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The Best Microphone For Live Gigging (Video)

Updated on November 28, 2010

That YouTube video is me. It’s a 2 minute clip of me singing with my band. I’m a blues singer – under a different name, obviously, as I’m a Sex Columnist and Sex Novelist under this one. That concert was filmed in a large venue in Europe using the Neumann KMS 105. Read on to learn more about why this is the best mic available for live gigging.

When it comes to musical instruments, you tend to get what you pay for. Which means some things are just worth paying for. While a great mic won’t make a bad singer sound good – a crap mic can really make a great singer sound bad. So can an ‘average’ mic – and that’s what you’ll find in most clubs.

If you’re an average singer, you can get away with an average mic. In fact, you should make a point of getting one, because the better the mic, the more honest your voice is going to sound. Meaning, the audience is going to hear all the little things you’d prefer they not notice. An average mic won’t pic up all the color in a voice, nor will it pick up a 4 octave range. Well, it will, but it sounds like crap. This is why a crap mic does a great voice no favors.

  • So what's an average mic?

An average mic is any of the higher end Shure mics. The Shure Betas are the ones I see most frequently, and it’s pretty much a worldwide standard as far as house mics go. This is better than a crap Shure (and there are plenty out there) but this is not a good mic for anyone with a real range. It does suit the average voice though, which tends to be 1-2 octaves, and starting above tenor. And these can sound fantastic with the right voice – someone like Sting would sound incredible with one of these. It just depends on the voice.

  • Why’s the Shure average then?

It sucks at picking up bass. I’m a tenor – yes, you read that correctly – and it can’t even pick me up. Imagine a male tenor, or male with real bass. Oy, no way. It’s not bad at picking up the highs, and when I hit a soprano note, it’s ok – but it’s not crisp like it should be. This is good mic for rock singers who stay in 1 or 2 octaves – anyone else should avoid it.

  • What’s above average?

Beyerdynamic makes a nice in-between range, and they’re priced exactly that way. I used to have a nice little mic from them (M69) and used it for probably 6 or 7 years until I discovered the best. It was quite good at picking up bass, but not so great with the higher notes, it always seemed to compress them somehow.

The Anonymous Blues Singer - Stormy Monday

  • So whats the best?

Well… there’s best, and then there’s best. For live performances in blues, rock or jazz clubs (etc) you want something that isn’t going to have lots of feedback. Which rules out most condenser mics. Except for the Neumann KMS 105. This is the granddaddy of all live gigging mics. There may be others that have come along since this one was introduced, but it’s so good I really don’t give a toss. I have no need to look any further than this one.

  • Tell us about it!

It comes in black or silver. Don’t be a prat, get the black one. Just because they make a tacky version doesn't mean you need one. It’s a condenser mic with a removable basket so you can clean it off without worrying about damaging what’s inside. It’s not heavy, which is awesome. (It does require Phantom power, so make sure your PA is rigged for that.) It picks up the bass in my voice easily and it sounds natural. It catches the highs without problem. Power isn’t a problem either, as long as you know how to back off the mic when needed. It’s crisp, clear and does not feed back even when pushed to the limit. Also nice is the flat surface – this is much easier to work with if you’re someone who uses a lot of nuance. The flat surface really allows you to get close – and sing softy – without compromising your technique. Round mics suck for that.

  • Any drawbacks?

Well, it’s more expensive than most, which means many engineers have never worked with one. Which can make for very irritating sound checks, as you fight with them over what’s needed. 9 times out of 10, you just connect it and that’s it – it doesn’t need a lot of adjusting, it’s just frigging perfect all by itself. But sound engineers tend to feel like they have to “make it work” and will often waste everyone’s time testing everything to see if they can improve it – even though there is nothing to improve.

Also, I hate the way it tends to sound in the monitors. In small venues, its no problem, just sing without one. For larger gigs – particularly outdoor concerts with more than a few thousand people - it’s not so easy to sing without a monitor. This is because the music "evaporates" and all you hear is whatever’s in the amplifiers behind you. If you know the songs well enough, you can do it without a mic. If not, make sure you're comfortable with your monitor BEFORE the gig starts.

Do a full soundcheck, make sure you can hear yourself well above the band– and then have them turn your monitors up one more time – cos everyone knows the guitarist is going to turn himself up when the gig starts, which will put you back to square one if you’re not prepared.

  • How much does it cost?

The model is a few years old now, and the price has gone down. It now seems to range from $600 - $900, depending on where you look.

  • Is it worth it?

If you’re a professional singer – yes it's worth every single penny. If you’re a guitarist who happens to also sing lead, but doesn’t really care so much about the singing part – no, it’s not. It is, however, still the best, and to some, that makes it worth it, regardless. It’s a beautiful mic, there’s really nothing better out there as far as I’m concerned.

xx Isabella


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