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Selecting the Best Mic for the Job

Selecting the Best Mic for the Job

Often a microphone is the first link, and perhaps the most important link, in the audio chain.

What Microphones I'm Currently Using

Kick drum outside: Yamaha Subkick
Kick drum sound hole: Audix D6
Kick drum inside: Shure Beta 91
Snare top: Shure Beta 57
Snare bottom: Shure SM57
Hihat: Shure KSM137
12" Rack Tom: Sennheiser e 604
14" Floor Tom: Sennheiser MD 421
16" Floor Tom: Sennheiser MD 421
Ride Cymbal: Shure Beta 98 (placed underneath the bell)
Drum Overheads: Shure KSM44
Guitar Cabinets: Shure Beta 57
Vocal Mics: Shure KSM9, Shure Beta 87A, Shure Beta 58 (selection depends on the vocalist)
Headworn Mic: DPA d:fine

I can remember the first time I opened up the mic drawer, in our workbox, when I started working in production.

I felt like a kid during his first visit to a Baskin Robbins ice cream store, overwhelmed by their 31 different flavors.

There were so many mics to choose from. Almost too many.

All different shapes, sizes, mounting options, etc., and before I knew it, tour A1 was calling for microphone model numbers, to where he sounded like a first responder over a CB radio.

My mind was literally about to explode at that moment just trying to figure all this out.

I know others feel the same way when trying to find the right microphone for an application. Often a microphone is the first link, and perhaps the most important link, in the audio chain that transmits a voice or instrument to the congregation.

With numerous brands and hundreds of models available, it can be a challenge to know which mic is best suited to your needs. For this article, I will focus on microphones that are useful for live sound applications.

When choosing the right microphone, there are a number of things to consider, such as polar pattern, diaphragm size and type, SPL handling, and budget. For this article, I hope to focus on a few practical tips to help you on your journey of selecting the best microphone for the job.


The type of instrument or vocalist and the sound you are going for will help determine the right microphone for the job.

Most microphones are designed for a narrow set of applications, and this will be noted in the microphone's specifications. You can use this as a guide to quickly narrow down your microphone choice. However, there are no hard and fast rules, and in certain situations, a microphone designed for another application may do the job better.  A Sennheiser MD421, for example, was initially designed for broadcast applications, but sounds great when used to mic drums.

The size, shape and mounting solution should be considered as well when choosing a microphone. Microphones such as the Sennheiser e604 have an integrated clip for mounting to most drum hoops. The integrated clip eliminates the need for a microphone stand to achieve proper mic placement. Also, the Shure Beta 98a is small, so that it can be used in tight spaces, and it comes in a variety of mounting options, depending on what you are miking.

Do Your Research

One of the most helpful things you can do in selecting a mic is good, old-fashioned research. Read articles from professional sound engineers and see what they are using. Read reviews to see what others are saying about a particular mic and how they are using it. Also, don't be afraid to ask others what mics they are using. You'd be surprised how many sound engineers will take the time to talk about the gear they use.

Years ago, I would have never thought of using large diaphragm condensers as drum overheads, until I saw them used at a show I was working. I then asked the FOH engineer about his mic setup, and he gladly explained why he uses the microphones for his rig. So, the next change I had to use large diaphragm condensers or overheads, I gave it a try. After some tweaking, I was quite pleased. Years later, depending on the application and venue, I'll sometimes use large diaphragm condensers for drum overheads.

What's Your Budget

You budget will significantly affect your microphone selection.

Of course, you can assume that the more you spend, the better the mic you'll get.

But be realistic. Work with your budget, and ensure your choice is appropriate for what you want to achieve.

A mic's overall quality should match the audio quality of the rest of system. Many of the big name companies manufacture budget-friendly microphones that sound pretty good for the price.

The Shure PG52, for example, is a lower-priced version of their Beta52. Years ago, I needed a kick drum mic for myself and didn't have the money to purchase a Beta52, so I went with the PG52.

I was blown away by the sound I could get from the mic, for the price.

Even though I own other, more expensive kick drum mics, the PG52 is still in my mic box, and I'll use it for various applications.

Trust Your Ears

At the end of the day, your ears are the best tools for identifying the right microphone for the job.

I have my preferences to what microphones I like and how I want to use them, but your ears are different than mine.

You may like the characteristics of a microphone that I would not prefer to use, and that's OK. If you like the way it sounds, then use it.

When it comes down to it, you have to make a judgment call based on what you are hearing, so trust your ears.


TAGS: Audio Audio
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