Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Microphone Review: Shure SM57 Microphone

It is quite obvious that the better the equipment you use, the better your recordings will sound. However, as you all know, I'm a cheapo and try to focus on doing things cheaply with the best results.

The first proper pieces of equipment you should look at buying are decent microphones. This will improve your sound drastically. Different microphones have different applications, but for a cheap home setup the most important aspect to look at is versatility. You will want two types of mics: a decent instrument mic like the Shure SM57 microphone and then a decent condenser mic for practically everything else. A dynamic mic uses a diaphragm and an electromagnetic coil to induce a voltage signal, whereas a condenser mic uses a diaphragm and an electrostatic plate (capacitive effect). If that confused you, don't worry it's not too important - it just means that dynamic and condenser mics record sound differently and will thus have different sounding outputs.

The first decent microphone I ever bought was Shure's SM57 instrument/vocal mic and it has served me well. The picture below shows what it looks like:

The Shure SM57 is said to be one of the best mics for use on guitar amps, drums, wind instruments and is therefore very versatile. You can see from its frequency spectrum below, that it has an excellent mid-frequency response which gets a little wobbly towards the high-end. This explains its claim to fame, because electric guitars and drums dominate the mid-range. The SM57 is actually the exact same mic as the common SM58 vocal mic, it just doesn't have a pop filter. It can therefore be used, with quite nice results, as a live vocal mic as well. For studio vocals, a condenser mic is better as it has a flatter high-range, but as a cheapo, this mic will work there too.

Another cool aspect of this mic is what Shure calls the "proximity effect". This suggests that the closer the sound source is to the mic, the louder the bass response, meaning you can get some serious punch out of your mic. I highly recommend that you check this mic out if you are looking to improve your sound with equipment. For more information you can check out the Shure website.

Other posts you might find interesting:
Firewire Audio Recording Devices
Sound Proofing and Room Acoustics Basics
Monitor/Speaker Placement
What Gives a Guitar its Tone?
Sound Mixing Tips: High There?!


becks said...

i own one sm57 and i love it ;)

Brian the Lion said...

Thanks for the feedback, Becks. Are you familar with the SM57's proximity effect? The proximity effect is very fun to play with when singing because if you are singing a low quiet piece and move close to the diaphragm, the bass will be boosted. This produces a warmer sound, whilst moving away from the diaphragm will give a colder, more defined sound. Try it out...


ylfduM.Mudfly said...

hey just stumbled on your blog from the ubuntu forms, I have been toying around with ardour, hydrogen, jack, etc for a while now, but don't have any final recordings yet.

SM57s are the most versatile mic you can get in my opinion. They can handle very loud sources with very low distortion, thats one reason they are so great for recording guitar amps and drums.

I just want to point out that I also own a Sure Beta 52a that kicks all kinds of ass for recording Bass and Kick.

Keep up the great work on your blog, this is the first post I have read, but I will be diving into your archives.

Brian the Lion said...

Hey ylfduM.Mudfly,

Thanks for the awesome comments. I look forward to hearing your feedback on other posts too.


Brian the Lion said...

It makes me a bit sad to see that someone has rated this post as bad (one whole star). But it's okay, it was bound to happen eventually.

Could the person who gave this post the bad rating please just tell me why, so that I can try and improve it.


James M said...

The SM57 has a couple downsides - it needs a lot of gain for instruments at conversation volume, spoken word, and soft singing. If your pre-amp only does 45dB gain max (like a lot of USB-powered audio interfaces) you'll be pushing it, will get hiss, and maybe even fry the pre-amp. 60dB max gain is better.

Secondly, on a guitar amp, by itself the SM57 has a boxy quality to it, sounds like a carpet-lined car trunk to me, which I don't like. Too mellow, muffled, cardboard. However, when used up close and paired with a condenser a few feet away aimed straight at the speaker cone, the two together are a perfect match. By itself, it's alright for alternative and classic rock, but for a crisp, warm, and clear distorted metal sound it needs that condenser.

Brian the Lion said...

Hey James M,

Thanks for the feedback. I agree that it has a low level output, hence why it is useful for loud instruments like drums. Please just bare in mind that my target audience are home-recording hobbyists trying to get the best from the buck.

It's a good idea to use a condenser like you said, as it will give you a clearer high end. However, a condenser on it's own would also deliver less than the best results because it would lack the warmth the SM57 produces. I would like to hear more about your amp micing techniques, they sound quite interesting.

Thanks again,