Mic Hunt: Shure SM7B

I have an Amazon Wish List a mile long. They’re dreamy items because I dream of having disposable income to spend on them. Maybe some dreamy billionaire who reads my blog will think I deserve a present. On Christmas Day, my brother surprised me with what he dubbed a “baller gift” from said list. He’s had a good financial year, so he gifted accordingly with a Shure SM7B. Fuck to the yeah.

I’m even more excited to play with the box.

I don’t own much in the way of equipment that’s not been used. Like, almost nothing. It’s a big deal for me to get something like this without a hunt on craigslist. I’ve wanted a really good vocal mic for some time and the Shure SM7B fit the bill. If it’s good enough for Michael Jackson, then it’s good enough for me. That same logic is how I also got addicted to prescription drugs and why I’m always trying to hang out with Macaulay Culkin.

The proof is in the pudding. A couple years ago I did a voice-over for a commercial advertising the Tankcrimes Brainsqueeze festival. It was recorded with a Shure SM58. Scotty from Tankcrimes had asked me to do another for this year’s Brainsqueeze II festival. I employed the rich-sounding SM7B to deliver this captivating and in-no-way-silly trailer with music from Carmina Burana by Carl Orff. Step aside, Peter Cullen.

Even with compressed YouTube audio, the difference on the voice is exceptional. The SM7B delivered a lot more warmth and fullness to my voice-over. I was able to record in front of my computer using GarageBand with no hum thanks to the SM7B’s great rear rejection. I was also able to speak close to the mic with minimal plosions, enabling me to have a deep, Ken-Nordine-esque delivery.

Word jazz is more difficult with a full beard.

The Shure SM7B is a dynamic microphone and doesn’t require phantom power. It’s also relatively low priced for its quality. That’s why it’s ended up as one of the go-to mics for podcasters working on the cheap. Someday, maybe I’ll score a high quality condenser microphone for voice-overs. For free work on YouTube adverts for my friends, though, the SM7B is splendid. Here’s some recordings using a couple other dynamic mics I have on hand for comparison.

The Shure SM58 is great for cheap, live vocal applications on a stage. It sounds paper thin in comparison to the SM7B, which beats the former handily. The Sennheiser MD-421 is another great dynamic mic with a wide range, but to my ears, the SM7B edges it out with a smoother, more nuanced response for voice. But wait, there’s more!

The bands I am in have reigned in production costs by moving album recording out of the studio and into our jam space. We used to record guitars with Line 6 PODs, occasionally re-amping a direct signal in the studio. Now that we’ve moved into a room with better acoustics, we can play with some mics. Here’s a riff played by Judge Sean McGrath of Mega-City Two from an upcoming EP. First up, the Shure SM57, then a Line 6 POD, and finally the SM7B.

The SM7B delivered the goods in a way the SM57 and the POD did not. No more bullshit or emulation; we’re back to real guitars with real grit.

You get a lot of professional sounding bang for an amateur’s buck with the SM7B. On the back, there’s a bass rolloff and mid-range spike switch. It works, but it’s only real use is for broadcasting situations with multiple microphones. It doesn’t have a lot of gain, so it requires a decent microphone pre-amp or mixer; you can’t just plug this into your computer and press “go.” I think it’s a little bit of weak sauce that it doesn’t come with a case or even a pouch of some kind, but I heartily recommend the Shure SM7B. It’s a great mic for pros and amateurs hoping to sound like pros.

Also, go to the Tankcrimes Brainsqueeze II. I’ll see ya there.

(wanna read more from smarter people than I about the Shure SM7B? Check out the articles over at the Recording Hacks blog.)

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