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Off The Beaten Path: With Mic Approaches, It’s Not Unusual – Until It Is…

Considering unusual microphones, pickups and techniques that might just be the perfect solution to your next challenging scenario.

By Mike Sokol February 12, 2019

Some may consider me a microphone snob – I’ve been collecting and using mics for five decades and counting. While all sorts of other gear such as amplifiers, loudspeakers and mixing consoles occasionally catch my fancy, nothing stands the test of time like mics.

After all, you can pull out a great RCA 77DX ribbon mic from the 1950s to capture the sound of a trumpet in a studio and the mic groupies will crawl out of the woodwork to see and hear what you’re doing. With that context, I’m going to detail some of my most favorite mics and miking techniques, starting at the present and working my way back in time.

Staples Of The Kit

Currently there are three “go-to” mics that I deploy at nearly every show: Shure SM58 and BETA 87A, and AKG 535. The SM58 (and cousin SM57) are useful on so many stage instruments and vocals that I always carry half a dozen of each.

Of course, the 58 is great on male vocals and simply impossible to overload, but it’s also useful on baritone saxophone, bongos, accordion, harmonica, and just about any other instrument with most of its important sound in the middle frequencies. The 57 is my standard on snares, electric guitar cabs (with Celestion speakers being my favorite), lap steel through a vintage 5-watt Fender Princeton, and any other instrument that can use a little 5 kHz boost to make it stand out the mix with a bit more presence.

I’ve often said that if I had a bucket of 58s and 57s that I can do most any show, and it’s the truth. But mics are like ice cream flavors, and while the 58/57 combo is like really good vanilla, sometimes you want pistachio or Rocky Road.

The AKG 535 (C535 EB, discontinued but it can still be tracked down online) is my pistachio, and I carry eight of them to every show. It’s probably my favorite mic on female vocals (but I worked a show once where Sting used it perfectly), and it’s the most flexible mic in my kit for festivals. It’s a condenser with an onboard pad (for screaming vocals) as well as 2-position bass roll-off, and is perfect on outdoor stages due to a great windscreen.

I’ve used it dozens of times on acoustic guitar, mandolin, overhead drums, hi-hat, flute, grand piano, and just about any other instrument that has extended high frequencies. It even works great on choir – I rented all eight of my 535s out to handle choirs for a visit by the Pope to Washington, D.C. a few years ago.

The BETA 87A is my favorite capsule on wireless handheld mics. To me, the advantage of the 87A is its tight supercardioid pattern, so when one is soloed on a loud stage, there’s very little bleed from the other instruments. That is, you’ll hear mostly the vocalist on that mic and must less sound from the screaming guitar cabinet.

I have a pair of hard-wired 87As in my kit, used for lead vocals, especially in praise teams where I want the lead voice to stand out differently than the backup singers. So I put an 87A (or 535) on the praise team leader, and 58s on the rest of the singers. Because these two classes of mics have such different sonic flavors (vanilla and pistachio), it’s really easy to get the backup singers to blend together with the lead vocals sitting on top of the mix.

I tell my students all the time that by selecting the proper mics for each stage instrument or vocalist, 90 percent of my mixing work is already done. I just tweak the EQ a bit, set the dynamics and levels, and then I can sit back to enjoy the ear candy.

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About Mike

Mike Sokol
Mike Sokol

System Designer & Audio Educator
Mike Sokol does sound system design and training for JMS Productions, his consulting company in Western Maryland. Visit for his educational articles and videos, and email him at [email protected] with comments and suggestions.

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