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Bass is an underrated and often underappreciated aspect of any mix. Anyone who knows audio, however, is well aware of how important a good bass sound is. Getting the right sound is key, and as such, you have to know how to mic a bass amp for live sound properly, starting with the right equipment, if you truly want to pack the dance floor or motivate any crowd to move. Today, we explore the best mics for bass guitars and amps for use in the recording studio, home recordings and especially live shows.
In any big hall, theatre or football stadium (think of any Superbowl), you want to have your stage volume well-controlled so the engineers can mix appropriately for the given environment. In outdoor functions, your stage volume is really just a reference for the FOH (front of house) engineer. And everything starts with the microphone.
Mo’ Mics. Mo’ Problems
Whenever you decide to fill a stage with mics, you’re going to run into a few nightmares for the audience as well as the engineer. This is because any mic worth its salt will pick up all other sounds in the hall or on stage. This is known in some engineering circles as “bleed.” For this reason, acoustic instruments are notoriously tough to amplify and mix on stage.
If the stage is hollow, sound (especially low frequencies) will travel through the floor and can cause serious low-end rumble from the ground and up the mic stand, ultimately transferring these vibrations into what’s known sonically as “mud.” With a stage full of mics, tracing feedback issues becomes nigh impossible.
The best solution to this is to use a high-quality DI (Direct In). This way you know you can depend on a direct signal when mixing, regardless of any issues your mic’d amp will provide. In fact, with a high-quality direct box and a decent mic, you really don’t have much to worry about. As long as you choose the right polar pattern. Polar patterns refer to the manner in which your microphone receives input (your source of sound). With a figure eight polar pattern, sound is picked up in front of the microphone as well as from the rear, but not to the side (90-degree angles). Mics with this polar pattern are typically ribbons or Large Diaphragm Mics. Below are a few to consider. We’ll cover DI’s later in the article.
Mic Suggestions for Live Sound Work:
- AKG D112
- Shure Beta 52
- Sennheiser MD 421 II
- Audix D6
- Notable Mention: Heimu Bass
Often called the ‘Egg mic,’ the D112 is a dynamic microphone with a reputation for picking up bass frequencies exceptionally well. The D112 MK ii and the unique are both still available, and will do an amazing job when it comes to recording bass drums (kick drums), acoustic or electric bass. The large diaphragm of this microphone is the main reason it has such an aptitude for picking up low vibrations. A simple boost in the frequency at 4 kHz does a remarkable job of cutting through any mix, and adding this touch at the EQ stage will make your bass amp really stand out.
There is a built-in compensation trait to this mic that strips away the humming noise we often get with lower recordings. Overall, the D112 is incredible. To call it hard-wearing and rugged is an understatement. In many years of audio production, I have yet to go into a high-end recording studio that doesn’t have a D112.
Shure BETA 52A Super Cardioid:
Most ‘best of’ lists for microphones tend to suggest at least one model from the Shure company. Shure is one of the world’s best makers of microphones and their products are used for a variety of instruments and situations. The 52A is similar in to the AKG D112 in that it is built to sit inside a kick drum if needed. The range frequency of this mic is perfect for both bass drums and bass guitar amps. A shock-mounted system means the mic rejects all unwanted buzz and noise we mentioned earlier when micing bass. Its grille is made of quality steel, which means it can withstand the abuse most mics get in years of studio and live stage use.
Sennheiser MD 421 II Cardioids Dynamic Mic
Next is another well-known brand. Sennheiser is the most popular for their headphones, but their mics are equally impressive. It’s also important to consider a microphone that isn’t designed solely for bass frequencies. The MD 421 (now in its mark II iteration) picks up frequencies brilliantly in general, but a huge amount of audio engineers report it providing a meaty sound for bass amps and electric guitars among other devices.
Though the D112 and 52A are amazing mics for picking up low-end, the MD 421 is more adaptable. You may reach for a difference mic when tracking live, but for the best studio recordings of a bass, I reach for the MD. This is a cardioid, condenser mic, and as such is very responsive. With any of these options, be sure to experiment with mic placement. Positioning has a huge effect on the sound when recording from an amplifier, regardless of what mic you have at your disposal.
Audix D6 Dynamic Microphone
Much like the D112, the Audix D6 is an inevitable inclusion to this list. It’s often referred for bassists in studios as it is hard to argue with the quality. Built with bass drums and cabs in mind, the Audix mic has a response that can pick up frequencies as low as 30 HZ. Features are relatively limited, but this is a reliable mic with a brilliant VFM capsule. The Audix D6 is built similarly to the D112 and the Shure Beta 52, but once you hear the difference, you’ll know exactly when to use it. Of course, there’s no such thing as over preparation, so an investment in all three is one you can be sure you won’t regret.
Notable Mention: Heimu Bass Drum Microphone
Before I include this mic, I should make clear you probably won’t see a Heimu bass mic in any high-end studio any time soon. As far as mics go, this one isn’t as well-made as the others on this list and is designed to be a cheaper option for home recordings and hobbyists. Getting a set of mics for your setup can be costly, especially if you’re just starting out, but that doesn’t mean beginners are left out of luck. The Heimu is a great option for those who need something that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
Direct In’s (DI’s)
As far as quality DI’s go, there is no shortage of companies making quality DI’s out there. Some of my favorites are:
- Basswitch IQ-DI
- Aguilar Tone Hammer
The Basswitch and Tone Hammer both have the great EQ’s as well as a low noise floor. The REDDI has little control but adds a good warmth to your sound. Once, while on a touring gig, I added a Two Tone Cabinet Simulator in front of the Basswitch since the set was completely amp-less. No amps means everything is direct to our in-ears. When there’s nothing but clean signal coming from everyone on stage, the engineer has full control over the mix. While this is a dream for your front-of-house engineer, it can be a bit challenging for everyone on stage. Don’t forget those guys need to hear each other (and themselves) for it all to work! The shows sounded incredible, but the experience was more akin to a studio. It was admittedly tough turning that into a live vibe, but the amp simulator helped everyone feel more comfortable on stage because it closely resembled the tone everyone was used to.
How to Mic a Bass Amp for Live Sound Conclusion
We’ve discussed bass mics at a few different price ranges in consideration of everyone’s budget, but there’s little denying that this list has some heavy hitters. If you still find yourself in despair, don’t give up hope just yet. Where there is a will, there is a way. A quick visit to google and a few clicks may even surface some pre-used but powerful microphones for half the retail price of anything listed above. And if you really know how to mix, the untrained ear may never notice the difference. Add any well-built DI to your live setup and you’re halfway home.
Happy hunting, and as always, have fun!