Recording bass is one of the most important parts of creating an album. When recording a band, I usually start by focusing on getting the drums to sound punchy and tight. However, even if it's not the final take, I always have the bass player play along during the drum recording.
The synergy between the drums and the bass is crucial in proper recording. If you listen to any song you love, pay attention to how the bass and kick drum are always locked in.
While many people now use synth bass to achieve low frequencies, I still believe that nothing compares to the sound of a properly miked bass amp. Yes, you can indeed go direct using a DI from most bass amps, but it results in a completely different sound.
The purpose of recording bass with a microphone is to capture the air from the woofer in the room, giving it a certain organic and three-dimensional quality. It's hard to explain, but it becomes very obvious when you listen to it.
Here are the four mics I constantly rely on when recording deep and powerful bass.
Best Mics for Bass Amp Recording - Top 4!
1. Sennheiser MD 421-II
As expected, many microphones meant for kick drums are perfect for recording bass too. The Sennheiser MD 421 is a classic mic that has been used on many kick drum tracks on some of your favorite records. I use it all the time.
What makes this mic especially good for recording bass amps is its excellent bleed rejection pattern. If you are recording in a room with too much reverb or reflections, no worries because it will capture the sound directly in front of it, resulting in a tight sound.
This is great for both drums and bass.
I prefer a tight and punchy bass sound that is not too boomy or long. I want to hear the notes clearly without them sounding muddy, and the Sennheiser MD 421 is perfect for that. It also has a great proximity effect, so you can place it close to the source and capture detailed transient responses.
My usual approach is to get a tight bass sound and use the built-in roll-off feature on the mic to reduce some of the low-end.
Another important aspect is having a mic with a high SPL (Sound Pressure Level). The best way to capture any cabinet, whether it's for guitar or bass, is to crank up the volume in the room to get the full headroom. The Sennheiser MD 421 excels in capturing loud amps without distorting.
However, one complaint I have is that it cuts off at 17 kHz. While it is designed for low-end recording, there are times when I want to capture the beautiful fret noise, and in those instances, this mic can be a little dark.
2. Electro-voice RE20
The Electro-Voice RE20 is a highly versatile microphone, a true classic. Even Thom Yorke from Radiohead uses it for vocals. People also love using it as a kick mic, and it is highly praised for bass amps.
I own two of these microphones, and let me tell you, they are as tough as tanks. They have been through it all and still look brand new, with no dents or damage whatsoever.
I especially enjoy using the RE20 to capture those clean and elegant bass tones. It is like a perfect match for polished pop productions and jazz music.
One thing that really makes me love this microphone is how clean it sounds and the minimal proximity effect. It has this cool bass attenuation feature called the bass tilt-down switch, which allows me to be super precise when capturing that narrow spectrum of the bass amp.
I’ve noticed that when I record bass, too much room sound can disrupt things and make the overall sound thin. But not with the RE20, it keeps things tight and focused thanks to its awesome cardioid polar pattern.
Oh, and by the way, this microphone is my absolute go-to for capturing acoustic bass, especially for film scoring. It’s like it was made for it, capturing those deep, rich bass sounds that you hear in epic Hans Zimmer scores.
But you know what has always puzzled me? Why on earth does this microphone have a cutoff at 45 Hz if it is supposed to be amazing for bass? Maybe it was designed to be a super clean bass mic, but it would have been much better to have a switch to roll off the bass instead of automatically cutting it so much.
3. AKG Perception P2
AKG has always been a company that captures amazing transient responses. Whether it's their super famous C414 microphone or, in this case, the Perception P2, they engineer microphones that really capture the attack of sounds beautifully.
The Perception P2 is my absolute favorite mic for capturing synth bass, as well as muted and slap bass coming through a bass amp.
Since I mostly produce film and electronic music, I prefer basslines that are tight and muted. Sometimes, I even use instruments like a stick bass, which is super percussive.
When I run that through a bass and capture it with the AKG, I get a hard attack on slap bass, stick bass, and even pizzicato acoustic bass.
I also love using this mic for sound design because of its incredible transient response. Sometimes, I'll have the bass player go through effects like a doubler or an octave pedal, and then run it through the amp to get really low hits that I can turn into an impactful timpani-type sound. It's so cool for a film.
This is also my absolute favorite bass cabinet mic because I find it to be the most versatile among the whole lineup. It has an amazing frequency response that goes down to 20 Hz! That's pretty wild.
Additionally, it has a humbucking coil that rejects interference and various types of electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) noises. This is awesome when I'm recording acoustic instruments because I can capture a clear and present sound.
The only thing I don't like is that it doesn't include a bass roll-off that goes all the way to the sublevel. Sometimes, I might want to get rid of some of the rumble.
4. Behringer B906
I've mentioned this in several roundups, but Behringer has been crushing it lately. Whether it's their impressive replicas of vintage synths and hardware or their own original products like the Behringer B906, they're definitely on a roll.
I recently bought a couple of these microphones because they are a great deal at their price, and they can handle extremely high sound pressure levels (SPL), making them perfect for bass amps. I primarily use them for rock and metal music because they provide a clean high-end sound without being too harsh.
That's exactly what I need for those genres, especially since bass guitars can be challenging in those styles.
I love how compact these microphones are because they allow me to place them directly against the cloth on the amp. As I mentioned before, using a microphone instead of going directly through a DI helps capture the air movement and the resulting high SPL levels.
That aspect of the sound is also crucial in modeling plug-ins, which often have an "air" switch to simulate the short distance between the woofer and the pickup of the air movement. It's a key element in achieving the desired sound.
Another great feature is the switchable low-cut filter, which maintains a flat frequency response down to its original specification of 50 Hz, and you can boost the high frequencies. I frequently use the high-frequency boost when recording metal music.
Now, the 50 Hz low-cut might seem a bit thin for some people, but this microphone can accurately handle those levels. Unless you're recording extremely deep sub-synth bass, you won't even notice the cut-off frequency.
Choosing the Best Bass Amp Mic
You can basically divide this roundup into two groups. On one hand, there are the classics and legendary mics that have been around for decades with slight upgrades, like the Electro-Voice RE20 and the Sennheiser MD 421. On the other hand, there are the newer mics like the AKG Perception and the Behringer.
When it comes to choosing a microphone for bass, it really depends on the genre of music you're recording. Sometimes, certain mics have an edge for capturing a specific style.
If you have the luxury of owning several of them, then go for it. But if you really have to decide on just one, then I would follow the following criteria to make your best choice.
Proximity Effect and Rejection
To me, the absolute worst thing is when you’re miking a bass amp too closely and it ends up muddy and lacking impact. Most people don't really think of bass as having a distinct attack like a kick drum, but really good bass should give you a bit of a kick when it comes out of large speakers.
The reason you want to control proximity and rejection is that you want your bass to blend well with the kick drum. You don't want it to get lost or perhaps weaken the punch of the kick, which would be even worse.
So, being able to get up close with your microphone to the woofer without it sounding like a muddy mess with a lot of sound bleeding is crucial. The Electro-Voice RE20 is the best microphone for this, with the Sennheiser coming in a close second.
You'll need a microphone that can handle a lot of volume punch because these bass amps usually have large woofers that truly deliver the air you need to record. Having a microphone that distorts easily or gets oversaturated with too much level is a deal-breaker for bass recording.
In my opinion, the newer microphones have better SPL handling in general, both the Behringer and the AKG. So I tend to use those microphones if I'm recording more aggressive styles like rock and metal.
Frequency Response and Options
When recording bass, it is important to use a microphone that accurately captures the low frequencies. While it is common for producers, including myself, to enhance the bass using EQs like SSLs and Neves during the mixing stage, it is still best to capture more low frequencies during recording and make cuts later.
During my time studying engineering at Berklee College of Music, my recording and production professor always emphasized that it is easier to cut frequencies than to add them. I have found this advice to be wise over the years.
Adding artificial EQ to bass amp recording can be very limiting, which is why the AKG Perception is a godsend. It can take you down to 20Hz, which is even beyond the capabilities of synths!
Of course, some bass amp woofers can't handle sub-regions, but what you can capture are the fundamentals and harmonics of the bass tone. This sometimes shapes a much clearer note and helps the bass cut through the mix.
You can always sculpt it with some plugins in the mix later. This also helps blend the bass with the kick drum. An absolute must!
In the world of music production, the bass is a seriously underrated instrument. Everyone always says to focus on the vocals, drums, and those huge, in-your-face guitars.
The bass is often seen as something that's just there for support. But if you ever mute it in a mix, you'll be surprised at how much of the track you lose just from one instrument not being present.
That's why it's so important, and I always spend a lot of time getting the best possible sound. I love doubling the bass with a Moog synth, which I also like to route through a bass amp and capture with a microphone and DI simultaneously.
This combo works great because I like the Moog bass for its sub-frequencies, and I like the punch and presence of bass cabinets. So, if you get it right and combine these two, you can transform your track and take it to the next level.