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The Quest for the Ultimate Live Sax Microphone

Monday, October 17th, 2011 | by


As a Jazz musician, I spend a lot of time on the road being exposed to a great variety of concert halls, jazz clubs and outdoor jazz festivals. Each space presents a complex set of variables that a sound engineer has to deal with in order to translate the acoustic sound from the stage to the audience. How successful this endeavor is depends on the expertise of the engineer, his familiarity with the space, his ears and common sense, and his budget.

From experience I can tell you that in just two out of 10 concerts do live-sound engineers get it right. But four to five of the 10 concerts are an absolute disaster regarding the mix that the audience gets and the mix that the musicians get through the monitors.

Marc Mommaas at Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid; photo credit Maurits Mulder
Photo: Maurits Mulder

Now, part of being an experienced musician is that one plays strong and with a clear head no matter the circumstances; that is part of one’s road chops and it comes with the territory so to speak. But lately I dedicated some time to finding a microphone that works for me, with the purpose of taking at least one variable out of the live-sound equation.

There are a few practical criteria that limit the choice of microphones substantially. First there has to be the understanding that the stage is not a recording studio. There are other instruments, causing a certain amount of bleed. Therefore the sensitivity of a mic and its pickup pattern must to be taken into consideration. Also we have to anticipate sound engineers who have no business being behind the board. Therefore, forget about pre-amps and phantom power specifics. If you have a beautiful ribbon mic, the engineer can kill it with one wrong move on the board. (There are designs on the market that have built-in protections — I believe it is a dart with poison that shoots at the engineer.)

Then there is another detail: as a traveling musician, I can only bring one bag (my horn) as hand luggage and one carry-on (shoulder-bag with laptop, etc.). Therefore, ideally the microphone is small enough to fit in the case with the horn.

Now let’s get to the saxophone in relationship to the microphone. The sound of a saxophone comes out of all the tone holes in the horn, not only the bell. This means that the mic needs to cover, on average, 20 inches from the top to the bottom of the horn, with the sweet-spot being the center 15 inches.

Therefore, positioning the mic right in front and close to the bell is NOT the ideal spot for the mic. I know that there are horn players out there that like the mic close to the bell; this position gives more presence, more articulation, more clarity and a sense of power. But it will sound artificial. The extreme sense of articulation that you get with close micing will alter the way you phrase, and therefore will have an influence on your story-line when playing a solo. The exaggerated clarity will also give you the intent to alter your embouchure, compensating for this imbalance. Plus, with close micing you lose dynamic variation — soft will still sound very present, and you will pay in quality in the high and/or low register of your horn depending on how the mic is angled.

Then there is the option to have a clip-on mic mounted to the bell. But I prefer the mic to be on a boom stand, for two reasons. First, to avoid variability of sound pickup over the registers as described above, but second and maybe even more important, I need to be able to get away from the mic to create dynamic nuances.

Marc Mommaas; photo credit Willy Schuyten
Photo: Willy Schuyten

When I play live, the sax needs to be amplified to be heard, especially when the band has strong drummers and I am surrounded by guitar and bass amps. But that same volume would be too hot when I am trying to blend with other horns in a quieter piece. This range of dynamics is no problem when I have the ability to step away from the mic. Also, this way I can hopefully avoid the mix engineer’s impulse to mess with my volume — often resulting in him or her forgetting to put the volume back to its original position after a soft piece.

What would be ideal? A microphone that is durable, not too big, mounts on a boom stand, and is able to pick up the sound of the whole horn in the most natural way possible, without too much bleed from the rest of the band. Is it possible? Well, as I mentioned before, I am on a quest and Matt was so kind to lend me four microphones to get started with: the Audix D4, the Electro-Voice N/D 468, the Electro-Voice RE320, and the Beyerdynamic M99. I compared these with the Shure SM58, a dynamic microphone with a cardioid pattern which has been an industry standard for over 40 years.

Why not a Shure SM57Shure SM57, that supposedly is designed specifically for instruments? The 57 is my worst nightmare, the absolute bottom of the pit. I would rather play acoustically, with nobody hearing me (including myself) because of the drums wailing behind me, than have to deal with the Shure SM57. I am making a point of this because I can’t tell you how many times sound engineers have come to me with this mic telling me that this is the perfect mic for saxophone. I always make them switch to the SM58. The SM57 is nasal, too directional, has no highs, no lows, and flat, metallic mids. Okay, I think I have made my point. I know that there are horn players out there who love the ‘57, specifically the rockers. May the force be with them.

As you might have noticed, all these mics are dynamics, which I thought was a good point to start from. They are very durable and are not sensitive to feedback on stage, plus they tend to be compact in design. Here are my observations:

Audix D4

Audix D4
Audix D4

Hypercardioid Dynamic

Very good pickup of low frequencies. The mid frequencies feel a bit on the flat side, with too little space in the sound, and the high frequencies are on the dull side. This is partly explained by the fact that this mic is very directional, which is great for the drums, but not ideal for the saxophone as described above.

It feels to me that there is more depth in the sound of a hypercardioid microphone, or even better, a figure-eight microphone. Sound doesn’t stop where it hits the mic. Therefore a figure-eight pattern will also pick up the sound of the horn on the back end of the mic. This could possibly result in a more acoustic depiction of the sound, much as when you are in a room where the sound bounces off multiple surfaces. The sound can breathe more; it has more space to blossom, so to speak. The space is as important for the sound as the instrument.

The question is if a figure-eight microphone would pick up too much sound from the audience. I have the feeling that the sound of the horn will still dominate over any audience noise, just because the horn is so much closer to the mic.

On a general note, I hear a difference between space and depth. I think the Audix has a nice depth quality, specifically in the lower frequencies. But for the saxophone there is not enough space around the sound.

Learning already, so here we go:

  • plus: small, durable, robust and inexpensive. Very nice pickup of the low frequencies.
  • minus: not that great for the mid and high frequencies of the saxophone; too directional.

Electrovoice RE320

Electro-Voice RE320
Electro-Voice RE320

Cardioid Dynamic

This microphone has two EQ settings: a “voice” mode with a flat frequency response, and a mode with a cut in the low mids. I tried them both.

I am not unfamiliar with the RE series. I have worked with the standard RE20, and liked it. I did find it a bit on the dull side, but overall it was a good experience and it has a nice feel of space in the sound.

The RE320 has a warm quality, has a nice sense of space in the sound (more then the other three probably because of the unique design, this one is significantly bigger then the other three), and has a relatively high output. The problem again is that the microphone is too directional. Plus, the sound is rather harsh for the saxophone. The high frequencies sound particularly unpleasant. I can see how this mic can be the perfect mic for voice in a radio booth, and it would probably work very well for trombone where the sound output of the instrument is more concentrated, but for the saxophone the RE320 is far from ideal.

What I learned is that a Cardioid pattern does not automatically mean less space in the sound. Although my general experience is that the figure eight pattern or the hyper- and supercardioid patterns give more depth to the sounds than does Cardioid, I was proven wrong with this mic.

  • plus: warm, nice sense of space in the sound, not to expensive and nice design.
  • minus: too big to carry in your instrument case, has a general harshness to the sound particularly in the mid and high frequencies. Not impressed with the pickup of the high frequencies.

Beyerdynamic M99

beyerdynamic M 99
beyerdynamic M 99

Hypercardioid Dynamic

I was very excited about having the Beyerdynamic M99 in the mix. This particular dynamic microphone has a large diaphram, moving-coil capsule and a hypercardioid pattern. I was hoping this would open up the sound a bit. The Beyerdynamic M99 has three EQ positions: a linear frequency pattern (flat), one with a dip in the mid frequencies, and one with a gradual boost in the mid-high to high frequencies. The sound definitely had an open quality to it, but it was not as pleasant as I anticipated. There was a metallic edge to the sound, and I could not get a balanced sound over the whole register of the horn, no matter how I positioned the microphone.

  • plus: open sound, nice design.
  • minus: metallic edge; too directional for the saxophone.

Electrovoice N/D 468

Electro-Voice N/D468
Electro-Voice N/D 468

Supercardioid Dynamic

I was very curious about this microphone. The N/D 468 is made with voice and instruments in mind, has a supercardioid pattern and a pivoting head design, which could possibly be ideal for saxophone. What I noticed first was the output of this mic. There was significantly more volume coming out of this mic then the other three. The tone was warm but not too dense, and had less variation over the whole register then the other three mics. From the four microphones tested this one was the most fun to play through. The pivoting head made it very easy to fine-tune the position of the mic in order to find the sweet spot.

Its frequency-response graph shows a significant boost in the mid-high to high frequencies, which I was a little concerned about, but I was proven wrong with this mic. The warmth stayed over the whole register and there was less of an edge than with the other mics. One last positive note is that it is not a large microphone; it will fit in the sax case, and the design looks very durable.

One minor point is that the sound is not as natural as I would like it to be. It has a specific character that is very dominant. But I am learning that this is the nature of the beast with the dynamic microphone. Overall the EV N/D 468 is definitely an upgrade from the Shure SM58.

  • plus: small and beautiful design, warm and pleasant sound over the whole register, pivoting head, not expensive and durable.
  • minus: not as natural sounding as I would like it to be.

Conclusion

This was a great learning experience for me. I learned that there is an amazing difference between the four mics, and it always surprises me how much influence the character of the microphone has over the horn’s tone. The dynamic microphone is attractive due to its durability, but might not deliver the natural sound that one would like to hear. There is a nasal quality to all of them; plus they in various degrees tend to be too directional for the saxophone.

The Cardioid pattern will give you an indication in directionality and openness of the sound but it is not set in stone as shown by the RE 320. Also, you cannot take the frequency response graphs of each mic too literally, as proven by the N/D 468.

The N/D 468 is my favorite mic of these four, but it has its limits, due to its moving-coil design. I am beginning to think that a dynamic mic is not the way to go. For now, the SM58 gets replaced by the N/D 468, but the quest continues.

Marc Mommaas is a jazz saxophonist and instructor based in New York City. He teaches and tours extensively. Learn more at Marc’s website, www.mommaas.com.

Be sure to see the two subsequent installments in Marc’s quest:

  1. Part II: Condenser Mic Shootout
  2. Part III: Ribbon Mic Shootout

Posted in Live Sound, Microphones | 38 Comments »




38 Responses to “The Quest for the Ultimate Live Sax Microphone”

  1. John B

    October 17th, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Thanks for the great mic review. If you float into condensers in the future, I would suggest the Shure Beta 181 or Beta 27. I too play horn and found the Beta 27 to be extremely neutral with great isolation, especially in front of a drumset. Also the Beta 181 is super compact, great for traveling. Being in the beta line, most engineers are quite accepting of it too.

  2. Earthworks Audio

    October 17th, 2011 at 10:41 am

    The Earthworks P30/C Periscope microphone sounds like it would be another good option to try. It has a low profile form factor, flexible gooseneck so you can easily play with the mic’s positioning, more gain before feedback, a tight cardioid polar pattern, and it has been used live on stage with Branford Marsalis on his sax since July 2010 with much success. And as with all Earthworks mics, it has a really clean, honest sound. Essentially, a saxophone will sound like a saxophone.

  3. Sacha M.

    October 17th, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    I like those EV N/D 468 (and the older 408) mics a lot. Killer tom and percussion mics too! For sax though I really like a ribbon mic. And they work so well live too. Very directional, lots of gain before feedback and less bleed than cardioid mics. Most modern ribbon mics are protected from phantom power. I know they are somewhat fragile, but if you make sure no one else handles them, then you’re good. Another problem you could run into is that many live board preamps don’t have a whole lot of gain, but for a sax it should be fine. The sound is worth it – the sax will sound like a sax, not artificial or harsh.

  4. VP

    October 17th, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    The KEL HM2D would be perfect for this purpose. The shock mount would however be too big to carry in a sax case, moreover, the KEL being a condenser mic, I’d rather not travel with it other than in its box although wrapping the mic in fabric and shoving it down the bell could be an option. I have not had any problem with feedback using this mic at all, and its punchy yet linear response is perfect for amplifying a tenor. Positioning the mic at about 2 feet or more depending on the volume on stage, at neck height, pointing at the left hand delivers a very detailed and natural representation. The tight cardioid pattern is the ideal compromise between rejecting unwanted sources and picking up a balanced image.

    Another option would be the original CADE100 which was Brecker’s mic of choice for a number of years. It is worth mentioning it has a smaller footprint than the KEL. However I haven’t used the mic myself.

    I don’t believe a dynamic mic will deliver the details and linear frequency response you’re seeking, as well as a sensitivity and polar pattern adequate to translate the sound of a tenor sax in a live situation.

  5. Moose

    October 18th, 2011 at 9:52 am

    Our tenor sax player uses a Heil PR30 and has been really enjoying it. I use a PR40 on trumpet, and they blend nicely. The P30 cuts through the mix without leaving the mids behind. It’s warm, but can punch, too. We use these mics in an original funk/soul band an afrobeat band, and it’s been a really good experience so far. I’ve been getting good comments from audience members on the horn sounds.

    Soon, I’m going to swap out the Heils for an EV RE320 on tenor sax and an EV RE20 on trumpet. I’ve been using the RE20 to record trumpet & really liking it. The EV320 seems like a logical pairing, and has a similar graph/profile to the Heil PR30. Both of which are similar to the graph of a Senn 421.

    The PR30 is very light and much smaller than the RE320, and also comes in black, so those are bonuses.

    Cheers!
    – Moose

  6. alan belanger

    October 22nd, 2011 at 8:36 am

    The best sax mic I have found is the Blue Dragonfly Cardioid Condenser……

  7. Ron Checora

    October 22nd, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    I am surprised no one mentioned the Sennheiser 421. Beautiful sound and practically indestructable. These days I go on stage with a CAD Equitek e100 and love it for the same reasons.

  8. Graham

    October 26th, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    I have a lot of experience recording and reinforcing horns, especially saxes. On my recommendation, the sax player for the Dave Matthews Band recently tried the DPA 4099. Everyone in the crew and each member of the band commented to him at different times, asking him what he had done to make his sound so much better. That’s a pretty good endorsement!

    Randy Brecker is now using the DPA 4099 on his trumpet. DPA has various mounts for different instruments including guitar, drums, violin, etc.

    I used one last year at a big band jazz recording on an upright bass in conjunction with a pickup with great results. They pick up sound around them but, when properly EQ’d, this is a great little mic that stays where you want it to on the instrument regardless of which direction the musician is facing/dancing. :) Highly recommended.

  9. Marc Mommaas

    October 27th, 2011 at 8:09 am

    I would like to thank all of you that responded to my article on sax-mics. We are taking the suggestions very seriously and are getting ready for round 2. We are now in contact with the following vendors: Earthworks, Shure, Royer, ADK and Kel Audio and will keep you informed. The quest continues.

  10. Fred B

    October 31st, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Hey Marc, thanks for the review/article, much appreciated!
    One thing you could ask Matt for future mics to check is —1— Which dynamic mic have more output (than the standard 1.5 to 1.85 mV/Pa) and enough pick-up of the bass range (tenor sax fundamental tones start below 100Hz so if you also want the subtones in the mix… for that 2nd part, as far as moving-coil dynamics, I only know of the EV RE20 that has enough unhyped bass response, the other ones I checked all rely on the bass lift from proximity effect to capture the 100Hz sound and below, so you might want to try the EV RE20 in mic test context even though you had some real-world experience with it)? —2— Which condenser mics have smaller output (to limit your chances of feedback with a condenser mic that is less sensitive than most but more sensitive than dynamic mics) and also you could test condenser mics with 10dB or 20dB pad engaged to see how this works for your sensitivity vs. feedback goal? —3— For ribbon mics, the “Cloud Lifter” reviewed by RecordingHacks could be an option to protect your Ribbon mic from 48V trigger-happy unprofessional sound guys and it could also be used to boost your output of ribbon or moving-coil dynamic mic so you might want to include that in your next tests… + you could also try a similar product (the FetHead or the FetHead-Filter but not the FetHead-Phantom because this one lets phantom power go through): http://tritonaudio.com/index.php?sectionid=4&option=com_content&task=category&id=17&Itemid=33 (reviews: http://ow.ly/6ReY1 + http://ow.ly/6Rf2u) —4— In terms of sound (I also play tenor sax – jazz/experimental/improv) my favorite mic is the Coles 4038 but I use it for recording… you might want to check the Beyer M130 or the M160 which are not as pricey and have really small ribbons that are more resistant to wind hazards and they’re small enough for the sax case (the M130 is tiny!). Hope this helps, I’m looking forward to your next article because I got to get a live mic too and seem to have a similar approach to sax sound. Thanks!

  11. Fred

    November 1st, 2011 at 5:07 am

    (Just wanted to say I didn’t word it right up there, meant to say there are very few I know of that seem to have the enough unhyped bass response to capture the bass range of the tenor sax like the EV RE20… I know of the Sennheiser MD 441U and MD 421-II but never tried them in good conditions to judge so don’t know if they live up to their specs… but mics like the Shure SM7B doesn’t seem to compare for unhyped bass response without using proximity effect but again I have no experience with it and like Marc said, there’s a difference between the specs and the real life experience. Thanks for your help on the quest!)

  12. Marc Mommaas

    November 1st, 2011 at 6:46 am

    Hello Fred, good to know that I am not alone in this quest and thank you for your great insightful response. I recently recorded with the Coles 4038 (on a record by great pianist Armen Donelian named Leapfrog released by sunnyside records), a great mic, but as you already hinted towards, more for the recording studio, not live. (interesting little piece of info, Michael Brecker used it on his last record)
    Very curious about the Beyer M130 and M160; will have to look into that. I have experience with the EV RE20 and played it in a great club in San Fransisco, Yoshi’s. I liked it specifically when the whole band played soft delicate passages. It was warm and defined. But when things got heated on stage it seems to have difficulties holding up. And getting closer to the mic in the hope for little more presence was counterproductive. In general it was hard to get dynamic variation with this mike during a performance.
    Again, thank you for the info.

  13. John

    November 2nd, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    Hi Marc, I recently had great results recording a tenor sax using a Royer 122 ribbon. The mic was positioned about 18 inches away from the horn on the sax player’s right side, aimed at the holes, and slightly higher than the top of the bell. This was done for a concert involving a 30 voice choir, sax, and string quartet. The venue was a very reverberant church and, thankfully, there was no sound reinforcement. The sax player described the recorded sound as very natural and the occasional minor leakage posed no problems during mixing. I believe this set up would work equally well for sound reinforcement, especially if you can keep the player’s stage monitor aimed at the side of the ribbon where there’s almost complete rejection of sound. The 122 may be too delicate for stage work but Royer makes a “live” version of this mic with a slightly thicker ribbon.

    I’m new to this site but I’ve been recording for 35 years . I LOVE THIS SITE! And remember… he who dies with the most mics wins!

  14. Marc Mommaas

    November 3rd, 2011 at 7:21 am

    John, that last sentence cracked me up, too funny. And yes, the Royer is on the top of our list. We will definitely do our best to include that in the next round. Thank you for your thoughts.

  15. ugo

    November 5th, 2011 at 11:28 am

    I’m helping a friend of mine, excellent sax player, with his DPA 4099, unbelievably good as sound, really a piece of **** for the fixing system…
    We’re trying different things to isolate the capsule from the neck: there is no way to avoid the sax keys’ “bump!”…
    I’m not talking of the natural noise, but the bump transmitted from the body to the capsule trough the neck of the DPA.
    I’ve found that the system is a lot quieter on other instruments, like guitar or trumpet, due ( maybe …) the different system used to attach it.

  16. horse w/o a mane

    November 5th, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    Bobby Keys, Sennheiser 421 and quit the too precious BS

  17. Marc Mommaas

    November 7th, 2011 at 8:52 am

    To Bobby Keys from Marc Mommaas, glad to hear you like the Sennheiser 421, you are not the only one. Maybe great for the rockers but not my choice. Appreciate your insightful input though.

  18. Terry Finn

    November 9th, 2011 at 12:24 am

    All the above are good tried and tested stand/stick mics but little mention of on the bell Mic systems to free up the player. Can I suggest you check out the Applied Microphone Sysem (AMT) range. For sax I’d suggest the LS, the Wi5Pro or the Wi5. Light with good key and handling noise surpression, secure clamps, ajustable swanneck. optimised frequency and polar response for the instrument. You could say, design goal is “your instrument but with gain”!!!

  19. horse w/ no mane

    November 10th, 2011 at 9:52 am

    You might be chasin’ the chicken on this one, as Miles Might say. BTW, what did his sax players use live?

  20. VP

    November 15th, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    I thought I would share this youtube clip of the wonderful Charles Lloyd: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldfpCyHqjGg&feature=related

    To my surprise, he’s using an SM58, moving all over the place, and sounds great through it. The sound guy must have done something right.

  21. VP

    November 15th, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    Ha! We need an ‘edit’ button. Just wanted to add: can’t wait for the follow up!

  22. matthew mcglynn

    November 16th, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Marc and I really appreciate the suggestions here. Round 2 of the Quest will include condensers from Shure, Earthworks, ADK/3-Zigma, and possibly a few more (working on DPA now). We tried to get Kel but were unable to, although they might come in at the last moment. Round 3 will be ribbon mics — and we know of a lot of great choices there.

  23. Bryce Boynton (DPA Microphones)

    November 23rd, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Hello Matthew. I noticed you would like to try a DPA 4099 sax mic in your next round of testing. Please feel free to contact us here in the US office to talk about this possibility. The DPA 4099 series has been made to be the most versatile directional instrument mic with the many mounting options, the natural sound reproduction, and limitless wireless compatibility. I am particularly interested to find out more about the comment left by ugo regarding physical key noise transmission. I have not heard of this problem until now, but it would be very helpful to know more about this particular situation. Thanks – Bryce @ DPA

  24. Paul

    December 13th, 2011 at 7:12 am

    I have just had my DPA 4099S delivered today and I have to say that while the sound is amAZing, the mechanical noise transferred through the bell clip and gooseneck renders it pretty much unusable for me. I’m using it on a straight, Yamaha YSS475 soprano sax, so nothing particularly flashy nor particularly bad.

    The thing is, I played a gig the other week where they gave me a Sennheiser dynamic clipon (E608, perhaps?) , which gave no handling noise (that I noticed) although of course the sound wasn’t the same quality. That experience got me hooked on the idea of a clip mic, though, hence my foray into the DPA purchase, knowing their reputation.

    I’m hesitating between sending it back, and seeing if I can fabricate a clip myself. Not sure which way to jump!

    Regards,

    – Paul

    Englishman in France

  25. Dave

    March 15th, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    If you like the Sennheiser 421 then a Beyer M201 is worth a listen. I think it’s one of the most useful dynamic mics. Vocals, overhead on a drum kit, guitar, toms all sound good, so sax is a good candidate too.

  26. Quest for the Ultimate Live Sax Mic: Condenser Shootout | recording hacks

    March 17th, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    […] I would like to thank all of you who responded to Part I of The Quest for the Ultimate Live Sax Microphone, which reviewed dynamic microphones. This is a very exciting project, and since the last article I […]

  27. Mike Milner

    May 19th, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    E609 six inches. Off-center from the axis of the bell. Best honest sound I’ve had

  28. Denny

    November 21st, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    You make a large distinction between the SM57 and the SM58. The former being unsuitable for micing while the later is quite good. This is confusing to me as these microphones are identical except one has a round windscreen.

    I would argue that the SM57 can be made to work quite nicely so long as you slightly (and inexpensively) alter the windscreen. I concede that out of the box a 58 will work better than a 57, but for those folks who find themselves with only a 57 I’d just like them to know they can get excellent results with some foam over the 57.

  29. Gerard McChrystal

    January 30th, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    Hi. Interested in your quest. I agree with SM57/58 comments. I recently did a TV show for the BBC and didn’t recognise my soprano sound at all. The video is on my website homepage. A colleague suggested the AMT soprano mic as it is has two mics – one for the bell and the other for the tone holes. He swears by it and uses it on alto too. Have you tried one? I am going to try one out although they are not cheap! I had lots of people suggest a AKG 414 which I bought and have never been able to use such is it’s sensitivity for live gigs.

  30. Marc Mommaas

    January 31st, 2013 at 6:39 am

    Hello Gerard,
    The AMT is not bad at all, but you loose the possibility of stepping away from the mic for dynamic purposes which is important when you play with other woodwind or brass players on stage. The AKG 414 is a great mic, but in general I find Condenser mics hard to handle in live situations. It is definitely possible and I have experienced great results, but if the stage is very compact, you might get into feedback and leakage issues. Regarding the condenser mics I prefer the Zigma HA-FX C-LOL-67. In my opinion it sounds more natural then the AKG 414 (the AKG 414 tends to be on the bright side). Another option is the ribbon Royer 122, and I would recommend the active version for live situations. A very natural sounding mic, little to no feedback issues and this beauty works on any stage.

    To recap, the Zigma is fantastic. It has this clarity and precision in the sound that is very attractive, plus this Zigma is not as bright as other condensor mics on the market which is a plus. But you need to watch out for feedback and leakage from other instruments around you. Check out the condenser review:
    http://recordinghacks.com/2012/03/15/live-sax-condenser-microphones/

    The Royer is easier to handle when you have to deal with different stages all the time. The sound is spectacular and it has the natural warmth that the ribbon mics are famous for.
    Check out the ribbon review:
    http://recordinghacks.com/2012/09/04/quest-for-the-ultimate-live-sax-mic-ribbon-shootout/

    I hope this is of help. All the very best with your quest.
    Marc

  31. Jeff Homan

    March 7th, 2014 at 9:48 am

    Marc (and fellow saxophonists), I stumbled on a mic about a year ago that has turned out to be possibly the best live sax mic I’ve ever played through. I found an Electro-Voice PL10 at a Portland, Oregon music store for $75, and it’s absolutely awesome. It has none of the honkiness that you would associate with the Shure 57 and its ilk (although I own a couple of Unidyne III 57s, and they’re much better than the newer ones). You can view this little gem at Coutant.org. It looks like a miniature RE20, and it sounds, as Linda Richman would say, like butta. They do pop up on ebay once in a while, and if you have a little change in your pocket going jing-a-ling-a-ling, it’s more than worth it! I, too, love the ADKs. If the 3Zigmas are a little rich for your blood, check out the Hamburg. Absolutely fantastic on sax.

  32. John Laughter

    August 10th, 2014 at 10:04 am

    Marc, I want to thank you for posting this review. I have been playing since 1956 and have used a few mics over the years. The old Shure 57, RE 20, Sennheiser MD 421 and most recently (for about 15 years) the Shure Beta 57 for vocal and alto and tenor. Between your review and some very positive postings on a sax message board I decided to give the N/D 468 a try.

    I have always had to do some EQ tweaking on all the past mics and most of them seem to add some coloration (if that is the correct word) and I never got real close to my “natural” sax sound.

    I hooked up the Shure Beta 57 to a piano amp with a 15″ speaker at home then, with the same flat EQ, I hooked up the 468 which seemed to produce more volume. The difference in the tone was instant.

    I have played about 6 live gigs with the 468 and it is excellent. The band members noticed the natural fuller sax tone right away.

    Thanks!

  33. Marc Mommaas

    August 11th, 2014 at 8:07 am

    Hello John,
    Great to hear that the N/D 468 is working out and it was a pleasure to do this series. I also enjoyed all the suggestions listed by all the other horn players that posted a response with alternative suggestions. Very helpful.
    Marc

  34. Giuliano

    September 22nd, 2014 at 1:17 am

    I have many and many problems with my microphone in live concert in particular with soprano sax.
    I have a SM57 and agree about the fact it is too directional and absolutely not good for soprano in particular.
    I have a question: which of the microphones reviewed is the best for soprano sax? I’m interested in N/D 468 but I worry to have the same directional problems.
    Thanks a lot!!

  35. Rob Shaw

    May 7th, 2015 at 8:05 am

    The SM57 and SM58 are built with the exact same capsule.

  36. matthew mcglynn

    May 9th, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    @rob – are you suggesting that the SM57 and SM58 sound exactly the same?

  37. Walter George

    July 9th, 2015 at 9:08 pm

    Hi! Thank you for this mic review. Quick question – what amps would you recommend for soprano sax in solo small setting performance or practice? Thank you.

  38. Marc Mommaas

    July 13th, 2015 at 8:33 am

    Hello Walter, I would just go through a small PA system. At New York Jazz Workshop we use the Yamaha StagePas 400i and I am very impressed. Very solid, great value for the price and portable.
    All the best, Marc

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