Recently I picked up a karaoke microphone (cost me about $15, so clearly - most entry level). It has an unbalanced output and I've used it with my PC (connecting it to the "mic" input) to record audio in Audacity, and also directly plugged to my small practise guitar amp (15W, 6.5" speaker).

For my untrained ears, the recording quality is not too different compared to what I have with some of the el-cheapo headphone+mic sets one uses with PCs. Probably, that is expected. Another observation is that the karaoke microphone seems to be able to pickup sound only when held very close to my mouth.

Wondering as to, in what all ways are microphones used for recording vocals different ? I am not talking of the high-end studio microphones, but microphones used by people who do gig in clubs, or sidewalks etc.?

  • 1
    You're on the wrong track, "meant for PA" does not mean bad quality. $15 dollars means it's amazing it functions at all. Please realise this - Sound gear costs money.
    – AJFaraday
    Dec 16, 2015 at 15:50

2 Answers 2

  1. You note that your ears are untrained. This is probably the biggest factor in how you will experience recording and sound engineering in general. Just like learning to play an instrument better helps one appreciate the differences between quality levels of instruments, so it is with professional sound gear. As you learn and practice engineering, your ears will start hearing things you never noticed before. It's both amazing and sometimes frustrating to start hearing small details in your favorite recordings - amazing when it adds to your appreciation of the craft of recording and frustrating when you notice poor engineering on recordings you otherwise like.
  2. Just because a microphone is cheap doesn't mean it's outright bad (it's much more likely to be "bad" in many ways). Even something that almost everyone would describe as "bad sounding" can sometimes have a sound that works very well for some situations. Guitar distortion was originally not intentional and was a "bad" sound that musicians and engineers realized was actually good for certain kinds of playing and music.
  3. Some microphones are used primarily in studio recording environments, some are used primarily in live situations, and most microphones are used in both places. Highly directional microphones with small pickup patterns are favored for live use because the unwanted sounds from other instruments and the potential for feedback can be reduced when using a highly directional mic. Mics that are primarily used in the studio are often very sensitive and even fragile and therefore the loud noises, feedback, and rough treatment that can happen in a live situation would potentially damage these kinds of microphones. Also, some specialized microphones require external power and control boxes, careful placement, or are otherwise very inconvenient for live shows where speed, convience, and reliability are sometimes more important than sound quality.
  4. Even for those with budgets greater than $15, cost is a factor. A live show requires many microphones, power amps, speaker systems, special processing, etc. A studio that does not need many of those things can afford to invest more money where it counts most for a studio: in microphones, mic preamps, outboard signal processors, and/or a studio console (which can be very different from a live console).

Are microphones meant for Karaoke and PA bad for recording vocals and instrument music?

"Bad" is situational and in the ear of the beholder. You will not get the same sound quality that is present on most (but not all) professional, famous recordings, since most (but not all) of those recordings were made with high-end studio microphones like the Neumann U87 or the AKG C2. However, some famous recordings (like Michael Jackson's Thriller album) have been made with much more affordable microphones that some might consider "less good" (maybe not "bad") for studio recording in general.

Your specific mic could be just the ticket for a punk, rap, metal, or industrial recording, either for vocals or instruments. Or there could be a silky jazz singer out there who loves the sound of their voice through that specific microphone. Production is an art, and like all artist's tools, no one can tell you what you should be using, and choice of tools is part of the process of artistic expression.

  • Thanks for the answer. Does the ability of a mic to pickup sound when held a little distance away from mouth (even 2 inches or so) have anything to do with it being of Karaoke vs PA vs Vocals type ?
    – bdutta74
    Dec 16, 2015 at 18:23
  • 1
    Yes, the small pickup area is good for live (karaoke or PA) use since it helps prevent unwanted sounds getting into the mic. Dec 16, 2015 at 18:38

Store brand karaoke mics which cost $15 and have the 1/8" plug on the end to plug into a karaoke machine are likely not going to sound very good, but this has more to do with build quality and parts than anything. They build them cheap to sell them cheap and the audience they are trying to reach isn't really concerned with sound quality. However, if this is what you have to record with then by all means go for it. This is exactly what I started out recording with and a radio shack condenser mic for drums. We all have to start somewhere. Working with "bad" equipment and squeezing every ounce of life you can out of it will help you hone your skills and you will be more able to appreciate the "better" equipment when you get it.

When it comes to live and recording, there is actually a lot of crossover between mics that are used live on stage and in the recording studio. For example, the Shure SM57 is a standard for guitar amps and drums both live and in the studio. Mics used for kick drum/bass cab will work the same both live and in the studio. Drum overheads will also work the same.

A main difference between recording/studio and live/PA is that condenser microphones are very common for vocals in the studio, but for live they are less common because condenser mics in general are more sensitive and thus are more prone to feedback. Microphones that work well live will also work well in the studio. Todd Wilcox mentioned Michael Jackson's Thriller being recorded on an affordable mic...this mic was the Shure SM7 / SM7b which brand new is $350 (extremely inexpensive compared to many studio vocal mics). This mic was actually created as a broadcast mic, but people loved it for studio and live so it kept getting used. The list of pro recordings that have used this mic is off the charts from Metallica, Incubus, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins, John Mayer, etc., it's also used frequently live, and in broadcast the SM7b along with the EV RE20 completely dominate the field.

So really the main issue is whether the mic itself sounds good, not its price or what it's intended purpose was. The SM7b is not an expensive studio mic and it was not created for recording or live use, but it sounded amazing in these applications so now it's used all the time even by studios with essentially an unlimited budget...when a mic sounds good then it IS good! :)

  • Great answer, and indeed as you say -- we need to start somewhere. It so happens that I could've bough another mic from Shure (SV100 or SV200), which was just 10$s more, but that too had the "Karaoke / PA" use tagged.
    – bdutta74
    Dec 17, 2015 at 3:41
  • Feedback is about a mic's directional properties, not about its sensitivity.
    – Laurence
    Mar 20, 2017 at 10:26

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