There comes a time in every gigging saxophonist’s life, whether recreationally or professionally, where the question of microphones comes into play. Are you getting tired of being forced to stay in one place? Do you find that you drift in and out of range due to movement? Does the lack of freedom really encumber your style of playing? Do you want to experiment with delays, reverb and other effects? If even one of these applies to you, it might be worth looking at getting yourself a clip-on microphone!
Now, before we get into the weeds with microphone specs, there are a few basic things to go over with some mental jargon that, if you’re not paid to know what it all means, can seem massively daunting and confusing, so what I will do is keep our definitions a bit simpler and not trying to use any weird terminology. If you are looking for a more in-depth dive into the nitty gritty, give us an e-mail or a ring in-store and we will happily chat about super-cardioid vs omni-directional microphones with you!
Specifications and what do they mean?
Analogue & Digital Wireless Systems – This is the way the audio is processed, it is difficult to say which one is superior. Digital tends to have better audio quality with no interference from any radio frequencies but depending on variable factors there can be latency. Analogue has zero latency and some of the upper market systems have been designed in such a way that the audio quality is comparable to that of digital, however basic systems tend to have more interference if there are other radio frequencies present in the area.
Polar patterns – This dictates the angle/ direction in which the mic will pick up or hear sound from. Clip on mics tend to be cardioid or hyper cardioid if you have a more advanced mic like the DPA4099, which means they pick up sound directly in front of them and avoid picking up sound to the sides or back. This is good as it prevents feedback from monitors and picks up your performance clearly.
Frequency Response – How accurate the mic can replicate the input. This tends to be equal or sometimes a bit less than the human hearing limit (20Hz – 20KHz) normally mics will start around 60Hz, which is very very low and is probably well out of your instruments range so nothing to worry about if it doesn’t start from 20Hz.
Bit & Sample Rate (Digital systems only) – This basically refers to the quality of audio. The standard CD quality is 16bit with a 44.1k sample rate but the upper market digital systems outdo that operating at 24bit with a 48k sample rate. Don’t worry about what it means, basically the higher the numbers the better the quality.
True Diversity – This is a spec that will be on the higher end systems where 2 antennas are used to monitor the signal strength, the system will then switch to whatever antenna is receiving the stronger signal.
All clip-on saxophone microphones are condenser microphones. This means that the microphone always needs power going into it for it to work, rather than most dynamic microphones that run passively. This additional power will make the microphone more sensitive both in construction and aurally to those beautiful overtones that make the Saxophone the best instrument in the world (I might be a tad biased…) This power is typically provided by a battery pack (if you’re wireless) or by a mixing desk (if you’re wired) by the means of the “Phantom Power” (typically labelled as +48V or P48 on the desk, though this isn’t anywhere near as fun as “Phantom Power”). Why is it called ‘Phantom Power?’ Its a very clever way of providing power to mics that need it. If it is run to mics that don’t need it i.e. Sure SM58 it will cause no damage to the mic and will just be ignored.
ADVANCED TIP: If you are using FX pedals with your wired setup then it is not recommended to run phantom power through them as 1/4” jacks are not designed to carry 48V and your signal may be very weak/ non existent. A way round this is to purchase an external 48v power supply.
WIRED, WIRELESS OR BOTH?
When thinking about going wired or wireless you need to ask yourself a few questions:
What kind of venues are you playing? (festivals, bars, clubs, weddings)
Are you stationary, roaming (how far) or both?
If you are playing in bars & restaurants or venues along those lines I would 100% recommend going for the AKG perception wireless system and purchasing a mini XLR to XLR adapter so you have the option of going wired or wireless. I am a big fan of the C519ML clip on mic that comes with it, the clarity, sturdiness & flat frequency response really makes what you get more than worth the money.
Medium to larger events such as weddings, parties & smaller festivals I would go for a wireless system that’s a bit more professional such as the upgraded AKG perception system which will come with a DPA4099 mic (instead of the C519ML) or even better the Audio Technica System 10, which is a digital system. With this system you can choose between a ATM350CW mic (more basic option) or the DPA4099 (more advanced option).
Generally bigger events have loads of radio frequencies bouncing around i.e. security, microphones etc so sometimes it is hard to find a frequency band that won’t interrupt your performance. Even if you have a licence for a certain frequency band (e.g. channel 38) it does not guarantee you will be able to use it. You will need to discuss prior to your performance with the sound engineers which is the best option to go for and what frequencies are available. Personally for festivals and big events as a cheaper option I tend have a wired option with me and an external phantom power supply for my pedals as it saves time messing around with frequency bands during tight sound checks. Ideally for this situation you would want a top of the range system like an AMT Quantum 7 system with a AMT adapter & AMT external power supply so you have all situations covered.
Does my saxophone matter?
With regards to microphones, the actual saxophone you have will affect the type of microphone you need to consider. With an alto and tenor, you shouldn’t have any real issues. The microphone will clip onto the end of the bell, happy days! With a baritone you will have more issues, as the microphone will tend to want to only pick up the bottom end of the horn, so more careful consideration is needed when placing the microphone onto the sax. Straight Sopranos will need their own specific microphone system, as the sound emanates in a different way to the other saxophones. Ideally you would need a dual microphone system, one for the body and the other for the bell, to get that true soprano sound (Such as the AMT TA2 Double Soprano Microphone.)
AKG WMS45 / AKG C519ML Wireless Perception System
Perfect for: Smaller venues and functions, recreational and semi-pro players
This is by far our most popular set-up we have in store here at Sax.co.uk. AKG produce high quality musical equipment, and this microphone is no exception. The AKG system comes with both a wired and wireless options to suit all player’s needs (AKG C519M). The setting up of the equipment is very easy, as simple as plug in, matching the channels and playing away, ideal for a musician looking for simple and fast set-up! Your main restrictions will be in the tonal quality of the microphone and the restriction of channels. The sound will be ever so slightly coloured by the mic and having only four channels on the wireless system does restrict your choices, especially if your group are running multiple wireless systems. All in all, the Perception system is a reliable, hard working set up ideal for standard sized gigs!
Audio Technica System 10 / ATM350CW Digital Wireless System
Perfect for: Players sick of analogue systems, the active gigger and function player
The Audio Technica, much like the AKG system, has both a wired and wireless option available (Audio Technica PRO35), but the key selling point of the System 10 is the wireless set-up. Rather than a traditional analogue system, Audio Technica have opted for a digital system, completely avoiding the issue of signal clashing or not getting a channel all together. The ATM350CW microphone included in this package does give a more natural response to the sound than both the AKG C519 and the PRO 35, further making that live sound that bit more polished. There is some stigma against digital set-ups, with some players saying the sound response isn’t quite as authentic as an analogue system, and it can certainly be a little more awkward to synch the transmitter and receiver. Overall, the Audio Technica is the next step-up for the touring and gigging musician looking for an affordable, reliable wireless system!
DPA 4099 CORE Clip-on Microphone
Perfect for: Professional session and live players, musicians looking for a truly authentic live saxophone sound
When it comes to pure, raw performance, the DPA 4099 is near unparalleled. The clarity in tone, feedback response and quality of response is sublime. Typically, with cheaper microphones there is a lot of space around the note (typically reverb and other colours the microphone applied) but with the DPA system, all you get through the desk is the pure saxophone sound. This is bliss for any player looking for an authentic live sound. When getting the sound folded back into a monitor, as a player having that sound not be coloured by the microphone really helps home in tuning and levels, taking your live playing to the next level. It is worth noting that the DPA 4099 doesn’t come with a wireless system but can be used with both the AKG WMS45 and the Audio Technica System 10 (you do require an adaptor to make this work, so please bear this in mind). The DPA 4099 is also quite a delicate piece of kit and will not like being rough housed, not a piece of kit for the rowdier pub gig! All in all, the DPA is a very serious piece of kit for the very serious session and professional player!
DPA 4099 CORE CLIP ON SAX MICROPHONE
AUDIO TECHNICA SYSTEM 10 / DPA 4099 WIRELESS SYSTEM
AKG WMS45 / DPA4099 WIRELESS SYSTEM
AMT Quantum 7 Wireless – Channel 38Price: £1065 Perfect for: Players looking for the best sound quality, an abundance of channels and a transmitter that attaches to the microphone. If you are looking for the ultimate microphone set-up. The AMT is the way to go! AMT offer both a wireless and wired option to suit the needs of the player (AMT LSi) The microphone itself, much like the DPA 4099, is tip top quality, representing a true and authentic saxophone sound both for on-stage monitoring and output for the live performance. Unlike the DPA 4099, the AMT LS microphone has a metal guard around the sensitive moving components, making it far more hard wearing for those long tours! The wireless microphone also comes with the transmitter attached to the microphone, rather then being connected to a separate transmitter, this keeps things nice and tidy on stage and allows for complete freedom of movement. Where the AMT Quantum 7 really stands out is in its Channel 38 system. The Quantum 7 has 99 analogue channels and, with purchase of an annual pass, access to the 30 MHz band width, guaranteeing a free channel and no clashing with other devises. This set up is not cheap, by any means. But you pay for what you get, a top quality, professional set-up.
That’s a blast through some of our favourite rigs here at Sax.co.uk. There are variations on all these that can be explored both in the links in this blog as well as on our website and in-store. The best advice I can give you is to consider your work, consider your needs and to consider the care it will receive, and try them in our stores! We have the facilities ready for you to come down and give them a whirl and see what you feel! Ultimately, I recommend you keep making beautiful noise players, the guitarist should never be the loudest person at the gig!