Best Microphones For Miking Tuba

The tuba is the largest and lowest pitched instrument in the brass family. The instrument appears regularly in orchestral ensembles, big bands, brass bands, and marching bands. What microphones would work best for capturing the awesome sound of the tuba? Whether in a studio or live setting, this article will answer that question!

Let’s talk about why these mics sound so great on the tuba. We’ll begin our discussion by talking about what a tuba sounds like.


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 Tuba Sound Like?

A tuba is a very low-pitched instrument. Its range goes down to E1, which is roughly 41 Hz. This put the lowest fundamentals of the tuba in the same bass-range as the kick drum and bass guitar.

The formant information of the tuba is roughly between 200 and 400 Hz. It’s within this range that the tuba has most of its character.

The bell of a tuba points upward. However, because of its low-pitched nature, the tuba is not a very directional instrument. Its low frequency sound waves are emitted in a fairly omnidirectional nature.

That being said, the sound at the bell of the tuba is very different than the sound a tubist or audience member would hear. The trick with miking a tuba (whether close or distant) is finding that “sweet spot.”

Frequency Range Of Tuba

  • Overall Range: 41 Hz ~ 4,200 Hz
  • Fundamentals range: 41 Hz – 311 Hz (E1-E♭4)
  • Harmonics range: 82 Hz ~ 4,200 Hz
  • Formant range: 200 Hz – 400 Hz

Let’s make sense of these peculiar values.

The tuba is basically an adjustable length of conical tube. Physics states the “closed tube” of a tuba should have a fundamental wavelength 2 times the length of the tube.

The tuba plays a full overtone series (both odd and even harmonics). This makes the tuba sound pleasant and musical.

The formants or “strong harmonics” that give the tuba its unique sound are found roughly between 200 Hz to 400 Hz.


What Factors Make An Ideal Tuba Microphone?

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

  • Gentle high-frequency roll-off: A smooth roll-off of high frequencies helps achieve the “warm” sound of a tuba. Tubas do not produce a great amount of high-frequency or upper-mid-frequency harmonics, and so it’s not essential that we capture these frequencies.
  • Accurate low-end frequency response: An accurate low-end response is crucial for capturing the true sound of the tuba.
  • Sensitivity: Select a microphone sensitive enough to pick up the nuances in the tuba. This helps to capture the most accurate sonic picture possible!
  • Directionality: Even though the tuba is a fairly omnidirectional instrument, picking a microphone with some directionality is great idea. The proximity effect can help to boost the low-end of this bassy brass instrument; it will help isolate the tuba from nearby instruments and noise; plus, the off-axis colouration can be your friend when close-miking near the tuba bell. A cardioid pattern is likely the best bet.

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 get roughed up.
  • Price: Pick a microphone you can afford to replace. This is important for performers and crucial for venue owners and audio technicians.
  • 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 tuba itself, or a stationary mic (pointing downward toward the bell) for the tuba to play into?

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


The Electro-Voice RE20

Electro-Voice RE20

The Electro-Voice RE20 is my top recommendation for a tuba microphone. It is a large diaphragm dynamic microphone used primarily used in broadcasting. The similarities between the human voice and brass instruments make this “broadcasting” mic an excellent choice for capturing the sound of a tuba. The RE20 is also capable of capturing the low frequencies of tuba.

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).

Let’s start by looking at the low-end of this chart. From about 70 Hz to 300 Hz, the RE20’s frequency response is flat. This gives us a very clean capture of a good bulk of the tuba’s frequencies.

There is a slight low-end roll-off of response below 70 Hz, showing that the RE20 is about 5 dB less sensitive at 41 Hz than 70 Hz. This poses a slight issue since the tuba’s lowest fundamental is at 41 Hz: The lowest fundamentals will not be as well represented as the high fundamentals when using the RE20.

The RE20 has a great, relatively flat response to the tuba formants (200 Hz – 400 Hz). This allows for an accurate capture of the tuba’s characteristic tone.

The high-frequency roll-off helps somewhat to warm up the sound of tuba.

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

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.

Although it’s a dynamic mic, the RE20 is exceptionally reactive to sound pressure. 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 tuba sound.

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

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 tuba 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 tuba gets closer to the microphone. This offers the tubist some wiggle room without having drastic changes in tone if the tuba or microphone happens to move during a performance.

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

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.

Price Of The Electro-Voice RE20

The RE20 is the most expensive mic on this recommended list. However, at under $500 USD (as of the writing of this article), the RE20 is a steal! 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 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.

I wouldn’t recommend clamping this mic to a tuba bell. However, it could yield great results (if it doesn’t damage the tuba).

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 AKG D112

AKG D112

The AKG D112 is a large diaphragm dynamic microphone. It’s a very popular choice for recording kick drums and also does a superb job at capturing sound of a tuba (the tuba and kick drum occupy many of the same frequencies). The large diaphragm of the D112 has a very low resonance frequency, making the microphone very responsive below 200 Hz.

Frequency Response Of The AKG D112

The AKG D112 is rated as having a frequency response between 20 Hz and 17,000 Hz. Here is the frequency response graph:

Image from AKG D112 User Guide

As we can see, the D112 has a low-end boost that nearly covers the entire range of a tuba’s fundamental frequencies (41 Hz – 311 Hz). This will give our tuba a nice bottom end and power in a mix.

Note the proximity effect in this mic as well. At 10 cm from a sound source, we have a big bass boost. We can use the proximity effect to our advantage, positioning the D112 in a “sweet spot” near the tuba so that it captures just the right amount of bottom end for our needs.

The boost of roughly 6 dB around 3-4 kHz really allows the upper limit of the tuba’s harmonics to cut through the mix. Though these aren’t the formant frequencies, the help give the tuba more presence and character.

The high-frequency roll-off helps somewhat to warm up the sound of tuba. There’s not a whole lot of meaningful harmonic information in the upper frequencies, anyway.

Sensitivity Of The AKG D112

The D112 has a sensitivity rating of 1.8 mV/Pa (-55 dBV). This is low, but typical of a dynamic microphone.

The large diaphragm of the D112 makes it the least reactive mic on this list, giving it a slightly “warmer” or “rounder” sound on tuba. Though it may not be as easy to hear the nuances of the tuba through the D112, it still makes for a great tuba mic (especially if you’re going for a rounder sound with less extraneous noise).

Directionality Of The AKG D112

The AKG D112 is a cardioid microphone. Its polar pattern yields the following graph:

Image from AKG D112 User Guide

As we can see from the graph, the D112 has more of a subcardioid pattern. So long as the mic is pointed at the tuba, it should work just fine!

The D112 has a bit of off-axis colouration, but this happens in the frequencies above the meaningful harmonics of the tuba. That being said, experiment with various placements to find the little subtleties in the D112.

On the note of subtleties and directional mics, I’ll mention the proximity effect again. Moving the D112 closer to the tuba (particularly the bell) will increase its bass frequency response. Keep this in mind when miking a tuba with the AKG D112

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

Durability Of The AKG D112

The D112 is a very robust and durable microphone. It’s even referred to as “bulletproof” in the User Guide. Could the D112 survive a bullet? I suppose it depends on a multitude of factors that we won’t get into. But this mic is built to last and can take any practical amount of damage.

Price Of The AKG D112

For under $200 USD, you really can’t go wrong with the AKG D112. However, it’s not as versatile as the aforementioned Electro-Voice RE20. You’ll be paying a low price for a microphone that’s amazing with tuba, kick drums, bass guitar, and other bass instruments, but lacks clarity with others.

Size/Mounting Of The AKG D112

The AKG D112 is a very compact microphone. It can easily be mounted without drawing attention to itself in a live setting.

I wouldn’t recommend clamping the D112 to a tuba bell. However, it could yield great results (if it doesn’t damage the tuba).


The Shure Beta 98H/C

Shure Beta 98H/C

The Shure Beta 98H/C is an amazing choice if the tubist 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 tuba 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. This doesn’t necessarily coincide with the tuba formants (200 Hz to 400 Hz), nor does it boost much of the harmonic content of a tuba. However, it does give a little punch to the upper harmonic limits of the tuba, allowing the tuba to be heard in a mix with a bit more clarity.

Though not shown on the graph, we’ll rely heavily on the proximity effect to boost the 98H/C’s bass frequency response.

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 tuba.

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 tuba from the other instruments.

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

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 tuba bell should effectively isolate the tuba from the other instruments.

The cardioid pattern helps to tremendously reduce the risk of microphone feedback when the tubist (and tuba) 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 an aggressive low-pass filter on the mixer when using the 98H/C live on tuba.

Because the Beta 98 is a cardioid mic, it exhibits the proximity effect. We use this to our advantage when miking a tuba to ensure we capture a solid low-end. To take advantage of the proximity effect, we position the 98H/C further into the bell.

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

  • Electro-Voice RE20: Best microphone for tuba.
  • AKG D112: Best “budget” microphone for tuba.
  • Shure Beta 98H/C: Best clip-on microphone for tuba.

Honourable mentions:

  • Shure Beta 52
  • Royer R121
  • Royer R122
  • Sennheiser MD441
  • Shure SM57
  • DPA d:vote Core 4099

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