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The saxophone is one of the most expressive instruments you can play.
They sound distinctive and beautiful whether it’s a lead alto or a baritone sax playing.
When it comes to putting a sax part on the record, you might have a hard time finding a perfect and distinctive sound if you don’t know what you are doing.
While there are plenty of techniques for recording the sax -whether you are in a recording studio or a home set-up –sound engineers will tell you that one thing that will make or break your recording is really the choice of microphone.
This article will take you through what sound engineers and saxophonists consider to be the best microphones for saxophones.
While there are many options available, we will only cover 5 (five) options so you get a feel of what to look for before choosing a mic to record the saxophone.
Our Winner After Careful Research
Best Microphones for Saxophones - Comparison Table
Shure SM57-LC Cardioid Dynamic Microphone
DPA D Microphone
Shure BETA 98H/C Microphone
Sennheiser MD 421 Mic
5 Best Microphones for Saxophones
1. Shure SM57-LC Microphone
The Shure SM57 is a staple in the music industry.
Few microphones can match up to its reputation for quality and durability.
It is a dynamic microphone with diverse applications, outstanding performance in every situation, and it is reasonably priced.
While this mic is notoriously associated with vocal recording, it is also an excellent choice for recording sounds of woodwind, brass, string, and percussion instruments.
It helps create the feel of a natural performance on record for a better representation of your music.
Because the saxophone (wind instruments in general) are already salient in the 2-5kHz, you don’t want a mic that overemphasizes this range.
The SM57 is flatter through this range.
It gives a good transient response, capturing the high frequencies with minimal hype in the mids.
As a cardioid mic, it can pick up sounds from instruments pointed directly to its front but will reject any sound coming from the sides.
It is important that you refrain from roaming around the stage/studio since this mic will not pick up anything in the null point.
For a more aggressive kind of sound, you can move the bell much closer to your SM57-perhaps even burying the mic right in the bell.
Being a dynamic mic it is well suited to handle high sound pressure levels.
It is also excellent for capturing more laid-back sax sounds that crown the edges with the condenser afar.
- Dynamic microphone with uniform cardioid polar pattern
- 40Hz-15kHz frequency response, Contoured
- Natural presence boost brings out the bite in sax
- 150 Ohms (300 Ohms Actual) ideal for low-impedance tape recorders and mixers
- Doesn’t requires phantom or battery
- Rugged design to withstand serious abuse
- Comes without the cable -just the mic and stand adaptor
2. DPA D Microphone
You want a pure, raw performance.
The DPA D: vote CORE 4099 is unparalleled in terms of clarity and quality of response.
However, it is a very delicate mic and wouldn’t withstand rowdy pub gigs.
For any other stage or studio applications where care for equipment is as important as the performance itself, this surpasses your expectations.
It uses a pre-polarized condenser capsule (electret) designed with remarkable manufacturing and engineering attention to detail so it performs at par with their true condenser counterparts.
As a super-cardioid microphone, you get narrower pick up and better rejection of ambient noise for an authentic live sound.
This allows you to focus on the pure sax sound even when playing in a noisy environment – minus the typical reverb and colors.
The core 4099 comes with a cable and an XLR adaptor for easy compatibility with mixers.
It is worth noting that this mic is not kitted with a wireless system.
However, you can acquire an adaptor to connect with an Audio Technica 10 system or the AKG WMS45.
Since the clip design is not incorporated on the mic, you can choose from different clip attachments that suit particular instruments.
Clips designed for the saxophone are sturdy and will stay in place in almost any position.
The clip is meant to fit over the edge of the saxophone.
It works together with the gooseneck extender to allow adjustments for the mic to reach across the varied widths of different saxophones.
- Convenient, low-profile close-miking solution
- Tight super-cardioid polar pattern provides high gain-before-feedback
- Tonally tailored to complement a soprano, alto, tenor, or baritone sax
- Used with standard phantom or wireless mic system
- XLR adapter providing compatibility with mixers
- Flexible and easy mounting, CORE 4099S clamp is gentle on instruments
- Articulating gooseneck extender gets the mic in the sweet spot
- Compact, delicate mic but can handle some tours
3. Shure BETA 98H/C Microphone
If you are looking for a microphone that will give purpose to your sax playing, the Shure BETA 98H/C comes highly recommended.
It is specially tailored for horns but it is notoriously famous among percussion and string players as well.
The Shure Beta 98H/C is a reliable mini-condenser clip-on microphone used to close-mic instruments.
While most saxophonists will tell you that you don’t get the full sound of the sax when it’s close mic’d, the Beta 98H/C is able to clearly capture instruments sounds at close proximity.
It features an in-line preamplifier that provides high gain before feedback without introducing any audible noise.
This process boosts low signals which are susceptible to degradation.
In other words, it cleans up the signal coming from the microphone so that it sounds better when amplified further.
With a high, 155dB maximum SPL, the BETA 98H/C is armed to handle the demands of the tenor and alto sax which can easily go up to 110-115 dB.
A unidirectional cardioid pick-up pattern improves focus on the sound source and rejects unwanted noise.
Coupled with the tailored frequency response, this mic reproduces an open, natural sound.
Live performers will love the compact, lightweight construction of the Beta 98H/C.
The preamplifier is housed in a small, tidy housing that has a clip you can use to neatly tack away to your back pocket for low saliency.
The mic is easy to clamp onto the bell of the saxophone.
There is a gooseneck extender with swivel joints that allows optimum positioning of the capsule, right at the ‘sweet spot’ of your sax.
- Compact, lightweight profile for minimal visibility
- Frequency response tailored for natural sound reproduction
- High maximum sound pressure level (SPL) ideal for brass, woodwinds, and percussion
- Unidirectional sound pickup pattern provides high gain-before-feedback
- Preamplifier (XLR connection) included
- External mounting hardware not required
- Flexible integrated gooseneck for optimum placement
- Very thin cable between mic and preamp
4. Sennheiser MD 421 II Mic
If you're recording horns, the Sennheiser MD 421 is the go-to microphone.
It is a favorite among sax players and audio engineers.
Miking the sax, it gives a smooth sound, sufficiently detailed, and not too bright so it is easily tamable for a warm glow.
Its dynamic capsule provides a consistent signal response whether you are close miking or miking at a reasonable distance.
You can move closer to the mic, aiming straight at the bell when going for a rock-n-roll kind of sax sound.
You also get a good deal of isolation ambient noise and sound from other sources.
Its high SPL capability makes it a great choice for miking instruments like the sax, with a high transient response.
While this is not its strongest selling point, it makes the mic sound very distinctive.
The cardioid polar pattern is effective.
You get clear sound reproduction from the focused source.
It offers excellent off-axis noise pick up which is ideal for recording conditions where bleed from other instruments is a concern.
Another interesting feature of this mic is its 5-position bass roll-off control.
This offers a flexible low-frequency attenuation.
You get a clean and clear response without unnatural bass boosts.
30Hz to 17 kHz frequency response allows the microphone to be used in a variety of situations.
Structurally, it is a rugged professional microphone that is very durable even under heavy use.
If you are looking for a mic to tour with, this one will withstand the most torturous gigs.
- Large-diaphragm, dynamic element suitable for a host of applications
- Cardioid polar pattern offers excellent feedback rejection
- High sound pressure levels make it a natural for the alto and tenor sax
- Inner chassis protects acoustic components from sensitivity to dust and humidity
- Selectable low-frequency roll-off helps compensate for proximity effect
- Glass composite housing with hardened stainless-steel basket withstands heavy use
- Has some sharp highs
5. Royer R-10 Ribbon Microphone
If you're looking for the most famous ribbon on the market, it's certainly a Royer Labs' mic.
This is a brand that has come to be synonymous with high-end ribbon mics.
The Royer R-10 ribbon microphone is an incredible mic for recording the sax.
It is among a handful of ribbon mics you’ll find in the below $500 cart.
It comes highly recommended as an entry-level ribbon microphone for the sax.
The Royer R-10 features a passive large element with an internal shock mount to reduce vibrations.
Isolating the ribbon transducer helps enhance its durability.
The R-10 design delivers a smooth, full-range frequency reproduction which both recording engineers and musicians love.
Its naturally mellow nature makes it an excellent choice if you are looking to capture that soulful vintage sax sound with a softer focus.
Featuring a high maximum of 160 dB SPL this microphone can comfortably handle loud sources without distortion.
The ribbon wiring is intended for humbucking, preventing electromagnetic interference.
If you are into figure-8 miking, the R-10 is best suited.
It features a figure-8 polar pattern that focuses on front and back sounds while effectively rejecting noise creeping in from the sides.
Play the sax from the null point on the mic – the sound that's coming from the sax will be rejected since you are not aiming the bell directly at the front or back of the figure-8 mic – so that you only pick up reverberant sound in the room.
This does a great job making the final mix sound more natural.
- Figure-8 polar pattern focuses sound pick up from the front and back
- Full-range 30 Hz -15 kHz frequency response without harsh highs
- High maximum 160 dB SPL for close-miking loud sources without overload
- Built-in multilayer windscreen system reduces plosives and proximity effect
- Effective humbucking wiring rejects electromagnetically induced noise
- Internally shock-mounted transducer isolates ribbon from vibration
- Legendary Royer ruggedness and reliability
- Delightfully reasonable price tag; owning a pair in the locker is advantageous
- Care needed when handling
- Lack clarity compared to the condenser
When choosing a mic to record the sax, you’ll need to go for the microphone that complements the already bright sounds horns are guilty of.
Additionally, if you are an active sax player who roams all over the stage, a clip-on mic with a wireless bodypack transmitter is ideal.
For the energetic player who plays leads but doesn’t move around, a dynamic mic in a fixed position should do.
You might also go for a more elaborate miking setup, using multiple mics to capture the sax.
For instance, you could use a clip-on to capture the more impact sounds from the bell while moving freely on stage, and have a second mic stationed somewhere on stage to capture more detailed sounds as you walk by.
Ultimately, the mic you go for should work for your situation, style of play, and miking technique.