Microphone Test


Description of the various Microphones

What are the criteria that one needs to pay attention to when chossing a harmonica ? Technical ones, of course, but also price aspects and availability. This part of the article aims at defining the criteria and rating each mic under said criteria. There in no element of judgement here, only by trying will you finally be able to decide which is the best for you. Still, here you will learn what to pay attention to

Criteria :

Frequency Response : The frequency response determines how a given frequancy will be transmitted by the microphone to the amplification equipment. They are often drawn on the technical specs of mics and look like gaussian curves (with a hump in the middle). To be perfectly honest, there is very little you can learn by just looking at the curve unless you're an expert in electronics and sound. So as a rule this criterion, although technically important will not help you to choose. Therefore we will not keep it in the recap table below.

Impedance : Impedance is not so much an element of choice as a constraint you need to be aware of. It's a measure of resistance in the use of electrical currents. PAs are Low impedance (less than 200 ohms) which allows for longer cable lengths without sound loss whereas amplifiers and effect pedals are High impedance. As a rule, when the plu into which you insert the cable is a 6,35 jack it's very likely to be high impedance; when the plus is a 3-pin XLR, it's always low impedance. Make sure that the elements you link together have the same impedance or you'll suffer volume and quality losses. Most vocal microphones are sold for low impedance since their plug is an XLR. Some of them can be switched to high impedance. In any case you can easily find impedance transformerswho often allow you to switch from one to the other.

Output Level : A good output level pretty much guarantees a powerful sound. It also pretty much guarantees excessive saturation or feedback. Again, figures are insufficient to judge, all depends on what you're looking for. On top of that this information doesn't always appear on technical specs. We won't keep this criterion either for those reasons.

Weight : For comfort of playing and ease of transportation, this is a relevent criterion.

Volume pot : Some players like to have a volume pot that allows them to boost their output when needed and also to counter incoming feedback by lowering the volume level.

Switch on/off : A switch allows you to cut out the mic completely when it's not in use to minimise the risk of feedback or extraneous noises.

Elements : Some microphone manufacturers propose several different elements inside their microphones (the element is sometimes also called capsule and it's the part that react to the sound and carries it over.) Different elements have different sound textures. When several elements are available we marked Yes in the Elements column.

haRmonic Solutions.jpg (3858 octets)haRmonic Solutions

While working on this test we discovered another interesting product that is not a microphone as such but does allow harmonica amplification since it's a pre-miced harmonica.

Richard Smith is the English gentlemen who builds this product and he told us that several harmonica players from Britain including Johnny mars and Adam Glaser have already adopted his system

We have briefly tested the system and it sounds promising. Unfortunately the harmonica on which the microphone had been incorporated wasn't to everybody's taste, which didn't allow us to take full measure of the product's capabilities. That being said, Richard also proposes to mount the microphones on any existing harmonica model, which allows each player to go on playing his favourite ole harps.

Richard also designs hand-held mini-mics similar to the Honker or Madcat. For more information on his solutions, go to his website :

haRmonic Solutions


  Impedance Weight On/Off Switch Volume Pot Elements
Green Bullet Hi 750 g. No Yes / Opt No
Astatic JT-30 Hi   No Yes / Opt Yes
Original Shaker Hi 150 g. No Yes Yes
Shaker Madcat Hi 125 g. No Yes No
Ruskin Hi   Yes / Opt Yes / Opt Yes
Harmonica Honker Hi   Yes Yes No
I-Mic Hi   No Yes Yes ?
Shure Beta 56 Lo 500 g. No No* No

* Volume pots that go between the XLR plug and the cable can easily be found to compensate for the lack of in-built pot.


The microphones :

greenbullet200x200.jpg (10126 octets)Green Bullet :

Considered THE classic harmonica microphone since the 50s, the Shure Green Bullet was originally used in PA systems in night clubs. It was only natural that a harp player would try to blow through it at some point. Shure still builds them identical to how they were back then. They are kaki in colour and have a silver grill. You can spot them on the covers of many harmonica recording (sometimes the players don't use 'em : they just look cool...)

US Price : $200.00 / $110.00
French Price : 915,00 FF
Where to find it : Most harmonica specialists or on the internet. Click here

astatic200x200.jpg (9647 octets)Astatic JT-30/Bluesblaster :

It looks similar to the Green Bullet but has a slightly different architecture. It's also a really old model and Astatic build it now just as they did 50 years ago. Hohner re-badged an Astatic in order to release their in-house microphone, which they called the Blues Blaster. It's identical to a JT-30 apart from the petrol blue paint color (instead of matt black for the JT-30) This is probably the model that most blues harp players use today...

US Price : $110.00 / $80.00
French Price : 915,00 FF
Where to find it : Most harmonica specialists or on the internet. Click here

shaker200x200.jpg (9771 octets)Original Shaker :

Shaker microphones are very light plastic mics with a volume pot. They have appeared on the market much more recently than the Green Bullet or the Astatic. They are built in the US by a company fronted by harp players and built along the specs of consultant harp players. There are two models available : the 'dynamic' which is the one we are testing in this article and the 'crystal' which has a different element and apparently has a clearer sound.

US Price : $90.00 / $70.00
French Price : 615,00 FF
Where to find it : Most harmonica specialists or on the internet. Click here

madcat200x200.jpg (6789 octets)Shaker Madcat :

The Shaker Madcat has been designed by the people at Shaker following the specs of Peter Madcat Ruth, an american harp player who wanted to have an amplified sound without the constraints of a bullet microphone. It's a light metal encased microphone that's supposed to slip between two of your fingers. We had our copy of the model very briefly so we could test it but didn't have it long enough for photographs, so this is the publicity shot.

US Price : $150.00 / $115.00
French Price :  1250,00 FF
Where to find it : Most harmonica specialists or on the internet. Click here

ruskin200x200.jpg (10221 octets)Ruskin :

Frank Ruskin is an american harp player who builds harmonica microphones for several well know players. His mics are bullet shaped like Green Bullets and Astatics but much lighter and have a more chromed look. The model we had for testing just had an on-off switch but Frank can put volume pots on as well. Frank also proposes a smaller and lighter model, the Ruskin Jr, and a model with fins that looks considerably cooler and vintage.

US Price : $55.00 + options
French Price : NA
Where to find it : Straight from Frank Ruskin. Click here for his details

honker200x200.jpg (9775 octets)Harmonica Honker :

The Harmonica Honker is built in the same spirit as the Shaker Madcat, ie an invisible microphone, not to be felt and allowing the use of hand effects when playing. The cable that comes out of the mic ends up on a box that allows you to add some distorsion to the sound if you so wish. The ring is made of light plastic and the microphone is protected by foam. The mic can be acquired alone (without the distorsion box) or with a belt pack.

US Price : $130.00
French Price : NA
Where to find it : Straight from Alan Elliot. Click here for his details

i-mic200x200.jpg (10378 octets)i-Mic :

Our pride and joy. Planet Harmonica collaborator and electronics engineer Michel Triste contributed this microphone to the test. It has the nifty and high-tech design of a famous computer, comes equipped with a volume pot, is entirely built with second hand materials (mineral water bottles, milk bottles) plus a few components for a price that is ridiculously low. We have included all the plans and instructions on how to build one yourself.

US Price : $10.00
French Price : 50,00 FF
Where to find it : You've got to build it yourself. Click here for the plans and instructions.

beta56200x200.jpg (6574 octets)Shure Beta 56 :

Originally this model is used for amplifying drum toms, but the Shure Beta 56 is used for harmonica by some players including JJ Milteau. It's an L shaped mic, quite heavy and has an XLR connection. In order to optimise it for harp it is recommended to fill the microphone head with foam. Again, since we only had the Shure Beta 56 during the actual test we had no time to do a fancy photo so we can only show you the publicity shots.

US Price : 300.00 / $160.00
French Price : 1600,00 FF
Where to find it : In specialised mic shops or in the Internet.

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