Real World
Wired Vocal Microphones

In any sound reinforcement system, the microphone is the first device in nearly every signal chain. It's an exacting role, but nowhere is the demand placed on a microphone more critical than on vocals.

Microphone manufacturers offer a very wide range of products, covering the full spectrum of uses and applications, so Real World Gear has narrowed down the field to wired microphones especially suited to, although not necessarily exclusively for, vocals in a live performance setting. These range from entry-level to very high-end products, new and old. There are many models to choose from in this competitive field, so this list is far from exhaustive.

From the smallest club PA setup to the largest arena system, the correct choice of mic has a big impact on the engineer's ability to deliver the best possible vocal sound to the audience. Whether the vocalist is singing with simple piano accompaniment or fronting a loud rock band, regardless of the level of sophistication of the PA equipment in the signal chain after it, the wrong mic will rarely result in anything but an inadequate and unintelligible sound.

A microphone is a transducer -- that is, it converts energy. Other transducers include loudspeakers and headphones, but compared to those a microphone works in reverse, converting acoustical energy into electrical energy. The method by which it achieves this varies, as does the accuracy with which this is achieved, depending on the microphone design. There are several basic types of microphone design, but for the most part vocal mics fall into two distinct groups: dynamic and condenser.

In the dynamic microphone design, changing pressure acting on the diaphragm moves a coil and produces an alternating current. They are relatively simple devices and are well known for their ruggedness, as anybody who has used a Shure SM57 to hammer a nail into the drum riser and replaced it -- still working -- back on the mic stand will attest.

Dynamic microphones do not need an external source of power, can produce a smooth frequency response and a sufficiently high output level to give a good signal-to-noise ratio, and are usually trouble free. They are also typically less expensive than other microphone types.

Condenser microphones utilize a very different design to produce a better overall sound with an extended and uniform frequency response and clearer transients. The design allows for a smaller overall size and lower weight than a dynamic equivalent. However, condensers are more susceptible to damage if dropped or subjected to high sound levels.

The basic design is a capacitor. A fixed plate acts as one side of the capacitor and changes in sound pressure acting on the diaphragm -- a thin membrane -- and alters the circuit's capacitance and therefore electrical output. The low-mass diaphragm means that condenser mics produce less handling and mechanical noise than dynamic microphones.

Condenser mics do require either an internal or external power supply, both to produce a polarizing voltage for the circuit and to drive an internal impedance-matching circuit. While externally polarized condensers are fine for high-quality studio work, electret condenser mics are generally better suited to sound reinforcement applications.

A relatively recent development, electret condensers have the polarizing voltage applied to the diaphragm or the backplate during manufacture. Some manufacturers apply the fixed charge to the backplate, allowing them to use a much thinner diaphragm, thereby further improving the performance of the mic.

There are two further basic mic classifications: omnidirectional and directional. The former picks up sound from nearly every direction equally well. That is not ideal in a live performance application, so vocal mics will typically be directional, picking-up sound mainly from the front and canceling sound from other directions. In a directional mic, an arrangement of openings and passages controls the delivery of sound from the front in such a way that it amplifies diaphragm motion while sounds from the side cancel motion.

Manufacturers demonstrate the directional qualities of microphones through plots of the polar pattern, showing its relative sensitivity as it is rotated in front of a fixed source. Directional mics produce a cardioid pattern; the heart-like notch in an otherwise circular pattern is caused by the microphone's rejection of sounds 90° off-axis, typically by as much as 6dB or half the level.

Vocal microphone models also sometimes include a tailored frequency response, accentuating mid-range frequencies and rolling off the low-end, for example. Handling noise may be further reduced through the inclusion of internal suspension or shock mounting.

Price key:
$ = Up to $170
$$ = $170 - $299
$$$ = $300 - $449
$$$$ = $450 and up

AKG C900

Transducer Type: Pre-polarized backplate condenser
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
Frequency Response: 22Hz -- 22kHz
Sensitivity: 6mV/Pa (-45dB, re 1V/Pa)
Nominal Impedance: 200 ohms
Dynamic Range: 122dB
Net Weight: 10.4 oz (294 g)
Special Features: Presence boost adapter
Price: $$


Manufacturer Take: The AKG C900 is a rugged condenser microphone designed for vocal or instrument pickup in live sound applications. It utilizes a patented electrode manufacturing technique used in the construction of the transducer backplate to produce an accurate and uniform frequency response. This, coupled with a precise, frequency independent, cardioid polar pattern, allows the C900 to achieve high gain before feedback.

Our Take: This mic just hit the market last year and is still relatively unknown. There is a frequency dip around 1.5kHz that prevents the mic from getting too harsh and helps it cut through the wedge monitor mix. AKG has a very good reputation for making mics with useful (or not) peaks and dips.


AKG Solid Tube

Transducer Type: 1-in. diaphragm pressure gradient
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
Frequency Response: 20Hz -- 20kHz
Sensitivity: 20mV/Pa (-34dB, re 1V/Pa)
Nominal Impedance: 200 ohms +/- 25 percent
Dynamic Range: 110dB
Net Weight: 2 lb (0.92 kg)
Special Features: 20dB pre-attenuation switch
Price: $$$$


Manufacturer Take: The large-diaphragm condenser transducer has been specifically tuned by AKG for this microphone. The Solidtube uses a ECC 83 (12AX7) vacuum tube. A switch on the side of the Solidtube activates a 20dB pre-attenuation pad, which enables the microphone to handle sound pressure levels up to 145dB-SPL.

Our Take: For those artists who require quality without budgetary concerns, this mic can work on anything, including vocals. However, if the artist wants to be seen, this mic is large and will block the audience's view of the artist. The AKG peaks and dips do not make this mic work in every situation, but this might be the perfect mic for the right vocalist, and nothing says "warmth" like a 12AX7.


Audio-Technica MB3000L

Transducer Type: Neodymium dynamic
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
Frequency Response: 50Hz -- 16kHz
Sensitivity: -52dB (2.5mV) re 1V@1Pa
Nominal Impedance: 250 ohms
Dynamic Range: N/A
Net Weight: 12 oz (340 g)
Special Features: lockable on/off switch
Price: $


Manufacturer Take: The MB3000L is a dynamic mic with a cardioid pickup pattern. The high-output neodymium design and low-mass diaphragm and voice coil assure a good signal-to-noise ratio. Features include the MagnaLock on/off switch, internal shock mount system and a multi-stage windscreen.

Our Take: This is aimed at music stores to be a step above entry level/karaoke and a step below a Shure 57. The mic has a high frequency boost, which might be a problem with monitors, but would be appropriate for an install or church.


Audio-Technica AE3300

Transducer Type: Condenser
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
Frequency Response: 30Hz -- 18kHz
Sensitivity: -42dB (7.9mV) re 1V@1Pa
Nominal Impedance: 150 ohms
Dynamic Range: 128dB
Net Weight: 10.6 oz (300 g)
Special Features: 80Hz HPF switch and 10dB pad
Price: $$$


Manufacturer Take: The Artist Elite AE3300 is a cardioid condenser utilizing the same element as the AT4033 studio mic. The all-metal design and anti-shock engineering ensures low handling noise. The AE3300 specifications include 148dB (158 with pad) SPL maximum input sound level and 75dB signal-to-noise ratio.

Our Take: Engineers have praised the AE3300 for its big, clear vocal sound on lead or backgrounds. Introduced in 2000, the Artist Elite series is already winning fans among A-T 4033 and 4054 enthusiasts.


Audix OM7

Transducer Type: Dynamic
Polar Pattern: Hypercardioid
Frequency Response: 45Hz -- 19kHz
Sensitivity: 0.9 mV re 1k @ 1 Pascal
Nominal Impedance: 200 ohms
Max SPL: 144dB
Net Weight: 10.8 oz (306 g)
Special Features: N/A
Price: $$$


Manufacturer Take: The OM7 was produced in the mid-'90s primarily for touring rock bands with loud stage volumes. At a time when every other mic manufacturer was going with the trend of high output microphones by using neodymium magnets, Audix designed the OM7 to have an unconventionally low output level (at least 10 to 12dB lower than the "norm"). Instead of having to pad the mic by 10 to 20dB, the OM7 already had a natural built-in pad, allowing for the full range sound of the capsule to be utilized. On a console with plenty of headroom, the OM7 will handle over 144dB of SPL.

Our Take: The OM7 has a tight pick-up pattern, displays good gain-before-feedback, and sounds pretty good, too. It is excellent on a loud stage where monitor levels are critical.


Beyerdynamic Opus 39

Transducer Type: Dynamic
Polar Pattern: Super-cardioid
Frequency Response: 50Hz -- 16kHz
Sensitivity: 2.4mV/Pa
Nominal Impedance: 600 ohms
Dynamic Range: N/A
Net Weight: 11 oz (310 g)
Special Features: N/A
Price: $


Manufacturer Take: The Opus 39 is a rugged, entry level, dynamic vocal microphone recommended for hand held or stand-mounted use. It features high gain-before-feedback characteristics, and can withstand high sound pressure levels. The Opus 39 features a supercardioid polar pattern and a flat, wide range frequency response.

Our Take: This mic is brand new and was introduced in the U.S. only a few months ago. Designed to compete with the Shure 58, the Opus 39 has a slight boost in the 5 to 8 kHz range and a rolloff below 120Hz. The pickup pattern is a cross between a cardioid and a hyper-cardioid, and it's supposed to be fairly dead between 90° and 180° off axis.


Beyerdynamic M 88

Transducer Type: Dynamic moving coil
Polar Pattern: Super-cardioid
Frequency Response: 30Hz -- 20kHz
Sensitivity: 2.9mV/Pa
Nominal Impedance: 200 ohms
Dynamic Range: N/A
Net Weight: 11.3 oz (320 g)
Special Features: Hostaphan diaphragm
Price: $$$


Manufacturer Take: The M 88 offers both a wide frequency response and rugged construction. For studio and live use, its high SPL capability allows the microphone to be placed close to loud sound sources such as kick drum and bass guitar or it can be used for vocals, brass and woodwind instruments. The M 88 offers a defined hypercardioid polar characteristic with sensitive, accurate response and extended frequency range with rising high end and exceptional bass reproduction.

Our Take: This classic withstands rough handling but does nothing to alter the sound, which is clear and crisp with a smooth high-end and big bottom. A good all-round instrument/vocal mic for road or studio use, it's also popular on percussion, especially kick drum. We believe this a must have in your mic locker.


Carvin CM68

Transducer Type: Dynamic
Polar Pattern: Unidirectional
Frequency Response: 45Hz -- 15kHz
Sensitivity: -74dB (0.19 mV)
Nominal Impedance: 300 ohms
Dynamic Range: N/A
Net Weight: N/A
Special Features: N/A
Price: $


Manufacturer Take: Carvin's CM68 is unidirectional with an output enhanced by a slight presence rise in the 3 to 5 kHz range. Frequency response is 45Hz to 15kHz with a built-in foam screen. The CM68's cardioid polar pick up pattern delivers off-axis performance and feedback rejection as well. This rugged metal cast mic is shipped in a leatherette zipper pouch, and includes a mic stand adapter and 20 foot XLR cable.

Our Take: This is Carvin's alternative to the SM58. Don't be put off by the list price, as it is sold factory direct on the website at around $80. The mic is made in various factories to Carvin's specs, and while that can mean variations between runs, the company has a 10-day money back guarantee. If you are on a tight budget consider this a primary option.


Electro-Voice Cobalt Co9

Transducer Type: Neodymium dynamic
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
Frequency Response: 50Hz -- 18kHz
Sensitivity: 3.2mV/Pa (-50dBV) re 1 Pa
Nominal Impedance: 600 ohms
Dynamic Range: N/A
Net Weight: 11.8 oz (335 g)
Special Features: Accentuated midrange, bass rolloff
Price: $


Manufacturer Take: The Co9 features EV-pioneered neodymium elements. The rugged and stage-worthy Co9 offers low handling noise, good feedback rejection at high SPLs and an extended frequency response.

Our Take: This is EV's direct competitor to the Shure 58. It sells on the street for approximately $30 less than the 58 and runs about 4 to 5 dB hotter which helps the gain before feedback issue. The Co9 survives being dropped and can take substantial abuse.


Neumann KMS 105

Transducer Type: Pressure gradient condenser
Polar Pattern: Super-cardioid
Frequency Response: 20Hz -- 20kHz
Sensitivity: 4.5mV/Pa
Nominal Impedance: 50 ohms
Dynamic Range: 132dB
Net Weight: 10.6 oz (300 g)
Special Features: Triple process reduces handling noise
Price: $$$$


Manufacturer Take: The KMS 105 super-cardioid, live performance vocal microphone has the clarity, presence and detail of a Neumann studio microphone. It boasts 150dB maximum SPL, reduced handling noise due to a triple process involving capsule tensioning, mounting and microphone electronics, and a reduced sensitivity to pops because of a sophisticated inner basket structure.

Our Take: It's a Neumann -- ruler-flat frequency response, transparent and doesn't interfere with the music. As one engineer says, "It sounds like a Neumann. It's built like a Neumann. It doesn't get much better than that." This mic was designed to kick-butt in the monitors, which it does, and it takes live sound to a new level.


Peavey PVM 22

Transducer Type: Dynamic
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
Frequency Response: 50Hz - 16kHz
Sensitivity: -52 dB (0 dB=1 mW/Pa)
Nominal Impedance: 400 ohms
Max SPL: 140 dB
Net Weight: 9.92 oz. (281 g)
Special Features: Amorphous Diamond-coated Diaphragm
Price: $$


Manufacturer Take: Peavey's PVM 22 dynamic cardioid microphone features a neodymium magnet and a cardioid polar response pattern. Its patented Amorphous Diamond-Coated Diaphragm ensures good transient and frequency response, making the PVM 22 a great practical mic for vocals or other instruments.

Our Take: Although you will never find this on a tech rider, many that have used the PVM 22 like it. It has a relatively hot output with better gain-before-feedback than some better known mics. The 22 is worth a look.


Peavey PVM 480

Transducer Type Back-electret condenser
Polar Pattern Super-cardioid
Frequency Response 40Hz - 20kHz
Sensitivity -48 dB (0 dB=1 mW/Pa)
Nominal Impedance 500 ohms
Max SPL 128 dB
Net Weight 9.92 oz. (281 g)
Special Features 9 -- 52V phantom power capability
Price $$$


Manufacturer Take: The PVM 480 uses advanced back-electret technology to accurately reproduce sound. It has an extended, flat frequency response and excellent transient characteristics. The electronic circuitry is designed to provide a high signal-to-noise ratio and clean reproduction of high level sounds, resulting in a comfortably wide dynamic range.

Our Take: The PVM480 comes highly recommended by many end users. We know of several instances where the PVM480 has placed first in a blind shootout with comparably priced models.


Sennheiser Evolution 835

Transducer Type: Dynamic
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
Frequency Response: 40Hz -- 16kHz
Sensitivity: 2.7mV/Pa @ 1kHz
Nominal Impedance: 350 ohms
Dynamic Range: N/A
Net Weight: 11.64 oz (329 g)
Special Features: Shock-mounted capsule; hum compensating coil
Price: $


Manufacturer Take: The Evolution 835 delivers punchy output with a gentle extended presence response. The cardioid pickup pattern offers good ambient signal isolation with good feedback prevention and maintains signal quality when moving on and off axis during performance. A gentle presence boost to even tonal response ensures clarity and projection. The robust metal construction and shock-mounted capsule minimize handling noise.

Our Take: Sennheiser's Evolution Series of mics has made German engineering and performance affordable. Found on lead and background vocals on many tours, the 835 may have the hottest output of any comparable mic in this price range.


Sennheiser Evolution 865

Transducer Type: Electret condenser
Polar Pattern: Super-cardioid
Frequency Response: 40Hz -- 20kHz
Sensitivity: 3mV/Pa
Nominal Impedance: 200 ohms
Max SPL: 150dB
Net Weight: 11 oz (311 g)
Special Features: First electret condenser microphone in evolution Series
Price: $$$


Manufacturer Take: The 865 is an electret condenser mic with good feedback rejection and reproduces 40Hz - 20kHz with good transient response. Its smooth super-cardioid pick-up pattern rejects feedback with colorless off-axis response. The mic withstands sound pressure levels of up to 150dB, and deftly suppresses pop noise.

Our Take: The 865 is transparent and withstands high SPLs. On its introduction in 2000, it quickly became known as "Sting's mic," thanks to design input from Vish Wadi, Sting's engineer, and its exclusive use throughout the artist's Brand New Day tour.


Shure SM58

Transducer Type: Dynamic
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
Frequency Response: 50Hz -- 15kHz
Sensitivity: -54.5dBV/Pa (1.85mV)
Nominal Impedance: 150 ohms
Dynamic Range: dB
Net Weight: 10.5 oz (298 g)
Special Features: Rugged construction and reliability
Price: $$


Manufacturer Take: The legendary Shure SM58 vocal mic is tuned to accentuate the warmth and clarity of lead and back-up vocals. The unidirectional (cardioid) dynamic vocal microphone has a built-in, spherical filter minimizes wind and breath "pop" noise. Rugged construction, a proven shock mount system, and a steel mesh grille ensure that even with rough handling, the SM58 will perform consistently.

Our Take: The SM58 has been a standard workhorse for decades and with good reason. It is a good, extremely rugged, basic vocal mic that everyone knows. You should never have to pay list price for this mic. The SM58 is the most well known microphone in the world and the benchmark that many refer to.


Shure Beta 87C

Transducer Type: Condenser
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
Frequency Response: 50Hz -- 20kHz
Sensitivity: -51dBV/Pa (2mV)
Nominal Impedance: 150 ohms
Dynamic Range: 117dB
Net Weight: 7.6 oz (207 g)
Special Features: Slight presence rise; controlled low frequency rolloff
Price: $$$$


Manufacturer Take: The Beta 87C was developed in response to demands associated with personal monitoring devices. This premium vocal mic has a smooth, extended high-end frequency response in a cardioid condenser design.

Our Take:Smooth and natural sounding, without the hi-mid boost of some Shure models, this is the vocal microphone of choice found on the technical riders of many world-class artists requiring studio-quality sound on the road.


September/October 2002 Live Sound International

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