Shooting Mics

Chris Briley and I have often gone back and forth over our preferences on vocal mics and while we were in Nashville figured it would be worth a test of some different mics to see what we really prefer. It also seemed like a good idea to check out some of the different wireless options since I’ll most likely be changing our system(s) out next year thanks to the FCC. So we decided we would try and do an RF mic shootout up at Browns Bridge. We chose Browns Bridge since they have the Shure UHF-R system on hand, and the PA is currently the best sounding out of all our campuses.

Of course what started out as a little shootout turned into a bigger deal than I ever imagined with us hiring talent and gear manufacturer reps coming out. I think in total we tested about 18 different mics with male and female vocalists. The mics were primarily RF with a few hardwired thrown in for comparison. It was basically every vocal mic that Shure and Sennheiser/Neumann have to offer along with a couple Audix ones thrown in. You can see everything we tried out by watching the embedded video (RSS readers might need to visit the website). We had a live drummer on stage to simulate our stage noise with a full band running on tracks through the PA at a typical service level. Our talent sang a verse and chorus of a song on each microphone while we listened and multi-tracked the whole thing for future analysis. We had a standard high-pass setting and took a little bit out around 200 Hz on each mic, but other than that there was no processing done.

Now for those of you who are wondering about the results, here’s my take. It was honestly a little frustrating. All the mics sounded pretty good. In fact, for the first time in 2 years I didn’t hate 58’s. It was all different shades of great, and it really goes to show that if you have good talent with a good system, you can probably make just about any of these mics work. Of course there were definitely nuances to each mic, and I was surprised at times about what I actually preferred. But in the end I don’t think there was ever a case where any of us couldn’t have made something work.

It was definitely a cool thing for us to do because I don’t think any of us had ever listened to a lot of different vocal mics all at once. I don’t know how necessary it is to bring in every flavor of mic you can imagine, but if you have a few different flavors of vocal mics on hand, it could be a very informative thing for you and your volunteers to bring in a singer and have them test each of your different mic types. You might be surprised at the results.

David Stagl

11 Responses to “Shooting Mics

  • So Dave, which mic will you buy when you buy new mics? Does cost play a factor in this test as well? I am also wondering what you thought about the KSM9 from Shure.

  • Wes, We have six of the KSM9 capsules with the UHF-R. I really like them. They really help smooth out some voices and seem easier to EQ. We do have a few singers who sound better on a 58, typically those with real harsh high mid range voices. When it comes to male voices, I really like them especially with darker vocalists…myself as an example…I have a bit of woofiness to my voice. So far, for me, it the best sounding capsule I’ve found.

    Dave…I too wondered which direction you are leaning. I really like Sennheiser in certain situations, but have to say Shure are always solid.

  • The KSM9 sounds good; we have one in our cabinet now.

    I can’t say I’m leaning one direction or the other right now. I really want to go back and listen to everything some more on a few different systems to see how things translate.

    Cost will be one of the many factors playing into our decision along with features and audio quality.

    The hard thing about making a decision on this sort of thing is I have to think long term feasibility for the organization and not simply based on my own tastes. My tastes will definitely have a lot of weight, but this isn’t the same as me deciding what I would like to take out for a tour for a year. Whatever we go with will most likely be the RF system for the next 8-10 years so I want to take our time in making this decision. And when I start looking down the road, frequency agility plays a big factor for me when I think about our already crowded RF chart within our building and the uncertainty looming outside it and even potentially within.

    I wonder if we shouldn’t do something small for the interim and wait for the next “big” system, but we’ll see what happens. Fortunately I don’t have to make these decisions on my own.

  • I did a mic shoot-out of my own when the KSM9 first came out. I compared the AE5400, KMS-105 and KSM9. All sounded good, but here was my take:

    The AE5400 sounded like you were hearing a recording made with a good mic. And it was the only one with an extended frequency response on the bass end, which made it versatile for other things besides vocals.

    The KSM9 sounded like you were hearing a studio recording with a very bright mic. Weaker singers benefit from this added presence, although it can make some singers very harsh. I think they used these on at least some of the tracks of the latest Passion album, and you can tell some artists’ voices work really well with it (David Crowder), and others just don’t.

    The KMS-105 sounded like you were listening to the person. It didn’t sound like a “good recording of Mike.” It sounded like “Mike.” That’s good and bad. If Mike is a weak singer, that definitely comes through.

    In the end, I selected the KSM9/UHF-R combo because it was for myself, and my voice tends to benefit from some brightening. I also found it has less proximity effect, thanks to its dual-diaphragm design, and I do move around a lot (from soft notes to loud notes). Plus, the price is a lot half that of a SKM5200 wireless system.

    Still, I am a huge fan of Sennheiser wireless. Dave, I noticed Buckhead has some new SKM5200’s, probably outfitted with the new MD 5235 heads. I’ve read all the PR about them on American Idol and The Singing Bee. Are they really as great as Sennheiser makes them out to be? I’ve never been a fan of dynamic mics for important vocals, but, hey, you never know!

  • Bill,
    On the latest passion album all artists were on UHF R with Beta 58 capsules. One of the artists used a KSM 9 for a while on there own tour, but went back to the B 58 because it was a little more forgiving. Some artists sound great with the KSM 9. I do like the mic on female vocalists. The AE 5400 is also one of my favorite mics along with the older 4054.

  • Man, it’s sounding like I need to go check out the AE5400 now…

  • Yeah, actually the AE5400 is a great mic. I was introduced to it as the “Michael W. Smith” mic, and since I idolized him as a child, I figured I’d give it a try. It’s also Justin Timerlake’s mic choice, if I remember correctly. We have two hardwired AE5400’s where I work now, and they really are a versatile workhorse for us!

    That’s weird about the Passion CD because I watched the Web stream (couldn’t make it in person that year), and it looked like Chris, David, and Charlie were on the KSM9 at that time…

  • Bill,
    I stand corrected. You are correct on Crowder and some of Charlie Hall’s songs, and also amazing grace. Those were all done at Passion 07 in atlanta and were on KSM 9’s. The rest of the songs were recorded in boston and chicago of the regionals where the mics were beta 58.

    ooops, my bad.

  • Wow, how cool! I always wondered which tracks were which. I think the KSM9 ones, by far, turned out the best on the recording. I guess it really can be a great recording mic (very studio-like)! To me, the b58’s sounded a harsh and interacted with the audience mics in a weird way (or maybe that was just due to smaller venues’ acoustics or some pitch correction issues). Anyway, that’s my 2-cents on KSM9 vs. b58.

    Dave, keep us informed on what you all end up going with! And I’d still be interested in hearing your take on the MD5235 head someday!

  • Me too…thinking about trying a couple on our SKM5000 transmitters. Need to find a demo! Our local vendor is too swamped in big projects for us right now for me to bother him with it.

  • Hey, while we’re talking about comparing mics, I’d love to hear your thoughts on drum mics too. North Point, by far, has the best sounding drums I’ve ever heard live. I was wondering what you recommend??? How important is it to have the top AND bottom of a snare miced? And how important is it to have a mic inside the kick drums and one pointed at the sound port? Finally, how about EQ’s and dynamics? Are there any secrets you can share??? Just an idea for a future post when you get time!