So you need a new microphone for live performance. Maybe it’s your first gig performing for an audience, or maybe you’re a seasoned pro who’s tired of grouchy guitarists and demanding drummers telling you to upgrade your gear. In any case, for those looking to throw their voice across a room of people – large or small – the range of choices can be daunting. Well, never fear. We’ve got you covered with this guide to the best microphones for vocal performance.
Whether you’re looking for an inexpensive vocal microphone with broad frequency response to fit a variety of situations, or you want a more pricey mic that’s suited for your specific voice, there are plenty of options available. To find the best microphone for your personal needs, there are some questions we need to consider, so let’s dive into those first.
Best Microphone For Live Performances – A Quick Glance
Listed above is a table of quick picks we believe are the best. Be sure to read more for individual reviews and more about vocal microphones for using live.
Do you need an on/off switch?
This may seem like a silly question, but it’s an important one. There’s noting worse than stepping up to a vocal microphone and belting out that first note, only to find that some jerk has left the switch in the off position (I’m looking at you, Martha!). Unless, of course, it’s that rookie singer who leaves the mic with no switch pointed toward the monitor, resulting in the horrible high-pitched feedback noise of doom (Again… Martha?).
For bands with musicians that have to play instruments, the best microphone for singing might be the one without a switch, so you don’t have to worry about whether or not it’s on. On the other hand, applications like church services or other situations in which a lot of people may be using the vocal mic might require a switch to avoid feedback and other sound problems.
Do you need a dynamic mic or a condenser?
This is not as simple a question as you might think. Without getting into all of the science of how vocal microphones are made, the main thing you need to know here is that dynamic microphones are passive – meaning they do not require additional power to work – while condenser microphones require phantom power – a -48V signal from the soundboard that powers the mic.
For the most part, a condenser microphone will be much more responsive and sensitive than a dynamic mic will, and this makes them fantastic for recording applications. In a live performance application, however, you may find a condenser to be a bit unmanageable for vocals because of feedback. Groups with a lot of instrumentation may want to stick with dynamic mics for this reason, but choirs and other vocal-heavy groups may benefit by the increased frequency response and sensitivity.
What polar pattern should I look for in a vocal performance microphone?
Microphones are designed to pick up sound in a few different ways. The polar pattern of a microphone determines the direction from which it picks up the sound. There are several different polar patterns to consider, so let’s look at a couple of them. A cardioid pattern is probably the most common polar pattern for a vocal performance mic. Cardioid refers to the shape of the pattern, which radiates from the front of the microphone in a heart shape. It will pick up voices very well from the front direction of the microphone, but doesn’t pick up sounds from the rear, which helps to eliminate feedback from monitors or house speakers.
A hypercardioid or supercardioid pattern is similar to the cardioid pattern, but it will pick up some sound from the rear of the microphone as well. Instrumentalists may find this pattern more useful than a cardioid mic because of it’s protection from feedback from the sides, while duets might consider a figure-eight polar pattern, which will pick up sound in both a forward and rearward direction. Larger vocal groups may want an omnidirectional pattern that will pick up the whole group when placed in the center.
Do Frequency Response, Impedance, and Max SPL matter?
In a word, yes. Frequency response is the range of optimum frequencies that your vocal mic will pick up. A lower-range frequency response will accentuate lower pitched notes and tones, while higher-range will bring out higher pitched notes and tones. In other words, if you sing baritone or alto, then you may want a lower-frequency response than if you sing tenor or soprano.
As for impedance, that is a measure of resistance on the electrical signal produced by the microphone. Low impedance instruments like vocal performance microphones are generally used because the signal can travel over relatively long cables. It is important, however, to also look at the impedance levels of the PA system – which is often referred to as load impedance rather than output impedance. You can read more on that topic here.
Max SPL refers to the maximum Sound Pressure Level that a vocal microphone can handle before it breaks up, or distorts. A lower max SPL will mean that the microphone will distort more easily, while a higher max SPL indicates a microphone that will not distort as quickly. So if you know you sing loudly, you may want to make sure you have a high enough max SPL for your vocal style.
What about wireless mics?
As with anything else, there is a trade off involved in this decision, too. There are many, many people there that swear by cables, and not only that – expensive, high-quality cables. I have to be honest when I say I’m one of them. That said, in many live environments, the mobility a wireless microphone provides is absolutely essential.
The key is to salvage as much of the signal quality and reduce as much RF interference as possible. We all remember the scene in This is Spinal Tap when Nigel’s wireless pack starts picking up the air traffic control signal and he storms off the stage in anger. None of us wants to go through that. For the most part, of course, wireless technology these days is miles beyond what it was in the 70s and 80s, but interference and signal depredation can still be major concerns – especially in situations with many wireless instruments all operating in the same frequency range and location.
Okay then, what’s the best live vocal performance microphone for me?
To answer this question, we’ve come up with a list of the top choices in several price ranges to help you make your decision.
Best Microphone Under $100
- Frequency response tailored for vocals, with brightened midrange and bass rolloff to control proximity effect
- Effective built-in spherical wind and pop filter. Frequency response: 50 to 15,000 Hz
- Pneumatic shock-mount system cuts down handling noise.
- Uniform cardioid pickup pattern isolates the main sound source and minimizes background noise
There’s no denying it. This is the world’s most popular microphone for live vocal performance. It’s pretty much a guarantee that you’ve seen this microphone being used onstage by one of your musical heroes at least a few times in your life. Think of it as the Fender Stratocaster or Gibson Les Paul of mics.
At a street price just under a Benjamin, you can be “Shure” (okay, I’m sorry) that this one won’t break the bank, either. This classic mic is available in a wireless version and with an on/off switch, but either option will cost a bit more.
So, everything I said about the SM58 being true, this is an alternative that you should definitely try out if you’re in the market at this price range. This is a condenser performance microphone that is amazing for live applications. I had the opportunity to use one at a corporate gig last Christmas, and – being a longtime SM58 devotee – I was blown away by the AT2010’s expanded frequency response and higher max SPL.
My vocals were more clear and crisp than I was used to, and when multiple AT2010s were used for backing vocals, the harmony mix in the monitors sounded clearer and each note more distinct. The downside, of course, was feedback. It was a big, boomy ballroom, so we were never going to get away from the feedback monster completely, but I couldn’t help thinking that dynamic mics would have been a little easier to tame.
Best Microphone Under $200
- Smooth Warm Tonal Response
- Full Dynamic range with presence lift for vocal clarity and projection
- Consistent on/off axis and proximity response maintain quality while moving
- Full metal construction and extensive suspension and shock mounting minimize noise and interference
- Frequency response 40-16,000 Hz, Impedence 350 Ohms
If you’re willing to spend just a little bit more than a C-note, (damn it, I did it again!), then please allow me to point you toward this fantastic step-up dynamic vocal performance microphone. The e845 has an expanded frequency response that makes it competitive with that of the AT2010, but it is exceptionally good at controlling feedback – even for a dynamic mic. Add to all of that a very generous max SPL, and you’ve got yourself a tremendous value! Even if you only want to spend around a hundred bucks, you may find that this one is well worth the extra twenty or so.
Best Microphone Under $300
- Premium electret condenser for vocals and acoustic instruments
- Smooth accurate frequency response
- Switches for -10 dB pad and bass roll-off
- Handles acoustic music as well as loud stages
- Designed, assembled and tested by Audix in the USA
What’s that? Oh, you’re serious about finding the best vocal performance microphone? Okay, then. In that case, check out this handheld condenser mic from Audix. This one has a slightly lower frequency response range than the AT2010 (16kh top end instead of 20kh), but those with deeper voices may appreciate that. The thing that makes the VX-5 worth the extra cash, though, is it’s supercardioid polar pattern. This tighter polar pattern allows for pickup from behind the mic, so you’ll want to consider that for handheld applications, but for stands, this pattern offers superior clarity and feedback protection from the sides – which is helpful where instrumentation is involved.
Best Microphone Under $500
- Patented cartridge design features two ultra-thin diaphragms (one active and one passive) and a groundbreaking inverted airflow system
- Exceptional control of proximity effect greatly increases working distance without on-axis coloration
- Neutral mid- and high-frequency reproduction due to controlled proximity effect results in the most natural-sounding dynamic microphone available
- Neodymium magnet resides in a micro-injection mold of aerospace SoftMag material, maximizing the magnetic field for the highest output level
- Re-imagined Shure Pumping Pneumatic Shock Mount features tuned cavities, specific resistances, and precisely machined components fully integrated into the cartridge's acoustic properties, delivering exceptional rejection of handling noise without any loss of low-frequency response
This dual-diaphragm dynamic vocal performance mic is a pro-level instrument. Its unique dual-diaphragm design and special porting work to virtually eliminate the proximity effect (an increase in bass frequency response caused by getting too close to the mic, Martha! Yes, Martha, I’m talking to you… Back off of the mic! …Okay, I’m better now.) The net result is that for applications in which you have – shall we say, enthusiastic? – singers (Martha!), this mic will still deliver amazing clarity and frequency response.
Best Microphone Under $1,000
Here’s the thing. Neumann know their microphones. Their studio mics have been industry standard for years, and with the KMS-105, you can have that standard on stage. The Neumann is competitive, and its full 20Hz-20kHz frequency range delivers a clear sound advantage over other mics in this range.
- Exceptional consistency across all frequencies, providing more gain before feedback, while decreasing proximity effect
- Dual gold layered, low-mass Mylar diaphragm design
- Switchable polar patterns (supercardioid and cardioid)
- Advanced suspension shock mount
- Premium electronic components including Class A transformerless preamplifier circuitry
That said, there is a condenser from Shure at the same price that offers a switchable polar pattern (cardioid to supercardioid), but has a reduced frequency response. It also features a dual-diaphragm design like it’s dynamic little brother, and offers high end preamp circuitry and components.
The distinction at this price point, then, is sound quality vs. versatility. The Neumann offers superior frequency response, which ultimately leads to clearer sound, but the Shure has the versatility to perform beyond expectations in nearly any live situation.
Regardless of your budget, be sure to try each mic in a variety of settings, if possible, before purchasing and pay attention to the differences. Your voice has a unique frequency range, and the best vocal performance mic for you should capture and amplify your voice as clearly as possible. Each of the mics above offer advantages at their respective price points, but in the end your voice will help you determine the best live performance vocal mic.