Choosing The Right Microphone For Stage Performances

by Andrew Hughes and Graham Caplin – 12th April, 2018

Choosing The Right Microphone

Choosing the right microphone can be confusing, and it seems as if a degree in electronics would be a bonus! Schools, conferences, the entertainment industry and a dozen other areas use microphones all the time. Are all these people technical geniuses? Rest assured, you don’t need a university degree to pick the right microphone for the job.

In this article we’ll explain some basic terminology, and provide a guide to making the right choice every time.

Microphone Terminology

Here are some of the terms you’re likely to encounter:

Omnidirectional microphone – a mic which picks up sound in every direction around it. This is ideal for lapel mics, because the user tends to move their head in relation to the microphone capsule. You often see presenters on television wearing these pointing down. In fact, because they are onmidirectional the direction doesn’t matter. They are worn upside down to prevent what’s known as ‘popping’ – breath from the wearer hitting the microphone capsule and creating a ‘pop’ sound.

Cardioid microphone – a mic which is very sensitive at the front, less so at the sides, and almost not at all at the back. Handheld vocal microphones are typically cardioid, and the word refers to the shape of the pickup pattern (see diagram).

Supercardioid and hypercardioid microphones – more defined versions of the cardioid mic.

Unidirectional microphone – a mic that mainly picks up sound in the direction in which it is pointing. (Note: these do still pick up some sound around them, but they are optimised for a single direction).

The Cardioid polar pattern

Cardioid microphone pattern.
Super- and Hypercardioid patterns are more severe

Picking the Correct Microphone Type

Now that you understand the basic microphone types, let’s look at some of the most common ways to use them for stage performances.

On stage:

Stageline HSE150 Headset Microphone

Stageline HSE150 headset mic

• For performers in a live show with singing and dancing or movement, we recommend an omnidirectional headset mic. Our chopice is the the Stageline HSE150. Remember to position it close to the mouth, but not too close or you might hear strange popping and rustling noises. It’s best to experiment.

Sennheiser ME3 Headset Microphone

Sennheiser ME3 headset mic

• If the performers are likely to be very close to a loudspeaker, you could always consider using a directional mic pointed directly at the mouth. The Sennheiser ME3 headset would be ideal for this. Some may find their appearance bulky. But they are great at avoiding howlround if performers walk too close to loudspeakers.

Sennheiser G3 Handheld Microphones

a pair of Sennheiser handheld mics

• Certain performers, particularly singers, prefer to use a handheld radio mic such as the Sennheiser G3 EW345. These directional microphones are great at preventing feedback, if the singer walks too close to a loudspeaker.

Tape-to-Face Microphone

a tape-to-face, or ‘head’ mic

• Lapel mics generally aren’t used on stage because they must be placed too far from the mouth which makes them more susceptible to feedback. However you can always tape-to-face mics, which are attached to the performer’s temple or cheek using surgical tape. Again, you may need to experiment with mic positioning to get the best results.

Audio Technica AT897 Shotgun Microphone

the Audio Technica AT897 shotgun mic

• Finally you may need to pick up the sound from the chorus at the back of the stage. It would be very expensive and complex to put a microphone on each chorus member. So it’s generally best to use rifle (or “shotgun”) mics such as the Audio Technica AT897. These are very directional, and you either position them at the side of the stage, or hang them on the lighting bar using special clamps which we supply. You need several of these, pointed at different sections of the chorus to pick up the whole performance. Bear in mind that these microphones are not wireless, so you’ll need to run a cable from the mic to the mixing desk.

We know that microphone types can be bewildering, as many of our customers have never used them for their stage performances before. For more information please call us on 020 3355 8188, or take a look at our radio mic page: