The handheld microphone is a common strategy for reinforcing a speaker's voice during live presentations. Handheld microphones are very popular in standup comedy; in presentations that require audience participation, and are also used in large presentations (even if only as backups to lavalier or headset microphones).
Handheld microphones offer a speaker the freedom of mobility and are easily passed around between speakers and guests. Handheld microphones are typically easy to mount to mic stands if need be.
So what microphones work best as handhelds? I have one mic recommendation and one wireless system recommendation. They are:
- Shure SM58: The legendary Shure SM58 (link to check the price on Amazon) is a cardioid dynamic vocal microphones and is my recommended handheld mic for live speaking. It does an excellent job of isolating a performer's voice in live situations, it's durable, and it's very inexpensive. The 58 is one of the most popular vocal mics on the planet for a good reason and makes for an excellent live speaking handheld microphone.
- Shure PGXD24/SM58-X8 wireless system: The Shure PGXD24/SM58-X8 (link to check the price on Amazon) features the aforementioned SM58 microphone along with an inexpensive and highly effective wireless system. It's unlikely you'll find a better wireless microphone system for a better price.
Let's discuss the Shure SM58 and the PGXD24/SM58-X8 system in a bit more detail in this recommended microphone article.
“Best” is a dangerous word. There is really no such thing as a “best microphone” for any situation. The microphone(s) listed in my Recommended Microphones And Accessories” page are simply my recommendations. These recommendations are based on my own experience and are mindful of budget. It would be easy to suggest an ELA M 251 or U47 for most scenarios. However, these tube mics are very expensive, putting them out of a hobbyist's price range and making it difficult for professionals to make their money back on the gear.
Another important note is that the microphone or equipment you choose is not the most important part of recording audio. In fact, there are many factors that are arguably more important than the choice of microphone. These include:
- Performer (whether a musician, speaker, or otherwise)
- Microphone technique/placement
- Number of microphones used
- Natural sound of the room
- Content (whether that's the song, discussion, or otherwise)
- Signal chain (including mic cable, preamplifier, console, and/or interface/computer)
With that being said, some microphones and gear suit some instruments better than others, prompting this series of articles under “Recommended Microphones And Accessories.”
What Makes A Handheld Microphone Ideal For Live Speaking?
When looking for a handheld microphone tailored for live speakin, there are a few things to consider:
- Durability: Choose a microphone that can withstand some physical abuse. Chances are, at some point, your live vocal mic will get hit, dropped, or worse.
- Price: Whether you're making money from live speaking engagements or not, budgeting should be considered when purchasing a live handheld microphone.
- Cardioid Directional Polar Pattern: Select a cardioid directional microphone to work well with fold-back monitors and help with isolating the speaker from other sound sources.
- Presence Boost: A boost in sensitivity between 3-6 kHz helps improve speech intelligibility.
- High-Frequency Roll-Off: A roll-off of high frequencies help reduce the potential for feedback and harshness in the microphone signal.
- Low-Frequency Roll-Off: A roll-off of low frequencies reduces handling noise, vocal plosives, and low-end rumble in the microphone signal.
- Low Handling Noise: Choose a microphone with an isolated, shock mounted capsule within the mic body. This will greatly reduce the amount of handling noise (mechanical noise) transmitted from the speaker's hand to
- Size: The size of a handheld microphone affects how it’s used as a live vocal mic. Pick a microphone that is easy to hold for extended periods of time.
- Grille/Pop Filter: A grille/pop filter is critical is protecting the microphone diaphragm from foreign objects and from vocal plosives.
- Easy To Clean: Hygiene cannot be overstated when it comes to vocal microphones.
- Wireless: Although not essential, it’s a huge benefit in most live speaking events to have a wireless microphone.
Related reading: How To Hold A Microphone When Public Speaking And Presenting.
Let's look at the SM58 and PGXD24/SM58-X8 system through the lens of the above criteria.
The Shure SM58
The Shure SM58 is one of the most popular microphones in the word for live speaking.
The Shure SM58 is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
• 50 Best Microphones Of All Time (With Alternate Versions & Clones)
• Top 11 Best Dynamic Microphones On The Market
• Top 12 Best Microphones Under $150 For Recording Vocals
• Top 10 Best Microphones Under $500 for Recording Vocals
• Top 20 Best Microphones For Podcasting (All Budgets)
Shure is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
• Top Best Microphone Brands You Should Know And Use
• Top Best Headphone Brands In The World
• Top Best Earphone/Earbud Brands In The World
Let's discuss some of the specs that make the SM58 such a great handheld microphone for live speaking.
Durability Of The Shure SM58
The durability of any microphone is important. We want to protect our investments. Handheld public speaking microphones, when compared to high-end studio mics, are not only at higher risk of being dropped or hit, but also for getting soaked by water, beer, and saliva. Durability is a very important factor to consider when choosing a public speaking mic.
There are official Shure videos of the SM58 getting:
- Dropped from a helicopter
- Set on fire
- Submerged in beer
- Run over by a tour bus
- Shot by a 12-gauge shotgun
In each of the above scenarios, the SM58 came out functioning (though a bit beat up). I think it’s safe to say if the 58 can withstand that much abuse, it should be fine in any practical public speaking performance!
Polar Pattern Of The Shure SM58
The Shure SM58 is a cardioid microphone with the following polar response graph:
For more information on the cardioid microphone polar pattern, check out my article What Is A Cardioid Microphone? (Polar Pattern + Mic Examples).
Cardioid-type microphones are ideal for public events for two reasons:
- Isolating the speaker from other sound sources.
- More gain before feedback.
The SM58 is a top-address cardioid mic. It's sensitive to where it points and rejects sound from its rear. It dampens the sound slightly (an average of -6 dB) from its sides.
Holding the SM58 correctly and pointing the mic at your mouth will make it sensitive to your voice and less sensitive to everything else at an equal distance.
The cardioid microphone also gives us more gain before feedback if held correctly. Monitors are a common source of microphone feedback. Placing an omnidirectional microphone near a loudspeaker or pointing a directional microphone at a loudspeaker at a close distance is a recipe for microphone feedback.
However, holding the SM58 properly, pointing it away from monitors and other loudspeakers will allow more gain and a stronger vocal signal before feedback.
For more information on microphone feedback, check out my article 12 Methods To Prevent & Eliminate Microphone/Audio Feedback.
Frequency Response Of The Shure SM58
The frequency response of the Shure SM58 is given as 50 Hz – 15,000 Hz. The SM58 frequency response graph is as follows:
The ~5 dB boost between 3.5 kHz – 6 kHz in the SM58 tailors it for vocals. The sibilance and intelligibility of human speech resides in this range of the audible frequency spectrum.
The high-frequency roll-off starting around 10 kHz effectively filters out the brilliance of the room while still allowing the human voice to shine through. This roll-off effectively strips away what we don't need, focusing the microphone on the important vocal frequencies.
The low-frequency roll off of the 58 starts just above 100 Hz. This roll-off helps reduce the amount of low-end and mechanically transmitted noise the microphone will pick up. Microphone handling noise, vocal plosives, and low-end stage noise are common culprits of this unwanted noise.
- Handling noise happens when the microphone (or mic stand) is touched or bumped.
- Vocal plosives are the “pops” that happen from a vocalist’s mouth during the sounds P, B, T, D, K, and G. Plosives often cause large low-frequency spikes in a microphone signal.
- Low-end rumble comes from the stage and is often caused by traffic, power mains, and the Earth itself.
For more information on microphone frequency response, check out my article Complete Guide To Microphone Frequency Response (With Mic Examples).
For more information on microphone vocal plosives, check out my article Top 10 Tips For Eliminating Microphone Pops And Plosives.
Shock Mounting/Handling Noise Of The Shure SM58
The Shure SM58 features a pneumatic shock mount system around its capsule that helps to drastically cut down on handling noise.
There's nothing worse than hearing every movement of a speaker's hand on the microphone. This noise is the SM58 is practically negligible and nothing to worry about.
Size Of The Shure SM58
The SM58 measures 162mm (6 3/8 in) long, 51 mm (2 in) in grille diameter, and roughly 24 mm (1 in) at the small end of the handle. This microphone is very easy to hold in your hard for an extended period of time. It also fits nicely in most generic mic clips and mic stands.
Grille And Cleaning Of The Shure SM58
The large grille of the SM58 offers excellent protection for its capsule. The grille is made of perforated metal in a spherical shape and includes an acoustic foam in its interior.
As mentioned earlier, the grille acts as a sort of pop filter, helping to reduce the amount of plosives in the microphone capsule.
The grille also provides some support in the higher-end of the SM58’s frequency response. The inner cavity of the grille has a resonant frequency which helps the SM58 respond superbly to vocals.
The grille is designed to crumple in on itself if subjected to great physical force (ie: getting dropped from a helicopter). This malleability of the grille helps the microphone absorb shock that would otherwise be transferred directly to the capsule, further improving microphone durability.
The grille of the SM58 is removable, which plays an essential in maintaining microphone hygiene. A public speaking microphone will be subjected to more than the words that come out of our mouths. The grille of an SM58 is likely to come in contact with saliva, sweat, beer, and even food.
Cleaning the grille of this nastiness is essential for keeping good microphone hygiene. The SM58 is simple to clean.
- Remove the grille assembly from the microphone.
- Submerge a toothbrush’s bristles in mouthwash (or mild detergent) mixed with water.
- Gently scrub the microphone grille from the outside with the toothbrush
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the entire grille has been washed
- Allow the grille assembly to dry overnight before reassembly.
You may remove the acoustic foam to check for degradation. If the foam appears worn out or damaged, it’s worth considering replacing the grille.
For more information on microphone grilles, check out my article What Are Microphone Grilles And Why Are They Important?
Price Of The Shure SM58
SM58s are typically under $100 USD. You will not find a cheaper microphone with the same durability and quality as the SM58 (unless you're looking for an SM57)!
Budgeting is important in any aspect of life. Building your microphone locker is no exception. Many professionals require several vocal microphones to do their jobs. The SM58 is an effective solution.
Public speakers benefit from having their own SM58 for rehearsals, hygiene, and self-reliance (in case a venue doesn't supply vocal mics). They will also benefit from having at least one backup
Venue owners and audio technicians should also carry around multiple SM58s. We just never know when they'll come in handy or how many vocal mics we'll need in a given scenario.
The Shure PGXD24/SM58-X8 Wireless System
The Shure PGXD24/SM58-X8 wireless system gets my top recommendation for a live wireless microphone system. It's at the top of its price range and works perfectly for most practical speaking engagements requiring vocal reinforcement.
This wireless mic features all the same specs of the SM58 mentioned above, only without the need for a mic cable to transmit its signal.
This wireless system uses 24-bit digital audio and gives 200′ (60m) operating range without losing audio quality. It's also got auto frequency selection and excellent reliability thanks to its true digital diversity.
For an amazing price, the Shure PGXD24/SM58-X8 gives us all the good stuff we need in a wireless microphone system.
For more information on wireless microphones, check out my article How Do Wireless Microphones Work?
Size Of The Shure PGXD
The Shure PGXD attaches to an SM58 capsule in this wireless system. The PGDX can be thought of as the handheld mic's handle.
The Shure PGXD is wider and longer than the original SM58 since batteries and a wireless transmitter must fit within this “handle.” The Shure PGXD/SM58, therefore, is slightly more difficult to hold than the
Price Of The Shure PGXD24/SM58-X8
At under $400, the PGXD24/SM58-X8 is very cost-effective.
As a quick recap, the Shure SM58 is my top recommended handheld microphone for live speaking. The Shure PGXD24/SM58-X8 wireless system features a wireless version of the SM58 and is often a better choice than simply using a 58 with a mic cable.
- Sennheiser e935
- Sennheiser e835
- Shure Beta 87A
For all the My New Microphone mic/gear recommendations, please check out my page Recommended Microphones And Accessories.