You need a special kind of mic for a live performance.
Unlike studio singing, where clarity is the most important feature, when you are singing live, you need a mic that is able to ignore all the background noise and only pick up the desired audio source: your voice.
This means you want a dynamic microphone. Condenser mics might sound better, but they are too sensitive for live performances. They pick up everything. (If you need a mic for recording, not performing, head here.)
Luckily, dynamic microphones are far less expensive. But a lot of them sound terrible. You want to make sure you get a good one. Figuring out which ones are good takes a lot of time and reseach.
We did all that research for you and narrowed the options down to a handful of microphones. We definitely took price into account, too. There are better mics than the ones we chose, but they cost far more. The microphones below are the best overall values. They give you the perfect combination of high performance and reasonable price.
Summary: Best Mics For Live Vocals
A lot of readers wrote in saying they didn’t want to read through all the reviews and just wanted me to tell them which mic is best. That’s why I added this short section.
Best Mic Overall For Performing Live
The best overall mic is the Shure SM58S. It is not the highest quality mic (see below for the best premium option), but it offers the best overall value. It sells at a lower price than all similar microphones and still delivers the same or better sound quality. Plus, it is virtually indestructible.
Best Budget Mic For Live Performances
Our favorite low-cost mic is the Behringer Ultravoice Xm8500. The sound quality obviously doesn’t come close to the top models, but it’s pretty good considering the ultra-low price.
Best Premium Mic For A Live Performance
The best high-quality microphone is the Sennheiser e945. It delivers an exceptional sound quality that is as good as you’ll get from a dynamic mic and more than justifies the high price. Plus, it comes with a 10-year warranty, making the purchase as risk-free as possible.
Shure SM58S — The Best Vocal Microphone For Live Performances
The Shure SM58S Vocal Microphone is the best microphone for singing live. It combines a low price with high build quality and every feature you need.
Sure, there are much better sounding mics available, but they cost a lot more. The SM58S is plenty of mic for most purposes and that is why you find it in use everywhere. Many professional singers and presenters swear by it, like Roger Daltrey, Paul McCartney, Henry Rollins, Patti Smith, Alice Cooper, Buddy Guy, Cheap Trick, G. Love, Martina McBride, Megadeth and many more (source).
The SM58 is well-known to be practically indestructable. Stories abound of bands that have abused theirs to no end, but it just won’t stop working. This mic is basically the same as the slightly cheaper SM57. They only difference is the addition of a ball grille that functions as a P-pop filter, making the SM58 better suited for vocals, while the SM57 is better for instrumentals.
Furthermore, it has a frequency response specifically tailored for vocals (50 to 15,000 Hz), with brightened mid-range and bass roll-off. Its cardioid pickup pattern isolates the main sound source and minimizes any background noise, making it perfect for a live performance. Even better, a pneumatic shock-mount system cuts down on handling noise.
Naturally, a microphone that has been around as long as the SM58 and that sells for such a low price is going to have some drawbacks. The sound quality just isn’t on par with more modern and more expensive models. The biggest issue is a severe drop between 7 and 8 kHz.
Ironically, this has actually become a trademark of the mic. Many rock stars from the past several decades used this mic, so when you sing through this deficiency, you actually end up sounding a bit like those rock stars. This has made the mic more popular, not less.
The SM58 won the MI Pro Retail Survey “Best Live Microphone” award in both 2007 and 2008. It was also honored with a Gold Medal in the Player’s Choice Awards by Acoustic Guitar magazine in 2011. It’s not the best by any means, but it’s the best value. It is almost certainly the best selling mic of all time as well, since it has been around for so long.
- Virtually indestructible
- Frequency response tailored for vocals (50 to 15,000 Hz)
- Uniform cardioid pickup pattern isolates main sound source and minimizes background noise
- Lots of knock-offs on the market
- Severe drop between 7 and 8 kHz
Runner-Ups: Two Great Alternatives
AKG D5 — A Lower-Priced Option That Still Delivers Quality Sound
The AKG D5 Vocal Dynamic Microphone is a bit of a step down in quality, especially in terms of durability. But it is also a step down in price and the sound quality is almost equal to the SM58.
The D5 was specifically designed for lead and backing vocals. It features AKG’s patented laminated varimotion diaphragm and a super-cardioid polar pattern that allows for maximum gain before producing any feedback. This mic delivers a powerful sound, no matter how noisy the stage.
The D5 from AKG has dual shock mount that eliminates any kind of mechanical noise, making it perfect for live use. It also has a built-in pop filter. With this mic, you get a crystal-clear reproduction of your voice that cuts through any mix. And you get it for a shockingly low price.
Sennheiser e865 — The Best Condenser Microphone For Singing Live
The Sennheiser e865 Lead Vocal Condenser Microphone is the only condenser microphone on this list. Generally, condenser mics are preferred for studio recording, while dynamic mics are better suited for the stage. Dynamic mics also cost a lot less. For the same price as a condenser mic, you can get a much higher quality dynamic one.
The e865 is far from the top condenser mic on the market. Those cost well over $500. Many of them go for more than $1000. The e865 sells for well under $500, but is still an exceptionally high quality mic. It can handle 99% of all applications and is more than enough for even professional singers.
It has large dual diaphragms that come as close as possible to the sound quality of Sennheiser’s top studio mics. It has a frequency response of 40 to 20,000 Hz and easily handles very high levels of sound. It also comes with a shock-mounted capsule and a built-in pop and wind shield.
Overall, I would recommend a dynamic mic for any type of live singing but if you will also be using it in the studio, it makes sense to spend more and go with a condenser microphone. And with his particular condenser mic, you don’t even have to spend all that much more. Plus, it comes with a 10-year warranty.
Behringer Xm8500 — The Best Microphone For Singing Live On A Budget
The Behringer Ultravoice Xm8500 Dynamic Vocal Microphone is easily the best budget microphone for singing live and really the only decent one that sells for under $50. I’ve even seen it on sale for less than $20.
Given the price, this is a very impressive microphone, but it obviously doesn’t come close to the other ones listed here. It does a great job projecting voices with a smooth mid-frequency presence rise and a frequency response of 50 Hz to 15 kHz. A very high signal output ensures your voice always cuts through the mix.
A cardioid polar pattern minimizes background noise and feedback, a shock mount system cuts down on handling noise, and a built-in spherical wind and pop filter handles plosives and noise from air currents. Behringer bundles the mic with a stand adapter and an impact-resistant carrying case
I would not recommend this mic to any professional performer, but if you just want to sing for fun or do some home karaoke, it is more than adequate. The sound quality is nowhere near the other mics listed here and there is no on/off switch on the mic. That said, given the price, the quality you get here is actually quite amazing.
- Frequency response of 50 to 15,000 Hz — not great, but good for the price
- Built-in two-stage wind and pop filter
- Sturdy, reliable metal construction and electromagnetic shielding
- Extremely low price
- Sound quality is far below the other mics on this page
- No on/off switch on the mic
Sennheiser e945 — The Highest-Quality Microphone For Singing Live
The Sennheiser e945 Supercardioid Dynamic Handheld Mic is the best choice for a live singer, not counting all the obscenely expensive options. This mic gives you everything you need while still being affordable. The only reason it’s not out top choice is because the SM58 is so much cheaper.
The e945 is a supercardioid mic designed specifically with lead vocals in mind. It always produces a smooth response and has a shock-mounted capsule that minimizes the effects of impact and handling noise. It contains a neodymium ferrous magnet with boron that ensures the mic remains stable regardless of climate.
It is constructed entirely from metal and it is rugged and reliable as a result. It ships with a protective pouch and a mic clip. Like all Sennheiser microphones, it comes with a 10-year warranty. If you can afford it, this is the dynamic mic we recommend. If you’re looking for the best overall value, we rank the Shure SM58 slightly above it.
- Extremely high-quality sound that’s as good as you’ll get from a dynamic mic
- Supercardioid pickup pattern — insulates the main source from other on-stage signals
- Wide frequency range from 40 Hz to 20 kHz
- 10-year warranty
- Higher price
- No on/off switch
None of the microphones here come with an XLR cable, which you are going to need (few mics include the cable). You may also need a microphone stand, unless you plan on hand-holding it all the time.
Amazon is the best place to get both. The links below will take you there.