Studio users spend years searching for the ultimate vintage mic, but the situation is reversed with live sound. Mics for onstage performance keep getting better, and the market for old handheld models from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s is virtually nonexistent. Most performers and sound reinforcement engineers are constantly checking out recent models, looking for the ultimate new mic.
Technically speaking, most high-quality microphones could be handheld, but those specifically designed for vocal use in live performance offer advantages such as internal shock-mounted capsules, nonreflective finishes and a high degree of feedback rejection to improve performance.
There's no shortage of good-sounding condenser and dynamic mics at every price, but for the purposes of this article, we decided to focus on top-of-the-line, hard-wired models from various manufacturers, and we limited each mic builder to one condenser and one dynamic mic each. All prices quoted here are manufacturer's suggested retail (street price may vary considerably), and besides vocals, many of the models listed are also suitable for instrumental miking, both onstage and in the studio.
The condenser Model C-5900 features a no-roll triangular body, along with AKG's InterSpider internal suspension system and a recessed access panel with -12dB low-frequency cut and -6dB/octave roll-off switches. The hypercardioid C-5900 lists for $378. AKG's Model D-3800 Tri-Power uses a patented moving magnet system to reject handling noise, is equipped with separate high- and low-frequency contouring switches and can take up to 147dB SPL without distorting. The D-3800, like the AKG C-5900, is a hypercardioid mic, and it features the same triangular body shape. Retail is $300.
Audio-Technica's 40 Series handheld condenser mics, including the AT4055 ($499), are essentially handheld versions of the company's well-used AT4050 studio mic. The AT4055's large-diaphragm element brings out an extended low end and handles high SPLs and features internal shock-mounting. AT's top-end vocal dynamic, the $270 ATM-61HE, has a high-output neodymium with a patented floating diaphragm that reduces handling noise. This hypercardioid mic has a frequency response of 50 to 18k Hz and is available in the ATM61HE/S model with integral On/Off switch and nonremovable grille. Retail is $270.
The Audix OM-7 ($359) was designed as a tough hypercardioid dynamic mic that can take up to 144 dB before cracking up. The mic comes in a satin black finish and uses a controlled output stage to net higher gain before feedback onstage. The company's $599 VX-10 is a new handheld vocal condenser that wears the same black finish and has a 16mm gold vapor diaphragm and a 40 to 20k Hz frequency response.
The XM8500 from Behringer is a dynamic model with a mid frequency presence boost to increase vocal projection and an overall response of 50 to 15k Hz. The mic features a cardioid polar pattern and a gold-plated XLR connector. Retail is $49.
BENSON AUDIO LABS
BAL's ND80 is a hypercardioid dynamic mic with a hot-output neodymium magnet, steel windscreen, and an easy-to-hold, ergonomic “Soft Touch” finish. Retail is $350. Also priced at $350, Benson's RC22 is a cardioid condenser mic that incorporates a low-mass mylar diaphragm and is intended for general vocal and instrument applications.
Beyerdynamic's TG-X 80 ($469) is a sharp-looking handheld dynamic mic with a fire-engine-red shock absorption ring that helps with structure-borne noise attenuation. Part of the company's TourGroup Series, the TG-X uses a hypercardioid polar pattern and has a 30 to 18k Hz frequency range. The MCE 90 is a condenser model with cardioid polar pattern and an 139 dB SPL to fit a wide range of singers. Retail is $649.
CAD's CAD90 dynamic microphone features an internal multistage pop filter to minimize breath noise. This cardioid model is priced at $239. The CAD95, the company's top-end vocal condenser, which is also priced at $239, is a transformerless cardioid electret mic. The CAD95 also features an internal multistage pop filter, CAD's exclusive INR (Impact Noise Rejection) shock-mount system and a rugged Flex-For grille screen.
Carvin's CM67 cardioid pattern microphone is designed for both instrument and vocal miking, with a frequency response of 40 to 15k Hz and a slight presence rise. The mic has a list price of $199 but is sold direct through Carvin for only $89, including a 20-foot XLR cable.
Featuring Crown's patented Differoid technology, the CM-310A is a cardioid electret condenser mic with a 60 to 17k Hz response. Retail is $309, and the CM-310ASW model with a built-in magnetic reed On/Off switch is also available.
Earthworks offers handheld vocal mics in cardioid (SR69) or hypercardioid (SR68) versions. Both are phantom-powered condenser designs with frequency response extending beyond 20 kHz and 145dB SPL handling capability. The mics are available in black, silver and crimson finishes, and each includes a removable windscreen for use in instrumental live or studio applications. Retail for the SR68 is $450; the SR69 is $400.
The Electro-Voice N/D767a is a dynamic design featuring a N/DYM magnet structure for high output. This supercardioid mic features a 25 to 22k Hz response, multistage capsule shock-mounting for low-handling noise, a comfortable Warm-Grip handle and VOB (Vocal Optimized Bass) tailoring that's intended to provided a smooth proximity effect without muddiness. Retail is $252.
Neumann's TEC Award-winning KMS105 ($595) is a supercardioid condenser mic with a triple-layered acoustic filter windscreen that dramatically reduces popping and wind noise. The KMS105 also includes special mechanical and electrical filters to virtually eliminate handling noise, as well.
Part of Peavey's Diamond Series, the PVM 22 dynamic cardioid mic has a neodymium magnet with more than twice the sensitivity of conventional designs. The mic also features a diamond-coated diaphragm and a new shock-mounting system using high-tech polymers for reduced handling and cable noise. Retail is $149.99.
The Roland DR-20 is a hypercardioid dynamic mic with a 60 to 15k Hz frequency response and a built-in On/Off switch. Retail is $150, including cable.
Samson's Q1 ($400) is a cardioid condenser mic slated for live and project studio recording use. Like every condenser, the Q1 requires phantom power. A built-in windscreen and gold-plated XLR connector are standard.
Sennheiser's handheld line includes the MD-431 II ($495) and ED 865 ($399). The dynamic MD 431 II is an improved version of its predecessor, featuring a steel-mesh grille, shock-suspended capsule, a humbucking coil, recessed On/Off switch and internal electronics for refining proximity effect. The ED 865 is the first condenser handheld mic in the company's new Evolution Series that's great for live performance or recording vocals in the studio. This supercardioid mic sports a metal housing and steel-inlet basket.
The Shure Beta 87A is an electret condenser mic with a new, slightly thicker handle design and break-resistant swivel adapter. This supercardioid model features a three-stage pop filter and high isolation with minimal off-axis coloration. The Beta 87A retails at $445. Shure's top-end dynamic mic is the Beta 58A, a model with a high-output Neodymium element. The supercardioid mic features a shaped frequency response for close-up vocals, a pneumatic internal shock-mount system, a hardened steel-mesh grille and a 50 to 16k Hz bandwidth. Retail is $289.
Sony's F-780/9X ($375) handheld dynamic mic is an improved version of the company's F-780, its previous top-of-the-line dynamic vocal mic. An improved capsule design, tightened unidirectional polar pattern and a new urethane coating for lower handling noise further enhance this mic's performance.
The Stedman Transonic TR1 is a supercardioid dynamic microphone offering two distinct response curves for stage and studio applications. With its recessed switch in the “stage” position, the TR1 offers a subtle bass boost and presence peak to cut through on live performances. The “studio” position provides a smooth response, ideal for recording vocals, instruments and cabinets. Response is 33 to 19k Hz; retail is $159.
Randy Alberts is a musician, engineer and writer exploring music and recording technology in his Pacifica, Calif.-based studio.