Live performances can be the most captivating way of portraying your music to your audience. However, without a proper microphone to truly give your vocals or instruments the power they need, your stage presence can suffer, you may not be heard completely, and ultimately your entire performance can be thrown off. As we saw in our best microphone for vocals article, there can be quite a few different options for what musicians can choose as far as mics go. However, with our personal experience and research around the net for quite some time, we’ve narrowed down the live performance microphone specialty to just one type. We feel it’s important to find the right mic considering it’s the staple-point of live sound equipment. Today we pick our very best as well as provide you a few more options in case you’re looking for some more options. Let’s get to work.
How to choose the best live sound microphone
We’ve gathered a few aspects for you to take into consideration when choosing your microphone for performing on the big stage. Keep this is a checklist for your shopping endeavors:
- What is your budget? To our avail, some of the best mics for the stage are relatively cheap as compared to professional recording mics. Who knows, you may want to save up a little bit more after reading this guide. Otherwise, we found quite a few different models to compare and contrast that land among different price-points.
- What type of microphone? We highly recommend dynamic microphones when performing live, although some use condenser mics nowadays as well (it’s pretty rare). Here’s a good article on the difference between dynamic and condenser microphones — but to sum it up, dynamic mics have a wider range of pickup and can handle higher SPL (Sound Pressure Level) which is a common need for those performing. They help minimize the chances of distortion, which is one of the worst things that can happen when performing.
- What exactly will you be performing live? A majority of you will say vocals, but for drummers (you’ll need a mic with a very high SPL for this), guitarists as well as piano are also possibilities.
- Wired or wireless? Wireless mics are very popular now and we’d recommend going this route, although wired wouldn’t necessarily be bad (our top pick is wired). It depends on your preference. Our best wireless microphone article will highlight that solution instead. There are pros and cons to both.
Our pick for best live performance microphone
The Shure SM58 dynamic microphone
We chose this microphone for the best live performance mic because it’s really a no brainer. Shure microphones have been dominating the microphone game for decades, and the SM58 is one of their most popular mics ever. There are countless reviews all over the net praising the reliability and quality it provides for performing on stage. Not to mention it’s only $100 retail (although you can also buy it wireless or the adapter package that’ll be a few more dollars). You just can’t beat the price, regardless of how “big time” somebody claims to be. I’ve heard of musicians range from underground rappers to big timers and pop singers today. This microphone is even great for workshops or conferences as well — we’ve seen it even used by a lot of politicians during speeches, too. It’s very basic with this dynamic microphone and gives you what you need — proper portrayal of voices to your audience, regardless of what you’re showcasing, not to mention the package comes with a microphone clip, storage bag and user guide on top of it all.
Main features of the SM58
Some highlighted features of the SM58 include a unidirectional (cardioid) pattern, which helps isolate whatever you’re performing along with doing a great job at decreasing background noise. The best microphones for performing should have the cardiod pickup pattern because it has a wider pick-up, as opposed to most condenser microphones which require you to make sure you’re facing just the front of the mic. Dynamic mics aren’t as particular so they allow you to merely hold the mic near your face\instrument and you’ll be good to go.
The frequency response of the SM58 is 50 to 15,000 Hz, a pretty high range for a microphone. This covers the entire human voice and most strings as well, with a surprisingly very low-frequency pickup for a mic. It has excellent gain-to-feedback ratio meaning you can turn it up very well without having a lot of feedback, something found with some other microphones in the market. You never want a shrieking feedback noise get in the middle of your songs, especially if the sound man is tweaking your microphone levels throughout the set.
Great for all types of vocals, including rapping and standard singing. The cliche of microphone marketing is ‘warm and clear sound’, but this isn’t just a scheme by Shure — we’re pretty sure they made that phrase famous. It’s also available in a wireless version (for a hundred more), the Shure BLX24/SM58 Wireless Vocal System.
Stability and overall build
The build and stability is what really sets this one a part from other dynamic microphones as well. It’s rugged with a steel mesh grille — I’ve dropped mine 2-3 times so far in the six years I’ve had it and it’s still picture perfect (albeit once on purpose because I thought I was cool “dropping the mic”…I was not). It has a built-in shock-mount system and it’s great for both indoor as well as outdoor performances (don’t get it wet, however). Although I wouldn’t recommend dropping-the-mic like a battle rapper, this is a great investment and it will last you years if you take care of it properly — albeit for around $100 retail or so depending on where you look. We know many who even have a few of these just in case. What’s even better is that most of these parts are replaceable if you need to prolong the life, such as the entire grille itself in case you drop and dent it. The body is a nice build as opposed to some others in the market who get away with a low price with a more cheap, plastic make. The SM58 isn’t that.
Best uses for live performances
The product description by Shure states that the SM58 is ideal for live vocals, but we’ve seen these used by other instrumentalists across a wide range of performances. The reason they are tailored for vocals is due to the heightened mid-range and bass rolloff (the bass increases the closer you get to the mic). It’s also stated to have a bit of a boost as compared to their other beloved model, the SM57 (listed later on).
This can also be great for acoustic guitars, most piano players as well as strings (it may just be a tad difficult to pickup the highest range of notes), but it has been pretty legitimately proven to be the best for vocals. It’s been also stated that the SM58 is better when it is up close to your mouth, so keep that in mind when using it. The microphone also has a built-in pop filter which is exceptional for those pesky P’s and S’s, specifically for vocalists. As with a bass roll-off, something like a string bass will be difficult to pick up in which we recommend grabbing a condenser microphone for that. If you’re looking for something with a little better bass frequency (you may have a deeper voice, etc) or will be performing with other instruments aside from your golden voice box, take a look at the SM57 or Audix i5, which we list below.
Overall, the Shure SM58 dynamic microphone was a no brainer for best mic for live performances due to its high quality and overall budget-friendly retail price. We recommend going with this for most live stage needs, especially with vocals of any kind! You can also read our full review of the SM58 for more information.
Other microphones for performing to check out
Although we think the SM58 by Shure is a definite go for live performances, here are some other quite popular microphones that have been stated to be effective for being on stage at concerts if you want some more options to compare and contrast. If you’re looking for a wireless system, look into the Shure BLX models, albeit these average out to cost a lot more money than the solutions in here.
AKG microphones are pretty high quality and this is one of their most positively reviewed models available today. The D5 is a mic that’s commonly competing against our first overall pick in the SM58 (as you can see in the comments as well). It features a great, rugged build (steel wire-mesh grill) with an on/off switch for handy use. Pretty crisp sound considering it’s going for around the same price as the SM58 and even cheaper on the net these days. Also has a nice built-in pop filter for being on stage at a show. We’d recommend going with this if you want to save a few bucks as opposed to grabbing one of the Shure mics we’ve listed. Best used for vocals but can work with some instruments, too. This is another one of the best live performance microphones out there, and some even say it’s better than all of the others. Aside from price, grab this one if you think it “sounds” better than the SM58, although both are solid ultimately and “sound” is pretty subjective depending on the ear.
Here’s a very popular microphone for instruments aside from vocals, and we figured we include this to give you another option if you will be using your microphone beyond only vocals. This one is stated to be ideal for snares, guitar cabinets and other instruments due to its ability to handle high volumes without distortion. It’s got a frequency of 15 Hz – 16 kHz so the lows are some of the best we’ve seen. I’ve even heard of these being played with instruments of all kinds, including banjos — a great microphone to use for most instruments while you’re performing. We linked you to the search because there a lot of bundles out there to help you save money if you’re also buying accessories. Very affordable.
This is a big competitor to the Shure we recently spoke about, as Sennheiser makes some very high-quality sound solutions. This particular microphone is a part of their EVOLUTION series and is great for performing live due to its dynamic make as well as the standard cardioid pick-up pattern with a nice presence boost. Its said to add more body to your sound as compared to the SM58. However, continuing in comparison, it has a bit lower mid-range congestion with rolled-off highs, so that may get in the way of your audio, however it is great for voices that are a bit less powerful or those with a style that doesn’t necessarily entail screaming. It’s just an overall solid microphone that competes with our pick for the best and it has a bit better bass pickup in comparison. The only downfall is the lack of an on/off switch. You can also check out the Sennheiser e935 dynamic mic for higher quality albeit about $80 more retail.
Here is Shure’s other huge hit in the microphone realm. There is such a large debate about whether this one or the SM58 we spoke about previously is better. We’ll give you what we’ve experienced as well as found through research. The main differences are the grill and overall look, but most importantly the frequency response: the SM58 has a slight boost. Ultimately, this microphone is best for those of you who may be using this beyond singing, otherwise stick with our pick. This is a lot better for instruments. Its got a nice frequency response of 40 to 15 kHz, with a clean and rich pickup. Such a beautiful microphone we have here. Read our full review of the Shure SM57 for more info. Regardless if you grab this or the SM58, you will be happy.
One of the more budget-friendly dynamic microphones for performing live, Behringer audio equipment is always reliable in terms of investments for the long-term. It’s got a pretty wide frequency response (50 to 15 kHz) and a relatively standard background noise and feedback limiter. The response isn’t anywhere near the mics we list within the $100 range but this is suitable for a more casual show or even karaoke use. Built-in shock mount system too, it just doesn’t come with a cable. Grab this if you want to go with a cheap microphone for live shows.