A technician who loans gear to music students shares tales of woe – and valuable insight.
I’m a full-time sound engineer at one of Europe’s largest music conservatoires.
This means that I oversee the gear that students use on a regular basis; when it gets returned, I have to deal with the consequences.
Here are 5 vocal mics that cause me grief. This doesn’t mean they are bad mics – they just need some extra care and attention.
What happens to these mics actually reveals what you as a singer can do to keep your mic functioning in peak condition.
1. Se Electronics 2200a
The original 2200a was one of the first large diaphragm condensers I ever owned, and I’ve actually owned three of them now.
They’re a really great budget condenser, with a lot of presence, and a detailed (but slightly exaggerated) top end.
On a budget, I’d absolutely recommend them to any vocalist or recording engineer.
However, not one of the three mics I have owned work anymore, and we don’t have any at the conservatoire anymore either.
As with all condenser microphones, the capsules are incredibly delicate, and very sensitive to any shocks or bumps.
In all three instances, my 2200a capsule has died. It’s an expensive replacement, and more often than not it’s cheaper to invest in a new microphone.
I’m always careful with my microphones, but when you’re constantly moving, and using them every day, it’s difficult to make sure none of them ever get a bump.
Keep your 2200a wrapped in bubble wrap, and make sure you don’t drop it.
2. ElectroVoice RE-20
The Electrovoice RE-20 is one of my all time favorite mics, it’s as fantastic on vocals as it is on kick drums. and it’s built like an absolute tank.
It’s one of the heaviest microphones around, and they’re a long standing industry standard for everything from voiceovers to pop music production.
However their strength is also their weakness: it’s incredibly easy to drag the entire mic stand over with the microphone, especially if you’ve got the boom out too far.
You need to ensure you pair this mic with a heavy-duty stand that can withstand the weight without any problems.
Even when it does fall, it’s unlikely the microphone will completely break.
More likely, just the top of the casing will break and fall off – but it’s a nuisance to keep buying spare parts, and they’re not cheap either.
3. Rode NT1-A
The Rode NT1-A is a lot like the SE Electronics 2200a – a great budget large diaphragm condenser, mainly intended for vocal recording.
It’s brilliant value and comes with a clever little pop shield that attaches straight to the microphone. It’s a really neat package, and definitely capable of some great sonic results.
Another thing it has in common with the 2200a though, is that it’s incredibly delicate. I’ve come across a lot of broken NT1s and NT1-as, and it’s always the capsule that’s gone.
Again, like the 2200a, they just need to be well looked after, and not dropped or bumped. Keep them in their pouch at all times.
4. Behringer XM8500
This is the cheapest microphone on the list by quite a distance, and also probably the most frequently broken.
The Behringer XM8500 is an entry level dynamic vocal microphone, and is priced so cheaply, it could almost be considered disposable.
They retail for around $20, and the quality is about what you’d expect for that price. They definitely do a passable job, but they’re not quite the level of a regular SM58.
If you’re short on cash, they’re a reasonable option, but you can’t throw them about quite as much as you’d expect.
Don’t get them wet either, I’ve seen them break just from sweat from the singer’s face!
5. Sennheiser MD-421
The Sennheiser MD-421 is my desert island microphone. If I could only keep one microphone, it’d probably be this.
It’s versatile and brilliant, and sounds great on anything from vocals to drums to guitar amps – I take one with me everywhere.
There are a few different versions of the mic available, but all of them have one little weakness: the clip.
The clip to attach it to a mic stand is an absolute liability, and I’ve seen so many break from general wear and tear; I can’t even count them. They’re not cheap at all to replace either, around $35 a time.
Make sure you remove the clip if you’re not transporting it in a hard case, and ensure it’s properly attached before mounting it on a stand!
Christopher Milnes is a Leeds based Music graduate and a sound engineer at Leeds College of Music. He achieved a first class BA honours degree in Combined Music from Leeds College of Music. In 2014, he was awarded the David Thompson Scholarship for exemplary Music Production work, as well as the Leeds College of Music Conservatoire prize for the highest mark on his degree course. He plays guitar, sings and composes in bands Campfires and ILA, both of whom gig regularly all around the UK. Visit Chris’s Website