Shure 55SH Series II Classic Dynamic Mic
It might look like a prop from Good Morning Vietnam, but underneath the 55SH is a serious vocal mic.
Shure have brought a classic microphone up to date by fitting entirely new acoustic components into a traditional alloy body. Paul White finds that this mic is not just a pretty case...
The wonderfully dated look of this microphone makes it one of the most photogenic around, but there have been a lot of changes in the audio industry since this style of microphone was the norm. The original upon which the 55SH Series II is based was introduced right at the end of the 1930s and was the first directional microphone built around a single-element capsule. Until then, creating unidirectional dynamic microphones necessitated multiple-diaphragm capsules, which meant they were expensive. By contracting the terms 'Unidirectional' and 'Dynamic', Shure came up with the name Unidyne and a legendary range of products was born, the model in question being the first low-cost, unidirectional dynamic mic on the market utilising the new pressure gradient capsule.
This microphone continued to be popular throughout the '40s and '50s, not only as a musician's vocal mic, but as a lectern mic in theatres, news studios, and even court rooms.
In order to combine the looks of yesteryear with the performance expected in the '90s, Shure had to completely redesign the capsule, replacing it with a new dynamic element which produces not only a more modern sound, but also gives far greater immunity to feedback in a live situation. In fact, the 55SH Series II has a capsule very similar to that used in the Shure SM48 microphone.
Built around a polished alloy casting, the microphone has an integral stand adaptor and swivel plus a suitably dated-looking on/off switch. The base of the adaptor screws directly to a mic stand via a 5/8" thread, (though some stands may need an additional thread adaptor), and the signal output is on a conventionally wired XLR connector. Designed to interface with equipment rated at 75 to 300 ohms, the output is balanced but may be used unbalanced if required. No lead is supplied, but a standard XLR mic lead is directly compatible. Inside the grille is a fine, foam shield to help minimise popping and to prevent too much moisture from the singer's breath reaching the capsule.
As is the case with most vocal microphones, the frequency response of the 55SH Series II is not remotely flat but, instead, has been tweaked to produce a powerful, intelligible vocal sound. Its response rolls off gently below 180Hz to give a tightly controlled bass end plus immunity to wind noise and LF vibration, while the high end response rises gradually from around 1 kHz, peaking at around 6.5kHz, before falling away. In all, the presence peak is around 8dB above the mean level. There are several little wrinkles and kinks in the response, especially between 4kHz and 15kHz, but these are not reflected in the tonal quality of the mic, which is surprisingly natural. The usable response of the microphone is between 50Hz and 15kHz, which is typical for a dynamic model, while the direction response is essentially constant up to 90 degrees off-axis for all frequencies up to 5kHz.
I must confess that, after seeing the technical spec of this microphone, I expected a rather unremarkable performance — which just goes to underline the fact that you can't judge the sound of a microphone from its spec sheet. You really have got to hear it. It transpired that the 55SH Series II produced a full, confident sound with no obvious peakiness and no tendency to sound harsh. Compared with other well-known dynamic mics in my collection, I felt the 55SH Series II produced a more open, natural sound and with rather more weight and authority. Indeed, some of the other dynamics sounded distinctly thin or 'squeezed' next to it.
Though primarily a live vocal mic, there's no reason at all why the 55SH Series II shouldn't be used in the recording studio on those occasions where a dynamic mic is better suited to the singer than the more obvious choice of a capacitor model. It has creditably low handling noise and shows better immunity to popping than many other mics I've tried, but even so, I'd still recommend a pop shield in the studio with any mic. The sound is fuller and punchier than tends to be the case with capacitor microphones, while the reduced top end response of the dynamic capsule helps minimise sibilance. The presence peak helps the lyrics cut through without employing additional EQ, and for some rock and pop work, dynamics do produce a more 'comfortable' sound than capacitor microphones, even though they are certainly less accurate.
Aside from being an obvious good looker, the 55SH Series II is a very competent vocal microphone that has also been used to good effect on brass instruments and harmonicas. I've even heard of one famous performer using it in the studio as a kick drum mic but, though I've not tried it for this application, I feel the bass roll-off which is built in to improve its characteristics as a vocal mic might rob it of weight in this application. For the musician who wants a vocal mic for both stage and studio, the Shure 55SH Series II is sensibly priced, performs well, and looks great.
55SH Series II £213.33 including VAT.
HW International, (Contact Details).
Review by Paul White
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