Last updated on April 3rd, 2020 at 12:37 am
Creating an experience for an audience with a live performance is an incredible one for both the crowd and the performer. While ensuring that everyone going on stage is ready to perform, a big part of the performance’s success relies on the audio equipment that is used. This is especially important when it comes to vocalists as they play a big role in connecting with the audience through the lyrics of the songs that are performed. This leads us to our question. What is the best microphone for live vocals?
It can be tough, considering the variety of microphones to choose from. With different features and designs, it can be overwhelming if you have no idea what to look for. That’s why we’re here.
We’ve put together a full guide that will help singers/vocalists find the best microphone that fits their live performance needs. We’re going to talk more in-depth about the different types of mics that are being used by other vocalists. Of course, we’ll also include our recommendations for what we believe are the best microphones for live vocals. Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
- 1 Types of Microphones for Live Vocals
- 2 Important Factors to Consider
- 3 The 5 Best Microphone Options for Live Vocals
- 3.1 1. Shure SM58 (Great All-Around)
- 3.2 2. Sennheiser e945 (Experienced Singers)
- 3.3 3. Shure SM86 (Handheld Condenser Microphone)
- 3.4 4. Audix OM7 (Hypercardioid)
- 3.5 5. AKG D5 (Budget Option)
- 4 Final Thoughts
- 5 More Articles to Read:
Types of Microphones for Live Vocals
There are two types of microphones that we are going to discuss throughout the entirety of this guide. Dynamic microphones and Condenser microphones are used by many singers/vocalists for live stage performances, but what’s the difference between the two? Let’s dive right into it.
Dynamic microphones are overall well-rounded mics that many singers/vocalists use for live vocals. A big reason why these types of microphones are a popular choice for live performances is its sturdier design made to handle the high-intensity that performing on stage can bring. They can also handle higher levels of noise before the sound distorts and in general, are very versatile.
Going more into the technical details, dynamic microphones utilize a moving coil magnetic diaphragm to produce the audio signal. This diaphragm is thinner than one found in a condenser microphone, moving when the soundwaves of your voice hit it. Because of this, dynamic mics can reliably capture sound, even at high sound pressure levels. They’re also easier to use with smaller setups since they don’t require their own power source. All you have to do is directly connect these microphones into an application source and you’re good to go.
Overall, these well-rounded and versatile microphones are great for live vocals. There’s a lot of options to choose from, and they’re considered to be more affordable in price.
Condenser microphones are the ideal choice for recording vocals, with excellent precision at capturing subtle nuances. They are extremely sensitive at picking up on sounds such as breathing and popping. These type of mics use a conductive diaphragm which is paired with a metal disk that forms a capacitor. This vibrates with sound pressure and uses capacitance to create the audio signal by causing a change in output voltage.
They’re known to distort at higher levels of noise due to their higher sensitivity. They also require a power supply (Phantom Power) in order to use them, unlike dynamic microphones.
While condenser microphones are normally used for recording purposes, more vocalists are starting to use them for live performances. With a quicker response, vocalists have found that they can get a more natural sound from these mics. Also, vocalists can hear their own voices much more clearly, giving them more control. Some condenser microphones can even compete with dynamic mics when it comes to sturdiness. A great alternative to the commonly used dynamic microphone.
Important Factors to Consider
The polar pattern of a microphone is basically which direction or angle the mic will absorb sound from. When singing live, it’s best to minimize any sound being absorbed from the sides of your microphone. So for this reason, a microphone for live vocals would have a tight cardioid (Supercardioid or Hypercardioid) polar pattern. Supercardioid mics have a narrower pickup than cardioids and do a good job at picking up single sound sources in louder environments. Hypercardioid mics are the same, but with an even narrower pickup.
Unwanted ambient sounds and noises that come from the other instruments being played on stage are not picked up by these microphones. Do keep in mind that there is some pickup directly at the rear of these mics, so monitor speakers need to be placed correctly. Overall, the focus will be on the singer’s vocals.
Every microphone has its own frequency response characteristics that may emphasize on one frequency over the other. While having a flat audio response that doesn’t color your voice would be ideal for live vocals, most microphones will favor one frequency more. This means you’re going to have to find the sound signature that best suits your voice. To do so you’re going to have to try out different mics. For example, if you have a deeper voice, a microphone that has better definition in the bass and sub-bass frequencies would be ideal. When sampling microphones, listen to your voice and how it sounds with the different frequencies. Find that right balance for your voice.
The diaphragm is a tiny plate inside the microphone that receives the sound waves. The size of this plate contributes to the different properties of the microphone.
- Natural noise of the microphone: This is what you would hear coming through the mic when the channel is turned on, but no one is talking or singing into it.
- Dynamic Range: The difference between the natural noise level and the amount of sound the mic is capable of picking up before distorting or clipping.
- Volume Handling Capability: Basically how much volume the mic can handle before distorting or clipping.
- Frequency Range: The range of frequencies a microphone can detect.
- Frequency Sensitivity: How well a microphone can detect different frequencies.
Different sized diaphragms come with a set of trade-offs and benefits. For example, a microphone with a smaller diaphragm can handle a larger sound volume while a microphone with a larger diaphragm is more sensitive to sound frequencies. Picking the right diaphragm size will boil down to how you plan on using your microphone. Understand the differences in each size so you can make the best choice possible.
The Proximity Effect is when the low-frequency response increases as you move the microphone closer to the source. Basically, the closer you get, the bigger the bass boost will be. This does open up opportunities to shape the sound, however, it can introduce some potential problems as well.
Understanding the proximity effect allows you have to more control in your sound. Singers can achieve a deeper sound by singing closer to the microphone. They can also alter their sound to be more penetrating by moving the microphone away as they sing louder. You’ll have to be creative to try and create the sound you are looking for. This can take some practice, but it can be very effective.
There are some problems you might run into such as tonal balance from moving the microphone in and out. You also have the chance of compromising the clarity of speech as the low-end sound can turn muddy. It’s all about control and understanding how to manipulate your voice with the microphone.
Keep in mind what type of power source is needed to use the microphone you’re looking at. While most dynamic microphones don’t require power, condenser microphones need phantom power which is sourced from a stand-alone device or a mixing console.
You will find that many microphones have an onboard power on/off button. This can become a hindrance for a performer as you wouldn’t want to accidentally turn off the microphone mid-performance. It would be ideal to have a microphone that remains on the entire time.
Other Key Features to Look Out For
Durability: It’s important to look for a microphone that’s durable and will last you a long time. Performing live vocals can be fast-paced and very active. Your microphone definitely takes a toll the more you perform with it. Of course, traveling with it also can cause some wear and tear. Look for high-quality microphones that can take a beating and still manage to operate.
Compatibility: Another good idea is to look at microphones that are compatible with all types of audio gear. You never know what type of audio equipment you might have to work with. It’s good to be as flexible as possible as different venues and gigs may require a different set-up.
Budget: With so many different options to choose from, you can expect that there are also a variety of different price ranges. Establish your budget before starting your search. There are good options to choose from in almost every price range, but you do get what you pay for.
Other Features: Every microphone has something unique to offer whether it’s the sound quality, the design, or even extra accessories that come with its package. Keep an eye out for these other features and see if its something that you can utilize in your live performances.
Understanding all of this information can help you make a better choice when shopping for the best microphone for live vocals. Now we’re going to discuss our recommendations for what we think are the best microphone options available. Let’s get started.
The 5 Best Microphone Options for Live Vocals
1. Shure SM58 (Great All-Around)
A favorite for many singers, the legendary Shure SM58 has been a popular choice for live vocal performances around the world for decades. While people may say that this mic is outdated with so many newer options available in the market, we can’t ignore how incredible this microphone is, even in this day and age. It’s a long-lasting dynamic microphone that is known to be extremely durable with a steel mesh grille that’s built to last many years of rough handling. You will see that the SM58 performs consistently in both outdoor and indoor situations.
Why Buy the Shure SM58?
The first thing we need to mention is that the SM58 has a cardioid polar pattern. It’s good at isolating the vocals coming from the singer and does an effective job at minimizing feedback and unwanted background noise. This microphone uses a built-in spherical filter that also minimizes wind and breath “pop” noises.
The microphone is tailored for vocals, having a brightened mid-range that helps vocals sound richer. It does have a higher frequency response, which might not sound as pleasant for female singers or higher voices in general. However, this mic does work well with males with deeper voices.
Like we’ve already mentioned, this microphone is incredibly durable. There are even videos of trucks running it over and people using it to hammer nails in, resulting in the SM58 still working just fine. You won’t have to worry about dropping this microphone on stage as it is very unlikely to break.
The Shure SM58 has earned its legendary status over the past decades with good reason. That being said, it doesn’t have the most outstanding sound but it is very good compared to other options in this price range. It’s still a very good microphone that many musicians absolutely swear by even to this day. Many even argue that its the best microphone for live vocals. Overall, the Shure SM58 is a great microphone, especially if you’re looking for something high-quality, but affordable.
- Long lasting and very durable
- Brightened mid-range (Richer sound)
- Built-in spherical filter minimizing wind and pop noises
- Not the best for female voices
- Older design
2. Sennheiser e945 (Experienced Singers)
Now if you’re looking for more of a higher-end microphone with professional quality, the Sennheiser e945 is an excellent choice. This is a microphone that experienced singers will appreciate a lot more as you will hear everything, including the mistakes that you make. It has a very detailed natural sound that is clear and warm. A really good microphone that’s very reliable on stage.
Why Buy the Sennheiser e945?
The Sennheiser e945 is a professional microphone both in sound and feel. It was built to be used on stage by vocalists as its sound can easily cut through the mix. Its durable metal body allows this microphone to handle more abuse on stage. Since it is a Supercardioid dynamic microphone, you’ll find that it puts even more focus on the source, in this case, the vocalist. It does an excellent job at not letting any stage sound come into the sides of the microphone.
This microphone has a lot more clarity and detail than the popular Shure SM58. It adds less coloration to your voice and can even sound great without relying much on EQ. Since it has a Supercardioid polar pattern, you will have to be more precise about how you sing and what direction you’re projecting your voice. If you are an experienced performer, this shouldn’t be a problem for you. It’s also great to use as a handheld microphone, not making that much handling noise as you move it around.
The microphone works very well with female and tenor voices, making them sound fuller and richer. Baritone singers will find that this microphone makes their voices have a clean and powerful sound that is natural and undistorted. However, bass singers will find that their deeper voices may sound boomy because of the proximity effect.
Overall, the Sennheiser e945 is a very good microphone for live vocals that I highly recommend to more experienced and professional singers. It’s perfect for singers and can handle stage use extraordinarily well. It is a higher-end microphone that’s more on the pricer side, but definitely worth checking out if you’re serious about enhancing your stage performance quality as a vocalist.
- Detailed natural sound
- Fuller and richer sound
- Works very well with female and tenor voices
- Professional higher-end microphone
- Might not be the best for bassy (deeper) voices
- More expensive
3. Shure SM86 (Handheld Condenser Microphone)
If you’re looking for a good condenser microphone to take up onto the stage and perform with, definitely check out the Shure SM86. It’s a very durable condenser microphone for live vocals that delivers studio quality sound. You get a great handheld microphone that comes with the benefits you would get from a condenser mic.
Why Buy The Condenser Microphone
Since the SM86 is a Condenser microphone, you will notice that it is much more sensitive in picking up sounds. Because of this, you’ll hear yourself much more clearly, especially your lower range. It has a very detailed sound that is crisp, clear, and brighter in tone. It seems like the SM86 shines the most when used to perform on a quieter stage. On these type of performances, the detail of the voice places a higher priority than the volume of it. Since this mic has a cardioid polar pattern, you’ll have fewer issues with the stage speakers.
Shure did design this microphone to be taken on the road, but don’t expect it to be as durable as the SM58. It’s durable, but not indestructible. The SM86 also does a good job at reducing handling noise thanks to its three-point shock mount. Also, it comes equipped with an internal windscreen that effectively reduces wind and breath sounds.
The SM86 is a great choice for anyone who wants to use a handheld condenser microphone instead of a dynamic one. We definitely have to appreciate that we are able to perform with the sensitivity and clarity that you would get from a studio condenser microphone on stage. You’ll be able to hear and control your voice more effectively, improving your overall performance.
- Studio quality sound
- Higher sensitivity (great for quiet stages)
- Three-point shock mount reduces handling noise
- Durable, but not as much as other microphones on this list
- Not the best for louder performance styles
4. Audix OM7 (Hypercardioid)
The Audix OM7 is a Hypercardioid dynamic microphone that was designed specifically for live performances. It’s another higher-end microphone that has superior clarity and does well at cutting through the mix. This microphone is built to handle the aggressive environment on a stage, being very durable in design and focused on the main source (singers/vocalists).
Why Buy The Audix OM7?
The tighter Hypercardioid pattern helps this microphone minimize the amount of bleed, while also highly improving the gain before feedback. Because of its high gain capabilities, it is able to cut through the other sounds on stage nicely and works well with both female voices and males with deeper a tone. The OM7 has a good amount of brightness and a very balanced low end. On the inside, the OM7 has an advanced capsule with a very low mass diaphragm, which is the reason for its clean and punchy sound.
It has a simple and neat design, sporting a full metal body with matte black paint. It definitely feels and sounds professional, being very solid in the hands
Overall, the Audix OM7 is an excellent microphone for live vocals on stage. Its hypercardioid pattern is great to ensure that the focus is on the singer and nothing else that is on stage. This does mean singers/vocalists have to be more aware and precise of how they’re projecting their voice into the microphone. Even more focused than a Supercardioid microphone like the Sennheiser e945. Singers will have no problem hearing their voices as they perform thanks to OM7’s ability to cut through the mix with exceptional clarity. We definitely recommend this microphone if you’re looking for an option with more gain before feedback and an overall focus on the sound coming from the vocalist.
- Superior clarity
- Higher gain before feedback
- Hypercardioid polar pattern minimizing the amount of bleed
- More expensive
- Requires more vocal precision
5. AKG D5 (Budget Option)
The last microphone we want to talk about is the AKG D5. It’s a dynamic microphone with a Supercardioid polar pattern so you can expect a high gain before feedback. The AKG D5 is a very good microphone for live vocals, especially for singers with powerful voices. It is the most affordable option that we have on our list of recommendations, but what makes this microphone worth checking out?
Why Buy the AKG D5?
First of all, the AKG D5 is an affordable rugged microphone that offers a similar sound to the popular Shure SM58. Often times, people consider the sound from the D5 to be more superior. This is because the sound it produces has the same amount of brightness as the SM58, but without any abrupt bumps in the high end. The high end is a little more gentle while having more clarity. We found that the D5 sounds better out of the box, taking less time to play with the EQ.
It’s also equipped with a built-in pop filter that works well at reducing pops and wind noise. However, we do have to mention that handling noise is much more noticeable on the D5 than the SM58.
The AKG D5 has a simple but durable design with a die-cast metal body and mesh grilles. Its grilles are made of spring steel, so if you ever smash the grilles by accident, they will spring back to normal as if nothing happened.
Of course, keep in mind that this is a cheaper alternative to the more higher-end microphones we’ve already mentioned. While it may lack in detail of sound, considering that its more of a budget microphone, it performs relatively well.
The AKG D5 is definitely worth checking out for its affordable price and decent sound. It’s a great microphone for amateur singers who don’t necessarily need a mic that provides a lot of detail. Those with imperfect technique and harsher voices will love that the D5 does an excellent job at smoothening the sound of their vocals. It should last you a good amount of time, at least long enough until you’re ready to upgrade your microphone.
- Affordable price
- Durable design (Die-cast metal body and mesh grilles)
- Great choice for intermediate performers
- Not the most detailed sound
- Some noticeable handling noise
Well, there you have it, our full buyer’s guide to help you find the best microphone for live vocals. Every vocalist has their own voice and style of performing, which is why it’s so important to put a lot of thought into the microphone you’re looking for. We hope our guide has helped you understand just what kind of mic would be best for you to bring on stage and perform with. Best of luck with all of your future performances!