I grew up on metal and hardcore musical genres. The aggressive, raw sound really drew me in. A big source of this raw aggression is, of course, found in the “screaming” vocals. So, when recording, what is the best microphone for capturing the essence of scream vocals?
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Top Studio Microphone Recommendations For Scream Vocals:
The best studio microphone for recording scream vocals is the Shure SM7B. The SM7B reproduces scream vocals accurately with a bit of added character. Its low sensitivity and excellent shock and plosive protection allow for more intimate performances during recording. The SM7B also comes with multiple options to best suit the style of scream vocal being recorded!
Because scream vocals are often such an important part of metal/hardcore (I won't get into the argument of genre names here) music, it's critical we capture accurate vocal performances in our recordings. The chosen microphone plays a big role in capturing the essence of a screamer's vocal delivery and shouldn't be overlooked in any studio environment (both professional and project).
“Best” is a dangerous word. There is really no such thing as a “best microphone” for any situation. The microphone(s) listed in my Recommended Microphones And Accessories” page are simply my recommendations. These recommendations are based on my own experience and are mindful of budget. It would be easy to suggest an ELA M 251 or U47 for most scenarios. However, these tube mics are very expensive, putting them out of a hobbyist's price range and making it difficult for professionals to make their money back on the gear.
Another important note is that the microphone or equipment you choose is not the most important part of recording audio. In fact, there are many factors that are arguably more important than the choice of microphone. These include:
- Performer (whether a musician, speaker, or otherwise)
- Microphone technique/placement
- Number of microphones used
- Natural sound of the room
- Content (whether that's the song, discussion, or otherwise)
- Signal chain (including mic cable, preamplifier, console, and/or interface/computer)
With that being said, some microphones and gear suit some instruments better than others, prompting this series of articles under “Recommended Microphones And Accessories.”
What Factors Make An Excellent Studio “Scream Vocal” Microphone?
When looking for a microphone to best suit scream vocals, the overall sound is of utmost importance. The SM7B provides the best overall sound and is my recommendation. However, it's nice to back up opinions with statistics and specifications. So, on paper, the following factors are what makes an ideal scream vocal studio microphone.
- Tailored Frequency Response: Choose a microphone with a frequency response tailored to screaming vocals. These “distorted” vocals contain tons of harmonic information which should be considered. A presence boost around 3 kHz to 6 kHz helps bring these harmonics out in a mix. A high-frequency roll-off reduced the harshness of recorded scream vocals.
- Directionality And Proximity Effect: Selecting a directional microphone with proximity effect will help add weight to the vocal performance.
- Versatility: Choose a mic versatile enough to adapt to any scream vocalist's style(s). Having one versatile mic can help with budgeting and familiarity!
- Low Sensitivity: Because scream vocals are so pronounced and with relatively little dynamic range, picking a microphone with low sensitivity is beneficial. Lower sensitivity mics will do an excellent job at capturing the loud vocal performance while effectively rejecting much of subtleties of movement within the studio booth.
- Noise Rejection: As with any recording, we want as true a signal as possible. Noise rejection is important with any microphone and especially with those performers who get animated during their vocal delivery!
By the above criteria, a cardioid dynamic microphone would be best suited for a studio scream vocal microphone. The Shure SM7B fits this description!
The Shure SM7B Through The Lens Of The Above Criteria
The Shure SM7B scores extremely well in the categories listed above. Let's dive into each of the factors that make the SM7B the microphone on the market for recording scream vocals.
The Shure SM7B is featured in My New Microphone's 50 Best Microphones Of All Time (With Alternate Versions & Clones).
Frequency Response Of The Shure SM7B
The frequency response of the Shure SM7B is listed as 50 Hz – 20,000 Hz. Here is the frequency response graph of the SM7B:
The SM7B is versatile. Let's start by discussing the dashed lines. There are 2 optional switches to affect the SM7B's frequency response:
- Bass roll-off: This high-pass filter is represented by the long-dash line in the lower frequencies. This switch is particularly useful when the vocalist is very close to the microphone. If the proximity effect is too strong, try engaging the bass roll-off switch to negate the extreme bass boost.
- Mid-range emphasis: This is the short-dash line in the mid-range. I like to call this switchable option the “presence boost,” which is extremely beneficial in mixing vocals. This boost will allow the vocals to better “cut through” the other instruments in the mix.
However, the standard frequency response also sounds great on scream vocals.
The slight low-end roll-off helps eliminate some of the extraneous noise from the vocal signal while maintaining the weight of the vocals.
The high-end roll-off effectively rids of the “harshness” that often comes with scream vocal harmonics. However, the roll-off happens high enough up the response (roughly 12-13 kHz) so as to not deaden the sound of the vocal performance.
Naturally, the SM7B has a slight presence boost, which again, is excellent for capturing the sound of the human voice!
For more information on microphone frequency response, check out my article Complete Guide To Microphone Frequency Response (With Mic Examples).
Directionality Of The Shure SM7B
The Shure SM7B is a cardioid microphone. This directional polar pattern is the most common for any microphone, including those used for vocals. Cardioid microphones exhibit proximity effect to some degree, which we'll talk about in a second. But first, let's have a look at the polar pattern diagrams of the SM7B:
As we can see, the SM7B has a directional cardioid polar pattern. There is some off-axis colouration as the SM7B becomes more directional at higher frequencies. However, this shouldn't pose any major issues so long as the mic and performer maintain their relative positions.
For more information on the cardioid microphone polar pattern, check out my article What Is A Cardioid Microphone? (Polar Pattern + Mic Examples).
Because of its directionality, the SM7B does exhibit some proximity effect. This increase in bass frequency response as the vocalist gets closer to the microphone can help tremendously in adding weight to the vocal track. However, it can also be overbearingly bass heavy and “muddy.” If the latter is the case, counter the effects by engaging the aforementioned bass roll-off switch.
For more information on microphone proximity effect, check out my article In-Depth Guide To Microphone Proximity Effect.
Sensitivity Of The Shure SM7B
The SM7B has a very low sensitivity rating of -59 dBV (1.12 mV) per Pascal (of 1,000 Hz tone).
For comparison, the Neumann U87, which is my recommended studio microphone for recording singing vocals, has a sensitivity rating of -31 dBV (28 mV) per Pascal (of 1,000 Hz tone).
So the Shure SM7B is roughly 261/2 times less sensitive than the Neumann U87. What does this mean exactly?
Well, with typical voice work, the SM7B is often a bit too quiet and requires a lot of preamp gain (and is therefore often supplemented with a Cloudlifter).
However, because scream vocals are so loud, the sensitivity actually plays to our favour. Essentially the microphone is sensitive enough to pick up on the vocals but not sensitive enough to capture much of the extraneous noise. This leads to a cleaner microphone signal (of not so “clean” vocals).
For more information on microphone sensitivity, check out my article What Is Microphone Sensitivity? An In-Depth Description.
Noise Rejection Of The Shure SM7B
Speaking of clean microphone signals, it's not only the low sensitivity of the SM7B that makes it excellent at rejecting noise.
Each of these elements aid in producing a very clean signal. I've even had scream vocalists handle the microphone in their hands to help simulate a stage performance during a recording session. There was little to no handling noise in any of those takes!
Recap Of The Shure SM7B
The Shure SM7B is the best microphone on the market for recording scream vocals in the studio. It just sounds great and is so versatile. Its switchable frequency response options make it compatible with nearly any type of scream vocal style. On top of that, the microphone does an excellent job of capturing the voice while rejecting everything else. There are no other mics as clean and versatile that sound as awesome on scream vocals as the Shure SM7B.
For all the My New Microphone mic/gear recommendations, please check out my page Recommended Microphones And Accessories.