Ask the Expert – mic recommendations for groups of singers

Ask the Expert – mic recommendations for groups of singers

Recommendations on microphones for a group of singers

Dan and Aylin Fick emailed from Sucre Bolivia asking:

I was wondering what kind of microphone you’d recommend for having 5 vocalists grouped around, say 2-3 mics/stands. Would a standard Shure SM58 do the trick, or am I better going omni-directional….hanging a “choir mic” from the ceiling, perhaps?

To be honest this is slightly out of our expertise so my friend and technical guru Tim Horton, Project Manager with SFL Group, who do lots of church PA consultancy had this to say:

When mic’ing groups of vocalists, you will always encounter problems with “gain before feedback”. This is regardless of the mic used. Yes, an SM58 is probably not the most appropriate; a condenser mic would be the better choice. However, when you have any mic on a stage with high audio levels (anything in contemporary music) surrounding you, the mics will always pick up more than you would want it to. As such, you need to gain up the mic to such an extent to get a good level on the vocalists, but risk creating feedback.

The best way to mic anything up in the context of a loud stage is to close mic. As such, for a five piece vocal group, if you have the budget and the spare channels on your desk the best solution would be to give each of them an SM58 (or similar). Although it means investing in 5 mics, SM58’s are really robust, they will last a very long time and have never been cheaper to buy.

The idea of using an omni-directional pickup is not a good one. The pickup pattern of a mic is critical; most mics are cardioid (heart-shaped) as standard, which is what you want in a high-level stage environment as you get a good rejection of sound from the sides & back of the mic. An omni-directional will pickup everywhere, so you would struggle to get enough separation from the vocal to the rest of the band. Best to stick with something that’s more directional like the cardioid, or the little more exaggerated hyper-cardioid mics. The omni mics are best used in a recording studio, or possibly as an unamplified ambient mic

If, for whatever reason, an SM58 per singer is not achievable (for example with a large choir), it’s best to use some condenser mics. There’s so many out there which could do the job, depending on the budget available. If money is no object, a matched pair of Shure KSM137s would be great. The more cost effective solutions would include Sennheiser K6, Audix ADX51 or the Superlux S241. These would be good for choirs, ideally placed no more than 2-3 feet from the group with a mic every six feet along or so. Just point each mic straight at the group at head height, no fancy positioning is necessary.

The important thing with this kind of distance mic’ing solution is to keep the mics no more than four feet away from the choir, this would be the absolute maximum. The same adage applies as earlier, the closer you can get the mic to the user, the better. If you move the mic from four feet to two feet away – effectively halving the distance – you will double the volume you will get. In fact every time you half the distance between mic and user, you will always get double the volume. It works in reverse too, so doubling the distance halves the volume. The important thing is to go close…

Thanks to Tim and SFL Group for this advice. If you have any technical questions on the subject of PA or microphones, do drop us an email to [email protected] and we’ll get you an expert reply.