Can I Use a Stage Microphone for Studio Recording?
What is the difference between studio microphones and stage microphones? Is it simply a matter of quality, or is there more? Are there microphones that produce great sound both on stage and in the studio?
Studio vs. Stage
For studio microphones, there is only one top priority: sound. For stage microphones, other aspects are important as well. Stage microphones must be robust and immune to humidity; handling noise should be as low as possible. Feedback resistance is a big issue. After all, the stage is a much less controlled environment than the recording studio. On stage, the show must go on, no matter what. In the studio, if anything fails, you just do another take.
In practical terms, a big difference between the studio and the stage is in the mic placement. In order to achieve high feedback resistance on stage, the mic must be placed close to the sound source. However, as we’ve explained in our tutorial “What Is the Proximity Effect,” close miking causes an increase in the low-end response. To compensate for this bass boost, stage microphones attenuate the low frequencies to achieve a balanced sound at close miking distances. Their reduced low-end response also makes stage microphones less sensitive to rumble and handling noise.
Studio microphones have a much deeper low end. This makes them quite sensitive to rumble, but this can be remedied by using a shock mount. Some studio microphones feature a low cut switch to even out the low-end response in cases when the mic is placed close to the sound source. Studio microphones thus are quite flexible; they can be positioned close to the sound source or further away, depending on what kind of sound you’re after.
Sound Quality vs Ruggedness
Sound quality being the sole priority, studio microphones are usually of the condenser type. Condenser microphones offer the highest fidelity, a wide frequency range, excellent impulse response, and very low noise.
On stage, however, ruggedness is a major consideration, which is why most stage microphones are of the dynamic type: Dynamic microphones (moving coil, to be precise) have a reputation of being almost indestructible. In reality, dynamic microphones do break or fail, at times, but since they’re usually quite inexpensive, they can easily be replaced. And while dynamic capsules are inferior in terms of sound quality, the audience hardly ever noticed. Traditionally, the PA system was the weakest link in the chain.
But things have changed! In the past 15 years, live sound has improved quite dramatically. This has lead to the emergence of condenser type stage microphones, which offer studio quality sound on stage. The spearhead of this development has been the Neumann KMS series.
Studio Sound on Stage, Stage Feeling in the Studio
So, to come back to the initial question, can stage microphones be used in the studio? Yes, of course – if you use high quality microphone! A cheap dynamic stage microphone will always sound like a cheap dynamic stage microphone, although its shortcomings may become more apparent in the studio. But a high quality condenser stage microphone will give you great sound both on stage and in the studio.
However, keep in mind that stage microphones, including condenser ones, are designed for miking distances of no more than about 6-12 inches. But that can actually be an advantage in the home studio! If you don’t have a nice sounding, acoustically treated recording room, it’s often best to work with close miking. That way, you get a very dry signal with very little room ambience.
Even in commercial studios, which do have a nice live room or a vocal booth, some singers prefer the convenience of holding the microphone in their hands. It gives them a familiar feeling in an unfamiliar environment and enables them to move along with the music. Which in turn may enhance their performance. With a standard dynamic stage microphone, this would come at the cost of reduced sound quality, but with a high quality condenser stage microphone such as the Neumann KMS 104 and KMS 105, you can have both: the energy of a live performance, and the sound quality of a studio grade microphone.