Best Microphones For Miking Bass Guitar Cabinets

So it’s come time to record and you’ve got your bass amp sounding perfect. Which microphone would best capture this awesome sound coming from the bass guitar cabinet?

I’ve experimented with quite a few microphones when recording bass cabinets. Early in my career, I’d always use a combination of microphones:

  • Shure Beta52, AKG D112, or Sennheiser e602 for the bottom end
  • Shure SM57/58 or Sennheiser MD421 for the top end

But have recently subscribed to the “less is more” mentality and think that using one microphone to capture the entire frequency range of a bass cabinet is a better choice. The Electro-Voice RE20 is a superb microphone for this purpose, but I have one microphone that I’d recommend more.

My recommended microphone for bass guitar cabinets is the Heil PR40 (link to check the price on Amazon). This microphone is an absolute joy on bass cabinets, accurately reproducing the frequencies of the bass guitar in any style of playing. It’s clean, punchy, and practically immune from extraneous noise for every that’s not the bass cabinet.

Let’s dig into the details of this microphone and see why it’s my top recommended choice for miking up bass cabinets!


Disclaimer:

“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)
  • Instrument
  • 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 Does A Bass Cabinet Sound Like?

When choosing a microphone for any application, it’s to our great advantage to know the characteristics of the sound source. So what does a bass guitar through a bass amplifier/cabinet sound like? Let’s start with the bass guitar:

Frequency Range Of Bass Guitar

  • Overall Range: 41 Hz ~ 5,200 Hz (weak harmonics may be heard above 5,200 Hz)
  • Fundamentals range: 41 Hz – 370 Hz (4 strings, 21 frets, standard tuning) or 30 Hz – 370 Hz (5 strings, 21 frets, standard tuning)
  • Harmonics range: 82 Hz ~ 5,200 Hz or 60 Hz ~5,200 Hz
  • Important Harmonics: First harmonics (60 Hz – 740 Hz)

Quality bass guitar cabinets will accurately reproduce the above frequency range. Note that distortion will saturate the harmonic content of the bass guitar, effectively increasing the amplitude of the harmonics and overtones.

So we want a microphone that will accurately capture the true sound of the bass and the amp/cabinet it’s running through. On top of this, there are a few more criteria to keep in mind when choosing the best bass cabinet microphone.


What Factors Make An Excellent Bass Guitar Cabinet Microphone?

  • Wide/Bass Frequency Response: Choose a microphone that will effectively reproduce the fundamental frequencies and the important first harmonics of the bass guitar. It’s also important to capture the “upper” harmonics (that go up above 5 kHz).
  • Pop Filter: Bass cabinets have the potential to move a lot of air. In more percussive styles of playing, these blasts of air can overload a microphone capsule. Pick a mic with adequate protection from plosives and blasts of air.
  • High Maximum Sound Pressure Level: Bass cabinets can also get very loud. Bass frequencies have the tendency to distort microphones, so choosing a microphone with a very high max SPL rating is always a safe bet.
  • Directionality: Select a microphone with a directional cardioid-type polar pattern. This will help to isolate the bass cabinet if in a room with other instruments. A directional microphone will also exhibit the proximity effect to some degree, boosting its bass response to better capture the low fundamentals of the bass guitar.

The Heil PR40 As A Bass Cabinet Microphone

Heil PR40

The Heil PR40 sound absolutely amazing on bass guitar cabinets. It accurately captures the sound of the cabinet from the frequencies/tonality to the punchiness of the bass guitar. Let’s discuss this beautiful microphone according to the above criteria for an ideal bass cab mic.

Frequency Response Of The Heil PR40

The frequency response of the Heil PR40 is listed as 28 Hz – 18,000 Hz. Here is the frequency response graph of the PR40:

Image from the Heil PR40 Specification Sheet

Immediately, we notice two lines in this graph. This shows how effective the cardioid pattern of the Heil PR40 is at rejecting sound from behind. More on this later.

The Heil PR40 has a flat frequency response for most of the harmonic content of a bass guitar (and therefore what the bass cabinet should produce). This yields an accurate sound of the electric bass guitar.

If we look at the low-end, we’ll see a gentle roll-off of -6dB/octave starting around 100 Hz. This roll-off is gentle enough to still capture the strong low end of a bass guitar (fundamental frequencies of 41 Hz on a 4-string and 30 Hz on a 5 string in standard tuning). The PR40 is sensitive all the way down to 28 Hz!

Combine this low-end responsiveness with the proximity effect’s bass boost inherent in this directional microphone, and we have a mic fully capable of capturing the low-end we need from the bass guitar.

There is also the presence and high-end boost of the PR40 we should be aware of. This boost will help accentuate any upper harmonics that may otherwise not be heard. Hearing these upper harmonics makes the bass track sound bright, more present in the mix, and better overall.

Pop Filter Of The Heil PR40

Bass guitar cabinets have the potential to move lots of air. In more transient heavy styles of playing (slapping for example), the cabinet may push strong blasts of air into the capsule of the microphone.

The PR40, like other Heil microphones, is designed with two grille screens. The inner screen has smaller openings while the outer has larger. This dual-screen is designed to effectively break up powerful plosives during speech, but also works excellently at mitigating the large movements of air from bass guitar cabs. Like many dynamics, the PR40 also has an acoustically transparent foam over the diaphragm to further reduce the effects of air blasts.

Bass frequencies also have the tendency to excite the resonant frequencies of objects, including microphones themselves. These other vibrations are typically unwanted in a microphone signal.

The PR40 handles this issue well. Its diaphragm is effectively shock mounted within the microphone itself. It is completely de-coupled from the mic body.

Maximum Sound Pressure Level Of The Heil PR40

Like many moving-coil dynamic microphones, the Heil PR40 has a max SPL rating so high it doesn’t even appear on its spec sheet. It’s safe to say that this microphone’s capsule and passive electronics will not succumb to distortion at the sound pressure levels produced by bass guitar cabinets.

Directionality Of The Heil PR40

The Heil PR40 is a top-address cardioid microphone. It is most sensitive to sound where it points and least sensitive (rejects) sound to its rear.

This directionality is great for isolating the sound of the bass cabinet when it’s in a room with other instruments. Simply point the mic at the bass cabinet and away from the other sound sources.

Directional microphones also exhibit what is known at the proximity effect. The Heil PR40’s bass response actually becomes more and more sensitive as the microphone is positioned closer to the sound source. Careful placement of the PR40 in the “sweet spot” will enhance the already excellent bass frequency response.

Be cautious with the proximity effect on bass cabinets, as placing the PR40 too close to the cabinet may cause an inappropriate amount of low-end boost.


Recap Of The Heil PR40 As A Bass Cabinet Microphone

The PR40, at less than $400 USD, is the best microphone in its price range for capturing the sound of a bass guitar amp/cabinet. It accurately reproduces the low-end critical to the bass sound and is extremely effective at picking up the important harmonic information. Its high-end boost adds a bit of colour and air the bass guitar, allowing it to cut through the mix.

Bass cabinets pose practically no risk of overloading the PR40 and the directionality of the microphone further isolates the bass cabinet sound in a mix.

The PR40 is the top microphone for recording bass guitar cabinets!

For all the My New Microphone mic/gear recommendations, please check out my page Recommended Microphones And Accessories.