My first microphone purchase ever was a pair of pencil mics. It might seem strange to go for pencil microphones first, however, these are excellent microphones for musical instrument recording and are particularly good for recording acoustic guitar.
But are pencil microphones any good for vocal recording?
As a general rule, pencil microphones are not used to record vocals. The small diaphragm is not designed for vocal dynamics and is better suited to recording musical instruments. However, some pencil microphones may work well for vocals, but this depends on the microphone quality and the skill of the vocalist.
The great thing about recording is that there are no rules and at the end of the day, with experimentation, it is possible to capture good vocals on a pencil microphone.
In this article, I will cover what a pencil microphone is and explain what pencil microphones are good for and why. Including:
- What is a pencil microphone?
- What is a small diaphragm condenser microphone?
- Can I use a pencil microphone for vocals?
- What are pencil microphones good for?
- Do pencil microphones need phantom power?
- What is a good pencil microphone for less than $100?
What Is A Pencil Microphone?
A pencil microphone is a type of microphone that is small and has a cylindrical shape. They are often used for recording musical instruments, as they can capture the nuances of the sound accurately.
Pencil microphones get their name as they are narrow and long like a pencil.
Below is an image of a pencil microphone. This image is of my first pair of matched pencil microphones.
A matched pair of pencil microphones means that the two microphones have been calibrated and tuned to match each other. This ensures that the sound captured is as accurate as possible. This is great for stereo recording and double miking of instruments.
For example, this matched pair of pencil microphones sound great as overhead microphones when miking drums, or using the traditional X-Y stereo miking setup of an acoustic guitar.
Typically, we don’t use pencil microphones for vocals, as they are not designed for the high-volume dynamics of vocal recording. However, with some skill and experimentation, it is possible to capture good vocals on a pencil microphone.
What Is A Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphone?
Pencil microphones fall into the category of small diaphragm condenser microphones.
A small diaphragm condenser microphone is a type of microphone that is used for recording both vocals and musical instruments. They have a small diaphragm which allows them to capture the nuances of the sound accurately.
They are also lightweight and portable, making them ideal for use in a variety of settings.
In addition, small diaphragm condenser microphones are not as sensitive to noise as the larger diaphragm condenser microphones, which can pick up exceptional detail in a recording, including noise.
If you want to know more about the different types of microphones and what they are commonly used for, take a look at my article What Are The 3 Types Of Mic? (Microphone types explained)
Can I Use A Pencil Microphone For Vocals?
The short answer is yes. It is possible to use a pencil microphone for vocals, but it depends on the quality of the microphone and the skill of the vocalist.
A pencil microphone will never be the first choice of a sound engineer when it comes to recording vocals, so you better have a very good reason for using one for recording if you are working in a professional recording environment.
Pencil microphones are not typically used for vocals, as they are not designed for the high-volume dynamics of vocal recording. However, I have learned that with some skill and experimentation, it is possible to capture good vocals on a pencil microphone if you have no better alternative.
If you are looking for a microphone that can be used for vocals, a large diaphragm condenser microphone is the best option. Large-diaphragm condenser microphones have a large diaphragm which allows them to capture the nuances of the sound accurately.
To learn more about how to choose a microphone based on your recording requirements, take a look at my article, Picking A Microphone For Recording (What to know)
What Are Pencil Microphones Good For?
Pencil microphones are great for acoustic instruments, like guitars and pianos.
The tight polar pickup pattern of pencil microphones means they can be used in small spaces and still capture a clear, focused sound.
Pencil mics are also ideal for recording sound sources that require greater control over the directionality of the audio, such as overhead drum kits or orchestras.
The low-profile design of pencil microphones allows them to fit into tight spaces, making them perfect for capturing audio in smaller studios or live production settings.
Pencil mics are also great for recording situations with multiple sounds due to their natural ability to reduce background noise and focus on the sound being captured.
Do Pencil Microphones Need Phantom Power?
As pencil microphones are typically condenser-type microphones, they will need an independent power supply, called phantom power to operate.
Phantom power is a type of electrical power used to operate condenser microphones. It is called “phantom” because it is invisible and undetectable to the microphone. A 48-volt power supply, which is usually included in most audio mixing boards, provides phantom power.
Therefore, if you plan to use or purchase a pencil condenser microphone, then you will need to ensure that you have a 48V phantom power supply on your audio interface or mixing desk that can power the condenser microphone.
What Is A Good Pencil Microphone For Less Than $100?
My favourite pencil microphone for less than $100 is the MXL 606 Small Diaphragm Condenser Instrument Microphone.
MXL are really good at producing high-quality sound for a really great value. I always find that MXL make good quality microphones too which are well built, so their microphones always feel a lot more expensive than they actually are.
In addition, I really like the brightness that MXL seem to naturally have on their microphones. I have found that MXL seem to have a love high-frequency boost which sounds great for clarity if you like a natural bright sound.
Pencil microphones are great for acoustic instruments and sources that require greater control over the directionality of the audio. They are also perfect for capturing audio in smaller studios or live production settings.
Pencil microphones are not the first choice for recording vocals. Although some high-end pencil microphones will record nice-sounding vocals, the small internal diaphragm has not been optimised to capture the dynamics of a vocal recording.
Pencil microphones should be part of the microphone selection for any serious sound engineer and when used for miking instruments such as drum kits, orchestras and acoustic guitars, they are the number one choice within the sound recording industry.