Best Live Vocal Mics
Singers are always asking me, “what’s the Best Live Vocal Mics?” Well there really is no single “best microphone”. A mic is like a pair of shoes, what fits one person perfectly might not fit another very well at all. That being said here is a rundown of some popular live mics and my review of these mics.
Shure SM57 $85
I remember back in the early 80s seeing a Shure ad with Billy Squire singing into a 57, which was one of a handful of industry standard, live vocal options. These days a plethora of mics has flooded the market to the point that it’s become much harder to choose. These days the SM57 is more thought of as the go to mic for electric guitar cabinets but it’s actually still considered a desert island best bang for your buck all around workhorse mic. I’ve heard well-known producers say that in a pinch they could record a whole album with just a few SM57s and make it work. Since this mic has no big pop screen it will pick up your plosives more significantly. So make sure not to pop your Ps when singing, “Papa don’t Preach” or “Party People” with this mic.
Shure Beta57 $139
For the $90 range on eBay this might be a less common contender for a live vocal mic, but I was surprised how usable this was in a live situation. I think it works better than the SM57 as a vocal mic. Worth considering if you can pick one up cheap on eBay.
Shure SM58 $99
Many still consider this as the “industry standard”. When working with sound engineers this is still the most commonly seen mic as the default setup choice. It is great workhorse mic, because it just works. It is so common that every engineer knows it and knows how to mix it. You can hammer nails with it then sing a song and it will still work. Not to knock it but McDonalds and Microsoft are also industry standards in their respective industries, but industry standard does not necessarily mean something is by any means the best, but often just what people are accustomed to or somewhere you can go to always consistently know what you are getting. On the other hand sometimes the cooler hyped mic may cause more problems then it’s worth than a less fancy but solid workhorse. This is a factor in the crazy fast paced world of live sound mixing. Nobody needs more unpredictable factors to have to work around. That being said, it is a very usable mic, with some eq through a decent system I’ve had fine results with this mic. But again with the plethora of great mic choices I would by no means consider this the go to default mic anymore. I think at the same price point there are better options especially if you are buying one for your personal use and not a sound company that needs a catch all mic that will work on any possible singer in a different setting every night with few surprises. Shure mics in general are great workhorse mics. Shure sometimes gets overlooked as not as glamorous as some of the boutique mic companies but in the right situation a Shure can more often then you might think be the ideal mic to get what you need.
Shure Beta 58 $159
I would probably consider this the heir as the industry standard workhorse live vocal mic. It has hotter output, better feedback rejection and more clarity than the SM58. I think you could throw one of these up with any system and singer and get a decent result without much tweaking. It cuts through a mix well, with very manageable proximity effect so it maintains clarity even when right up on the mic.
EV N/D767a $99
Someone recently asked me what’s a good professional live mic if I only have $100 to spend. My first thought was EV 767. To this day I use this mic on certain gigs. At the same price point as an SM58 I think it beats it hands down. When making comparisons I would consider it more on the level of the much more expensive Beta 58. So, comparing it to the Beta 58 it has much more proximity effect If you want to add fullness to your rapping, or add some Barry White baritone quality and warmth this is probably the fullest dynamic live mic that still maintains decent top end and mid bite with clarity.
I think it is warmer sounding than the beta 58. With a more baritone singer you may need to cut some of the lows but cutting almost always garners more natural sounding results than boosting. I’ve gone back and forth on which I would prefer but they definitely have different sounds but can be used for the same types of situations. They are both workhorse vocal mics that can cut through over a loud band with great feedback rejection. When using the Beta 58 with flat sounding in ear monitors it worked nicely cutting through. The Beta 58 has a certain clarity without sounding mid-rangy or nasal, with a decent top end, and easy to fit into a mix. But EV has more body and still maintains clarity and top end. It comes down to a matter of taste. But since one is 60% more expensive that also needs to be factored in. So that’s why I recommended the EV on the $100 budget. It gives you a pro sounding live mic at a great bang for the buck and definitely does not sound like a budget cheapie mic.
EV N/D967 $199
I got it because since I dug the 767 so much I figured it would be a better 767, kind of like how the beta 58 is a “better” 58. Personally I preferred the 767. The 967 is said to be especially good for feedback rejection in loud live situations of which I have used them both in. But I noticed that the 967 had less mid bite and clarity. So yea if the mic has less mids and highs it’s going to feedback less but then as a result also be harder to cut through that loud band anyway. This is only based on a few days of rehearsals but is my first impression with this mic. It is still a very good mic but I don’t think it justifies the much higher cost over the 767.
Neumann KMS105 $699
Neumann who are renowned for their legendary studio condenser mics came out with their first and only high end condenser live mic a few years ago. Since showing that there is a market in which singers will pay top dollar for a boutique mic outside of the recording studio Shure, Telefunken and others have come out with competing high end condenser mics. I have yet to try the Shure KSM9 and have a review of the M80 below. This mic definitely sounds more polished and has more of a smooth studio sound than the dynamics. It has nice clarity, smoothness, and fast transient response. It picks up those frequencies that the dynamics just don’t pick up to give you nice air and pick up overtone nuances in the voice. Great if you are a singer that has nuances in color to your voice like Michael McDonald, Tony Bennett, Seal, etc. It has some proximity effect which gives it a warm sound but can get a tad muddy on a lower vocal but not as blatantly as the EV767. It has a warm blankety sound that smooths out vocals. The low end is less of a bump and more wide and flat. More than any other mic I’d say what comes out of my mouth is what comes out of the speakers.
Which if you sing well is a good thing. If you don’t, than choosing a mic is the least of your problems. There is a wider polar pattern so it does pick up quite a bit more stage bleed than other mics but still has decent feedback rejection. One may need to cut around 10k if you get some really high feedback frequencies that the dynamics don’t even reproduce. Compared to a beta 58 it is more flat and for cutting through in a loud situation it might need a little more of that 3-5k mid boost. I think it’s ideal for a nuanced vocal over a tame live band, jazz band, or acoustic situation for example. It might not be as ideal if you’re trying to cut through loud rock because of the stage bleed as well as the flatness. In a loud rock situation the audience may not be able to appreciate the nuances that this mic articulates anyway so a more in your face, focused or hyped mic mike be more appropriate. All in all this is one of the overall best quality live mics. It captures nuances that others can’t but is not hyped. It has a more polished clear sound than most any other live mic. And for me I do want what comes out of my mouth to come out of the speakers. But is you are going to break the bank with this mic there are certainly more affordable options that will garner you excellent results as well.
Telefunken M80 $250
Since Neumann got into the high end live mic market Telefunken, another Legendary studio mic company, figured they should throw their hat into the live mic ring with the M80 dynamic mic. I don’t have a ton of experience with this mic but it definitely has a hi end full and crisp sound to it. It is more similar to the Blue Encore than the Neumann or Beta 87, to my ears. I think what they were going for was a dynamic mic with a condenser like articulation and condenser like transient response. I can definitely hear what they are shooting for when hearing this mic and it’s definitely worth considering. It is less flat than the Neumann and a little hyped on certain vocal friendly frequencies, which could be a good thing on many singers but might not work in other situations as well as a more workhorse mic.
Shure Beta 87 $249
Before the Neumann came out with their live condenser this was my favorite live mic for a lot of the same reasons that I like the Neumann. It has clarity, transient response, and an even sound. It is a great sounding mic that captures what is coming out of your mouth. And from $80-120 on eBay it might be a great deal for a live mic that really captures vocal nuances without breaking the bank. It is awesome for piano or acoustic guitar vocals where you really want the vocal to have nuance and clarity. I always liked working with this mic.
Blue encore 300 $129-199
OK, a few years ago I was at a convention in LA and Blue, which is known for their wide array of nice sounding and cool unconventional looking studio mics was there with their brand new line of encore live mics. The 100 and 200 are dynamics (although the dynamic 200 still requires phantom power) and sound decent but I haven’t tested enough to make an in depth assessment. But from what I have heard they are definitely worth considering as options in their price point. I asked the rep, “how does their condenser live mic stack up to something like a beta 87 or KMS105?” and he said, “it makes the Neumann sound like a toy”. Hmm, a bold statement especially for a mic that lists at about a third the cost. So what does it sound like? The first thing I noticed when bringing up the 300 is that it is LOUD, way hotter than any other mic here. I backed off the pre -15 db just to not overload the input. At first I thought something was wrong with the mic because I was getting distortion. Once I put the pad on the pre and evened out the gain I got to hear what the mic really sounded like. hmm. Interesting. It is a very different animal than the Neumann. It has a low end but a tighter low end curve so it has less of an even smooth blanket sound but a narrower low end bump that gives the voice some fullness without sacrificing any clarity.
There is definitely more mid and high hype than the Neumann or Beta 87. It is less flat. It has lots of clarity. I still think the Neumann has a tad more air on the very top that would be nice in a lower volume setting. Live the mic stands up nicely. I find myself reaching for the 300 more often then the Neumann recently especially when singing with a loud rock or dance band. It just cuts through a loud band with little bleed or feedback for how hot and articulate it is. The tighter low end and mid bite work at cutting through a loud mix better than the flatter more even Neumann but it still but gives you that condenser nuance and air. They are two very different mics. Of course then I realize I am making a comparison between the $600 Neumann and the $199 Blue. And the Blue is holding it’s own and may even be better in many situations. The Neumann seems to have a wider warmer low end. It can be great for getting a full warm Johnny Cash, Sinatra sound so I still do use it on a regular basis. I’ve also heard it on a brighter female voice in which case the warm flatness compliments the already bright voice nicely. But if I’m concerned about my male voice cutting through a band the blue is a great tool. It does have a unique space age kind of look and the Blue logo actually lights up, which looks pretty cool on stage. When I got this it was only out for a few weeks and people were like, “what is that mic?” But now I see tons of 4 and 5 star reviews reiterating much of the same observations I’ve mentioned here. It is close to the same price as a Beta 58, only about $60 more than a SM58 and at least comparable to some of the best live mics at triple the price. Keep in mind any mics that are this distinctive in their sound personality may work exceptionally well in some situations and may accentuate the negative aspects of another’s voice or system. This is often the reason why many just stick with a standard like Beta 58 which is not extreme in any way and can just work in any situation. But if you are a vocalist and want something suited to your particular voice one of these mics might be just what you are looking for. Blue may be giving these other mics a run for their money. This mic is another recommended bang for the buck mic in the under 200 category.
So there you have it. I know there are plenty of mics that I have failed to mention mainly because I haven’t used them enough to have a valid opinion. There are a few Sennheiser mics that are certainly popular. Just in my personal experience I know a few singers that absolutely love Sennheiser mics for their voice. Personally when doing sound and when talking to some other sound engineers they do have some unique characteristics that sometimes require a little more tweaking than your more common Shure type workhorse mics. They definitely do have their own sound and have found a solid place in the live mic market. Audix and Audio Technica also has some fine live mics as well that I have mixed but haven’t personally used.
My advice when purchasing a mic for your voice is if at all possible try them first. Like I said, it is like a pair of shoes, it may sound amazing on your friend but may not compliment your voice. Try a friend’s, or some stores may let you try out a floor model.
You may be thinking, “why not just buy a few and just return the ones I don’t like?” Well actually you cannot. New personal use items used by your mouth or ears such as mics or earplugs cannot be returned due to health laws. But you can buy a used one on Craigslist or eBay and if you don’t like it, you can resell it. In this case you may break even or only loose a few bucks so this might be a good strategy to try out a few and compare.
Hope this helped and happy singing!