Best Microphones For Miking Soprano Saxophone


Saxophones are some of the most beautiful and expressive instruments on the planet. It’s no wonder this class of instrument is so popular in music.

The soprano saxophone is the smallest of the 5 common saxophones (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass). It has the highest pitch range and is often a straight conical tube rather than a curved tube like the rest of the saxophone family.

The sound of the soprano saxophone is comparable to a soprano or high pitched singing voice (though it lacks the changing formant information that creates vocal vowel sounds). I like to think of miking the sax similarly to miking vocals. The microphone obviously plays a vital role in the miking of the soprano saxophone. So what microphones suit this instrument the best?

Here Are My Top 4 Soprano Saxophone Microphone Recommendations:

  • AKG C414 XLII: The AKG C414 XLII (link to check the price on Amazon) is a multi-pattern large diaphragm condenser microphone. The immense versatility of the C414 makes it a top recommendation for many instruments. On soprano sax, the C414 XLII yields an accurate and bright capture of the saxophone’s sound. It can be used in nearly any miking technique in order to best reproduce the soprano saxophone sound. The AKG C414 XLII is my recommended condenser microphone for soprano sax.
  • Royer R-121: The Royer R-121 (link to check the price on Amazon) is the flagship microphone by the ribbon mic manufacturers Royer Labs. The warm, natural capture of the R-121 accurately reproduces the character of the soprano saxophone without being overly bright or harsh. Although it’s a bit pricey for the average home studio, the R-121 is worth every penny and sounds incredible on soprano sax.
  • Shure SM57: The Shure SM57 (link to check the price on Amazon) is a famous cardioid dynamic microphone. Though it’s nicknamed the “Studio Workhorse,” I wouldn’t opt for it in the studio (assuming I had a nice ribbon or LDC). Instead, the SM57 gets my top recommendation for a live soprano sax microphone. The 57 has excellent directionality and a frequency response to help accentuate the soprano sax, allowing it to cut through a mix.
  • Shure Beta 98H/C: The Shure Beta 98H/C (link to check the price on Amazon) is a miniature condenser clip-on microphone for woodwind and brass instruments. When a clip-on mic is needed or wanted for a soprano sax performance, the Beta 98H/C is a cost-effective solution with a quality sound. The Shure Beta 98H/C is my top recommended clip-on soprano saxophone microphone.

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 Soprano Saxophone 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 soprano saxophone sound like?

The soprano saxophone is a single reed woodwind instrument. Though it is typically made of brass, it is not a brass instrument.

The soprano sax is considered a close-end/open-end conical tube. Thus, it produces both even and odd harmonics with a fundamental frequency being twice the length of the tube.

The saxophone has a series of holes in its tube with a system key mechanisms to open and close these holes. Opening and closing these holes causes the physics within the tube to change and, therefore, the pitch of the instrument.

The soprano saxophone’s sound is projected from its bell and through its open sound holes. The instrument is fairly directional, becoming more omnidirectional at lower frequencies.

A Note On Miking Soprano Saxophone

There are basically two ways to mic up a saxophone: close-miking (spot-miking) and distant-miking.

Close-miking a saxophone works in live and studio settings and is very similar to miking an oboe, clarinet, or bassoon. Position a microphone between half a foot to three feet away from the soprano sax and point the mic above the bell toward the keys of the sax. Experiment with the distance and exact positioning to get the best sound.

Clip-on mics are another common strategy for close-miking soprano saxophone. Simply clip a small microphone (like the Shure Beta 98H/C) to the bell of the soprano sax and position it so it points at along the tube at the keys. Again, experiment with mic position to find the “sweet spot.”

Distant-miking works best to capture the full sound of the soprano saxophone. This technique works best when the saxophone is playing by itself (like in a studio overdub session) and the room around the sax sounds nice. Positioning a microphone (or a stereo pair of mics) several feet from a soprano sax allows the sound of the instrument to develop before getting picked up by the microphone(s).

For more information on microphone placement, check out my article Top 23 Tips For Better Microphone Placement.

Frequency Range Of Soprano Saxophone

  • Overall Range: 233 Hz ~ 12,000 Hz
  • Fundamentals range: 233 Hz – 1,480 Hz (B♭3-F#6)
  • Harmonics range: 466 Hz ~ 12,000 Hz

So we want a microphone that will accurately capture the true sound of the soprano saxophone. Knowing the fundamental frequencies and the harmonics of the soprano sax is a great place to start. On top of this, there are a few more criteria to keep in mind when choosing the best microphone for soprano saxophone.


What Factors Make An Ideal Soprano Saxophone Microphone?

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

  • Presence Boost: The saxophone and the human voice both benefit from a presence boost (3-7 kHz) due to the increased clarity a boost in the range provides. Because saxophones typically do not compete with the voice in music, a presence boost will give the saxophone more clarity in a mix without negatively affecting the vocals.
  • Natural High-Frequency Roll-Off: A gentle, natural roll-off of high frequencies will “warm up” the soprano saxophone sound. There’s not a whole lot of harmonic information in the upper frequencies so a roll-off will not overly alter the character of the soprano sax. Rather, it will simply yield a more natural sound on the sax channel.
  • Directionality: Choose a microphone to best suit your miking techniques and performance situations.
  • Wide Dynamic Range: The soprano saxophone has a wide dynamic range. Choose a microphone capable of accurately reproducing the quietest and loudest moments of a soprano saxophone’s performance.

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: Is it best to position the mics on stands or clip them to the soprano saxophone? There are pros and cons to both.

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


The AKG C414 XLII

AKG C414 XLII

The AKG C414 XLII is a multi-pattern large diaphragm condenser microphone modelled after the legendary C414 microphone. With 9 selectable polar patterns, 3 high-pass filters, and 4 pads, the C414 is king when it comes to versatility. Nearly any soprano saxophone miking technique will benefit from the C414 XLII.

The XLII is the model specialized for vocals, whereas the XLS is specified to instruments. Though the differences are slight, I recommend the XLII over the XLS since the saxophone family sounds similar to the human voice and often plays the same lead role in musical genres. Both microphone models deserve a recommendation but I’ll be talking about the XLII here.

Frequency Response Of The AKG C414 XLII

The frequency response of the AKG C414 XLII is given as 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz. The C414 XLII (omnidirectional position) frequency response graph is as follows:

Image from the AKG C414 XLS/XLII User Manual

I chose to show the frequency response of the C414’s omnidirectional polar pattern (of the 9 polar pattern options). This is because omni microphones often yield the most natural sound when miking a solo soprano saxophone. You can check out the other polar patterns and frequency response graphs in the manual here.

The C414 has a very flat frequency response. This means the microphone will reproduce sound (in the form of a mic signal) with pristine accuracy.

The slight boost in the upper presence range will help to accentuate the soprano saxophone in a studio mix. The boost of the upper-frequency range helps enhance the “brilliance” or “air” of the soprano saxophone and the space in which it is being played.

The high-end boost and the brightness that comes with it could be subjectively good or bad. It all depends on the role of the saxophone, the room, and how we want the sax to sound. The roll-off at the very top of the frequency response range help to keep the sax sound bright but not overly harsh.

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

As for the high-pass filters (HPFs), the C414 will capture the entire soprano saxophone’s range with the 160 Hz HPF engaged. I’d recommend experimenting with the filters, listening to which sounds the best to you. I typically end up with either the 80 Hz or 160 Hz HPF on soprano sax.

For more information on microphone high-pass filters, check out my article What Is A Microphone High-Pass Filter And Why Use One?

Polar Response Of The AKG C414 XLII

As mentioned, the AKG C414 XLII has a whopping 9 selectable polar patterns. A common choice for recording the natural sound of a solo soprano sax is the omnidirectional mode. The C414 omnidirectional pattern graph is shown below:

I chose to show you the graph the coincides with the omnidirectional mode polar pattern since it’s a common pattern for solo soprano saxophone studio recordings. In other settings, different patterns would likely work better. You can check out the other graphs in the manual here.

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

Dynamic Range Of The AKG C414 XLII

The max SPL rating of the XLII is 140 dB SPL with no pads engaged. The self-noise of this active microphone is a very low 6 dBA.

For more information on max SPL ratings, check out my article What Does Maximum Sound Pressure Level Actually Mean?

For more information on passive attenuation devices, check out my article What Is A Microphone Attenuation Pad And What Does It Do?

For more information on microphone self-noise, check out my article What Is Microphone Self-Noise? (Equivalent Noise Level).

This gives the AKG C414 XLII a dynamic range of 136 dB! The C414 is capable of accurately reproducing any soprano saxophone performance.

The large condenser diaphragms of the C414 are also very sensitive to changing sound pressure levels. Therefore, the mic’s accuracy is spot on when capturing transients and nuances in the soprano saxophone sound.

The sensitivity rating of the AKG C414 XLII is given as 23 mV/Pa (-33 dBV ± 0.5 dB). This means the microphone will output a strong signal when miking the soprano sax.

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


The Royer R121

Royer R121

The Royer R121 is a famous ribbon microphone manufactured by Royer Labs. This legendary microphones sounds beautiful on nearly any instrument, and the soprano saxophone is no exception. The R121 has a precise transient response and a warm, natural tone that works wonderfully for capturing the truest sound of a soprano saxophone.

Frequency Response Of The Royer R121

The frequency response of the Royer R121 is given as 30 Hz – 15,000 Hz ± 3 dB. The R121 frequency response graph is as follows:

Image from the Royer R121 Specification Sheet

We see that the response is fairly flat over the range of a soprano saxophone (233 Hz – 1,480 Hz). The slight boost into the upper range of the soprano sax helps to gently accentuate those notes. This boost extends further into the midrange helping to bring the harmonics of the soprano sax to life.

The high-end drop off inherent in the Royer R121’s frequency response makes it sound warm and rich. This warmth benefits the sound of saxophones quite nicely, reproducing a full sound without excessive brightness or harshness.

Though these boosts and cuts may seem small (± 3 dB), they play a big role in determining the sound of the R121. These boosts and cuts are part of the R121’s charm and part of the reason this microphone sounds so great on soprano saxophone.

Polar Response Of The Royer R121

Like most ribbon microphones, the Royer R121 has a bidirectional polar pattern. This bidirectional pattern is accurately maintained in both horizontal and vertical planes, helping to ensure a consistent tone as the soprano sax moves slightly during a performance. Here is the R121 polar response graph:

Image from the Royer R121 Specification Sheet

A bidirectional microphone benefits the sound of a soprano sax in the studio environment by capturing the natural sound of the sax in front and some room sound from the back.

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

Dynamic Range Of The Royer R121

The Royer R121 has a decent dynamic range. The microphone has no self-noise since it’s a passive mic. It also has a maximum sound pressure level of 135 dB SPL before 1% total harmonic distortion (at 30 Hz). This, in theory gives the R121 a fantastic 135 dB dynamic range.

A soprano saxophone rarely makes sound louder than 125, so the risk of distortion is very low. The chances of exceeding the max SPL of the R121 are further reduced since we’ll typically mic the saxophone at a safe distance.

The 2.5 micron aluminum ribbon diaphragm of the R121 is amazingly accurate and picks up the subtlest variations in the sound of the soprano saxophone.

For more information on microphone diaphragms, check out my article What Is A Microphone Diaphragm?

The R121 can handle the dynamic range of the soprano sax and is also sensitive enough to accurately reproduce the subtle nuances in the saxophone level and sound.

The sensitivity rating of the Royer R121 is given as -47 dB (re. 1v/pa) . This is low, and so I’d recommend feeding the R121 mic signal to a quality preamp with lots of clean gain in order to reap the full benefits of this beautiful microphone.


The Shure SM57

Shure SM57

The Shure SM57 is a very popular dynamic microphone. It’s often the best microphone choice simply due to it being so readily available. At a low price point of under $100 USD (as of the writing of this article), it seems like a no-brainer to acquire a few of these workhorse microphones for your locker.

When it comes to miking soprano saxophone live, the SM57 is a simple and effective choice. The mic is small and easy to position; it provides excellent isolation; it naturally filters out low-end rumble and high-end brilliance; and it accentuates some important harmonics and frequencies in the presence range of the soprano sax.

Frequency Response Of The Shure SM57

The frequency response of the Shure SM57 is given as 40 Hz – 15,000 Hz. The SM57 frequency response graph is as follows:

Image from the Shure SM57 Specification Sheet

The low-end roll-off effectively reduces low-end rumble and noise from the mic signal without thinning the sound of a soprano saxophone.

The presence boost of the SM57 helps the soprano sax to cut through a live mix (similarly to how it helps a vocal stand out in a mix). This is beneficial especially since the soprano sax is often tasked with playing musical solos and should be heard clearly. If the presence boost is too much, try EQing it down slightly.

The high-end roll-off warms up the sound of the soprano sax and reduces brilliance and harshness that could be present on stage or in a lively room.

Polar Response Of The Shure SM57

The Shure SM57 is a directional cardioid microphone. Here is the polar pattern diagram for the SM57:

Image from the Shure SM57 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 Shure SM57 does a magnificent job at rejecting sound from its rear while being sensitive to sound coming in from the front.

The cardioid pattern is ideal for close-miking and live-miking the soprano saxophone. The rear null point makes it easy to position the SM57 in front of a foldback monitor with little risk of microphone feedback. Having the mic near a foldback monitor is beneficial to helping the saxophonist hear themselves on stage.

With most directional microphone, a word should be said about the proximity. Note that as the 57 gets closer to the soprano sax, the bass response of the microphone will increase. This may cause the saxophone signal to sound a bit boomy if positioned too closely. However, with a high-pitched instrument like the soprano sax, the proximity effect should overly colour the character of the instrument sound.

Dynamic Range Of The Shure SM57

The Shure SM57 is a dynamic microphone and therefore has no self-noise. It also has a maximum sound pressure level rating above any practical SPL we’d ever encounter or want to record (well above 150 dB SPL). All this to say that the 57’s dynamic range will easily capture the full dynamic range of the soprano saxophone.

The moving-coil diaphragm of the Shure SM57 isn’t overly reactive to changes in sound pressure. Therefore, the transient response and overall accuracy of the microphone is slightly compromised. This, however, shouldn’t pose any severe issue when miking sax live.

The sensitivity rating of the Shure SM57 is given as -56.0 dBV/Pa (1.6 mV). This is low, but not out-of-the-ordinary for a dynamic microphone. I’d recommend a mic preamp with lots of clean gain in order to get the strongest results from the 57 on soprano sax.

Durability Of The Shure SM57

The Shure SM57 is nearly indestructible!

There are official Shure videos of the SM57 getting:

In each of the above scenarios, the SM57 came out functioning (though a bit beat up). I think it’s safe to say if the 57 can withstand that much abuse, it should be more than enough to mic a soprano sax!

Price Of The Shure SM57

As mentioned, with a price of about $100 USD, the price is definitely right on this champion of a microphone.

Of course, the SM57 is not only a great soprano saxophone mic. When on a budget, try SM57s on anything and everything.

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.

Size/Mounting Of The Shure SM57

The SM57 is just slightly longer than 6 inches with its widest diameter only 1¼ inches. The size of the 57 will not negatively affect the view of the saxophonist and the mic doesn’t draw much attention to itself. With a weight of only 284 g (10 oz), the SM57 can be easily held in place by a mic stand. Position the mic at roughly mouth level, close to the sax and pointing toward the centre of the instrument.

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


The Shure Beta 98H/C

Shure Beta 98H/C

The Shure Beta 98H/C miniature condenser clip-on microphone is an amazing choice if the saxophonist will be moving around on the stage. It easily connects to a wireless system, it sounds great and it will effectively isolate the soprano saxophone 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, the Shure Beta 98H/C has a smooth presence/upper-frequency boost that peaks around 6-7 kHz. This helps to accentuate the harmonics of the soprano saxophone and help it to cut through a live mix.

Notice the frequency response graph says 61 cm (2 ft.) from a sound source. The Beta 98H/C does exhibit proximity effect, and so when close-miking a soprano saxophone with this clip-on mic, there will be an accentuated bass boost in the mic’s response.

Polar Response 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

The cardioid pattern of the Beta 98H/C is fairly consistent.

We want a cardioid when clip-on miking a soprano saxophone. Simply clip the microphone on the bell of the sax and point it where it sounds best to you. Pointing the cardioid mic will pick up the sound from where it points while rejecting the sound from its rear. This helps with the clarity or the sax signal due to increased isolation from other sound sources.

Dynamic Range Of The Shure Beta 98H/C

The dynamic range of the Beta 98H/C is specified as 124 dB.

The microphone has a high maximum sound pressure level of 155 dB SPL, which easily handles the loudest soprano saxophones. The self-noise rating of the 98H/C is rated as 31 dBA, which is very loud, rendering it impractical in studio situations, but definitely usable in live settings.

The small diaphragm of the 98H/C reacts appropriately to changes in sound pressure, though it is by no means the most accurate microphone for capturing the transient information of a soprano saxophone.

The sensitivity rating of the Shure Beta 98H/C is given as –56 dBV/Pa (1.6 mV). This is very low for a condenser microphone but ideal for a close-range clip-on microphone. The reduced sensitivity allows for better gain control when using the 98H/C in live situations (where it should be used).

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 soprano saxophone. 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 soprano saxophone in different situations. Of course, there are many microphones that sound amazing on the soprano sax, but in considering price and setting, these are my top 4 recommended soprano saxophone mics. Let’s recap:

  • Royer R121: Recommended ribbon mic on soprano saxophone.
  • AKG C414 XLII: Recommended condenser microphone/most versatile microphone on soprano sax.
  • Shure SM57: Recommended dynamic microphone on live soprano sax.
  • Shure Beta 98H/C: Recommended clip-on soprano saxophone microphone.

Honourable mentions:

  • Coles 4038 (another superb ribbon mic option)
  • AKG C12 VR (an excellent, but very expensive, large diaphragm tube condenser microphone)
  • Sennheiser MD441 (an excellent, but expensive, dynamic mic on soprano saxophone)
  • DPA d:vote 4099 mic with STC4099 clip (a top-of-the-line clip-on microphone for saxophone)

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

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