Punk PA: Budget Microphones. Part Two: Instrument Mics
This time around we’re going to take a look at some of the more popular microphones that might get used for various types of instruments. We’ll put drum mics to one side for the moment. We’ll cover these in Part Three. Here we’ll look at mics used for saxophones, brass instruments, guitar amps and cabs, fiddles, acoustic guitars and mandolins. Here we’ll find the best microphone for saxophones, microphones for guitar amps, and the best cheap trumpet microphone there is.
We’ll set the budget bar a little bit higher for this one as we’d like to include some slightly more expensive condenser and clip on types. These types of mics are used a lot in instrument miking but do tend to be a little more than vocal dynamics so we’ll allow ourselves a little more leeway and go up to around £70 a go although many of the models here are a lot less.
What to look for in instrument microphones:
Obviously sound quality is the most important factor when checking out instrument microphones. This can, of course, be a rather difficult thing to quantify. The only real way to assess this is to plug them in and listen.
Sound pressure level is an important factor. many instruments are capable of very high sound levels, so it may be important that a microphone can handle high levels without distortion, particularly for electric guitar amplifiers and cabinets as well as trumpets, trombones and saxophones.
Frequency response is an important factor. Many instruments produce highly nuanced higher frequency sounds including harmonics and overtones so good higher frequency response might be useful particularly for acoustic guitar, fiddle, and mandolin microphones.
Sensitivity will be important, particularly for quieter instruments such as acoustic guitars and violins.
For all live music applications, polar pattern is an important factor. Narrower patterns that reject sound from the sides and rear will help minimise feedback from speakers and monitors.
Build quality. All microphones used for live sound applications need to withstand the rigours of transportation and the occasional knocks and shocks. Here, dynamic types tend to be a little more robust than condensers, so some consideration should be given to this.
Finally, included accessories. Included accessories such as cables, cases and windshields are never a bad thing.
OK. So here are some of our favourites. Click on the titles or images for links to our web product listings:
A long standing stalwart of the ‘budget’ microphone market, the D1057 is the best microphone for guitar amps in this price range. But it’s also a versatile performer that sounds great in front of trumpets, trombones and saxophones and it also makes a great snare and tom mic. The flat grill (usually a sign that a dynamic mic is intended for instrument miking rather than vocals) is great for close miking all types of guitar amps and cabinets.
The pickup pattern is cardioid rather than hyper-cardioid, but I experienced no problems in terms of feedback, although this is rarely an issue when miking guitar amps because they tend to be positioned fairly close and guitar amps tend to be pretty loud, so you’re mixer preamps won’t be turned up very high.
It has a quoted max SPL of 145db which seems very high, but I can confirm that the mic handled some very loud metal band’s amps without any signs of distortion or stress.
Being a dynamic mic, the D1057 doesn’t have the high frequency extension that a condenser mic has, so it’s not so good for stringed instruments like acoustic guitars and fiddles, but great for guitar amps and cabs as well as brass in rock and pop music. Cocktail lounge/jazz/solo sax might benefit from the more ‘nuanced’ and extended response of a stand mounted or clip on condenser mic, but for rock, pop, ska, etc this mic sounds great.
Build quality is excellent with a thick metal barrel. The mic has clearly been designed to look rather like another, more illustrious branded product with the same capsule end designed. Not convinced this would be as durable as a more modern overall grill type design, but this might be a worthwhile trade-off for those looking for more ‘classic’ looks. The mic certainly performs as well as it’s more illustrious (and expensive) competitor in all departments.
A 5 metre XLR-XLR cable is included with the package, but alas no case or clip. (There was a time when all microphones came with clip, but this seems to no longer be the case).
Great all rounder, but top choice for electric guitar amps and cabs and a great versatile ‘kit bag’ mic for musicians and sound engineers to cover any unforeseen circumstances.
Couldn’t do a round up of budget microphones without the JTS name cropping up. The TX7 is the flat grill (instrument) version of the TX8 that we covered in out vocal mic roundup, and these mics are incredible value. Overall the best cheap mic there is. They sound warm but clear, handle lots of sound pressure and are built like tanks!
At an even lower price point than the D1057, the TX7 is easily the best cheap guitar amp microphone around. As of writing, it’s available for less than thirty quid with a 4.5 metre XLR-XLR cable.
Like the D1057, the polar response is cardioid and it’ll handle all the sound pressure you can throw at it.
It has a large reed type switch which I could do without but it is at least lockable.
Ideal for guitar amps/cabs and brass/sax applications in all types of rock and pop music. Also great for snares, toms and all manner of percussion if you’re looking for further versatility. Again, clip on, or pencil type condensers would be better for stringed instruments.
Great alternative to the LD Systems product for those not too worried about the ‘classic looks’ that the D1057 offers.
Like the D1057, it’s supplied with a 5 metre XLR-XLR cable, but once again no case or clip.
Miniature style clip on microphones are gaining in popularity amongst brass/sax section players and sound people. The obvious advantages these microphones offer in terms of freedom of movement for players is huge, even when not combined with wireless systems. For saxophone players in particular, physical movement when playing is an important element of their musical expression, so the ability to move without worrying about the instrument pointing at a stand mounted microphone is a real boon, even if they’re not moving from one side of the stage to the other.
Proel’s HCS20 is one such product, and is our choice for cheap clip on sax microphone, which can also be used on other brass instruments such a trumpets, trombones, cornets, etc.
Of course, a major consideration with condenser mics is that they require powering via phantom power from a mixing console, mixer amp or dedicated power supply. All modern mixing consoles will be equipped with phantom power to supply power down the mic cable to condenser mics, but this may be a problem if you’re using busker or instrument amps, etc which may not be equipped with phantom power. So worth bearing in mind.
The HCS20 has a heavily sprung and rubberised clip which won’t mark or damage the instrument and is really quick and easy to mount and remove. A goose neck section then allows quick and easy optimal positioning.
The microphone terminates in a 4 pin mini XLR (for use with a wireless belt pack system) but it is also supplied with a phantom power adaptor that converts the mini XLR into a standard size 3 pin XLR same as you would find on just about any type of modern microphone.
As well as freedom of movement, clip on mics also offer another huge advantage; they are positioned really close to the source. Combined with better sensitivity than a typical dynamic mic this means that your mixing console preamps won’t be turned up as high which is great for noise and feedback, but it also delivers advantage in terms of ‘proximity effect’. The closer you get a microphone to something, you get better bass reproduction, or at least more bass reproduction. This means that a saxophone, for example, mike’d with a clip on mic, I think will sound better and more natural than with a stand mounted mic. It will sound more ‘present’ and it will be so much easier to place in the mix without arm fulls of EQ and/or processing.
The HCS20 is really the best clip on microphone I’ve heard in this price range, offering all the above advantages of clip on mics without a heavy price tag.
SPL capability is a little bit lower than some dynamic mics, but I must say I had no problems with a blaring ska band brass section and it’s extended high frequency reproduction is much better for the more nuanced reproduction of smoother, jazzier (and quieter) musical forms.
Proel have realy got the packaging right on this product as well. The HCS20 is supplied in a foam lined box which has a magnetic clasp so it can be used as a case and is supplied with two foam windshields. You will need to provide or buy an XLR-XLR cable to extend the fitted (approx’) 2 metre cable. See image below.
Proel’s HCS20 is a real bargain for brass and sax players. It offers all the advantages of a clip on microphone in terms of sound quality and freedom for only a little more than a decent dynamic mic at around £70 as I write.
So that’s it for now. There are a couple more models I’d like to add to this list and I’ll get them done in the near future and in part three, we’ll take a look at some great value money solutions in drum microphones.
See you then.
Blog post written by Simon Thompson. MD of The Noizeworks. ‘Music is my passion, not sound’. He has been known to say from time to time.
He makes every effort to ensure the information is correct, but it is provided on an informal basis only. He also takes no responsibility for any circumstances arising out of this information or the inability to interpret it especially if, having read this blog post, you’ve gone out and bought one of the products from somebody else!