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. In a lot of cases, 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 unique setup, so the selections here present some great starting points. Here are some of our top picks for live sound microphones.
Best live microphone overall: Shure SM57
Oh, the tried-and-true 57. Is there a live source it doesn’t work with? No matter what you need to mic up, from vocals and drums to synths and bass the 57 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 is actually really solid when used on low end sources like kick drums and bass guitar. It might not be ideal in every scenario, but it will certainly get the job done.
Best microphone for live vocals: Audio-Technica AT2010
The SM58 is the gold standard for live vocal mics, and for good reason. 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 response to handle any kind of vocals and can handle the high SPL levels the stage presents. It also has a 40Hz-20kHz frequency response and fantastic dynamic range to handle the performance of any genre.
Best microphone for live electric guitars: Sennheiser E906
It’s hard to argue against the Shure SM57 for making guitar cabs sing. But if it’s an option, 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 microphone for live bass guitar: AKG D112
In a live setting you might find that the sound engineer will just DI your 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 microphone for live drum overheads: sE Electronics SE8
Depending on the size of the venue, drum overheads and the kick might be the only parts of the kit that get mic’d. And as such, overheads are 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, with 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 microphone for live snare drums and toms: Sennheiser MD421-II
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 microphone for live kick drums: Audix D6
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 will never get lost.