A DJ’s Guide To Microphones

Phil Morse | Read time: 5 mins
DJ microphones microphone tips usb mic wireless mic
Last updated 19 November, 2021

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Want mic performance tips? It’s all covered in our Complete DJ Course

Along with decks, mixers, headphones, speakers, laptops and controllers, microphones are a necessary item for DJs. Even club DJs sometimes have to “get on the mic”, but definitely for mobile and event DJs, as well as for DJ/producers, owning a mic or two is essential. At some point, you will probably want to buy one, or at least be asked about them.

But what if you know absolutely nothing about microphones? If that’s you, this article is for you. It’s not here to teach you how to use a mic (this article will help you with that), rather to help you to understand what’s out there, and if you’re thinking of adding one to your kit list, what might be the best mic for you.

DJ’s Guide To Microphones

Different types of mic

The biggest difference in the actual microphone technology itself is dynamic vs condenser microphones.

Dynamic microphones are typically the “handheld” type, although they’re often used on stands too. They are equally happy being held by singers, or shoved into drum kits, guitar amps and so on. They are workhorses: Rugged and reliable, and they don’t require any external power. However, they lack a bit of openness and subtlety when compared to condenser mics, and tend to haver lower output signals.

The classic Shure SM58 mic is used by DJs all over the globe.

Condenser mics are “powered”: They need to receive power from the thing they’re plugged into (often called “phantom power”) – you’ll see the option to provide power to condenser mics on many producer sound cards, and on pro mixing desks. More delicate and often larger than dynamic mics, they offer a wider, clearer, slightly more natural sound. They also tend to pick up background noise much more, so are best used in quiet environments.

For DJ use, we can cut to the chase: Most often, you’ll want a dynamic mic. The one I’ve used all my DJing life and that has never let me down is the Shure SM58, so I can definitely recommend that model.

Omni-directional or uni-directional?

Omni-directional means the microphone picks up what’s going on all around it equally. Obviously the closer a sound is to the mic the louder it is, but it doesn’t matter whether you’re in front of, above, below or behind it, it’ll treat you the same.

Uni-directional (sometimes called “cardioid”) refers to the quality of a mic being selective about what it picks up: Usually, the audio right in front of it. Everything else is quieter.

For “getting on the mic” when DJing, the latter is definitely preferable, because DJs use microphones in loud places, and one of the biggest things you’ll be battling against is feedback (where the audio gets in a “loop”, resulting in that high-pitched, ever-increasing screech).

Mic patterns from top to bottom: Omnidirectional, Cardioid (aka Unidirectional), Supercardioid, Hypercardioid, and Bidirectional.

Note that while dynamic mics tend to be uni-directional and condenser mics tend to be omni-directional, that isn’t always the case: A famous mic for podcasters is the Blue Microphones Yeti mic, which has a switch to let you choose between the two.

Analogue vs digital output

This was never a thing in the past, but nowadays you also have a choice to make between analogue and digital output. An analogue mic sends an analogue signal via an XLR or 1/4″ jack cable to your mixer or controller, whereas a digital mic has a built-in audio interface, and sends its output via a USB (or Lightning) cable.

If you want a mic for DJing with using a mixer or controller, you’ll want an analogue mic, but if you want a mic for, say, livestreaming or producing, you may prefer a digital mic, because it’s one less audio interface you need to worry about to get the signal into your computer’s software. (The “pro” version of the Yeti mic I spoke of earlier is unusual as it has a choice of both analogue and digital outputs, for the best of both worlds.)

Want help choosing gear? Grab your free PDF: The Digital DJ Gear Buyer’s Guide

Wired or wireless?

Most mics have a simple cable taking the signal they produce to the mixer, controller or computer. But it is also possible to get wireless mics. These have a battery-powered transmitter (sometimes built into the mic, sometimes in a separate box) and a receiver unit, the latter plugging into your mixer etc. This means you don’t need a cable from the mic to the mixer.

Here at Digital DJ Tips, we like to use wired microphones on our DJ livestreams.

Wireless mics introduce cost, complexity and reliability concerns, but in some circumstances are essential. For instance, an event DJ who has guest speakers (family speeches at weddings, for instance) may want to have a wired mic for themselves, and a wireless one for the guest speakers.

You’re probably best going for digital not analogue (this is nothing to do with what I was mentioning above, rather to do with how they handle transmission), but apart from that, ultimately what you buy will depend on where you are in the world, as different systems are licensed for use in different countries. Check with a local dealer to be sure you’re getting something that works well where you are.

For what it’s worth, I did a straw poll of our community, and Shure QLXD, BLX and GLXD series seems to be the choice, although people also mentioned Samson and Audio Technica as brands worth looking at.

Read this next: 7 Extras & Accessories Every New DJ Needs

Handheld, stand, or lapel?

Most DJs use handheld mics. Whether you put your handheld mic on a stand or not is an interesting one though.

Personally I don’t, but maybe because I’ve never done so! It certainly seems a good idea to have a stand so you can still have both hands free for DJing, especially if you’re going to be using it a lot: Our tutor DJ Jazzy Jeff, for instance, uses a mic stand on his livestreams. For occasional use though, having it by the side of the mixer to pick up when needed is the usual way.

dj jazzy jeff livestreaming from his studio, talking into a mic
DJ Jazzy Jeff in his studio, alongside Mad Skillz, livestreaming The Magnificent House Party.

But if you’re an event or wedding DJ who needs to use a mic with guests, for toasts etc, it may be worth seriously considering using a lapel or “lav” mic (the type that you clip to their shirt).

The reason for this is that most members of the public aren’t used to using handheld mics, and will tend to hold them too far away from their mouths. Even if you tell them, they’ll correct the issue, then the mic will drift away from their mouths again as they speak. You then have to turn the volume up, risking feedback.

With a lapel mic, you clip it onto them, and they forget about it. It’s a smart solution and one I think DJs should use more often.

Want mic performance tips? It’s all covered in our Complete DJ Course

What to go for

Most DJs wanting a good, all-round mic won’t go far wrong with a simple handheld cardioid dynamic mic, such as the Shure SM58.

If you’re wanting a mic for podcasting, DJ/producer work and voiceovers, a cardioid condenser mic may be a good choice – the Shure SM7B is an industry standard, although not cheap. A cheaper option would be the Blue Microphones Yeti (for digital), or Yeti Pro (which is both digital and analogue), which also has a switch for omni-directional, uni-directional or stereo – useful!

For wireless, do consult a local dealer – it really does depend on where you are in the world. But as I said I’d go for digital over analogue every time, and do consider a lapel mic if non-professional guests will be using the mic.

Now you know all about mics, would you like to learn how to use them properly? Check out 3 Microphone Tips For Beginner DJs.

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