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Behind the Curtain – The Mics
August 27, 2012

[In this semi-regular blog, Chris pulls back the curtain and explains the technical aspects of a Home Free performance, the choices we’ve made and the lessons we’ve learned in how to put together a top-notch show.]

One of the advantages of a cappella singing is the ability to perform anywhere at anytime (which has earned us a few drinks before). However, in most situations we need to amplify our sound—and that all begins with the microphones that we use.

There are a lot of great companies putting out wireless gear—we’ve had some experience using Audio-TechnicaAKG,SennheiserLine6, and the standard default in the US, Shure. Many times the differences between the brands and models can be subtle, a bit overwhelming, and often boil down to a matter of personal preference. Over the years, we’ve stuck with Shure because we know what to expect and are comfortable with their products.

The first set we bought in 2002 were the equivalent to Shure’s current PGX line with SM58 capsules (the capsule is the top part of the mic—these can be switched out while maintaining the same transmitter on the bottom part). While these were a great start, we soon needed a more reliable and robust system better suited to the vocals that we do. In 2006, we upgraded toShure ULXPs with Beta87 capsules. The Beta87 gives a cleaner, better sound. This is due to it’s condenser mic, like those usually found in recording studios. These condenser mics are more sensitive and pick up nuances better, as opposed to a dynamic mic which is more rugged and can take a pounding like the SM58. We’ve used those mics exclusively for the last 6 years now, with some minor tweaks along the way. Overall, we have been happy with their performance, but as they begin to show signs of their age, we’ve been pondering another upgrade.

As most of you know, this past Spring we recorded a live album. For that recording, our wonderful recording engineer, Darren Rust, recommended we rent the top-of-the-line Shure mics—the UR2/KSM9. These bad boys retail around $3,000 a piece and are something we’ve always dreamed of using. When we first got started, we asked Rockapella (one of our biggest influences and inspirations) which mics they were using and found out it was this model. Other top-notch professional groups such as Tonic Sol FaThe BlendersChapter 6, etc. have also used and recommended this line. So we decided to rent them to get the best possible sound for our live album recording.

We were very impressed with the notable sound improvement of the UR2/KSM9s over our ULXPs—for those of you who have heard our live cd, perhaps you agree! So we immediately began saving up to purchase them, as they definitely respond to a much higher degree of subtlety and present an extremely clean, almost studio-like sound.  A good chunk of change (along with a few sold kidneys) later, we are proud to announce we have now outfitted the whole group with the UR2/KSM9 microphone systems—well, almost. Adam chose a UR2/SM58 as he found the dynamic mic capsule better suited to his vocal percussion than the KSM9. With us all using the same level of wireless technology but with capsules that best fit our individual vocals, we did our first show with the new mics last week in Wibaux, MT. There was a definite sound improvement and we are excited to do future shows with them, including this weekend’s performances at the Minnesota State Fair! Hopefully you will get a chance to hear us using the new mics at a show near you very soon. That’s all for now, thanks for reading!

– Chris

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