SM58-and-SM7BIf you’ve been involved with audio for any length of time, there’s a good chance you’ve used a Shure SM58. It’s the workhorse of the live sound world, and it’s not a bad mic. But how does it sound in the studio?

Typically, when you think about recording vocals in a studio, you picture the singer in front of a nice large-diaphragm condenser microphone. Condenser mics are great, but is it ever appropriate to use a dynamic mic to record vocals?

Condenser mics are typically very sensitive. They pick up all the detail and nuance of a voice. They also pick up a lot of things that you may NOT want to hear in your recording. For example, if you have a noisy room, or if your room isn’t acoustically treated, a condenser mic will likely capture all of these along with the singer’s voice.

A dynamic mic, on the other hand, doesn’t pick up nearly the amount of detail as a condenser, and its frequency response doesn’t go nearly as high, but it has this raw, organic quality to it. It doesn’t sound “pristine” per se, but it can still sound amazing.

Also, since a dynamic microphone isn’t as sensitive as a condenser, it tends to pick up less of your room, which is great for us home studio folks. We don’t have perfect rooms. (Come on, just admit it.)

If you spend much time on forums such as Gearslutz or Harmony Central, it won’t have to look hard to find someone talking about the Shure SM7B. When anyone asks a question about a good mic for recording vocals in a home studio, almost inevitably someone will suggest the SM7B.

I’ve had the privilege of using the SM7B in my home studio for the last few weeks. The other day I thought to myself, “I do like the sound of the SM7B, but I wonder how it compares to the SM58?” I’d never thought to use the SM58 for recording vocals. That would be “amateur,” I thought.

So I broke out both mics and set them up tonight to do a mini shootout. As you can see from the picture above, I placed the SM58 just above the SM7B, and I removed the windscreens from both mics. After that I set up a pop filter approximately four inches in front of the microphones’ capsules. Then I sang into both mics (at the same time), and recorded them directly into Pro Tools through the preamps on my 003.

The more scientific types will argue that the capsules aren’t close enough, and that the difference in position is going to prevent a true A/B comparison. That may be true, but the whole point of this little experiment was to simply see if the SM58 (at $100) could hold its own alongside the SM7B (at $350), and I thought it would be more interesting to hear how both microphones sound recording the exact same performance, rather than singing in one then going back and singing in the other.

It took a minute to get good levels, as the SM7B’s output is a few dB lower than the SM58. Once I recorded the audio, I used the Gain AudioSuite plug-in in Pro Tools to measure the RMS level of each track, and I adjusted the level of the tracks accordingly to get them to roughly the same volume.

I was quite intrigued by the results, and I’d like to get your thoughts. You can download the files here: [Right click to download]

What do you think? Leave a comment with your guess as to which is which, and I’ll post the answer in a few days.

* If you’re familiar with the SM7B, you know that it has a high-pass filter and a presence switch on the back. Both were set to flat.

UPDATE – Here are the results: SM7B vs SM58 Shoot-out Results

  • kanz

    I’m stuck with an sm58 for vocals and I hate it. I notice the harshness in the midrange for sure. Would like to try a condenser. Just my two cents.

  • Nick

    So I click the link to see the results and get a 404… is mic #1 the SM7B?

  • Ayon Chaklader

    No difference..

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      It’s definitely a fairly subtle difference for sure.

  • Laci

    Hello

    It’s grat! Thank you for the test.

    I’m Laci from Hungary, and I would like to ask something:

    I have now a AT4040 mic. I’m thinking so I should be buying a SM7B. (replacing the at4040). Wat do you think about? Would be better with sm7b? how they sound to each other?
    I using that for pop music etc.. but not metal/rock. and my voice is not strong, …rather softer. I make the recording at home.

    ui: I using a Focusrite ISA ONE preamp.
    Thank for answer!

    Laci

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      I wouldn’t replace the 4040. They’re two completely different types of microphones. I say you need both. No single mic will sound great on all sources. Diversity is your friend.

  • Guest

    mbnm,n

  • Arch

    But i think, your SM58 is fake!!!

    http://www.xrqk.com/RADIOBRANDYNET/ShureSM58.html

  • ArtHowardAtNight

    It’s not specified in the article, but I’m betting the bass rolloff and presence switches on the SM7B were not engaged during this test. With the presence switch turned on, I bet the SM7B and SM58 would sound extremely similar (even more than they do already). I’ve read that the SM7B is just a SM58 Unidyne capsule in a larger container with optional rolloff and presence switches. I can believe it.

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      Yeah, all the switches were flat. Thanks for checking ‘em out!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brad-Confer/1475479669 Brad Confer

    The 7 was much more balanced. The big thing that stuck out for me was the evenness in presence with the added grunt in the second section. The 58 did not handle the extra db so well. There is a camp of diy’ers that claim that you can un-”pinch” the 58′s response by removing or replacing the transformer. I’m gonna try it on some road damaged 58s to see what happens. As it is I can’t stand them on anything. I’m actually super impressed that either of these tracks were recorded on a 58. Good pipes.

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      Thanks dude. Let us know how the transformer swap goes!

      Joe

  • BillyRants

    Identical from 150 to 3K. Not worth the extra dough in my opinion. Instead pick a re20 or something with substantial character difference. Check out another test with the same conclusions.

    http://www.3daudioinc.com/3db/showthread.php?17046-SM57-vs.-SM7-listening-tests

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      A couple years after posting this, I did buy an SM7B for podcasts and voiceover work.
      From a practical standpoint (built-in pop screen, etc.), it’s been awesome.

  • mango

    Both mics can sound great, depending on the vocalist, the preamp, the compressor and the degree of gain staging structure. The most important thing to remember, when listening to a mic on one or two vocals may sound amazing…When you start stacking multiple tracks of vocals, you will notice how cheaper mics do not fair as well as the more expensive mics.

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      Great point, Mango. Thanks!

  • acoustic58

    Just listened to both mics. The difference in sound quality is not worth an extra 200 bucks thats for sure. There is a slight difference in the low end which the 58 is lacking but all that means is a tweak of a EQ knob on your mixer

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      Yeah. I’ve found that EQ doesn’t quite make up for the difference. There’s a smoothness to the SM7B that I can’t quite capture with the 57. That said, I still prefer the 57 on guitar cabinet.