Microphone and amp for vocal practice
March 29, 2008 5:52 AM   Subscribe

Trying to choose a microphone / preamp / amp for a vocalist to use when practicing with a band.

My wife sings vocals in our band, and we need a decent way to amplify her voice. The other instruments are electronic drums, guitar, and bass, each of which have their own amp. We're currently plugging a cheap Peavey dynamic mic into one of the drum monitor inputs, but we'd like something better.

Which type of microphone is best for practicing in a small room with other instruments? We don't want feedback but we want to be able to hear the vocals clearly.

Should we get a separate amp/speaker just for vocals, or a preamp to plug them in with the drums? Ideally she wants to add a bit of reverb to the vocals, or at least a bit of warmth.

This is strictly for practice, but if any equipment we purchase were useful in future recording or live situations it would be a bonus.

Note: I'm pretty much aware of the difference between condenser and dynamic mics, and pickup patterns, but I don't know what's best for this particular situation.
posted by mmoncur to Media & Arts (8 answers total)
You probably want to look at some self-powered PA speakers.

A set like any of these would graduate well to live work.

Running the vocals through monitors is a reasonable practise solution, but is non-ideal as you've already discovered and definitely doesn't scale up to live.

For a vocal mic, you can't do better for practise, or live, than an SM58 - either the LC linked, or a Beta...
posted by benzo8 at 6:08 AM on March 29, 2008

Noticing also that you talk about pre-amping the mic - you can can get (and will probably need) a little mixer with mic pre's built-in. Many will have a small digital effects unit which will give you the reverb you're looking for too...

The advantages of going this route is that it scales well - if you decide to introduce backing vocals, just plug them into the mixer; play a venue too big for the backline to manage and you can start to mic up the guitar amps and feed them through the mixer/PA too... etc.
posted by benzo8 at 6:13 AM on March 29, 2008

God this takes me back many years. I tried many different amps when first in a band and the only way to get heard over the din is the PA solution. Vocals need to be coming out of two speakers or you'll never break through enough in the live mix in a room with guitars drums etc. I had a 150 Watt one that just about got me there in a band where everything was turned up to 11 but it would have been kinder on my voice if I'd gotten one with a bit more juice.

Seconding the SM58 for just everything microphone. They cost a bit but they last forever. Buying a cheaper mic will cost more in the long run.
posted by merocet at 7:23 AM on March 29, 2008

Shure SM58. You can get into some complex shit with Neumann large-diaphragm condensers and ribbons, but they're really for studio apps. The SM58 is low-end industry standard. The midrange is a bit nasally if you record it, but sounds great live.

As far as what you plug it into, that depends on what you want. What's her singing style? If she wants to ride the setup to the saturation point, like Aretha or Stevie, you could probably plug right into a Champ or some other low watt guitar amp. If she wants a crystal-clear repro of her voice, prolly a pre and some specialized vocal amp would do. Big 100 watt bass amps are pretty good for this, but often solid state amps get a little crystally for my taste.

Maybe a SM58 into an 18-watt Fender Champ (I've heard good things about the Champion 600, a cheap 5-watt amp, from harmonica players, which is a similar application to a live vocal practice amp). I love the sound of a hot voice through warm tubes.

Of course, if the idea is that she'll be singing directly into a club's PA when you perform, she might want something that reproduces that kind of clarity. Her vocals won't peak and compress the same way, so her microphone technique may require adjustment.

Also, it depends on how loud the band plays. If the singer can't be heard in practice on a dimed Champ, then the band oughtta turn it down a notch, not the other way around. Tell the guitarist to try playing clean so the vocals cut through the mix better. Playing clean makes you a better guitarist anyway (high-volume compression smoothes out heavy-handed playing), and that's what practice is all about, right? Run in sand.
posted by breezeway at 7:35 AM on March 29, 2008

Oh, and to avoid room or istrument feedback, experiment with mic placement and direction. You may be SOL with the cheap dynamic mic, though. It picks up a lot of room.
posted by breezeway at 7:39 AM on March 29, 2008

Have you thought about trying headphone monitoring? As a singer, I recently went this way and I don't think I'd ever go back.

You don't need much - I'm using a cheap old mackie mixer and a $50 headphone amp

We get two mixes out of this (one from the mixer headphone jack and the other from the headphone amp) and with a bit of clever cabling/panning you could get more.

Headphones can be as cheap or as nice as you want - our drummer uses plain old ipod earbuds, I've got some larger (but still bargain basement) full ear headphones.

With your electronic drums, you could potentially run all of the instruments through this setup for very quiet playing if need be.
posted by davey_darling at 8:06 AM on March 29, 2008

benzo8 wins. (And nearly everyone else who follows.) An SM58 is used by nearly everyone since the dawn of time. There are a large number of famous albums with a 58 used for lead vocals. Sometimes I've put up an expensive large diaphragm condenser mic and a 58 next to it and ended up using the 58 (without telling the artist). It's not just a low-end solution. Plus, if you ever gig out, the venue's sound engineer won't freak if you want to use your own 58 instead of the bloody, dented, beer-reeking one he has.

benzo8 also wins for the mic-pre/amp/monitor solution. There are complete solutions from multiple manufacturers that aren't too expensive, sound fine at reasonable volume, and are light enough for your wife to schlep her own gear. You can probably buy something used, sold by someone who is (or thinks they are) moving up to bigger things. The oldest, solidest one piece vocal solution I can think of is made by Electro-Voice. It was (one of?) the first housed in a light weight plastic shell.

Good luck! Have fun!

Make sure the throw of the monitor is aimed at the singer's head. (I should probably explain that I *don't* mean that you can deck her with the speaker box, but that the speaker, especially the tweeter, is aimed directly at her ears. The "throw" of a speaker is the usually narrow beam of full audio spectrum that the speaker puts out. If it's pointing at the drummer or a wall she'll not hear herself well enough to sound as good as she is able.)

Good luck! Have fun!
posted by lothar at 8:57 AM on March 29, 2008

You know, on third thought, the guitar amp solution is a bad one. It won't be loud enough and will make vocals sound blown out.

I thought of it 'cuz I used it in a specific recording application years ago, where it worked, but your best bet is an SM58 through a PA. A bass or keyboard amp'll work in a pinch.

Check Craigslist for used SM58's; they're on sale all the time for around $60 (list is around $90 iirc).
posted by breezeway at 9:22 AM on March 29, 2008

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