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!
What is special about a sax mic?
The first consideration you must have when deciding whether to make the move to a mic is that pretty much all saxophone microphones are condenser microphones. This means that the microphone always needs power going into the microphone for it to work, rather than vocal 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 mixing desk 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”). If you are just looking to get volume from a standard amp, this might not be able to provide the Phantom Power you need, therefore making your fancy new clip-on microphone a bit pointless. So, do consider what gear you have, or what gear the venue has before investing (though in this modern day most gear will provide this power, and there are Phantom Power pedals available on the market to provide power to equipment that doesn’t have the specs).
Wired or Wireless?
The next question you need to ask yourself is whether to go wireless or not. When you go with a wired clip-on mic, you do get a more stable connection, as you are quite literally plugging yourself into the desk. This means you don’t have to worry about any additional equipment and signal clashing. You will also save money this way as you will not need as much gear. Your downside is that you will be trailing wires around the whole time you’re playing. This means that, though you won’t be restricted to one spot as you would with a standard microphone, you will be trailing a series of cables behind you, which you will be very conscious of whilst you’re playing. This would also be massively impractical if the PA system is a good distance away from where you’re performing. For that reason, most people elect for a wireless system. The immediate thing you notice is that you have pretty much complete freedom of movement. The only cable you will have is the one connecting from the microphone to the transmitter. This will give you the desired movement required for both general comforts, the health and safety of yourself and the audience from unnecessary cabling, expanding any distance between the desk and the performance area and absolutely nailing those choreographed dances with the other horns. For those reasons we have found that the wireless systems are far more practical and desirable.
Does a microphone vary that much?
That is a question I once asked a studio technician to see their response, it didn’t go down too well. There are many differences between microphones, even in an area a little more niche such as saxophone microphones. The main differences between models and where you will invest your money is are the following:
Microphone quality: Now this may seem obvious, because it is. The better something is made, the better it will be in every aspect. The quality of the build will also greatly affect the longevity of the microphone, the quality of the sound produced and the ease of use of the devise. A poorly made microphone will feel cheap, will breakdown and, especially if it is running wirelessly, will be temperamental to set up. Thankfully here at Sax.co.uk we don’t stock bad microphones. So, the money you invest will go into the smaller details.
Robustness: A robust microphone doesn’t exclusively mean how hardy the piece of kit is. Saxophone microphones in fact are a little more sensitive to damage then your typical vocal microphone. This is due to the electrical current moving the tiny parts in the mic. If this were to take a heavy knock or have beer poured over it, it does stand a significant chance of breaking (believe me, I know). Having a microphone with a more robust build quality, especially around the more sensitive moving parts, will help with the longevity of the equipment.
Responsiveness: This will be of great importance with wireless systems. When you are in the heat of a gig, you want to be assured that your mic will be relaying exactly what you’re playing in the moment. The last thing you want is a slight delay in response or signal clashing. The money you invest will go into the quality of response from the transmitter and receiver, as well as the ease of getting onto a channel! Channels are typically analogue, meaning depending on the frequency you get, you might end up with clashing on certain channels with other wireless equipment and devices on similar frequencies, such as police radios!
Sound Quality: This is where your money goes. The issue with cheaper microphones is that they will colour your sound ever so slightly, not giving you the “true” saxophone sound. If this will be an issue all depends on yourself as a player. If you are gigging on a smaller scale, in the local pub or music venue, or if you are looking for a microphone for sonic exploration, then this won’t be an issue. However, if you are looking for the authentic saxophone sound without the microphone compensating for its lack of responsiveness by adding colour, you will want to consider investing more into your microphone.
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!