Would the world be the same without Shure? Maybe... but it would definitely sound different!
SHURE MICS: THEN (1940s-60s)
No microphone is as popular as the ones from Shure's SM series. For over 75 years Shure microphones have been a regular sight all over the world, used by some of the most important and popular figures in our culture.
The Shure revolution started in 1939 with the introduction of the stylish SM55 Unidyne microphone, with its classic "art-deco" style that anyone, even those who know nothing about microphones, is familiar with:
The SM ("Studio Microphone") 55 was the first ever single-element, unidirectional dynamic microphone. It was designed by engineer Ben Bauer as a sturdy, reliable public address microphone with great performance. It was smaller than condenser mics, and less prone to feedback.
The list of SM55 users is a virtual "Who's Who" of important figures of the 2nd half of the 20th Century: U.S. Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and John Kennedy; Martin Luther King (who used on on his "I have a dream" speech), Fidel Castro, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, whose frequent use of the SM55 made it be known as "The Elvis Mic".
The crucial innovation was the Unidyne sound capsule invented by Bauer, which made it the best sounding mic available, and set a new standard of high quality audio pickup combined with discrimination against unwanted sounds. It was the basis for the Unidyne III capsule, developed in the late 50s by another Shure engineer, Ernie Seeler.
In 1965, the Shure 545 Unidyne III became the first microphone to use Seeler's new Unidyne III capsule, and the success was astounding: Before the Unidyne III, all Shure unidirectional microphones were utilized by speaking into the side, hence the bulky design of the SM55. But the 545 Unidyne III was the first Shure unidirectional model where the user spoke into the end of the microphone.
An important benefit of a cylindrical mic is the uniformity of the polar pattern. This uniformity provides better gain-before-feedback in sound reinforcement systems. Because sound systems could be louder using the Shure 545 Unidyne III, concert venues could be larger. This led to concerts in stadiums, as well as large outdoor events like Woodstock in 1969 – where nearly all the microphones were Shure Unidyne III models. Most footage of sixties concerts feature the ubiquitous 545 mic, such as the Cream farewell concert in 1968:
This microphone was also famously used by Brian Wilson to record his vocals on Pet Sounds, as we mentioned on a previous blog.
SHURE MICS: NOW (1970s to Present)
If the design of the Shure 545 Unidyne III looks familiar, it's no coincidence: it was simply an earlier version of the popular Shure SM57, perhaps the most popular microphone in the world today. Their specs are almost identical, and, in fact, all Shure SM microphones today still use the Unidyne III capsule!
The SM57 is the most commonly used microphone to mic guitar amps live or in the studio, but is also recommended for bass, drums, Brass instruments, Saxophone, Harmonica, Snare/Tom and Congas.
It is also very popular as a public address microphone - since Lyndon B. Johnson, it's been the "presidential microphone" of choice in the White House, and is still president Obama's favourite mic:
If you were to own just one microphone, few choices could be better than a Shure SM57... it can really cover most bases!
Little known fact - the "other" SM57
The Shure SM7B has been described as a "SM57 on steroids". It is a cardioid dynamic microphone with acoustic network based on the Unidyne III element, offering a warm, detailed sound that is ideal for close-range vocal applications such as radio broadcasting, TV talkovers, and general studio lead vocal recording thanks to it's smooth frequency response. It can also be used for recording guitar, bass, kick drums:
The most famous SM7B user was Michael Jackson, who used it to record several of his lead vocals on Thriller, including 'Billie Jean'.
Even though the original 545 Unidyne III was the most popular vocal microphone at gigs in the sixties, the SM57 is not the #1 choice for live vocals anymore, being used almost exclusively for instruments.
But the top choice still remains in the SM family: the Shure SM58 was introduced in the late sixties and by the mid-seventies it was already the most popular microphone for live vocals at gigs, used by everyone including Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Who:
You'll find a SM58 at most gig venues worldwide, from toilet-circuit bars to the biggest arenas. Unlike the SM57, it was designed specifically for vocals. There's also another version of this mic available, the SM58S which incorporates an ON/OFF switch.
SHURE BETA 58A
The Shure Beta 58A is very similar to the SM58, but with increased sensitivity and high frequency response, providing a more detailed top end. It's a great live microphone, but since on a live situation an audience might not notice much difference between this and a SM58, we'd say that the Beta 58A is a better choice as a versatile mic for recording vocals and acoustic instruments with added clarity.
This video offers a great comparison between the SM58 and the Beta 58A (and the cheaper PG58):
WHICH SHURE MIC DO YOU NEED?
Considering all the information provided above, we can put things this way:
- BEST MIC FOR RECORDING GUITARS / BEST LIVE MIC FOR INSTRUMENTS / BEST ALL-ROUNDER: Shure SM57
- BEST MIC FOR LIVE VOCALS: Shure SM58 or SM58S
- BEST MIC FOR RECORDING VOCALS & ACOUSTIC GUITAR: Shure Beta 58A
The great thing about Shure microphones is that despite their high-end specs, they are still very affordable for the everyday musician and are great value for money. These mics are built to last, and will serve you well for many years to come!