Recently I received an e-mail inquiring about microphones; specifically, what constitutes a good microphone. The reader had seen my post on rechargeable batteries and noticed that I was using SM58 capsules on the mics under test. That made him wonder about the report he had just received from a consultant who had reviewed their church’s A/V systems.
Good quality microphones give the biggest performance increase for the money invested. If the right sound is not captured by the microphone, then no amount of technical gadgets is going to be able to get a good sound. Avoid vocal microphones with high proximity effect (increase in bass response) (e.g. Shure PG58, Shure SM58).
I’ll start by stating that I disagree with most of that paragraph. Yes, good quality microphones are important. However, when you rank them on the “benefit for dollars spent” scale, you only get big gain for dollars if you’re upgrading from those 3 for $19 deals you see in the cheapo electronics ads.
Once you get into mics that cost $100 or more, the differences are often subtle and in some cases, academic. Case in point: Bono quite often sings into an SM58. Should he be avoiding that microphone? I wonder if he’s ever tried the PG58?
So why do I think microphones do not provide the greatest improvement for dollars invested? Simple: What we do is sound reinforcement in a live setting and as such, I think loudspeakers better fit that description. I’ll unpack this more in a later post; let’s get back to microphones.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m a big fan of good mics. In fact, I’ve spent a fair amount of money recently improving the depth and breadth of our mic locker. A good mic can make a big difference.
And right now, I’m buying new mics because I don’t have enough money to buy a new PA. So even though my other sound engineers and I notice that “model X” sounds a lot better on the snare than “model Y” it replaced, I’ve yet to have anyone come up to me and tell me that the snare sounds better. That’s because it’s a subtle difference and we’re listening for it (and we note how much less EQ is required to make it sound good).
Conversely, if we hung a new PA that had vastly better coverage, evenness, phase response, lower comb filtering and overall better fidelity, I think people would notice. To be sure, it’s going to cost some coin to make that happen, and for the same amount of money, I could have bought a truckload of mics. But I’m quite sure I could replace the e609 on our guitar amp with a U87 (roughly 30 times the price of a 609), and few would notice.
So my recommendation to the reader was not to replace the drawer full of SM58s just yet, rather, investigate a new loudspeaker system. Once the system can faithfully reproduce what you send it, then start looking at better mics.