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Shure Prologue Microphones

Mikecheck

Curtis Schwartz gets expansive with some Shure condensers


At the end of last year Shure launched several new additions to their already extensive range of microphones. I was sent four of the new microphones to test — a new condenser mike for their very successful Prologue series of budget-priced microphones called the 16L, and three mid-priced condensers — the SM94, SM96 and SM98.

SM94

The SM94 is a unidirectional condenser microphone which retails for £224.74. Designed primarily as an instrument microphone, the SM94's frequency response extends from 40 to 16kHz without a presence peak or bass roll-off. It is housed in Shure's robust and attractive steel slate grey enamelled casing. As this is a condenser microphone, it requires some form of power supply and this is supplied by either phantom powering or from a single AA size battery inserted into the microphone's casing. This offers the extra advantage of providing a backup power supply should the phantom powering fail — the battery would then automatically take over.

The SM94 is able to handle quite high sound pressure levels (SPLs) of up to 141dB (depending on impedance) when phantom powered and the only disadvantage of using a battery power supply is that the SPL drops to a maximum level of around 122dB. This still offers quite a high headroom, but perhaps becomes less suitable for good results on bass drums or excessively loud Marshall stacks...

I first tried using the SM94 on toms alongside dynamic mikes such as Sennheiser's 421 and Shure's SM57. The SM94's tone is actually more similar to the Sennheiser than the SM57 as it doesn't have the SM57's high presence boost. Being a condenser, the SM94 seems to handle the initial attack from drums differently to dynamic microphones — sounding slightly smoother and even-toned.

Next I tried the mike on a guitar amp — a Roland JC120 stereo combo with the SM94 on one side and switching between a Shure SM57, Neumann KM84 and U87 on the other. The SM94 sounded quite similar to something in between the two Neumann microphones — slightly harder than the U87 and a bit fatter than the KM84, although I actually preferred the tone of the SM57.

Once I got the hang of the sound of the SM94 I was then quite happy using it for many sounds ranging from acoustic guitar and hi hat to grand piano and backing vocals.

SM96

Retailing for the same price as the SM94 is the new Shure microphone primarily designed for vocals — the SM96. This is very similar in many respects to the SM94 — a mid-priced condenser with similar specifications and finish, and provision for battery powering as well as phantom powering. The main difference lies in its healthy presence boost and bass roll-off, and the addition of a ball-type steel mesh and acoustic foam grille.

The SM96 has a presence boost of approximately 5dB from about 5kHz to 12kHz to increase clarity and an electronically generated bass roll-off below 200Hz to compensate for the proximity effect and reduce handling noise. The microphone's output level is somewhat lower than that of the SM94, bringing it in line with the output level of dynamic vocal mikes such as Shure's SM58.

The SM96's tonal quality is very good — vocal sounds are a little 'edgier' and clearer than with similar mikes yet without the tendency to sound harsh.

Much more importantly, however, the steel mesh has a flat front end which is particularly comfortable for vocalists to put their lips up against!

SM98

The most expensive of the microphones I tested was the SM98. This retails for £317.31 and I instantly fell in love with it. Once again it is a unidirectional condenser microphone which can take its power supply from either phantom or battery power; however, the SM98 is a miniature condenser mike with a very wide frequency response (from 40Hz to 20kHz) and has the ability to reproduce particularly loud sounds without distortion. With an 800ohm load the SM98 can handle maximum sound pressure levels of up to 153dB before clipping and equally astonishing is that this microphone is only the size of a rifle bullet.

When you buy the SM98 you get quite a large plastic case that houses the various components that make up the Shure SM98 system: the preamplifier, a swivel adaptor, the microphone itself and a special 15ft long two-conductor shielded cable with miniature Switchcraft connectors.

The mike's preamplifier unit is housed in a box the size of a cigarette packet. On it are a Lo-cut switch and one for switching to battery power supply rather than phantom powering. It is in the pre-amp section that the batteries are housed — two standard 9V batteries and when these are switched in, a green LED on the preamp unit illuminates to verify battery power. The power supply box also has two sockets, one on each end for connection to the microphone and to an XLR connector. A very thin black cable is used to connect to the microphone and being 15ft long I found it to be sufficiently long for most applications.

The SM98 can be connected onto a microphone stand with a clever contraption quite unlike a conventional mike holder. It is a small black adaptor the end of which clamps down onto the end of the microphone cable's plug. This seems to work very well.

For such a minute and apparently fragile microphone the resulting sounds it can capture are quite astonishing. Curious as it may seem, I found the SM98 to be equally at home with a bass drum as with a hi hat or acoustic guitar or saxophone, or even with miking up a bass stack. With a bass drum it produces a sound completely free from any sensation of overloading, compression or coloration of tone. On hi hat the SM98 is clear and provides very good separation from nearby sound sources such as the snare drum, high toms or crash cymbals.

When I put the SM98 alongside a Neumann U87 to record some alto sax the greater degree of clarity captured by the SM98 over the U87 would be obvious to even the most cloth-eared person. I particularly noted how the SM98 brings out a lot of the dynamics of an acoustic guitar when being plucked, without any boominess from the bass strings. I tried it both on an Ovation as well as a Takamine acoustic guitar and its dynamics, along with a great degree of clarity, was the most apparent improvement that the SM98 held above mikes such as the Neumann KM84, U87 or AKG C451.

SM16L-LC

The last mike tested was the new addition to the budget Prologue range, the 16L. This is a microphone not dissimilar to the SM94 in being a unidirectional condenser microphone designed primarily for recording instruments. However, it requires its power supply to be taken from an internal battery rather than a phantom supply and is somewhat less robustly built than the SM series of mikes. Nevertheless, with a retail price of only £63.53, this microphone remains faithful to the 'ideals' of the Prologue range by offering excellent value for money.

The Prologue 16L is a low impedance microphone with a frequency response extending from 50Hz to 15kHz. It can handle sound pressure levels up to 120dB and is a reasonably quiet microphone with a signal to noise ratio of 48dB. It is a bright sounding microphone and I think Shure made the right decision by mainly cost cutting in its construction rather than its performance. When tested side by side with other well known condenser microphones, the 16L certainly did not give the impression of being particularly inferior — despite its price tag being a tenth of the price of a couple of the mikes I was comparing it against.

These new condenser microphones are well up to Shure's high standard. The budget priced Prologue 16L would be a good choice for use in the smaller home studios as it is a very clear sounding mike at a very affordable price. Then there are the SM94 and SM96 which are well built and very healthy sounding and suited to a wide variety of applications — the SM94 being good for most instruments, and the SM96 being well suited for vocals.

And then there is the superb new SM98 miniature condenser microphone with its ability to handle an enormous variety of instruments with ease. I know that I am going to be very sad to part with this mike, as I have found myself using it on just about every session. Its pure signal is exactly what most people try and achieve using a little eq or expansion/compression with other microphones. It is not cheap, yet it is certainly not expensive compared with other high quality studio microphones. Definitely an excellent new addition to the Shure range.

Shure Microphones - RRP: See copy


Also featuring gear in this article



Previous Article in this issue

Sequential Prophet VS

Next article in this issue

Sabian Leopards


International Musician & Recording World - Copyright: Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

 

International Musician - Aug 1986

Review by Curtis Schwartz

Previous article in this issue:

> Sequential Prophet VS

Next article in this issue:

> Sabian Leopards


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