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best live sound microphones

Best live sound microphones: Get the best sound on the stage

Every musician and audio engineer knows that live sound is a completely different animal than the recording studio. You’re often really pressed for time and stage space, so you need a complement of live sound microphones that are reliable, durable, and sound great.

Especially when it comes to dynamic microphones, you might find the same model pushing your live sound as you would find recording your tracks in the studio. But not every microphone will sound the same on each player’s setup. The selections here present some great starting points.

Here are our top picks for the best live sound microphones.

Best live sound microphone overall: Shure SM57

shure sm57
Best live sound microphone overall
Shure SM57
The SM57 is the number one go-to dynamic microphone for micing up multiple sources. It’s rugged, has great off-axis rejection, and is perfect for midrange-focused sources.
Pros
Industry standard for live use on pretty much any source
Highly durable can stand up to live abuse
Cons
Not as much frequency detail as other options
Doesn’t work great on low end sources

Oh, the tried-and-true 57. Is there a source it doesn’t work with? No matter what you need to mic, from vocals and drums to synths, even bass guitar in a pinch the SM57 can handle it all. Combine this with its military-grade build quality and you have a microphone that can stand up to the rigors of the road.

It excels at capturing midrange frequencies, but it’s pretty decent when used on low end sources like kick drums and bass guitar if you don’t have other options. It might not be ideal in every scenario, but it certainly gets the job done.

Best high end live sound microphone: AKG C414

akg c414
Best high end live sound microphone
AKG C414
One of the most versatile studio condenser microphones is also a great choice for live sound – in certain situations.
Pros
Variety of polar patterns
Sounds great on any source
3 pad levels and high-pass filters
20Hz-20kHz frequency response
Cons
Delicate
Expensive
Works best in pair

A large-diaphragm condenser for live sound?! We went with AKG’s flagship model for one reason – it sounds great on anything you put in front of it. It’s the perfect workhorse mic, but it is delicate and needs proper care when used for live sound.

The full 20Hz-20kHz frequency response takes on any source, and nine polar patterns let you adjust the off-axis response, pick up multiple sources with one mic, or use it as a room mic.

There are three pads at -6dB, -12dB, and -18dB which help protect the capsule in a loud environment. It also has three high-pass filters for cutting out unnecessary low end and a peak hold LED to warn you when it’s clipping.

It’s a bit unorthodox for live use, but as long as it’s properly cared for it enhances live sound reinforcement just like it shines on any instrument in the studio.

Best live sound microphone for vocals: Audio-Technica AT2010

audio-technica at2010
Best live sound microphone for vocals
Audio-Technica AT2010
This great option for vocals is a handheld condenser, giving you more clarity and detail. It’s got a wide frequency range and can take high SPL levels.
Pros
Frequency curve tailored for vocals
40Hz-20kHz frequency range
Handheld condenser provides great clarity
Cons
Not as rugged as a dynamic mic

The SM58 is the gold standard for live vocal mics, and it’s alot of engineers’ go-to. But the AT2010 from Audio-Technica marries the road-worn durability of the 58 with the definition and articulation you get from a condenser mic.

It’s got great transient detail to handle any kind of vocals and can handle the high SPL levels the stage presents. And the broad 40Hz-20kHz frequency spectrum and fantastic dynamic range can handle anything.

Best live sound microphone for electric guitars: Sennheiser E906

sennheiser e906
Best live sound microphone for electric guitars
Sennheiser E906
This side-address dynamic is meant to be easy to hang over a guitar amp. It’s less peaky on the top end and has a warm midrange that works well on guitars, drums, even vocals!
Pros
Sounds great on guitars and drums
Affordable
Pairs well with other mics
Cons
Side-address design might be a little awkward in certain stage setups

It’s hard to argue against the Shure SM57 for micing up guitar cabs. But my vote goes to another dynamic, the Sennheiser E906. It’s got a less peaky midrange and overall just sounds warmer and fuller, sitting perfectly in a full band mix.

It works really well regardless of the type of amp you’re using, and when used in tandem with another microphone like a ribbon or a well-matched condenser it can be blended however it needs to be.

Best live sound microphone for acoustic guitar: AKG C451 B

AKG C451 B
Best live sound microphone for acoustic guitar
akg c451 B
This small-diaphragm condenser is the perfect choice for micing acoustic guitars. It comes with multiple high-pass filters, two pads, and a great frequency range.
Pros
Great transient detail and clarity
Useful on a number of sources
Multiple high-pass filters
Two pads
Cons
Expensive
Somewhat delicate so care must be taken

Small-diaphragm condenser mics are fantastic at capturing the transient detail of an acoustic guitar. They’re great for drum overheads for the same reason. And the C451 is one of the best in the business.

It’s cardioid polar pattern is almost frequency independent, and you get better rejection. The output stage doesn’t use a transformer, so it’s quieter than others that do. Attenuation pads are a huge boon when you’re using a condenser mic on the stage, and the C451 B has two pads at 10dB and 20dB.

There’s a switchable high-pass filter at 75Hz and 150Hz to get unnecessary low end rumble out of the signal. It does need phantom power to run, but that’s not even a concern. With the utility, frequency options, and attenuation the C451 B makes for a great live mic on whatever you’re using it for – especially acoustic guitars.

Best live sound microphone for bass guitar: AKG D112

akg d112
Best live sound microphone for bass guitar
AKG D112
Built for the frequencies and SPL that low end sources pump out, this dynamic mic has fantastic bass, great rejection, and is built to last a lifetime.
Pros
Tailor-made for low end instruments like bass guitar
Works well on kick drum
Very durable
Cons
Not meant for all sources
8

In a live setting you might find that the sound engineer will just DI your bass signal, whether it’s a line out from your amp or just going straight into a DI box. But if you are able to mic up your thunderous rig there are a few microphones specifically designed to handle the low frequencies of a bass guitar. These types of mics also work well on kick drums.

The D112 from AKG is one of the gold standards for micing up low end sources. It’s got a frequency response of 20Hz all the way up to 17kHz, perfect for capturing the all-important midrange of the bass. And like many of the Shure models (the B52 is a healthy alternative) it is built like a tank.

Best live sound microphone for drum overheads: sE Electronics SE8

se electronics se8
Best live sound microphone for drum overheads
sE Electronics SE8
A small-diaphragm condenser with great transient response and a wide frequency range of 20Hz-20kHz.
Pros
Very wide frequency range
Cardioid pattern reduces instrument bleed
Affordable
Cons
Delicate
Will need to be paired with another SE8 for stereo overhead micing

Depending on the size of the venue, drum overheads and the kick might be the only parts of the kit that get mic’d. This makes overheads crucial in painting the overall sonic picture of the cymbals, snare, and toms. While you can never go wrong with a large-diaphragm condenser like an AKGC414 for drum overheads, consider the super transient response of the LDC’s small-diaphragm brother.

The SE8 has great detail and a full frequency capture of 20Hz-20kHz. The fixed cardioid pattern helps to reduce bleed and keep things focused, and their small footprint means they can fit into even the tightest of spaces. They’re also a great bargain for the quality and won’t bleed your budget dry.

Best live sound microphone for snare drums and toms: Sennheiser MD421-II

sennheiser md421-ii
Best live sound microphone for snare drums and toms
Sennheiser MD421-II
The 421 is an industry standard dynamic microphone that isn’t cheap and doesn’t sound like it either. It’s great on any source, and the 5-position bass roll off lets you cut the mud easily.
Pros
Rugged and durable
Great for a variety of sources
5-position high-pass filter
Great off-axis rejection
Cons
Expensive for a dynamic microphone


Chances are, more often than not you’ll be seeing a SM57 taking over micing duties for your snare drum and toms. This is for good reason, but there are so many other great alternatives. Enter one of the best live sound microphones – the MD421. For some reason this versatile dynamic mic flies under the radar, perhaps due to its somewhat higher price tag (you could get 4+ SM57/58s for the price of one 421…).

They’re just as rugged as some other options, and they have great directional response for reducing bleed from the other elements of the drum kit. But by far the coolest feature is the 5-position bass roll-off so you can tailor exactly how much low end you want to get through. They’re fantastic on the snare (vocals too!), and for toms there might not be a better microphone selection.

Best live sound microphone for kick drums: Audix D6

audix d6
Best live sound microphone for kick drums
The D6 is a small format dynamic meant to give you the ideal kick drum sound without EQing. It’s got specific boosts at 60Hz, 4-5kHz, and 10-12kHz that works perfectly.
Pros
Made for kick drums
Small format is easy to fit into tight spaces
Frequency curve has boosts at key points in the low, mid, and high ranges so you won’t have to EQ as much
Cons
Interesting frequency curve might not work for everyone

This is a tough one to nail down, as there are a few great options to choose from. In a studio setting you might even find the engineering team putting a large-diaphragm condenser on the kick drum to get a full frequency capture. But these mics are often far too fragile to stand up to the rigors of the road.

The D6 is a great combination of factors. It’s got a smaller footprint than a lot of other mics designed for low end. It’s also got some useful frequency characteristics like a 14dB boost at 60Hz, 15dB boost between 4-5kHz, and 17dB in the high midrange between 10-12kHz. These are three primary focus ranges for making kick drums sit well in a mix, and with them you will have to do less processing. It’s also got great transient capture so the attack won’t get lost in a dense band mix.

FAQ
What mics are best for live performance?

Dynamic mics are generally the best choice for live performance. They’re rugged and can take the abuse of the stage. But recently more and more companies are coming out with condenser microphones made for live use. These models aren’t as delicate as their studio counterparts and give a level of clarity and detail that you can’t get with dynamic mics.

What type of microphone is most used in live audio production?

All types! Depending on the venue you’ll always find dynamic microphones. But the better the venue’s setup you might find condensers and even ribbon mics.

What microphone is best for live sound?

The top picks for most engineers are both from Shure – the SM57 and SM58. While they’re really versatile, they might not be the best choice for something like a kick drum or bass guitar.

For these instruments a mic with extended low end is better, like the AKG D112 or Shure Beta 52. But it really depends on what instrument you’re source is and how you want the sound to translate.

Is a dynamic or condenser mic better for live vocals?

Dynamics are regarded as the go-to for live vocals for a few reasons. They’re durable, reliable, have good off-axis rejection, and work well in high SPL environments.

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