Best Microphones For Miking Trombone

Though perhaps not always the standout instrument, the trombone plays a vital role in many ensembles. Whether it’s classical, big-band, ska, or any other genre that would benefit from a trombone, it’s crucial to capture as true a sound as possible for this beautiful (though slightly awkward) horn. So what microphones will sound best on trombones?

  • Coles 4038: Broadcasting microphones lend themselves well to the trombone. If we’re really trying to capture the warm sonic character of a trombone (the way trombonists hear themselves), there’s no better microphone than the Coles 4038 (link to check the price on Amazon). This BBC-designed microphone is top-notch and well worth the price. It works particularly well in capturing the sound intended by the trombonist.
  • MXL R77: Sticking with ribbon mics, the best budget option for a trombone mic would have to be the MXL R77 (link to check the price on Amazon). This microphone sounds beautiful on trombone and other brass instruments. And it’s a fraction of the cost of the Coles 4038.
  • Electro-Voice RE20: There’s a lot of good points for different microphones for trombones in live situations. If you do not feel comfortable bringing your ribbon mic on stage with you, I’d recommend another fantastic broadcasting mic: the Electro-Voice RE20 (link to check the price on Amazon). This is an excellent mic for nearly any instrument in a live setting, including the trombone.
  • Shure Beta 98H/C: My recommended clip-on microphone is the Shure Beta 98H/C (link to check the price on Amazon). This is a wonderful close-mic clip-on option for live trombones and can easily connect to a wireless transmitter. The Beta 98H/C sounds amazing and does an excellent job at isolating its trombone from the rest of the stage noise.

Let’s go into further detail about why the Coles 4038, MXL R77, Electro-Voice RE20 and Shure Beta 98H/C microphones make for great trombone mics.


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 Trombone Sound Like?

To make a better microphone choice, it’s important to understand the sound of what we’re miking. So what does a trombone sound like? Like all horns, the sound of a trombone depends on the position and direction of the trombone relative to the listener.

  • From the player’s perspective (“behind” the trombone), the trombone sounds warmer and full.
  • From the audience perspective (some distance from the trombone and facing the bell), the trombone sounds a bit brighter and full.
  • Near and in front of the bell, the trombone sounds very bright and not so full. We wouldn’t want to listen to a trombone from this position, but often have to place our microphones in this vicinity.

So if we are to close-mic a trombone, we would want a microphone to decrease the brightness and add body to the sound. Doing so will capture a more natural sound of the horn, similar to how the player or listener would hear it live.

It’s also very important to note (as an engineer and performer) that trombones are very directional. The low frequencies of the trombone are projected in all directions while the higher frequencies get more and more directional (pointing out of the bell).

Frequency Range Of Trombone

  • Overall Range: 58 Hz ~ 10,000 Hz
  • Fundamentals range: 82 Hz – 466 Hz for tenor trombone (E2-B♭4) or 58 Hz – 466 Hz for bass trombone (B1-B♭4)
  • Harmonics range: 164 Hz ~ 10,000 Hz for tenor trombone (116 Hz ~ 10,000 Hz for bass trombone)
  • Important Note: The fundamental frequency doesn’t actually sound on a trombone.
  • Formant Information: 600 Hz – 800 Hz

Let’s make sense of these peculiar values.

The trombone is basically an adjustable length of tube. Physics states the tube of a trombone should have a fundamental wavelength 4 times the length of the tube and should only generate odd overtones.

However, the trombone plays a full overtone series (both odd and even harmonics). And to add to the strangeness, the trombone does not sound a fundamental frequency.

However, since all the overtones are there, our brains naturally “fill in” the fundamental frequencies. Even though it’s not there, we perceive it as being real.

The formants or “strong harmonics” that give the trombone its unique sound are found roughly between 600 Hz to 800 Hz


What Factors Make An Ideal Trombone Microphone?

Let’s discuss a short list of the critical specifications that make up a great trombone microphone:

  • Gentle high-frequency roll-off: A smooth roll-off of high frequencies helps achieve the “warm” sound of a trombone. Extended frequency responses often yield too bright a sound for trombones.
  • Directionality: Pick a microphone with some directionality. When recording trombone, off-axis colouration can actually be your friend. By positioning the microphone at various points around the bell, many different sounds may be captured.
  • Sensitivity: Select a microphone sensitive enough to pick up the nuances in the trombone. This helps to capture the most accurate sonic picture possible!

And For Live Applications, A Few More Considerations:

  • Durability: Choose a microphone that can withstand some physical abuse. Chances are, at some point, your live microphone will encounter some rough times.
  • Price: Pick a microphone you can afford to replace. This is important for performers and crucial for venue owners and audio technicians.
  • Cardioid Directional Polar Pattern: Select a cardioid directional microphone to work well with fold-back monitors and on noisy stages.
  • Size: Though not a major factor, size does play a role in microphone placement live.
  • Mounting: Do you want a microphone on the bell of the trombone itself, or a stationary mic for the trombone to play into?

So we have a general idea of what we’re looking for. Let’s discuss the recommended trombone microphones through this lens:


The Coles 4038

Coles 4038

The Coles 4038 studio ribbon microphone is a BBC design for broadcast and recording applications. The legendary 4038 provides a beautifully flat frequency response and incredibly accurate transient response. It sounds absolutely amazing on trombone and brass instruments and is my top recommendation for a high-end trombone microphone.

Frequency Response Of The Coles 4038

The frequency response of the Coles 4038 is given as 30 Hz – 15,000 Hz ± 3 dB. The 3048 frequency response graph is as follows:

Image from Coles 4038 Specification Sheet

Ribbon mics are our best bet to capture the warm tones of a trombone naturally and accurately. The Coles 4038 is a top-of-the-line ribbon microphone and sounds great on trombone in a studio environment.

With a quick glance at the 4038 frequency response graph, we see that this ribbon mic compliments the sound of a trombone in two ways:

First, the Coles 4038 (like most ribbon mics) has a gentle roll-off of high frequencies. This helps to maintain the “warmth” of the trombone sound. Even when the 4038 is placed in a “bright” position (like on-axis in front of the trombone bell), the response remains natural sounding.

Next, we see a slight dip on either side of the formant frequencies between 600 Hz and 800 Hz. Though not necessarily a boost, this natural response helps to subtly accentuate the formant frequencies characteristic of the trombone.

Although slight, the natural boosts and cuts in the 4038’s frequency response really do play a big role in capturing the best sound from a trombone!

For more information on microphone frequency response, check out my article Complete Guide To Microphone Frequency Response (With Mic Examples).

Directionality Of The Coles 4038

Like most ribbon microphones, the Coles 4038 has a bidirectional polar pattern. This bidirectional pattern is accurately maintained in both horizontal and vertical planes, helping to ensure a consistent tone if the trombone happens to move off-axis during recording.

This directionality is partly due to the odd shape of the 4038 microphone grille.

For more information on the bidirectional microphone polar pattern, check out my article What Is A Bidirectional/Figure-8 Microphone? (With Mic Examples).

Sensitivity Of The Coles 4038

The sensitivity rating of the Coles 4038 is given as -65 dB re: 1 Volt/Pa. This is a low rating even for ribbon microphones.

However, if we think of sensitivity as the ability for the Coles 4038 to capture the nuances of a trombone’s sound, we see that although its output is low, the 4038 is quite sensitive.

The diaphragm of a Coles 4038 is 0.6 microns thick, which is very thin compared to other ribbon microphones. This gives the 4038 an extremely accurate transient response since the ribbon diaphragm will move in reaction to very low sound pressure levels.

The responsiveness of the 4038 ribbon makes it an ideal microphone for capturing the little details of a trombonist’s performance. However, a high-quality pre-amp with good clean gain will be needed to bring the 4038 up to a usable level.

For more information on microphone sensitivity, check out my article What Is Microphone Sensitivity? An In-Depth Description.


The MXL R77 (Budget Recommendation)

MXL R77

At roughly $300 USD, the MXL R77 gets my budget recommendation for trombone microphones. This ribbon mic does an amazing job at capturing the warm tones of a trombone while providing excellent clarity in the top-end.

Frequency Response Of The MXL R77

The frequency response of the MXL R77 is given as 20 Hz – 18,000 Hz. The R77 frequency response graph is as follows:

Image from MXL R77 User Manual

As we can see, the R77 is a bit coloured. The high-frequency roll-off will help give us that warm sound of a trombone (particularly in digital recordings).

Note that the formant information of a trombone doesn’t seem to be accentuated by the MXL R77 according to its frequency response graph. However, the overall frequency response of the R77 suits trombones well by providing a nice, warm sound. And this mic doesn’t break the bank!

Directionality Of The MXL R77

The directionality of the MXL R77, like nearly every ribbon mic, is bidirectional (figure-8). Unfortunately, MXL does not provide an in-depth polar response graph:

Image from MXL R77 User Manual

Bidirectional microphones work well in studio settings. They capture the primary sound source from the front and some amount of initial reflections from the back, doing so without being over sensitive to the overall reverberation of a room.

Sensitivity Of The MXL R77

The MXL has a sensitivity rating of -55 dB (re. 1v/pa). This low sensitivity value is typical of a ribbon microphone. Using this microphone will require a good, clean preamplifier with an input impedance of 1500 ohms or greater in order to boost its signal without adding unwanted noise or colouration.

However, this isn’t the entire picture.

The R77 has an aluminum ribbon 1.8 microns thick. This makes the microphone fragile but also very reactive. The MXL, like many ribbon mics, is sensitive to the nuances of a sound source like a trombone.


The Electro-Voice RE20

Electro-Voice RE20

The Electro-Voice RE20, like the aforementioned Coles 4038, is a standard broadcast microphone. The similarities between the human voice and the trombone make these mics excellent choices for capturing the sound of a trombone. I recommend the RE20 as a stationary microphone for capturing trombones in live settings. That being said, it’s also a stellar choice in the studio.

Frequency Response Of The Electro-Voice RE20

The RE20 is rated as having a frequency response between 45 Hz and 18,000 Hz. Here is the frequency response graph:

Image from the Electro-Voice RE20 Specification Sheet

Note that the frequency response graph of the RE20 also shows us what it picks up at 180-degrees (the opposite direction of where the microphone is pointing).

First, I’d recommend applying the high-pass filter when using the RE20 to capture trombones live. This will help reduce the amount of stage bleed in the microphones and give more gain before feedback.

The high-frequency roll-off helps somewhat to warm up the sound of trombones in live settings.

Directionality Of The Electro-Voice RE20

The RE20 is a cardioid microphone with the following polar pattern diagram:

Image from the Electro-Voice RE20 Specification Sheet

For more information on the cardioid microphone polar pattern, check out my article What Is A Cardioid Microphone? (Polar Pattern + Mic Examples).

As we can see from the graph, the RE20 does a great job at rejecting sound from 120-degrees to 240-degrees off-axis across its entire frequency response. The RE20 has roughly 16-18 dB rejection at 180-degrees.

The RE20 doesn’t have a great amount of off-axis colouration, which helps to maintain the sound of the trombone if it happens to move slightly off-axis from the microphone.

Speaking of colouration, the RE20 also does not exhibit any proximity effect, even though it’s a cardioid mic. This is because of its Variable-D technology. What this means is that there will not be an excessive bass boost as the trombone gets closer to the microphone. This makes it an excellent choice in live settings where the rule of mic placement seems to be “closer the better.”

More importantly in live situations, this cardioid pattern allows for placement in front of monitors with little risk of microphone feedback.

Sensitivity Of The Electro-Voice RE20

The RE20 has a sensitivity rating of 1.5 mV/Pa. This is low, but not out-of-the-ordinary for a dynamic microphone.

The RE20 is exceptionally reactive to sound pressure relative to other moving-coil dynamic microphones. The performance of the RE20 is due to its large Acoustalloy diaphragm in combination with an exceptionally low-mass aluminum voice coil.

This reactivity to sound waves makes the RE20 an excellent choice in capturing the nuances of the trombone sound.

Durability Of The Electro-Voice RE20

The Electro-Voice RE20 is a robust microphone. It’s a moving-coil dynamic mic with a solid outer body and no complicated/fragile internal circuitry.

I’d never suggest dropping or hitting your RE20, but it should be able to handle the “rigours” of live performance.

The Size And Mounting Of The Electro-Voice RE20

When performing live, it’s important to see the performers. Microphone size and mounting plays a role in this.

The RE20 is a fairly large mic (~812” long and ~218” at its widest diameter), but it shouldn’t be a visible distraction on stage. It doesn’t require a pop filter to protect its capsule from plosives, and also has a built-in shock mount, so we can get away without mounting it inside a bulky external shock mount. This means the overall size of the mic when positioned is relatively small.

For more information on microphone shock mounts, check out my article What Is A Microphone Shock Mount And Why Is It Important?

For more information on microphone mounting, check out my article How To Attach A Microphone To A Microphone Stand.

The Price Of The Electro-Voice RE20

The price of a quality live microphone is important. Chances are you’ll want several of the same mic for trombone(s), and so the prices add up quickly.

The Electro-Voice RE20 can be purchased for under $500 USD (as of the writing of this article). This may seem like a lot, but the price is worth it for live trombones. The RE20 is also extremely versatile, so I’d say it would be money well-spent.

For more information on the price of microphones, check out my articles How Much Do Microphones Cost? (With Pricing Examples) and Top 20 Most Expensive Microphones On The Market Today.


The Shure Beta 98H/C (Budget Live Recommendation)

Shure Beta 98H/C

The Shure Beta 98H/C is an amazing choice if the trombonist will be moving around on the stage. It easily connects to a wireless system, too! This miniature condenser mic sounds great and effectively isolates the trombone from other noise in live settings.

Frequency Response Of The Shure Beta 98H/C

The frequency response of the Shure Beta 98H/C is given as 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz. The Beta 98H/C frequency response graph is as follows:

Image from Shure Beta 98H/C Specification Sheet

As we can see above, there’s quite a presence boost in the Beta 98H/C with almost a 5 dB boost around 6-7 kHz. Although this doesn’t necessarily coincide with the trombone formants (600 Hz to 800 Hz), the boost will help the trombone stand out a bit in a live mix.

The only issue I have with this presence boost is that it may interfere with the presence of the vocals. Otherwise, this graph looks pretty good.

Directionality Of The Shure Beta 98H/C

The Beta 98H/C is a cardioid microphone. However, it’s graph shows a bit more of a supercardioid polar response:

Image from Shure Beta 98H/C Specification Sheet

It’s important to use directional microphones in live settings to help isolate the various sound sources. As we can see above, the 98H/C is pretty directional. And so clipping the mic to and pointing it at the trombone bell should effectively isolate the trombone from the other instruments.

The cardioid pattern helps to tremendously reduce the risk of microphone feedback when the trombonist (and trombone) are in front of a foldback monitor. With that being said, caution should be used at higher frequencies as the mic become more sensitive to the rear. I’d even suggest engaging a low-pass filter on the mixer when using the 98H/C live on trombones.

Sensitivity Of The Shure Beta 98H/C

The sensitivity rating of the Shure Beta 98H/C is given as –56 dBV/Pa (1.6 mV). This is a low rating for a condenser microphone, but this is an advantage in live settings since the mic won’t be as sensitive to extraneous sounds outside the trombone.

Like many Shure microphones, the 98H/C has a cartridge shock mount system to effectively absorb mechanical shock and minimize handling noise. This is ideal for live settings, again, to further help in isolating the trombone from the other instruments.

The condenser diaphragm itself is sensitive enough to pick up the character of the trombone bell. In close-miking live settings, this is often all we can ask for.

Durability Of The Shure Beta 98H/C

Shure is an industry leader in microphone durability. So, of course, durability was thought of when they designed the 98H/C. The mic has a dent-resistant steel mesh grille and enamel coated metal alloy construction to resist physical abuse and the wear and tear that comes with aging.

Price Of The Shure Beta 98H/C

At roughly $200 USD, the Beta 98H/C won’t break the bank. And with its reliability and durability, it’s a great investment.

Size/Mounting Of The Shure Beta 98H/C

The Beta 98H/C has a simple clamp to attach it to the bell of a trombone. The mic capsule is at the end of a gooseneck and ratcheting swivel joint. The microphone is extremely easy to position and a gooseneck angle brace helps in retaining that microphone position.


Let’s Recap

So these are four of the best microphones for capturing the sound of a trombone. Of course, there are many microphones that sound amazing on trombone, but in considering price and setting, these are my top 4 recommended trombone mics. Let’s recap:

  • Coles 4038: Best sounding mic on trombone.
  • MXL R77: A great “budget” microphone for recording trombone in a studio.
  • Electro-Voice RE20: Best live microphone for trombone.
  • Shure Beta 98H/C: Best clip-on trombone microphone.

Honourable mentions:

  • AKG C414 XLII
  • Royer R121
  • Royer R122
  • Neumann U87
  • Sennheiser MD441
  • Shure SM57
  • AMT P800

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