"Classic" Live Mic List Survey Results!

Yana Chupenko at Cathyland's Love Bites 2014

Yana Chupenko at Cathyland's Love Bites 2014

There are as many opinions about microphones as there are sound engineers. Experimentation with mics is a great thing to do, but what if you’re just starting out, or you need to mic something you haven’t worked with before?  

For my students (and anyone else interested), I thought it would be fun to develop a list of “classic” live mics for live sound.  Rather than just make a list based on my own opinions, I figured I’d crowd source it by creating a survey and sending it out to as many people as possible (and writing this, with the analysis complete, I just realized I forgot to vote in my own survey!).  I ran a beta test of it with a few people on the always excellent Theatre Sound Mailing List, and then tweaked up the survey and posted it both there and on the ProSoundWeb Live Audio Board forum.  36 people completed the survey, which ended up being a bit tedious (it turns out we mic a LOT of different things!). 

I asked respondents for two variations on “Classic”.  The first would be “Money Is No Object”, and the second is “Most Commonly Used”.  Here’s the list of the most popular in each categories (I've also got a better formatted PDF available here).  Ties are indicated by multiple mics separated by “/”, such as SM58/AKG 414. 

Money Is No Object Most Commonly Used
Vocals
General Speech Handheld Shure SM58 Shure SM58
Rock Vocal Handheld Audix OM7 Shure SM58
Pop Vocal Handheld Neumann KMS 105 Shure SM58
Rap Vocal Handheld Shure SM58 Shure SM58
Jazz Vocal Handheld Neumann KMS 105 Shure SM58
Classical Vocal Handheld Neumann KMS 105 Shure SM58
Headworn Boom Cardioid DPA 4088 Countryman E6
Headworn Boom Omni DPA 4066 Countryman E6
Lavalier Cardioid DPA 4080 Shure WL185
Lavalier Omni DPA 4061 Countryman B3
Choir or Chorus AKG C414 Sennheiser e 935
Guitar-Bass
Acoustic Guitar Mic Neumann KM 84 Shure SM57/Shure SM81
Guitar Amp Mic Shure SM57 Shure SM57
Acoustic Bass Mic DPA 4099 Shure SM57
Bass Amp Mic Beyerdynamic M-88 Shure SM57/ Sennheiser MD 421
Piano-Keyboard
Grand Piano: Lid Closed Earthworks PM40 PianoMic AKG C414
Grand Piano: Lid Opened AKG C414 AKG C414
Upright Piano: Lid Closed AKG C414 AKG C414
Upright Piano: Lid Opened AKG C414 AKG C414
Electronic Keyboard Amp Shure SM57 Shure SM57
Electric Organ Shure SM57 Shure SM57
Leslie Cabinet Sennheiser MD 421/Sennheiser MD 441 Shure SM57
Drums
Kick Drum Inside Shure BETA 91 Shure BETA 91
Kick Drum Outside Electro Voice RE20 Shure BETA 52A
Snare Top Beyerdynamic M-201 Shure SM57
Snare Bottom Shure SM57 Shure SM57
Floor Tom Sennheiser e 904/Sennheiser MD 421 Sennheiser e 604
Tom Sennheiser MD 421 Sennheiser e 604
Cymbals AKG C414/Neumann KM 84/Neumann KM 184 Shure SM81
Overhead AKG C414 Shure SM81
Hi Hat AKG C451B Shure SM81
Misc Percussion Neumann KM 184 Shure SM57/Shure SM 81
DI
Guitar Amp Radial JDI Countryman 85
Pedal Steel Radial JDI Countryman 85/BSS AR-133
Bass Amp Radial JDI Countryman 85
Keyboard Radial JDI Countryman 85
Computer Whirlwind pcDI Whirlwind pcDI
DJ Mixer Radial JDI BSS AR-133
MP3 Player Radial JDI/Radio ProDI/Whirlwind pcDI Radial ProDI/Whirlwind IMP 2/Whirlwind pcDI
General Input Radial JDI Countryman 85
String
Banjo Individual DPA 4099 Shure SM57
Ukulele Individual DPA 4099 Shure SM57
Dobro Individual DPA 4099 Shure SM57
Violin Individual DPA 4099 Shure SM81
Viola Individual DPA 4099 Shure SM81
Cello Individual DPA 4099 AKG C414/Shure KSM137/Shure SM81
Bass Individual DPA 4099 Neumann KM 184
Harp Individual DPA 4061/Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 Shure SM81
Mandolin Individual DPA 4099/Sennheiser MKH 40 Shure SM57
Violin Section DPA 4011/Neumann KM 84/Schoeps CMC6/MK 2/Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 Neumann KM 184
Viola Section Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 Neumann KM 184
Cello Section DPA 4011/Neumann KM 84/Schoeps CMC6/MK 2/Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 Neumann KM 184
Bass Section DPA 4011/Neumann KM 84 Neumann KM 184/Shure SM81
Harp Section Schoeps CMC6/MK 2/Sennheiser MKH 40 Shure SM81
Woodwind
Harmonica Sennheiser MD 441 Shure SM58
Piccolo Individual Neumann KM 84 AKG C451B/Neumann KM 184
Flute Individual Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 AKG C451B
Oboe Individual Neumann KM 184/Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 AKG C451B
Clarinet Individual DPA 4099/Schoeps CMC6/MK 4/Neumann KM 184 AKG C451B/Neumann KM 184/Shure KSM32
Bassoon Individual Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 Neumann KM 184
Saxophone Individual Sennheiser MD 421 Sennheiser MD 421/Shure SM57
Piccolo Section Neumann KM 84 AKG C451B/Neumann KM 184
Flute Section Neumann KM 84 Neumann KM 184
Oboe Section Neumann KM 84/Schoeps CMC6/MK 4/Schoeps CMC6/MK 21/Sennheiser MKH 40 Neumann KM 184
Clarinet Section Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 Neumann KM 184
Bassoon Section Neumann KM 84 AKG C414
Saxophone Section Sennheiser MKH 40/Neumann KM 84/u87 AKG C414
Brass
Trumpet Individual Sennheiser MD 421/Electro Voice RE20 Shure SM57
French Horn Individual Sennheiser MD 421 Sennheiser MD 421
Trombone Individual Electro Voice RE20 Sennheiser MD 421
Tuba Individual Electro Voice RE20 Sennheiser MD 421
Trumpet Section Neumann u87/Neumann TLM 170 AKG C414
French Horn Section Neumann u87 AKG C414
Trombone Section Neumann u87 AKG C414
Tuba Section Neumann u87/Schoeps CMC6/MK 4 Not enough responses
Percussion
Xylophone Individual AKG C414/Sennheiser MKH 40 Shure SM81
Timpani Individual AKG C414 Shure SM57
Bass Drum Individual Earthworks SR25 AKG D112/Shure BETA 52A
Cymbals Individual AKG C414 Shure SM81
Conga Individual Beyerdynamic M-201 Shure SM57
Timbales Individual Beyerdynamic M-201 Shure SM57
Triangle Individual DPA 4021 Shure SM81
Tambourine Individual Shure SM57 AKG C451B/Neumann KM 184/Shure SM57/Shure SM81
Misc Percussion Individual AKG C451B Shure SM57/Shure SM81
Xylophone Section AKG C414 Shure SM81/AKG C414
Timpani Section AKG C414 Shure SM81/AKG C414
Bass Drum Section AKG C414 Not enough responses

Respondents were encouraged to skip mics they didn't use, so a few of the entries are blank (I guess not many people mic tuba sections).  A few also had pretty small sample sizes and ended up being less relevant--you can download my summary sheet of the top three results in Excel format here.  I also have all the raw data available here (scrubbed of any personal information).

In general, the “Money Is No Object” section drew a lot of diverse responses, while the “most commonly used” tended to hone in on a few favorites, some overwhelmingly (again, see the percentages on my summary sheet linked above).  Despite my efforts, I still missed some mics in my list, most notably the Shure BETA 91 for inside a kick drum (the eventual winner), and the write in box worked to correct that. The only other write in that I saw with more than a few entries was a couple Heil mics, but the respondents weren't always clear about where they should go, and the quantities would have only added up to compete for third place or so, so they didn't affect the categories where they were written in (some people also wrote in mics that were on the list).

This is of course not a scientifically accurate survey, since I have no idea how many sound engineers there are in the world, and therefore also have no idea how well this small sample represents the market.  But I do think the list has some value, since it’s as if I had asked 36 of my closest sound engineer friends their opinion.  And it’s an experienced group, with 82.4% of respondents indicating that they had worked in the live sound business more than 10 years.  90% said they worked at least partly in concert sound, and 50% do this kind of work primarily (I forgot worship sound in my poll so several people wrote that in).  24 (67%) of the respondents were from the US, but I also got seven from the UK, three from Canada, one from Germany, and one from the Netherlands.   You can see the rest of the demographic result details in the excel sheet linked above. Thanks to all the participants! And, congratulations to Tim Perry of Utica, NY, who won the copy of my book.  

 It turns out that Survey Monkey offers a very limited set of options for data analysis for the “Matrix of Questions” type that I used, so I ended up having to do an unbelievable amount of spreadsheet magic to get the results.  For that reason, I’m sure there’s mistakes in the list; if you find any please let me know and I’ll correct it.