Music Icons – Shure Microphones
In the world of sound, Shure Microphones are seemingly everywhere…
Once upon a time, in a land long ago, live microphones were a notoriously fickle, and fragile bunch. Loud noises could send them squealing with feedback. And if you dropped them? Well, it often wouldn’t end well…
Then, in 1966, it all changed. A microphone appeared that was so tough, it rewrote what was expected of live microphones. So tough, that it would outlast just about every other piece of gear in a live rig- people would buy them, and own them practically their entire lives.
So perfect was its design, in fact, that it remained virtually unchanged until the present day, some 47 years later.
That microphone, of course, is the Shure SM58, and it is still one of the best selling microphones in the world today.
Since the Shure Microphone Company began in Chicago in 1925, there have been countless other classic microphone designs. Not bad for a brand that initially only produced radio kits…
Here are some of Shure’s landmark moments.
The SM58 – 1966
The most famous of all Shure Microphones is undoubtedly the SM58. Why is it so popular? Well, when it arrived, it made all other microphones seem like they were made from a combination of bone china and glass. It was, and still is, one of the toughest bits of music gear you can buy.
I’ve used SM58s where the basket is flattened (It was much flatter than the one pictured below, due to someone aiming to match Roger Daltry’s microphone swinging antics, and over estimating the size of the room/ height of the roof). Anyone who has ever held a ’58 will tell you that to flatten the basket like that, it must have been going at some speed. And yet, plugged in, it worked perfectly.
I’ve seen an SM58 that have been accidentally left in the rain, and was covered in rust. The owner, (who had allowed it to fully dry out, it should be noted) wanted to check if his microphone really was broken, or if it was the cable. I switched the cable, plugged it in, and it sprang to life (Note- this is not recommended….)
Combine this toughness, with great sound, excellent rear and side rejection, and you have a winning formula.
The Shure 55 Unidyne – 1939
The SM58 was not the first instantly recognisable microphone the brand produced, however. The SH55 Unidyne would, perhaps, take that title. It was also the world’s first single element, unidirectional microphone. This meant that it was focused in one direction, rejecting sound from the sides and rear.
This both greatly reduced the amount of ambient, or unwanted sound spilling into the microphone, but also greatly reduced the chances of feedback.
The way the 55 looked, however, would make it a model with astonishingly enduring appeal. It was used by everyone from Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy, to Martin Luther King, to Groucho Mark and, most famously. Elvis. The ’55 is evocative of that era that it’s often nicknamed the ‘Elvis microphone’.
Nowadays, the 55 has been replaced by the 55SH, which captures the sonic and aesthetic character of the original. The 55 Unidyne: an icon among Shure microphones.
The Shure SM57 – 1965
Though the SM57 and 58 are often spoken about in the same breath, they are very different microphones. Whilst the ’58 was designed as a live vocal microphone, the SM57 was designed specifically for live sound reinforcement and studio recording.
Like, the ’58, it has an incredibly rugged construction (though it can’t quite match the ‘58’s, ‘come the apocalypse, there will only be cockroaches and SM58s’ indestructibility).
Sound wise, the SM57 is brighter, with a pronounced mid-range boost, which makes it a great match for guitar amps, snare drums (or any other percussion for that matter).
The reason that the ’57 is still such a popular microphone, however, is that, in all of the Shure Microphones ever made, the SM57 is arguably the most versatile. It’s often termed a ‘Swiss army knife’ of microphones, and with good reason: you can get a good sound from just about anything with an SM57. As a result, it is a ‘must have’ addition to any microphone selection.
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