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How Do I Choose the Best Saxophone Microphone?

By Lori Spencer
Updated May 23, 2024
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Choosing the best saxophone microphone depends on a variety of factors. The most important is whether you will be using the mic mostly for live or studio applications. Certain types of microphones are more practical and durable for stage work but do not perform very well in the recording studio. Price and quality are obviously important considerations as well. Buying a saxophone microphone is a very subjective and personal decision based in large part on what sounds most pleasing to the musician's ear.

In a recording studio environment, engineers must concern themselves more with elimination of room ambience and "bleed" from other instruments picking up on the saxophone microphone. For this reason, omnidirectional and figure-of-eight mics are generally eschewed in favor of cardioid microphones. Since the saxophone so closely resembles the human voice in terms of range and tonal characteristics, most studio engineers agree that any good quality vocal microphone will also work well for recording sax. The choice of which mic sounds the best is most often a matter of personal preference.

Condenser mics are considerably more expensive than dynamic mics, but they deliver a more accurate reproduction of sound and greater flexibility. Most studio condensers have the ability to switch from cardioid to omni, or to combine patterns. If you are working in a home studio environment and cannot afford to invest in a high quality condenser mic, you can still coax a perfectly acceptable sound from a dynamic.

For live sound reinforcement, dynamic mics are nearly always the preference of gigging sax players. This is because dynamic mics have greater resistance against feedback, do not require phantom power, and are more rugged than condenser mics. A sax mic tends to take a lot of knocks onstage, so a rugged mic may be an important consideration.

Opinions are mixed about using clip-on mics. While some consider them practical, allowing more freedom of movement, many sax players express disappointment at the quality of sound a clip-on saxophone microphone delivers. Because saxophones produce sound from the keyholes and not just the bell, placing an external mic about a foot away from the horn better captures the true sound of the whole instrument. This another reason some musicians and engineers frown upon using clip-ons or sticking a mic inside the bell: Just like a vocalist, a saxophonist needs to be able to step back and work the microphone during loud passages and move in closer when playing at a quieter volume.

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Discussion Comments

By matthewc23 — On Oct 14, 2011

I used to play the tenor saxophone through high school and into college. During our concerts we always had microphones set up for the soloists. Personally, I think at least in a concert setting, it is better for the player to just play louder without the help of a microphone.

If you are in the audience and the band is playing in front of you, but you are hearing a soloist's instrument coming from a speaker behind you, it can be distracting.

We did a couple recordings where I had to use normal saxophone mics on a stand, and ones that were mounted on the bell of the horn. I didn't like the sound from the mounted microphone at all. It didn't capture all of the tones of the instrument.

By kentuckycat — On Oct 13, 2011

I have been to both a Dave Matthews Band and Bruce Springsteen concert, and both of those bands have pretty prominent saxophones.

I don't know exactly what kind of microphones they were using, of course, but I know they weren't mounted onto the instrument. They looked like the normal long, narrow microphones singers usually have.

I think the article is right that having the stationary microphone is better for certain effects. Both of their saxophonists are very good, and they were able to use the microphone volume to their advantage.

By jcraig — On Oct 13, 2011

@titans62 - I'm not a microphone expert, but I know from experience that the different types of microphones don't necessarily apply to a certain shape. The shape you normally think of for a microphone can be either cardioid or omnidirectional. I always think of figure eight microphones as being the ones you see in radio studios.

What I am wondering about is how well USB microphones work. Has anyone here ever used one? I have heard mixed reviews about their quality, but I am not sure what types the people I have talked to have used. They have used them with a variety of instruments, saxophones included. One of them has a Mac and one has a PC. I'm not sure if the computer plays into sound or not.

By titans62 — On Oct 12, 2011

What is the difference between the different microphones that were mentioned in the article? What is special about the cardiod microphone that makes it better at just picking up the sound from one instrument than everything else around it?

When you are going to buy a sax microphone, what should you be looking for? What are the different ways microphones are measured in terms of quality? What is the normal price someone should expect to pay for a decent microphone?

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