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Monday, December 22, 2008

Shure SM57 and Shure SM58

The 'Shure' things in mics are the SM57 and SM58

There are so many myths surrounding the Shure SM57 and SM58 microphones. One of my favorites is that the Shure SM57 is a studio only mic and the SM58 is a live only mic.

Let's talk about reality... The SM57 and SM58 are industry standards. They are the affordable real thing in this day of cheap microphones flooding the market. They are heavy duty. They can take real world use and keep on working. Each can play roles in the studio or on the stage.

Dynamic mics are often the most overlooked mics for the home or project studio. The Shure SM57 and SM58 deserve at least one, two or even more spots in most any studio depending on the needs and philosophy of the studio.

Like most dynamic mics, the Shure SM57 and SM58 come to life through nice mic preamps. Some nice mic preamps that work well with these mics are the A Designs MP-1 and MP-2, the Great River ME-1NV and MP-2NV, the Grace 201 and 101, the FMR RNP and the Speck Mic Pre 5.0. While they'll work fine with a Mackie, Behringer or M-Audio level of preamp, the Shure SM57 and SM58 open up to a higher sonic level with better mic pres.

My favorite application for the SM58 is vocals. There are certain singers who don't sound the best through good vocal condensers or even large diaphragm dynamics such as the Shure SM7 or the Electro Voice RE20. For these people, you need to put up a Shure SM58. I suggest using a Stedman popfilter with the SM58 even though the mic possesses a built-in windscreen in its bulbous head.

One of my favorite tricks is to let the vocalist hold the Shure SM58 in her hand. I'll place a Stedman popfilter between her mouth and the mic. The gravy is putting her in the control room so she can monitor through the control room speakers. I've found that freeing a vocalist of headphones often frees the performance. Yes, the noise floor comes up but the emotional impact of the performance comes up. Bono of U2 reportedly records with an SM58 in this fashion as well. Please note this "live" in the studio technique generally works only with louder vocalists.

The Shure SM57 seems to find its strength in spoken word, snare drum and guitar amps. One of the more difficult areas of recording is spoken word, which is also called dialog or voiceover. A lot of studios tend to think they can put any mic in front of a voice actor and get reasonable results. Most studios probably put up a Shure SM7, EV RE20 or even a Neumann U87 for dialog. You need to remember that the SM57 can put across the speaking voice as well. The President of the United States uses a Shure SM57 as his podium mic. Sometimes, the SM57 can be the best mic for the voice and perform much better than mics costing over 25 times its price.

On snare drum and guitar amps, the Shure SM57 needs careful placement. I recommend using a pair of Extreme Isolation Headphones to get the best mic placement. The Extremes allow you to hear what the SM57 hears. Be careful with the levels as an SM57 on snare and amps means close mic'ing. Watch the levels so you don't damage your hearing. I suggest setting the levels first then putting the Extremes on to fine tune the mic placement.

Sometimes I get a little taken aback by the cult of the SM57, which recommends that the project and home studio enthusiast should own lots of them. I've yet to find a mic that I'd own more than two of for my home studio and that includes the SM57. But, if you like, then there is no harm in owning multiples as there is always some possible use for an SM57.

The Shure SM58 also comes in a version with an on/off switch. This model is the SM58S. I've never been sure in what environment an on/off switch would be suitable. Live sound engineers tell me that an on/off switch on a mic means adding something to a mic that will cause a breakdown or failure where one otherwise would not occur. In the studio, an on/off switch is not needed. I've had SM58s with and without the on/off switch. For no particular reason, I preferred the ones without the switch.

I suggest cleaning off the grille of the SM58 after each session. If you need to replace the grille, then insist that your dealer sell you a RK134G grille, which is the official Shure replacement part. Most music dealers stock a generic grille that they usually price higher than the official Shure part, which can be found online for $14 and up. The grille is part of the sound. Demand the original part.

The Shure SM57 is a cardioid pattern dynamic mic. The cardioid pattern does an excellent job of isolating the source from background noise. To my ears, the SM57 cuts off about 200 Hz, puts a bump at the high end of the mids, and cuts off again with frequencies over 12 kHz. In essence, it doesn't give you the bottom of the low end or much of the high end but gives you a sculpted sound that accentuates the top end of the mid frequencies.

The SM58 is the same mic but adds the bulbous grille. It sounds different in that there are less highs. It seems to also be missing a tad bit of the accentuated top in the mid frequencies that are present with the SM57. Side by side, the SM57 sounds a little more open on the top end than the SM58.

The Bottom Line: Recommended. The Shure SM57 and SM58 are heavy duty workhorses.

--Steven Langer


1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for the nice article. What do you think about the SM57 for singing?

Aren't there any special eceptions for that? I've read that artists such as Bono and Madonna have used in some classic albums.