Microphones & Wireless

Hearing Every Note: The Best Harmonica Microphone

If you’re a harp player in the market for a solid microphone that can give you the same kind of fat tone as some of the best blues players in history, the Shure Green Bullet 520DX Dynamic Harmonica Microphone would be hard to beat. After research, it is the number one harmonica microphone I would choose for myself.

Personal preference is an important consideration when choosing between harmonica microphones. Just because one microphone is preferred by one musician does not mean that it is the perfect one for everyone. So with that said, we’ll explain how we choose our top pick, and also present other viable options.

Why Trust Us?

Not only did we conduct extensive research to determine what makes one harmonica microphone better than another, but we looked into over fifty contenders to ensure that only the very best were chosen. On top of that, I am a performing musician myself. I have played guitar for over ten years, and harmonica for three.

I know how frustrating it can be when you buy a new piece of equipment that just doesn’t live up to the hype of online reviews or word of mouth. With this in mind, I have carefully constructed a thorough guide outlining the ins and outs of purchasing a harmonica microphone and highlighting which ones stand head and shoulders above the rest.

Top Pick: Shure Green Bullet 520DX  

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Its high output is exactly what most harp players are looking for to capture that big crunch of overdrive tone.

The Technology

Before comparing products, read up on the available specifications so you can understand how various products are designed:

Acoustic vs. Amplified

When I say “acoustic,” I do not mean that the sound would not need an amplifier. The term simply refers to a subclass of microphones used to generate a more clean sound. These types of microphones are typically used in classical music, and their goal is to preserve the clean sound of an instrument as if you were standing in a room and hearing it without a microphone at all.

These are typically standing mics that are left in the air, not cupped in your hands. Acoustic tone is fairly simple and can be achieved with a microphone plugged directly into an amp or PA system. The tone itself comes largely from the player, as well as the distance between himself ad the microphone.

Amplified microphones, on the other hand, are what we tend to think of when picturing a harmonica player cupping his hands around a microphone. These microphones produce a fatter, more distorted sound, and can be heard in music genres like blues, jazz, country, and bluegrass.

When a microphone is cupped, it can produce a distorted sound by increasing the volume of playing to overdrive the signal. The amplifier then responds by amplifying the distortion and adding its own, creating that fat tone we all know and love.

I wish I would have known this little tidbit before I went and purchased a condenser microphone for home recording. There have been some tracks where I have tried to capture that fat, bluesy tone, but have been unable to due to the nature of condenser microphones.

Shape and Size

If choosing to go for an amplified tone, this factor can make or break a microphone in my opinion. If a microphone is too large or awkward in your hands, it will be hard to grip for a sustained period, which could make playing shows difficult. Additionally, if the size of the mic is too large, cupping may be impossible for players with more delicate hands.

The most popular shape of harmonica microphones is by far the “bullet mics,” which are the older, vintage-looking models that picked up in popularity in the 1940’s.

Output Level

A good output level yields a more powerful sound, which can be perfect for playing in larger venues, or for recording at home when you want that extra, added oomph. The downside to too high of an output level can, of course, lead to feedback, so this factor can be at times understandably tricky to find that one sweet spot.

For a more detailed look specifically delving into the more technical aspects of microphones, check out this informative site.

Consider Before Buying

In addition to the technical specifications of individual microphones, research quality and ratings before pulling the trigger on any purchase. I learned this the hard way when I bought a handmade guitar effects pedal from a local shop. The pedal worked for a good few months before shorting out.

Unfortunately, the local shop’s return policy wouldn’t allow me to get a refund. This is why taking a closer look at what you are buying and from who is important to consider.

Brand

Now first of all, I’m not going to start this by condemning or condoning any specific brands, or trying to say that you only want to buy branded or unbranded products. But trusted brands are trusted for a reason, and most of them will include some warranty or refund policy with them that can be more generous than what you would get with generic or homemade gear.

Since my effects pedal fiasco, I’ve become a trusted buyer of top-line brands, but always keep my eyes and ears open for signs of any up and coming contenders.

Price

Obviously, you’ll want to determine whether or not the price is right when looking at musical equipment. Gear can be expensive, and microphones are no exception. When looking at price, When looking at price, skill level is one of the most important things to consider alongside it.

While a more expensive microphone will generally be a better purchase, the difference between it and a slightly cheaper one may not be as great, and everyone wants a purchase that won’t break the bank.

The Competition

After hours of testing and research, here's the final competition.

InstrumentRatingCurrent Pricing
Shure Green Bullet 520DX
high output for that overdrive tone$119.00
Superlux D112/C
volume knob but a bit harder to overdrive$54.99
Shaker Dynamic
can drive almost anything it is plugged into, attached volume knob makes adjusting to the right venue easyOut of stock
Hohner JT30
compact, durable, easy to use, versatile, and technique sensitiveOut of stock
Shaker Madcat Harmonica
the harmonica can to rest more naturally in the hand of the musician, compared to bulkier bullet typesOut of stock
Feather Soul Harmonica Mic
Designed to slip right on to one of the harmonica player's fingers, for natural and comfortable feel$189.00
Peavey H5C Harmonica
Weighs in at three pounds, which makes it the heaviest microphone$99.99
Nady Bushman Torpedo
Can be used with an uncupped grip to produce a clean sound for vocals, choice for lead singers to use their harmonica skillsOut of stock
Apex 327 Dynamic
high output with increased gain, a volume knob, and an integrated stand mount adapter$79.99
Audix Fireball V Harmonica Beatbox
Designed with the harmonica playing beatboxer in mind$125.44
Alctron AL1002 Dynamic Instrument
beginners' choice for a simple yet effective mic capable of a wide range of uses$87.46

Our Top Recommendation: Shure Green Bullet 520DX

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The Green bullet is an amplified microphone that has remained one of the most popular choices for blues and jazz musicians alike, for obvious reasons. It has a high output, which means it will drive whatever amp it is plugged into super hard.

This high output is exactly what most harp players are looking for to capture that big crunch of an overdrived tone. For some players, the size and weight may be an issue, as the Green Bullet is both larger and heavier than some of its contenders.

Although it does have its downsides, the Green Bullet is produced by Shure, which is a trusted brand in the audio electronics industry. They have been making quality microphones since 1925, and continues to set the industry standard with superior products.

You get what you pay for, however, as Shure products tend to be more on the higher end when the checkbook comes out. Still, the Green Bullet is reasonably priced at just over one hundred and twenty dollars. When taking into account some of the other high-end alternatives, the Green Bullet beats some contenders by a whopping fifty to one hundred dollars.

The Shure Green Bullet features a volume knob, which allows musicians to adjust their output to fit a wide variety of playing venues, from an at-home setup to an auditorium with a top notch PA system. Weighing in at 26 ounces, the Green Bullet sports a retro design with green and chrome finished die casting.

It also features a rugged, dynamic cartridge with improved response, as well as a quarter inch connector and twenty-foot cable. It can be found for purchase here.

Runner Up: Superlux D112/C Dynamic

Credit: Amazon.com

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As the next highest contender to the Shure Green Bullet, the Superlux D112/C Dynamic Harmonica Microphone comes in as a very close second. Essentially this is a cheaper version of the Shure Green Bullet. Like the Green Bullet, the Superlux D112/C has a volume knob but is a bit harder to overdrive than the Green Bullet.

Despite this, the Superlux is a bit smaller and weighs a few ounces less than the Green Bullet, making it a good fit for those who find the Shure’s bullet mic too awkward. What stands out most with this microphone is the price tag, as it is about half as expensive as the Green Bullet.

If you’re okay with less overdrive and want a better introductory harp mic, the Superlux is a solid pick. You didn’t think the runner up would be anything other than another bullet microphone, did you?

Other Products to Consider:

Shaker Dynamic Handmade

Credit: Amazon.com

This interesting little mic offers an alternative to players looking for an less bulky option with little feedback. Still, though it be small, this little guy can pack a punch. At full volume it can drive almost anything it is plugged into, and with the attached volume knob, adjusting to the right venue is easy.

The mic is made of plastic instead of a sturdier option of metal or chrome. This design choice need not be a flaw, as the Shaker mic is lighter as a result. A good choice for those looking for a good, versatile mic under one hundred dollars. You can find it here.

Astatic by Hohner JT30 Roadhouse

This is another harmonica microphone that is similar in style and quality to the Green Bullet, but with a retro “Roadhouse” design that I just love. I can’t help it. I love vintage.

This micophone is compact, durable, easy to use, versatile, and technique sensitive. Some of the noted cons are that it could use a quickmount and that the mic provides excessive feedback at times, almost too easily for some.

I’ve heard some user complain about its unreliability, and who have reported a crackling or humming sound while playing. This last complaint seems to happen on more of a random and individual basis, than being a trend of this specific model. Still, it’s something to consider. You can find it here.

Shaker Madcat

Coming in at nearly one hundred and thirty dollars, this harmonica microphone by Shaker is on the higher end of the spectrum when it comes to harp mics. Unlike a standard bullet microphone, the Shaker Madcat is ergonomically designed to fit comfortably in the palm of your hand.

The mic is shaped to allow the harmonica to rest more naturally in the hand of the musician, instead of needing to adjust your grip to hold onto the bulkier bullet types. The cord is a little short, however, coming in at around four feet, which would be a decent length for home recording, but could offer some trouble if playing on a larger stage.

The Feather Soul

Credit: Amazon.com

This little microphone sports an experimental design, much like a shrunken down version of the Shaker Madcat. The mic is designed to slip right on to one of the harmonica player’s fingers, allowing for the most natural and comfortable feel while playing when compared to any other harmonica microphone we’ve looked at so far.

Its tiny size, lightweight design, and ease of playability make this a great microphone, although it comes at a cost. At a price of nearly two hundred dollars, the Feather Soul is a microphone best suited for the professional level musician looking for more control and less feedback in their sound.

Peavey H5C

Okay, let’s get back to some more bullet-style microphones. The Peavey H5C has a good, professional tone that some prefer over the Green Bullet. It beats the Bullet at price too, coming in at one hundred dollars even. Although the tone and quality of sound you get is comparable.

You’ll notice that the Peavey H5C weighs in at three pounds, which makes it the heaviest microphone we’ve looked at yet. A decent choice for anyone who doesn’t mind the weight or is looking for a more affordable option than the Green Bullet.

Nady Bushman Torpedo

Designed to be used as both a vocal and harmonica microphone, the Nady Bushman Torpedo can be used with an uncupped grip to produce a clean sound for vocals, which makes it a solid choice for those lead singers out there who have been dying to break out their harmonica skills.

Although this under one hundred dollar microphone promises to be more versatile in that regard, the lack of a volume control knob makes it a bit worse if you’re only going to use it for harmonica. All in all, a good choice for singers, but not as good as others if you just want to play that harp.

Apex 327 Dynamic

Credit: Amazon.com

The Apex 327 features that compact bullet shape we all know and love, and are probably tired of hearing about by now. It has a high output with increased gain, a volume knob, and an integrated stand mount adapter for when your hands get too tired holding on to the bullet shape.

Along with all of this, it also includes a padded carry bag, which I imagine must look something like a purse.

Audix Fireball V Beatbox

Credit: Audix

As an alternative to the more popular bullet design, the Audix Fireball V looks more like a typical microphone, and comes in weighing at under five ounces. Designed with the harmonica playing beatboxer in mind, this is another one of those professional level mics that you’ll need to pay a bit more for, around one hundred and thirty, to be approximate.

For players looking for the distorted sound of a bullet mic, you will be disappointed. This mic boasts no to little feedback and is clean in its tone.

Alctron AL1002 Dynamic Instrument

Rounding off our other competitors we have the Alctron Al1002, which is another microphone suited for both vocals and harmonica. While this one in particular is not necessarily made for harmonica use primarily, it still gets a spot on our list due to its lightweight and ability to take both high and low frequency instruments.

At a low price of around fifty dollars, the Alctron Al1002 is a great choice for beginners who want a simple yet effective mic capable of a wide range of uses.

Sources:

  • Heumann, G. (9/16). All About Harmonica Microphones, and then some. http://blowsmeaway.com/all%20about%20harmonica%20microphones.pdf
  • http://www.modernbluesharmonica.com/harmonica_microphones.html
  • http://www.planetharmonica.com/ph2/VE/TMDescriptifUK.htm
  • http://www.shure.com/americas/about-shure

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