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Vocal Microphone Guide: Types and Applications

In this second part of this series, we learn that using vocal microphones in the worship experience used to mean only song vocalists and only related to music.

Having begun reviewing a couple microphone definitions at the tail end of the first segment of the three-part series on vocal microphones, let’s delve further into other key definitions when discussing microphones.

Ribbon Microphones

Although ribbon technology, manufactured using a thin strip of metal suspended in a magnetic field, isn’t commonly used in the worship environment, because they’re fragile and expensive, it is still fair to briefly mention this type of microphone, as they should be at least a consideration by worship facilities that have a recording studio, or have music ministries that record live concerts. In my experience, the AEA KU5A is an excellent ribbon vocal microphone for lead vocals in this application.

Polar Patterns

Beyond the types of microphones on the market, discussed above, we should also discuss the various polar patterns of vocal microphones, since the polar patterns apply to all microphones in general, and is an important factor to be considered for every vocal application.

Cardioid

The cardioid polar pattern is the most common of the directional polar patterns in vocal microphones. Cardioid means exactly the way it sounds, that the pickup pattern of the microphone is “heart shaped,” and will pick up sound, primarily from the front of the mic and reject most of the sound from its rear. It is also commonly referred to as a “unidirectional microphone.”

Supercardioid and Hypercardioid

A supercardioid polar pattern is more directional than cardioidhypercardioid even more so. Unlike cardioid, both of these polar patterns have sensitive rear lobes (smaller in the supercardioid) and have more rejection toward the side of the microphone. Placing these tighter, more controlled, pattern microphones close to the choir singers is an excellent miking technique, especially in applications where live drums are on stage, adjacent to the choir.

Omnidirectional

The omnidirectional microphone picks up sound from all directions, and is sometimes used in lavalier microphones, but is not well suited for folding the sound of the oral presenter back into vocal monitors on stage. The danger of a feedback loop is more pronounced with an omnidirectional vocal microphone. As a sound engineer, I’ve experienced church pastors who don’t want to hear themselves on stage and reject using floor monitors as an option. Omnidirectional lavaliere microphones work just fine for this application, conversely, for the pastor who wants to use a lavaliere, but also wants high volume from floor monitors, whereby an omnidirectional lavaliere would not be recommended.

Large Diaphragm versus Small Diaphragm

Large” means the capsule's diaphragm is 1 inch (25.4 mm) or more in diameter.

“Small” means the capsule’s diaphragm is ½ inch (12.7 mm) or less.

It should be mentioned that the distinction between small and large diaphragm is common only to condenser microphones, and in the worship environment it’s probably mostly relative to either instrument or choir vocal microphones. For example, while a small diaphragm microphone, such as the Neumann KM 184 and the Shure KSM137, is typically used for the hi hat and drum overheads, the goal of a large diaphragm Audio Technica AT 4033a, 4040, or a Neumann TLM 102 or TLM 103 is to make the sound source appear bigger, more engaging and “up front.”

Applications (Uses and Features)

Using vocal microphones in the worship experience used to mean only song vocalists and only related to music.

Today, as previously mentioned, there are far more methods and types of vocal microphone for a variety of applications.

Lavalier (lapel attached) vocal microphones are often used by preachers/speakers, as is the uni-point lectern microphone for the pulpit. Headworn/headset vocal microphones often are used by costumed actors in dramatic production, as well as by some pastors. Lastly, choir microphones can vary between either large or small diaphragm.

While understanding the myriad of ways vocal microphones are used, it is likewise important to understand the features of these microphones.

Here’s an example of some of them.

Headworn/Headset Vocal Microphones

More often than not, these mics are the choice when a hands-free performance or vocal delivery is important to the orator or presenter, and it is commonly connected to a battery powered belt-pack that sends the radio frequency signal to a wireless receiver, interfaced with the sound system. The signal strength can usually be adjusted locally at the belt-pack or at the receiver.

Placement of the microphone element is important to receive optimal signal from the vocalist or orator. Once the microphone is placed on the pastor, speaker or actor, typically there’s not another opportunity to make any adjustments to that placement. Getting the microphone as close to the mouth of the person speaking is key. With headworn mics, it’s sometimes helpful to use medical tape to adhere the element to the face of the speaker. The Countryman ISOMAX Series (including the E6, H6 and H7) seems to be the most popular headworn mic used in worship settings.

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