If 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