When it comes to selecting what kind of mics are best for live vocal performance, there are a few things you need to take note of. We will talk about these factors in detail below as well as recommend some great models for you to consider.
- 1 Live vocal mic buying guide
- 2 Best stage mics for vocals review
- 3 A word on live vocal microphone technique
Live vocal mic buying guide
In this section, we discuss common criteria that anyone looking for a good live vocal mic should take note of. It is not an exhaustive list but is a good starting point for most, especially beginners.
Dynamic or condenser?
Dynamic mics are more commonly used for live vocal performances to prevent unnecessarily picking up sounds from other instruments such as guitars and drums. Using dynamic mics also prevents feedback caused by the mic picking up signals from the stage monitors. Dynamic mics also tend to be more rugged than condenser mics, which makes them ideal for performing on stage as accidents may happen.
Condenser mics may pick up unwanted surrounding sounds when used in a live performance setting. However, many vocalists have started to use condenser mics on stage for the added richness and clarity. Of course, these mics are manufactured and designed to tackle the issue of unwanted noise and surrounding sound in a live performance setting. An example of such a condenser mic is the Shure BETA 87A.
Condenser mics require phantom power to operate, so you’ll need to consider the resources needed to allocate to these mics when performing on stage.
Omnidirectional or directional?
Omnidirectional mics pick up signals from all directions. For this reason, they are not widely used for live performances, as they may pick up unnecessary surrounding noise and signals from other instruments. They are more suitable for group interviews, panel discussions or recording of group vocal performances such as a choir.
Directional microphones are preferred for live vocal performances, to block away unwanted noise from the surroundings and other instruments. Of all types directional microphones, unidirectional mics are the most widely used for live vocals, as they only pick up signals from one direction, that of the vocalist. The most popular polar patterns for unidirectional mics used on stage are cardioid and supercardioid patterns.
Wired or wireless?
There are options for wireless microphones nowadays, which usually uses an FM or AM radio transmitter to a nearby receiver connected to the sound system. These microphones provide an advantage as they allow vocalists to move around more freely on stage, or to sing and play an instrument at the same time.
Wireless microphones for live vocals consists of two main types:
- Headset microphones: use a bodypack transmitter worn by the vocalists, and a wireless receiver connected to the main sound system. The microphone is head-worn, leaving your hands free.
- Handheld microphones: use a built-in transmitter, eliminating the need for a separate transmitter, and a wireless receiver connected to the main sound system.
Among these two types of wireless microphones, lead vocalists usually use handheld microphones as they still leave room for different variations of mic techniques. Headset microphones are better suited for dancing singers on stage and singing drummers as they leave their hands free for their other activities.
Wireless microphones, however, tend to be more expensive than wired microphones, and require additional setup for the wireless transmitter and receiver. These are important factors to consider before purchasing a wireless microphone for your live performance.
How much should you spend?
If you’re just looking for your first live vocal mic and not sure how much to spend on one, a good starting point is around $100-200 range. Good stage mics that fall in this range include the ever-popular Shure SM58, Shure SM57, and AKG D5. If you are more familiar with mics and want those with better detail and coloration to your vocals, then a good quality mic may cost you above $1000.
Take the time to plan out your live performance budget, especially if you are performing in a band. Very likely the vocal mic is not the only equipment you’ll need for performing on stage: you may need mics for the drums and any acoustic instruments as well.
Best stage mics for vocals review
In this section, it all about recommendations and reviews. We will select what we consider are the best live vocal mic for the money.
Shure SM58 – best live vocal mic under 300
Probably the most popular dynamic mic used by live vocalists, the Shure SM58 simply meets all your needs for performing live. It blocks out everything except for your voice, and allows you to turn up the gain without having a lot of feedback. The Shure SM58 gives you pure warm and clear vocals, all without breaking your live performance budget.
This microphone is also built to last, so you don’t have to worry that your investment will break after a rock n’ roll concert mishap. This affordable and “simply-works” mic is an ideal investment for new vocalists who just started performing and touring. Having said that, you may find yourself falling back to this mic after you have performed a great deal too!
If you prefer wireless microphones, the ShureSM58 also comes in a wireless version, but it will cost you about a hundred more than the wired version.
AKG D5 review
With a supercardioid polar pattern, the AKG D5 helps reduce background noise and isolates unwanted sounds from other instruments or vocalists on stage. The strength of the mic lies in the low and high range, especially the latter. You can go to the high pitch without any inference. It is not as good as the e835 mic but comes pretty close. In terms of prices, this is also one of best live vocal mic you can get under 300 dollars.
The ruggedness also makes the AKG D5 one of the most durable live vocal mics out there. If you are looking for an ultra-affordable and lasting solution for your live vocals performance, the AKG D5 is definitely worth checking out.
AKG D5 vs SM8
It is common for folks to consider these 2 brands when deciding on a purchase so a direct comparison between the two will help you be better informed.
- Sound quality: There is no one clear winner as each model haves its strengths. The SM8 has the most pronounced mid range although that makes it more prone to audio feedback as well. The AKG D5 has better low and high sound. Depending on which range is your most commonly area, you can pick and choose accordingly.
- Bass: SM8 has more bass in its audio output, which may or may not appeal to you.
- Body length: AKG has a longer body so it is better if you have big hands.
Shure BETA 87A review
The Shure BETA 87A is a wireless handheld supercardioid condenser mic that provides clear, crisp and rich vocals on stage while giving you the freedom to move around the whole stage. Its low-frequency roll-off serves to compensate for proximity effect, avoiding sudden changes in volume when you move your head or run across the stage. The supercardioid pickup pattern allows you to turn up the gain without inducing excessive feedback. The Shure BETA 87A also has a 3-stage pop filter, which reduces pops and breathing noise, leaving you with pure clear and warm vocals for a perfect performance.
Blue Microphones enCORE 200 Dynamic Microphone
A handheld dynamic microphone that gives clarity and warmth comparable to a studio-grade condenser mic, the encore 200 Dynamic Vocal Mic is one of the most respected live vocal mics produced by Blue.
The propriety dynamic capsule provides you with exceptionally natural and clear vocals, well-balanced highs, and amazing overall detail. Blue’s signature Active Dynamic phantom power circuit also ensures consistent tone and minimal noise throughout your performance.
If you are ready to invest in a long-term solution for your live performance needs, the encore 200 dynamic mic might be the best stage mic for you.
Sennheiser e835 review
A handheld mic that is dedicated for lead vocal use on stage, the Sennheiser e835 has a uniform cardioid pickup pattern that maintains signal quality both on and off axis. This means you will get consistent vocal signal even when you move your head or walk around the stage. Its minimal proximity effect ensures you get all the low notes when you move a little further away from the mic. Lightweight, durable and versatile, the Sennheiser e835 truly makes performing a lot more worry-free.
A unique handheld USB wireless system with two ULM200M handheld vocal mics and a USB receiver, this package presents great value for the lead vocalist. The included ULM200D USB receiver allows you to connect it directly into your PC or Mac, perfect for electronic musicians who prefer to mix their sounds in their Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) on stage. The easy connection allows you to setup within 5 minutes and start performing with peace of mind. This package provides amazing value for its price, and a good investment for new vocalists looking for a fast and hassle-free solution to performing live.
A word on live vocal microphone technique
If you are using a unidirectional microphone for your live performance, which is very likely, there are certain good microphone techniques that will come in handy. Unidirectional microphones are relatively highly prone to proximity effect, which is the phenomenon where low notes are “eaten up” when you are further away from the microphone, causing the sound to become thin and weak. As such, is it a good practice to keep your mouth close to the microphone, and consistently so (feel free to “eat the microphone”, as the saying goes). You can move the mic slightly away from your mouth when singing high notes, but refrain from making the gesture too dramatic.
When singing into a unidirectional microphone, keep the microphone perpendicular to your face and sing directly into the mic, as unidirectional mics have highly focused pickup pattern, which is usually the region directly in front of them. Singing at an angle into the mic may result in your voice being thinned out as the mic will not pick up the whole spectrum of your vocals.
Refrain from forcing out the lower notes, a common mistake among new vocalists, out of worrying that their lower notes are not loud enough. If you keep the mic consistently close to your mouth, the mic will pick up the lower frequencies. There is no need to forcibly try to amplify those lower notes.
Also avoid covering the mic with your hand while singing: it may cause feedback and create a muffled sound through the speakers.
Lastly, although most live vocal mics are built to be rugged, take good care of your mic and avoid throwing or dropping them!