cater for different stage environments and voices. But even if vocalists are not using condensers, there are high- end options, for example our MD5235, which has a special aluminium/copper voice coil for a fast transient response.”

THE D FACTOR Another brand appears to have arrived at a new lead vocal solution just at the right time, building upon decades of success in theatre vocals and instrument reinforcement. Here’s Graham Pattison, FOH and recording engineer – a duality notable in itself – for singer-songwriter David Gray. “I really noticed this trend using DPA microphones on tour with David, firstly with the instrument mics,” says Pattison. “In his latest band, David is singing through the d:facto II with its 4011 capsule – which I

KM Chang and Eugene Chen

always loved. It really feels like a serious upgrade: using as high a quality microphone as you can in a stage environment can only help. Leave it flat, and it sounds just like David. In an ideal world I’d have it on every voice in the band – it’s a very choral sound – but economics plays a factor! You can’t hide the fact that you’re paying the going rate for an excellent product.” As is Jon Burton, FOH for

The Prodigy and, currently, Bombay Bicycle Club – also new converts to the d:facto platform. “We tried one in rehearsals, and [lead singer] Jack [Steadman] just said: ‘This is it! – let’s get one for all the band members’. I did point out the price differential, but the enthusiasm is undeniable.”

Burton is also a pragmatic adopter of microphones to suit each purpose, and believes that the manufacturers as a whole have turned a corner. “Costs have come down,” he points out, “and people are thinking about how to make a condenser for live use. Most noticeably, they’ve become a lot more rugged. “Not long ago, manufacturers assumed I would just use SM58s for everything. Now they’ve realised that we in live sound certainly do use other mics –

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