As a performer or even as an engineer, choosing the right microphone for vocals is a crucial aspect of your production. So without venturing into wireless microphones, we’ve selected some of the best live vocal mics for use on stage.
How to choose the best live vocal mics
Because the human ear naturally focuses on the vocal frequency range, your vocal sound becomes an essential aspect of your live show. Having the right mic and technique to go with it can be the difference between coming across to an audience as an amateur or a professional.
That being said, the job of the vocalist is not the same in every live act. That means what works for your favourite artist or performer might not work for you. When putting together your stage production or tour, it’s good practice to consider the acoustic environment where you aim to perform and the role that vocals play as an instrument within the framework of your music.
Artists such as Billie Eilish, Jay-Z, and Corey Taylor each have completely different approaches to vocals and stage performance. Having amp stacks and live drums creates the challenge of dealing with a high SPL environment on stage. For this purpose, a supercardioid mic with good off-axis rejection will provide a vocal signal that cuts through while reducing the risk of feedback.
The SM58 is the most popular mic in history for many reasons. It’s extremely versatile, with a relatively neutral sound that suits a wide range of vocal styles. It easily cuts through a dense mix of live instruments and isn’t riddled with feedback in high-SPL situations, provided your gain structure and mic positioning is set correctly.
More than that, the 58 is virtually indestructible, and most of the parts are replaceable individually. Overall, it’s a great value tool for the price and a “must-have two of them” item for any touring act.
Shure SM58 LC
Sennheiser E 945
The Sennheiser E 945 is a supercardioid dynamic with a rich, natural sound and excellent off-axis rejection. Its ability to project subtle dynamics makes it a perfect choice for acoustic acts and styles of music that use the vocal range extensively.
In addition, the 945 is also suitable for brass or woodwinds as it captures sound with clarity and very little colouration. It does, however, have a high impedance rating of 350 Ohm. This means it prefers to be matched with proper discrete mic preamplifiers.
Sennheiser E 945
If you’re a high-gain vocalist who works with a loud band and stage monitors blaring, the ND96 could be your best choice. The risk of feedback is nullified almost completely by its unique design. What’s more, being a supercardioid dynamic, the pickup region is localized.
The large diaphragm makes it suitable for a wide range of voice types and vocal styles. In addition, the vocal emphasis switch reduces resonant lower-mid frequencies in the vocal range, while boosting the upper-midrange for more presence and bite when you need it.
The M88TG is a favoured choice for live music, broadcast, and studio applications, and was a favourite on our list of 8 Essential Microphones. You’ve may have seen it on stage with Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode or famously Phill Collins!
The M88’s magic is that it’s a very high-quality dynamic mic, with a wide, flat response. It responds extremely well when in the hands of a skilled engineer who can sculpt the sound to suit each individual vocalist. If you’re a touring FOH engineer with a good ear, this could be your “swiss army mic”!
Additionally, the M88TG is an incredibly versatile dynamic mic for percussion, brass, and commonly kick drum or bass instruments. Moreover, the hypercardioid pickup pattern and rugged build make it a suitable choice, even in high SPL situations.
Neumann KMS 105
The KMS 105 is the supercardioid model from Neumann’s esteemed range of high-intelligibility live vocal condensers. From Ariana Grande to Dave Chappelle, it’s been the preferred choice of top-tier stage performers for the way it projects vocal nuances.
Don’t let the posh exterior or the legacy of Neumann studio mics fool you. The KMS series is road ready and performs excellently in even the most reflective spaces. Yes, it’s pricey, but the mic’s unique filter design reduces plosives, providing a rich, dynamic overall sound.
Neumann KMS 105
More about microphones:
- The best vocal effects pedals
- Online guide to Stage Vocal Mics
- Thomann’s guide to Dynamic mics
- All about microphones
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- Shure SM58: Shure
- Sennheiser e945: Sennheiser
- Electro-Voice ND96: Electro-Voice
- Beyerdynamic M88TG: Beyerdynamic
- Neumann KMS 105: Neumann