The Beatles were only interested in the best and cutting-edge technologies of the time and this included their selection of microphones throughout the 60s and 70s. We take a look at some of the microphones they used in the studio and for live recordings including dynamic, ribbon and condenser microphones.
One of the most iconic microphones The Beatles used was the Neumann KM84. This was a favourite of theirs for live performances including the infamous rooftop gig in London. This mic was produced from 1966 until 1992 and is definitely a must-have for the vintage microphone enthusiast. It was the world’s first ever 48V phantom-powered microphone. It was a small-diaphragm FET condenser and it featured a cardioid pickup pattern. They’re quite expensive to pick up second hand and would set you back a good grand for one in good condition. They have also been known to be used in drum overheads and hi-hat applications.
Another staple of The Beatles microphone collection was the AKG D202. Known as “The Rocket” this two way cardioid dynamic mic sounds incredible on sources with high SPL, low frequencies, kick, toms, and guitar cabs. With a bit of EQ this mic almost has a condenser quality to it and can really make a male vocal compliment a big sound mix. Interestingly, they still use this mic in the houses of parliament as a speech mic. Again this will need to be a microphone that you buy second-hand and they can be found reasonably cheaply.
Not surprisingly The Beatles also used a lot of Shure mics. The Shure archives show The Beatles playing a lot of American gigs that feature the use of the Shure 545, 546 and 565s. This was before the release of the Shure SM58 which is what Paul McCartney prefers to use today. During one gig in Chicago 1965, The Beatles borrowed some Shure 545s; A25B metal stand adapters; A45 quick disconnect isolation mounts; foam windscreens secured with rubber bands.
“These mics were on loan from Shure and were to be returned to Shure after the tour. The mics arrived at Shure Service in a plain cardboard box with no indication they were from Beatles management. Not knowing the provenance of these microphones, Shure Service disassembled the mics and used the pieces as spare parts.”
The Beatles early sound was a lot more rough and ready and this is evident in their microphone setup at the time. It was designed to most closely replicate the sound of one of their live performances which they had down to a T by that point. A pair of Neumann U47s were used for vocals – an absolute classic tube condenser microphone. These were also used to mic up George and John’s electric guitars to great effect. Ringo made do by sticking an AKG D-20 dynamic mic in front of the bass drum combined with an STC 4038 ribbon mic for the overheads. Other studio albums made use of the hugely famous Neumann U87 Studio Microphone.
Certainly not a refined overall sound by today’s standards but it gave The Beatles that kick and sense of urgency that they needed. If you have a big budget you can still buy a Coles 4038 Ribbon Microphone. Sadly the AKG D-20 is no longer in production but if you’re after a solid kick drum sound you should go and pick up the AKG Acoustic D12.