Have you ever wondered which microphone is best for you? It’s possibly the most commonly asked question by musicians and in many ways – one of the most difficult to answer. The truth is, there isn’t a clear cut answer, and the easiest answer is – it depends, are you singing pop ballads? or leading the next big rock group?
Although it isn’t easy to provide a simple answer to this question, there are a few basic points to consider, and the following information should get you started when choosing your microphone:
What are you trying to pick up?
There is no such thing as a one size fits all microphone, they all sound different, and they all have their uses depending on application. However, microphones for vocal applications can be split into 3 categories:
- Handheld - Handheld microphones offer great sounding, durable and practical solutions for the majority of live performance situations, but can be an issue in other scenarios such as presentations and theatre, where a more discreet and usually wireless solutions would be more practical for performance reasons. In this situation you could consider one of the following:
- Headset - As the microphone is stationary, the performer or presenter can move freely, without restriction, and the microphone will still pick up an even and clear sound.
- Lavalier - A similar option to headsets, with the added advantage of being discreet. A lavalier microphone can easily be positioned in a costume or attached to a suit – a great solution for theater or presentation applications where a discreet PA is necessary.
Where are you?
The environment you’re in, plays a big part in the selection of your microphone and the polar pattern you use. For example a highly sensitive mic with an omni directional pickup pattern can work great in the studio, but in a live environment, where stage monitors and other sound sources are present, it is important to choose a directional polar pattern – such as a cardioid or super cardioid. These polar patterns will pick up sound from the front, and reduce sound from other directions – reducing the chance of feedback.
Omni Directional – Picks up sound evenly from around the microphone.
Cardioid – A directional pickup pattern, which picks up sound from the front and reduces sound from other directions.
Super Cardioid – Similar to Cardioid, but more directional.
Bi-directional - Receives sound evenly from both the front and back, and rejects from the sides.
Note: Cardioid pickup patterns are effected by a physical occurrence known as the “Proximity Effect”, which causes bass frequencies to be boosted as the microphone is positioned closer to the sound source – this can be used to the singer or engineers advantage to fatten up a vocal if desired.
How do you want it to sound?
Another key element to consider that will have the greatest impact on general tone quality, is the type of microphone capsule you select, and these can be broken into 3 main categories:
Dynamic – A warm and full sound. Dynamic microphones are highly durable and able to handle very high sound pressure levels, making them ideal for live applications and noisy environments. If you play in a loud rock band, a dynamic microphone is most likely the most suitable for your live gigs.
Condenser – A brighter and more detailed sound. Condenser microphones are much more sensitive than their dynamic counter parts and have a much wider frequency response. For this reason, they are able to pick up a very honest and true sound, which is favoured by studios around the world. However, for some live applications, they can be problematic in-terms of feedback – particularly with noisy performances.
Ribbon – Prized for their ability to pick up high-frequency detail, without being harsh or brittle. Ribbon microphones are great as a vocal or drum overhead solution in the studio, but are rarely used live due to their more delicate construction.
The rules were made to be broken
As we have concluded, there are many factors to consider when choosing a microphone, and the reality is, the best microphone for you is the one that sounds best on your voice or instrument. There are no rules, only guide lines, and we encourage you to experiment with as many types as possible. There are plenty of examples in pop history of unconventional uses for microphones. For example: John Lennon recorded all his vocals with a Shure SM57 (A microphone usually regarded as an instrument mic) Also, check out this article on how the Shure SM7 was used as the main studio vocal mic on Michael Jacksons classic album Thriller.
Have fun and experiment next time you’re choosing your mic, and if you have a story to share with us on unconventional microphone use – please leave a comment below. In the meantime, we will leave you with some resources below to assist you in finding the right mic.
For more information on finding the right live microphone - visit the Shure Mic Check Webpage
…or for more information on Shure Microphones – visit the Shure Microphones Website
Shure UK talk through how to find the right mic
Below we’ve decided to have a little look into the history of the mic, and find out some more information…
The SM7’s story really begins with the SM5 broadcast microphone – a dynamic boom microphone that found a home in many radio and film studios following its introduction in 1966. The SM5 was huge – (measuring about 25 cm long) and had some of the same sonic characteristics of its newly introduced SM57 in a mic designed to reach beyond the broadcast industry (below is a pic from a Shure catalogue in 1974).
According to John Born (Product Manager, Shure Inc), the development of the SM7 went something like this: “A group of Shure acoustical engineers were given the SM57 cartridge element (Unidyne III) and asked, without restrictions on size or cost, to make it better. And they went nuts.” This may be one reason why John likes to refer to the SM7B as “an SM57 on steroids”.
Variations of the Shure Unidyne III cartridge are used in many of Shure’s dynamic microphones. The SM57, SM58 and SM7B all share a similar acoustic network based on the Unidyne III element, but there are a few differences between the SM7B cartridge and the SM57/SM58 cartridge design:
- The SM7B diaphragm is slightly different and optimized for increased low end response
- The larger housing of the SM7B allows for a larger rear volume behind the cartridge which extends its low end response
- The internal shockmount of the SM7B is optimized to reduce stand vibrations, while the shockmount in the SM57/SM58 is optimized to reduce noise in handheld applications
More from John: “The SM7 was designed as an extended, full range microphone and intended to be universal in its applications. It has a flatter and wider response than its SM57 and SM58 siblings but its frequency shaping switches in the back (selectable low cut and presence peak filtering) allow it to more than adequately fulfill (and enhance) applications where the SM57 or SM58 excel.”
The SM7 debuted in 1976 and eventually replaced the SM5B, which was discontinued in 1986.
The Thriller Effect
Over the course of past 30 years, the SM7 found its way into the recording studio. Case in Point: Michael Jackson’s groundbreaking album Thriller. Quincy Jones and recording engineer Bruce Swedien used an SM7 for most of Michael’s vocals and, according to legend, all of Vincent Price’s.
It was a brave choice. First of all, Michael Jackson’s previous album, Off The Wall, had already become the first solo record to produce four Top 10 singles and a GRAMMY Award for the single “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”. That set the bar pretty high. But Jackson was determined to do even better and the same production team was put in place to make it happen. The resulting 1982 Thriller album (remember – this is vinyl) went on to become the best–selling album of all time at an unheard-of 110 million copies sold.
With all the ultra-high-end recording microphones available to the producers, why the unassuming SM7, then a standard for radio and voiceover applications? Here’s what Bruce had to say about it in his track-by-track memoir, In the Studio with Michael Jackson: “One of my absolute favourite microphones is the Shure SM7. I recorded most of the big hit records of Michael’s career with him in front of one of my SM7s. I’ve been pretty vocal about how much I love that microphone, it’s a great mic.”
“I was allowed the freedom to make microphone choices, and nobody ever said a word. I just did it. For example, I used a Shure SM7 on most of Michael’s lead vocals — ‘Billie Jean’, ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ — and boy, did that raise some eyebrows! But I love that mic, and I have six of them. The first one that I bought was in 1977 … one of the first SM7s to be used on a major music project. It’s dynamic of course and it worked just flawlessly with Michael – if you notice you can hear all the lyrics very clearly.”
Fast Forward: Most Hyped Mic?
While there are legions of true believers still hoping for Shure to bring back the SM5B, the SM7B has achieved a level of popularity and buzz that give it (audio) urban legend status. Used as an instrument mic and a vocal mic in live sound, broadcast and recording, in the minds of many, it is the do-everything microphone that outperforms the industry workhorse SM57.
Shure Artist Relations Associate Ryan Smith agrees: “It continues to be used on major recordings, both as the lead vocal mic and on other applications — guitar amp, bass amp, kick drum, hi-hat, snare drum, horns and many more.” Death Cab for Cutie, John Mayer, Chevelle, James Hetfield of Metallica, My Chemical Romance, Don Was, Billy Idol and even the Boss have reportedly used the SM7B in either live sound or recording applications. Rumor has it that Bob Dylan is a fan, too.
Our search for Europe’s top drummer (not currently earning a living from drumming!) started late last year, and after over 1 million web hits, several thousand playalong downloads & hundreds of entries we are proud to announce this years winner as Antonio De Marianis of Italy.
For those of you who are hearing about this for the first time, entrants had to submit a video of themselves playing to a playalong we created which involved drumming various different styles including jazz, rock and drum and bass. The 5 finalists were selected from a panel of judges and all got a trip to Iceland for a one day masterclass with Darren Ashford, followed by a live battle in a nightclub. The eventual winner was decided by a very trusty clapometer!
Here is an excellent video perfectly summarising the entire weekend and the final battle.
…Many congratulations to Antonio, who received a 5000 Euro voucher for Shure products
You can go to our Drum Mastery website to see the entry videos of the 5 finalists
If you were inspired by probably the worlds most recognisable, most iconic (and most copied) microphone you may consider buying one – to perform with, or even just to look at – let’s be honest, it is a beautiful design. In the past we have come across people with Shure tattoos, people who’ve buried, burned and used Shure microphones as hammers to test their durability….however, I don’t think anyone has ever gone to this length and built a custom built computer.
Click here to see the amazing lengths this gentleman went to in order to recreate the infamous Shure 55SH microphone in the form of a computer.
The Beta 181 is a multipurpose instrument microphone and can be used on a wide variety of applications including guitars, bass and drums (overheads and snares). The beauty of the Beta 181 microphone is there are a total of four different interchangeable capsules available (Cardioid, Super Cardioid, Bi-Directional and Omni-Directional, allowing you to change the capsule according to your application.
We have had amazing feedback for this microphone, with some of the current users including Pete townshend, Sinead O’Connor, Snow Patrol & Ziggy Marley.
Over the years the Pro Audio Industry has developed many elaborate Myths. Please keep an eye out for our two part blog dishing out the truth and reasoning behind some of the folk tale stories.
Myth #1- Some microphones have more reach than others
False: The reality is that microphones do not reach out and grab the sound from a distance. They merely measure pressure variations right at the diaphragm itself. The microphone doesn’t “know” anything about what is happening at any distance from itself. ”The reach” of the microphone, if you can even call it that, is mostly dependent on the ability of the microphone to pick up sound in the middle of noise. No microphone has a “reach” that is defined independent of ambient noise.
Myth #2: Microphones always sound better in the store
It depends: An in-store demo of a microphone or any other acoustic product is greatly affected by the acoustic environment of a store. (That’s why there are listening rooms.) If the store is noisy or quiet, if you’re listening to the microphone through loudspeakers or headphones, all of those factors change the perceived sound of the microphone. In-store demos are not really indicative of how the microphone will perform in real life. Ideally, if you to take a mic to a gig or record your voice speaking or singing a phrase and then listen to it in playback. We suggest you evaluate it that way.
Myth #3: A wide range flat response microphone is better than a shaped response microphone
Depends: For a sound source that has a very wide frequency range, you want a microphone that can reproduce it in a high fidelity manner. That’s what a flat response should do. The assumption is that whatever the destination of that sound, either a playback system or a live sound system, the mic will reproduce the range that you’ve gone to so much trouble to get.
The average rock and roll sound system is not a wide range flat response thing itself. So putting wide range flat response mics on the front end doesn’t get you much. You can’t hear the performance difference.
But with a very high quality sound system or a recording environment, yes.
Myth#4-The SM58® hasn’t changed in over 40 years
False: When the SM58 was introduced in 1967, it was aimed at broadcast applications for which it was not ultimately embraced. But it was discovered by the fledgling live sound industry where it quickly gained a reputation as a reliable, good-sounding and affordable mic for a huge range of applications.
Dynamic microphone technology hasn’t changed. Take the internal combustion gasoline engine. A 327 small-block Chevy engine is old technology. It was designed in the early 1960s and is highly regarded and widely used today because it is a proven design that offers great performance. There have numerous improvements in reliability and manufacturability. There was a secondary tap on the transformer that was eliminated about 15 or 20 years ago related to a 50-ohm output impedance condition that was no longer a factor. The voice coil wire was changed to a copper clad aluminium to improve the solderability of the voice coil leads into the cartridge structure. The grounding mechanism for the output connector was changed. The paint formulations have been improved. The grille plating has been improved – the things that relate to long-term reliability have been changed incrementally throughout its history.
Myth #5:Condenser mics are not as rugged as dynamics
False: Today, all of our condenser microphones are engineered to hold up to exactly the same abuse as an SM58 – they go through the same exact environmental testing. Drop testing. Temperature testing. Humidity testing. Salt spray testing. Vibration testing. Electromagnetic testing. They have to pass the same battery of tests – and they do.
In the days when this myth came into existence, the average condenser microphones were very expensive, studio-grade models. The microphone they were compared to might have been a dynamic like the SM58. So if I take the ultra-expensive, circa 1930s vacuum tube Telefunken microphone and I dunk it into a glass of beer or drop it on the stage ten times – or even one time – it will probably stop working. It’ll become a paperweight while the SM58 will survive all that.
Myth #6: You have to match impedances to get the best result when you’re hooking up parts of a sound system
False. This isn’t true and it hasn’t been true since the late 1950s. In a sound system of modern design, the load impedance or the impedance of the device that you’re plugging into has to be significantly higher than the source impedance, which is the device that you’re plugging in. For example, a microphone has a source impedance of about 150 ohms. The device that you’re plugging the mic into needs to have an input impedance five to ten times greater. If it were a mixer, for instance, it would have to have an impedance of at least 1000 to 1500 ohms.
If you look at the actual specifications of mixing consoles, you’ll see that the actual input impedance of a so-called low impedance mic input is typically about 1500 ohms. If you match the impedance, you get less level and less headroom – the systems are not designed to work that way any longer. Matching, generally, is not an issue.
Watch out for Pro Audio Myths- True or False…. Part 2
The Beta 91A is a great kick drum mic and these Australians have used it to upgrade their kick drum sound…
The Beta 91A is optimised for kick drums, as well as traditional low end applications including piano. It uses a half-cardioid condenser boundary microphone with an integrated XLR preamplifier that is tailored for a strong low-end response. It has a two-position contour switch for optimised sound signature depending on application.
Either use it stand-alone, or in a multi-mic setup. Try it with the Beta 52A – that’s quite a noise!
Find out more on the Shure website.
The champion MC is preparing for shows with Claire Maguire and a European tour in May 2011 with the Foreign Beggars. Zani decided to replenish his kit with his beloved Shure! “I use Shure because they are the industry standard and are the best. I wouldn’t want to use anything other than the best…”
Zani knows that when beatboxing the choice of microphone is everything – high quality and reliability are key. He has used the SM58 and KSM9 through most of his professional career.
“I especially love Shure microphones, the SM58 in particular for beatboxing is perfect as it captures the full range of frequencies I create. From the low basslines to the high end sound FX like sirens & Hi-Hats. The SM58 and KSM mics are able to withstand the overload I create when kicking a pounding beat which other microphones tend to lack in.”
Zani is also a fan of Shure’s professional range of Sound isolating earphones “Overall the clarity of the sound is second to none, enabling me to create a flawless in ear mix every time I perform live”
The huge talent still finds the time to raise money for Shriners Hospital for Children, one of the highest earning charity events of the year. MC Zani still has the power to wow crowds and the fans demand for him is still growing.
To keep an eye of what MC Zani is up to, try these links:
Our fellow Shure-ite Ryan, who looks after the AR at Shure in the US, was lucky enough to go to The Grammys and this is his story…….
“This year’s show featured a diverse line up of legendary as well as up and coming artists. The same holds true for microphones. As usual, many Shure products were requested and put into action; from top of the show featuring a star-studded line up of 5 tremendous female singers, to one of the last segments featuring Mick Jaggers’ first performance on the Grammy’s.
The show’s opening, a tribute to Legendary Aretha Franklin featured Shure endorsers Yolanda Adams signing on a UR2/KSM9 wireless and Martina McBride on a UR2/SM58. R & B artist Jennifer Hudson also used a UR2/SM58. The same 58 wireless handhelds were later used on the upbeat Cee Lo Green segment featuring Gwyneth Paltrow and the Muppets. Finally, the Legendary Mick Jagger used it for his segment with the Raphael Saadiq band to cover “Everybody Needs Somebody.” Mick also used Shure’s PSM 900 ear monitor system and the horn section for Raphael Saadiq used the versatile KSM32.
Other Shure products that made their way onto the Grammy stage included the KSM313 ribbon mic on numerous guitar amps, the Beta 56A on hi-toms, and the Beta 91 in certain kick drums. There were also several appearances by the SM57 on snare and the occasional SM58 as vocal mics, like on the last number with Arcade Fire.
As always, it’s a pleasure to hang backstage and see all the same crew members behind the scenes making it all happen. It’s amazing to watch how everything comes on and off stage so quickly and organized. The crew has been doing this for so many years that if problems arise, they are quickly solved. Our hats go off to all of the stage hands, wireless coordinators, A2’s, engineers and production staff that spend countless hours making the show the best that it can be.
I also made time to catch a few endorsers backstage like Julianne Hough and Yolanda Adams, who both have so much going on. Julianne is working on a few new movies while Yolanda is busy with touring and her popular radio show.
Before the broadcast, I went over to the convention center to catch the pre-telecast awards presentation. While walking around the ballroom, I happened to run into Endorsers Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, Darrin Vincent and Jamie Dailey of Dailey and Vincent, and Israel Houghton…all within 5 minutes of each other. After those encounters, I continued to watch 4 endorsers pick up Grammy’s: Diamond Rio, Switchfoot, Kirk Whalum, and Israel Houghton! Congrats to all of them!!
Other endorsers who won Grammy awards this year included Herbie Hancock, Patty Loveless, The Black Keys, and Buddy Guy. Congratulations to all the nominees and winners!”
…….thanks Ryan…….and yes we’re all very jealous……