Do you ever wonder what top selling artists use in the studio to get their vocals sounding great?
James Taylor, Before This World – Neumann U67
Neumann’s U67 was first introduced in 1960 and soon became one of the most popular studio mics of its era. U67s have been used on countless vocal recordings over the years and vintage examples in good condition now often demand a price tag in excess of $10,000! When speaking about recording with James Taylor, Mix Engineer Dave O’Donnell said, “we always have a Neumann U67 which he also owns now. I think he has used that exact mic since Hourglass . We always try different mics, […] but the 67 really is the right mic for him”. – Sound On Sound
Meghan Trainor, All About That Bass – AKG C12VR
When recording female pop vocals a first choice for many engineers is the AKG C12. This legendary condenser microphone has 9 different directional characteristics to give the engineer control of how much of the room sound is picked up. It is known for its “airy” and forward sound that helps vocals stick out in a mix as well as flattering their tone. The original C12 came out in the 1950s, however AKG produce a modern reissue of it called the C12 VR.
Chrissie Hynde (the Pretenders), Back on The Chain Gang – Neumann FET 47
The FET 47 was Neumann’s solid-state (without a tube) version of their highly revered U47 large diaphragm condenser microphone. For vocals it never became anywhere near as popular as the U47 (in fact it is often used on kick drums), however, with the right singer, it can still produce excellent results. “I put a FET 47 in front of her and had 1176 compressing her through the custom Neve board, and that was basically it”. – Engineer: Steve Churchyard
Chris Martin (Coldplay), X & Y – AKG C414
AKG’s C414 has been one of the most common microphones found in professional studios for decades, however it often loses out to other microphones (such as Neumann mics) when it comes to vocal applications. That said, every voice is different and what works on one voice, won’t necessarily work for another. “We did use some other mikes other than the 414 as well, but the 414 generally seems to capture what he’s about. It keeps it very organic, and earthy, and simple”. – Producer: Rik Simpson
Josh Groban – Schoeps CMC5U condenser mic with MK5 capsule
While most pop vocals are recorded up close with a large diaphragm mic, with classical singers it is not uncommon to use smaller diagram condenser microphones placed further away. This helps create a sound that captures more the natural tone of the voice in the room as you would expect from a live classical performance. Schoeps’s CMC5U is a microphone amplifier section that is designed to be used with a range of different capsules – in this case the MK5. It was used “going to a Neve 1073, into a GML 8200 EQ , and finally a Neve 33609 compressor”. – Producer: Bernie Herms
Hozier, Take Me To Church – Neumann CMV563 microphone with an M7 capsule
The CMV-536 is a vintage microphone made from 1956-1971 that had interchangeable capsule heads. The M7 was a cardioid capsule that is said to sound very similar to a U47. On Take Me To Church it was used with a Martch MSS10 preamp and deliberately over driven to add character to the vocals. “This signal chain distorted in a nice way, and Andrew adored that sound. He can sing really loud sometimes, which meant that we got a distortion similar to that from the 1950s and ’60s”. – Producer / Engineer: Rob Kirwan
Bee Gees, Stayin’ Alive – Neumann U87
The Neumann U87 is a large diaphragm condenser microphone that was designed as a solid state version of the U67. Unlike how most modern pop vocal groups record, the Bee Gees often liked to record in a more traditional way, similar to what you would expect from folk or bluegrass musicians: “When I learnt they would be three to sing, I set up three different headphones and three different mics. They said ‘No, no!’ and asked me for a single mic, and no headphones — just a little speaker close to them. They sang together around the same mic, looking at each other. And when I heard them, I knew what ‘good singing’ meant: even on the first take, they were perfect, in tune, in the rhythm” – Studio Assistant: Michel Marie
Jimi Hendrix, All Along The Watchtower – Beyerdynamic M160
The M160 is probably Beyerdynamic’s most popular ribbon microphone. Unlike most ribbons it features a hyper-cardioid polar pattern which gives it the advantage of picking up less background sound than the typical figure-8 pattern. Although it is more commonly used on guitars and percussion, Jimi Hendrix liked it so much on his guitars he also used it on is vocals as well.
Britney Howard (Alabama Shakes), Guess Who – Yamaha NS10 Woofer!
During the recording sessions for the album Sound & Color, various unusual microphone techniques were experimented with to create a unique vocal sound. One of these involved using the speaker from a Yamaha NS10 monitor speaker and wiring it to be used as a microphone. Apparently it “resulted in this strangely muted tonality, pokey and weird. It’s one of the odder songs on the album, and we wanted to have her vocal sounds a bit differently. I had to EQ it and do a lot of weird jazz to it afterwards, but we used it on the entire song, including her background vocals on it, and it sounded cool”. – Engineer: Shawn Everett
Chris Kennedy is the principle product reviewer for VoiceCouncil Magazine. He is also a singer-songwriter and composer, performing and writing in a range of styles from rock to jazz. Chris has released several albums as a solo artist and with his group The New Inventions. You can find more about him on his website.