Yet Another Shure SM57 Review

Brandon Drury —  February 4, 2014 — 25 Comments
Shure SM57

Bulletproof Recording Gear
The world doesn’t need another Shure SM57 review, but I realized that I own 11 of them, have the Shure SM57 in my Bulletproof Recording Gear List , and didn’t have an actual review for the thing. So here goes.

Senseless Rambling On SM57 with EQ

More Nonsense with SM57 without EQ

Abhorrent Nonsense On ADK Vienna Without EQ

What Do These Clips Tell You?

Nothing! Everything! Whatever.

Microphones don’t excite me that much. I like the technology. I wouldn’t want to be without one. I just wonder if male nasty movie stars sit around in awe of the next guy’s tools of the trade. Do these guys get “gear lust” at what’s in the other guy’s rack? To me, drooling over gear and drooling over wieners has some parallels. What the guy creates is radically more interesting than the hammer who chose to make it with.

In all seriousness, my life wouldn’t be any, any, any different if I used an Audix i5, Shure SM57, or anything other dynamic mic for those dynamic-mic-friendly-sources in my studio ventures. There is one thing about the SM57 that makes it special. If you have the desire, you can buy 10 of them for $50 each. I just did that a few months ago on Ebay. You can always sell ‘em for $60 each. It requires a gun to break one. Is The SM57 Really Bulletproof?

So When Do I Use A Shure SM57?

Guitar Amps
I use two. I put one dead center. I put one on the edge of the cone. Done. I’ve owned pretty much all the great “electric guitar mics” (whatever that means) including the Royer R121 which I used a million times. The recorded sound always sounds like the amp whether you use a 57 or a 121. If you want to get wound up about certain quirks of one or the other I won’t stop you. Dealing with the potential fizz of the SM57 is no more dramatic than dealing with the potential mud of a ribbon mic in my view. Anytime an amp was really rocking, switching mics never seemed to add or take away anything. Just different. Just different doesn’t cut it anymore. ( You Need Eight Kick Drum Mics Says The Man In The Suit )

Acoustic Guitars
I tossed an SM57 on acoustic guitar after Dave Pensado was thrilled by an acoustic guitar sound and asked Tony Hoffer (M83, Beck) He said a single SM57. Hmmm.

I find the SM57 on acoustic guitar quite interesting. It’s radically different from the hyper pretty condenser sound. I still prefer the sound of a condenser for this most of the time, but I’m certainly not against the idea. I think it’s fair to call this a slightly lo-fi-with-potential sound. Sometimes that works perfect with a hi-fi vocal. Anyone who’s ever cheated on their significant other with an ugly person would appreciate the SM57 on acoustic guitar. SMILIE (How’s that for an audio buzzword/buzz-sentence?)

Tom Tops
I use SM57s on top of toms now. I use ADK condensers on bottom. I cheat. I have foam things which I use to reduce bleed on the SM57. In theory this ruins the SM57. I don’t care. I just need the attack. The bottom mics do all the real work for me. I have no use for anything else on tom tops.

Kick Drum Beater
I’ve recorded a few guys who wanted to play metal with jazz drum kits. Putting the 57 on the beater side of the kick is a last recourse and a surprisingly useful one. The SM57 sounds like it was designed for this kind of abuse.

Vocals
I’ve made myself use the SM57 on vocals. It’s…..well…..any of you who’ve held political office and cheated on your headstrong wife with a not-so-fit intern would like this. You hear stories of them being used all the time on lead vocals on songs that made enough money to buy Brauner (as in the entire company).

You’ve got to be careful of getting too close or you get a ton of 200Hz mud/muck. Back off and you get this 800Hz thing that just never seems to happen with condensers. Back off even further and 4k-8k sibilance is there. (I’ve got Boz working on a prototype solution that is KILLLLLL ARRRRR, for that btw.)

Room Mics
A did a live bar gig 10 years ago and recorded the Godsmack-like band multi-track. I X/Y’d the room mics right above the mixer. The room was good…if the smell of urine didn’t bother you…it sure didn’t bother me! When 40′ from a band, the 57s have no bottom. The proximity effect is too strong. That’s perfect. They worked exceptionally well in this case and I’d use ‘em again in a heart beat. For drum room mics (which love to be crushed with compression/distortion), the SM57 wouldn’t be my first choice because of the cymbals getting trashy, but I bet I could probably make it work with a low pass filter.

Just About Everything Else
The SM57 is almost always usable. Using an SM57 on just about anything will seldom get your bragging points with other engineers. It’s never overly sexy. I hate to admit it, but too much sex in a mix can be a bad thing.

What The SM57 Can’t Do
I’m leaning in the direction that you can EQ most mics to sound close enough to just about any other mic. I don’t mind EQ. The 57 is dynamic, though. It’s limited in the extreme top and extreme bottom. You can’t get a Deamau5 monster kick with a 57 without Sasquatch Kick Machine. You won’t get that super pretty top end without serious work, either. Other than that, you can make just about everything else under the son work.

Is The SM57 The Solution For Everything?
No.

Does The SM57 Have A Sound?
Yes. It’s a tool I like having in my box. I like having 11 of them in my toolbox, actually.

Brandon

Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of RecordingReview.com and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.

25 responses to Yet Another Shure SM57 Review

  1. This video from some buddies of mine seems to go well with this article.. an entire song recorded with 2 SM57s..

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qkh3LYlwaFo

    enjoy!
    BiL

  2. I have listened to the SM57 on great preamps alongside the most expensive condenser mics money can buy.
    I could tell no difference. Only factor which come into play is proximity. You have to stand a bit closer.

    But as far as mics goes you have so much great dynamics out there that with a great pre amp you really dont have to sweat your choice to much.

    The interesting thing for me is the tradeoff here.
    Either a $100 dynamic on a $300 mic pre amp.
    or
    A $200 condenser on a $150 mic pre with phantom power. Not so much gain needed.

    And with $100 condenser mics out there what will you choose?
    Do the math. It all depends on room treatment and the amount of transients.

  3. Either a $100 dynamic on a $300 mic pre amp.
    or
    A $200 condenser on a $150 mic pre with phantom power. Not so much gain needed.

    The “great” preamp thing is almost entirely independent of price, though. I’ve seen a dozen Rane MS1b preamps go for under $100 this year on Ebay.

  4. I would rather have Etta Jame using an SM57 and an Mbox than Miley Cyrus using the best thing Nuemann ever built using a Neve council.

  5. Brandon i have heard many excellent things about that Rane MS1b.
    Have you auditioned one yourself? I am looking into buying one.

  6. Correction, meant “console” not council.

  7. Been using a 57 on my voice for over 30 years. It suits my voice better than my U87.

  8. I own 2 Rane MS1b preamps. If I had my way, I’d have 24 of them. It’s the reason I sold my API 3124 and have taken my other fancy preamps out of the rack. I have a full review coming soon, but you can find everything you need to know here: http://www.recordingreview.com/blog/mic-preamps/super-secret-51-preamp-vs-2000-martech-mss-10/

  9. Be careful buying 57s on Ebay. I bought a pair for $100 and they were fakes. Looked like new in shiny boxes, but they sounded like shit, lacked balancing transformers, and burned up the first time I plugged them into a phantom powered input. I bought my next ones at Guitar Center.

  10. Shure SM-57 & the Rane MS-1B

    Re; Rane MS-1B Preamp (answer to question above);
    Great little preamp with a SIMPLE and fairly fast, accurate electronic design that can be used very effectively. Do a quick search for; “Rane MS-1B Roger Nichols Steely Dan” to find some interesting information and background.
    Of course, since “the word” has been out for a while on these (10 years?), they are not quite as common ($100 or less) as they once were. At the same time as others have observed, this is not Rocket Surgery or Wizardly Magic, it’s electronics!
    Use a decent circuit, good materials, thoughtful build quality and Voila~! Nice sounding preamp…

    SM-57 Review (Quick, down and dirty version);

    Industry Standard (and CHEAP to boot)
    Used more than any single other mic, period
    COULD be used on almost anything IF needed
    Fairly accurate, clean & SIMPLE dynamic mic
    Brandon Drury has 11 of them in his toolbox ;-)

    As has also been observed. Better to use a decent and adequate set of tools (SM-57 with a worthy preamp, though no need for a Neve) to capture Great Real Art (feeling) than to use a $4,000 mic and $80,000 console to record banal, commercial nonsense.

    This is part of the reason why the humble SM-57 deserves to be in everyone’s toolbox. It is decent and affordable and WILL capture those Magic Moments very nicely into whatever medium you happen to be using (even if it is a 4-track cassette tape porta-studio).

    Secret: Artist Performance & Recording Technique have ALWAYS trumped The Latest Mega Gear Purchase. (Which is why reading this forum for hints and tips and then implementing them and combining them with your own experience is The Real Gold~!)

    AK

  11. Does anyone have a neat clip of a 57 on an acoustic guitar?

  12. Does anyone have a neat clip of a 57 on an acoustic guitar?

    We didn’t take it too seriously (in case you couldn’t tell), but Ruprect’s guitar has an SM57 in the video here: http://www.recordingreview.com/blog/news/is-the-shure-sm57-really-bullet-proof/

  13. An analogous story, so I hope I’m not going off point here, but I decided to record a song using only the the audio output of an old (and now very inexpensive) line 6 XT pod through USB connection into my Mac Mini, and no other sound card or audio interface. I did not use mics and just went direct. I also used an old synth controller and the sound suite and standard plugins that came with Studio One software including drum samples. And to my surprise, with a little tweaking here and there, it is probably one of my best sounding mixes I’ve done in a while. Now in all fairness, I’m used to using interfaces that cost only around $800,00. And so of course one can make the argument that it’s not the same as being used to hearing on a $150,000 console and using high end A/D D/A converters, but nevertheless, I was still very surprised (and more importantly) satisfied with the sound. And no one else seemed to hear the difference between the more expensive interface. End of story.

  14. Ummm, Perspective (Re; Rane MS & Shure SM-57)

    Bendog makes a great point. Before we all go scrambling for The Latest Holy Grail that will make our mixes garner us a Gold Record we may want to look at what we already have and work from there.

    Obviously for those who have little (or nothing) and are just starting out, this is the PERFECT place to find out WHAT to start out with (if you really do have nothing). The venerable Shure SM-57 is one of those No-Brainer, simply add to toolbox type things.

    It is in almost ANYONE’S budget and will almost ALWAYS find a place of use regardless of where one ends up in the realm of making and recording music. If you don’t have one, go and get one, NOW (but, as mentioned above, do buy from a reputable source).

    The Rane MS-1 preamp may be another story, especially now that the cat is out of the bag, so to speak and you can barely find a used one for under $200 any more. Can you use a Rane MS-1 as your Go-To preamp? Sure, probably, or possibly.

    Will it always be the best thing for the job? Perhaps (and it will likely get the job done), or perhaps not. Now, for those of you who did not buy up a rack full of Rane preamps when they were $50 bucks a piece on eBay (Doh!), there are other things to consider.

    Back when Roger Nichols (and many others) were using Rane MS-1′s the chances are good that they did not search out preamps high and low to find The Best that was out there. Rane was (is?) a good ‘ol USA Made in America company that builds decent gear.

    Chances are good that Roger (among others) happened to have a Rane to check out and found, OH, goodness, this thing sounds pretty good and clean and JUST what I was looking for. Were there other options out there? Sure, guaranteed that there were.

    There WERE actually other engineers / producers creating albums that sold and actually sounded good back then and so we must conclude that there were plenty of other decent (and not necessarily priced through the roof) usable preamps available.

    So, if paying $200 for a “vintage” Rane MS-1 is not your bag, consider that Rane ALSO makes lots of DJ gear probably using much the same circuitry as the lowly MS (oops, HUGE run on Rane DJ mixers ensues). Shhh, Rane also makes a very cool rack mount mic channel… ;-) Even better, there ARE also other options.

    Looking for The Holy Grail in mics OR preamps?
    Check out ANY of the good ol’ venerable USA companies out there including (Rane, of course), Altec Lansing, JBL, Electrovoice, RCA, Ampex, Shure (yep, they made / make preamps as well as mics), Bogen, etc., etc.

    Heck, I would even go so far as to add in some of the EXCELLENT Made in Japan Electronics, such as Panasonic / Ramsa, Teac / Tascam, Sony (!!!), and the like. These companies made some great electronics and are a bargain in todays jump-to-digital age where analog gear is being dumped at ridiculous prices.

    Grab yourself a Shure SM-57 and an analog preamp / mixer that will (almost certainly) accept that 57′s dynamic output and start makin’ some memorable music. You may be very surprised what you find (hear) when you plug that 57 into an old Ramsa mixer. I know that, like Brandon with his Rane MS, I’ll never sell my old Ramsa gear (oops…another cat let out of the bag).

    AK

  15. For the past several years I have been using an SM-57 as the primary mic for recording myself on tenor sax. During that time I have tried numerous other mics (dynamic, condenser, ribbon etc.) and always seem to come back to the 57. I think that mics may be somewhat like wine – it’s all a matter of taste and familiarity.

  16. Brandon, I too bought 5 sm57′s from some guy on EBAT about 3 years ago. Paid $250 for all 5. Turns out hey were all Chinese knockoffs! Hope you checked inside for the green/yellow wire and didn’t get taken like me.

  17. +1

    years ago i read about how you should use a large diaphragm condenser on an acoustic guitar. you should never use a crappy sm57. back then i listed. now i like the sound of an sm57 a lot on acoustic guitar. blasphemy! for one it gets rid of all that high end trash. two, it doesn’t have much proximately effect. if placed right it can reduce the boom in a nice way.

    my studio is small and about 1/3 of my mics are sm57s. i def find them useful. and don’t forget the sm7. them’s even better imo.

  18. Ha, where you said Kick Drum Beater I instantly wondered how I could replace the actual beater with a 57!

  19. great article. reading between the lines of the main character is the EQ….hmm is the EQ “the” best supporting actor of all?

  20. the ADK sounds much more pleasent and full,

  21. Looks like Marku bought Chures :-)

    -Fred

  22. Pete: “where you said Kick Drum Beater I instantly wondered how I could replace the actual beater with a 57!”

    Funny — I was thinking the same thing! :–)

  23. I saw a SHure mixer/ 4 preamps for $80….shurely it would be a good fit for a shure mic as they made the sshure mic and shure mixer/preamp..Im not shure though if shure was a shure bet when making the mixer/4qty preamps but for $80? Thats $20 a pre..comes with metal box and knobs and all that.

  24. I was just delving into some cheap drum setups and found Sara Smile, Motown -ish Hall and Oates article using all 57′s on the drums, the entire kit. What a mic….

  25. The last 20 seconds of my song Two Eternities [ http://www.therockkickers.com is an SM57 in an untreated room and almost no time given to testing different proximities, angles etc and on a guitar halfway into a repair job and it STILL sounds good imo. [You can hear me struggling to keep the strings on the bridge while strumming, theres always some damn thing needs fixing :) ]

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