What is it about live recordings that make them so much more appealing than any other kind of recording?
The sound. If you’re experiencing a great performance, the room mic’s pick up every last nuance.
You may not even need to edit out mistakes or bad notes.
I know it can be hard sometimes to set up a room mic without feeling like your audience might see you as weird and intrusive – but I promise that if the performer is okay with it, the payoff can be amazing.
Probably the most common room mic is just a ribbon mic or other directional mic placed above the performers, pointing down at them.
Another good option is to use a stereo pair, either spaced apart or in an X/Y configuration, that tracks with the performers as they move about on stage.
Let’s have a glance over some of the best room mics for live recordings.
Many budget condenser mics such as the AKG 414 and 451 are good candidates for room mics, because of their low noise and ability to handle high SPLs.
Professional room mics are also excellent choices.
The Shure Beta 52 (pictured below) is a good, affordable mic with a large diaphragm, the Sony C42FET is made from a tough alloy and handles high SPLs well, and the AKG D112 is very affordable and sounds really great.
How to Choose a Room Microphone for Live Recordings
There are many options for recording room mics, so it’s important to narrow them down by considering the following questions.
1. What kind of performer do you have?
Some mics will sound better on one kind of musician than others. For example, the Shure 451 ribbons are great on trumpet players, but not so great on saxophonists. A good live recording requires capturing a lot of information in as minimal space as possible to avoid sounding sterile or “out of tune”.
2. What kind of space do you have to work with?
This depends on the size of the venue. At a very large outdoor festival like Coachella, I would never use an ambient mic, but at a small nightclub or club stage or a performance in a home, a ribbon mic is great. For best results, consider making this your first consideration when arranging the room – listen for the type of sound you want and make sure what you’re using will be able to get there comfortably and easily.
3. How much do you need to capture?
Some things just can’t be recorded with a ribbon mic or a pair of condensers. Live recordings are often used for promotional purposes – maybe you’re using them to fill out your back catalog with new tracks, or think of them as an additional marketing tool for touring artists. If this is the case, make sure you have enough room on the recording medium to capture everything you need from the performance.
4. What’s the environment like?
If you’re recording outside, wind can be a big problem. If you’re indoors, the venue may have a lot of echo or other undesired effects. Make sure whatever mic you choose is made to handle these situations. Most ribbons and some large-diaphragm condensers are made to handle extremely high and very low SPLs as well, so they’re good choices for this purpose.
5. What’s kind of acoustics?
Tiny rooms and loud guitars can make a huge difference. If the room is large and the mic/performer placement is far from the walls, you may not be able to get enough detail. Try to find an optimal spot that will give you a wide soundstage while still giving you enough detail. Example: to record a live performance in an empty arena, put your mic down on a stage in front of the audience during an intermission (while it’s quiet).
6. What are your recording needs?
Are you making a live album, or just using this recording as a single piece of marketing for a band? If it’s an album, you may want to use multiple mics and record them to separate tracks so you can EQ them individually later on. If it’s only going to be used as one single track, I recommend not trying to do too much with the mic in the way of effects and just try to get the best sound possible in the best sounding room possible.
7. What type of music is being played?
If the music is loud, make sure your mic is up to the task. Also consider the kind of sound you’re trying to achieve – sometimes, certain types of live albums sound better with a dirty, raw sound that has a lot less polish than the studio tracks. If that’s what you’re going for, try to keep your mics away from any walls or other reflective surfaces like stage lights or any other equipment that could be in the room.
5 Best Room Microphones for Live Recording
1. Shure SM7B
With the Shure SM7B you can get everyone in a room sound perfectly balanced when capturing your live performance. It is not only the best compact microphone for live recording, but it is also a studio mic, and works well as such too. The Shure SM7B is small and lightweight enough to carry around without being cumbersome, and has a smooth metal body that feels great when you are holding it.
2. Neumann U87 Ai Studio Microphone
The Neumann U87 Ai Studio Microphone is a condenser microphone that features an attractive and ergonomic design. This mic is a result of the partnership between Neumann and Universal Audio. It can capture sounds with incredible depth, richness, detail, sensitivity, and fullness that are unmatched by many other microphones in its class.
This microphone features excellent sonic properties for voice recording and broadcast use as well as for studio duties such as acoustic instrument recording, drum overheads or close miking drums (or guitar amplifiers). The U87 has also been used on countless hit records to provide the vocal sound desired by the top producers in the industry today.
3. AKG C414 XLII
The AKG C414 XLII is designed for home recording. It has the same features as other top-end models, but with a lower price tag. In addition, the C414 XLII is a large-diaphragm condenser microphone that is primarily used in the home recording studio. The mic features a large-diaphragm (19mm), a frequency response from 20Hz to 20kHz, and can be used with either battery or phantom power, giving it the versatility needed for both studio and live applications.
4. Sennheiser MD 421 II
The Sennheiser MD 421 II is an affordable, highly versatile microphone that can easily be used for studio recording and live performance. The microphone comes with both a shock mount and 10′ of Mogami Gold 1/2″ cable, making it easy to set up without any extra accessories. The ribbon design makes the mic lightweight, meaning you can take it with you on the go, while its contoured body makes it comfortable to use for extended periods of time. With its low cost and great sound quality, this is a great option for anyone looking to make high-quality recordings in their home or studio without spending a lot of money.
5. Audio-Technica AT4040
The Audio-Technica AT4040 is an excellent option for both the home studio and live sound applications. The microphone features a large diaphragm that can accurately reproduce both highs and lows, providing professional quality audio. The AT4040 provides a built-in switchable 80/100v transformer, making it great for both studio and live applications. It also comes with a high-quality case to protect the microphone when it’s not in use.
In addition, the microphone can also be used with battery power, which is convenient for musicians performing in live situations. The AT4050 features a HF roll-off switch, allowing you to easily change the frequency response of the microphone for high quality results every time.
How do I mic a room for live recording?
To mic a room for live recording, you need to locate the main source of the sound. This will usually be the microphone in use or audio output from your computer. Then, you need to find a way to isolate that sound without disturbing the mic-ing process. You can set up walls and pieces of furniture around that location so people can’t hear it which is helpful when recording.
Once you’ve located the microphone and isolated it from other noise, make sure your levels are high enough before pressing record on your software’s timeline.
Which microphone is best for live vocals?
There are a lot of mics that work for live vocal recordings, but it all depends on what type of sound you’re looking for and which mics you have access too. Some good suggestions are: SM-57, Rode NT1-A, AKG C451B, and Shure SM7B
Which microphone is best for home recording?
The microphone you use for recording will be determined by your personal preference and how much you have available. Some of the best mics are: Audio-Technica AT2020, Blue Snowball, AT-3350, Sennheiser Microphone, and Roland R-05.