A clutch of Shures to see if we're certain
We've said it before and, no doubt, we'll say it again — reviewing mikes isn't easy. There seem to be two basic approaches to the problem, either you plug them in to a machine which hardly anyone but a scientist can understand, and then reproduce a set of figures and graphs which are all but meaningless to anyone but that self-same scientist, or you plug them into a recorder or a PA and write stuff like 'hmmm, yes, well, it did work'.
And yet, as musicians ourselves, we know how bewildering it can be to stand in a music shop, faced with several different brands and umpteen different models — nearly all of which look the same or pretty similar. But looks can be very deceptive with mikes. Any fool can make an outer casing in satin finished chrome and bung a wire mesh windshield on top of it. The Orientals are getting pretty clever at it, lately, and some of their prices can look very appealing beside the products of the 'big name' old established brands. The trouble is that what goes on inside a mike (and the development work on it) is often the result of years of experience in the case of the best mike makers. The products, we repeat, may look the same — but that doesn't necessarily mean a thing.
And so to a handful of mikes from one of the most famous makers of all, American-based Shure. Their connection with Rock goes back to the days when that word probably had Brighton stamped all the way through it!
We borrowed a sample of mikes from Shure's U.K. division to run our usual practical tests on. Any comments we make are based on experience with the mikes and extrapolations from that experience. So here goes!
Given the sort of prices we're expected to pay for just about everything connected with music these days, a Shure mike for a recommended £27 (possibly below in actual practice) has either got to be an American joke or a real bargain! I say it has to be because there's no doubting the reputation which this brand has for robustness.
That physical strength is obvious from the moment you first handle the 517. I'm certain that Shure won't thank me for saying it but we've found their mikes eminently 'droppable' in the past and, well, accidents do happen don't they? This one seems very tough, features a lockable switch and the usual three pin XLR socket at its base.
Shure reckon that the 517 features reduced proximity effect (you know, where the mike's response changes vastly as you get over-enthusiastically close to it). We tried it to see this and must confess that we were very impressed with the results. Needless to say, the 517 isn't an SM58, but look at the price! It also lacks the ball-head design which some singers like to have to minimise 'pop' effects. That's a matter of taste, of course, but we'd be very happy to use it for back-up vocals and also for miking-up instruments in a band where money was short.
Obviously Shure have gone for the Japanese and their under-cutting policies here and, notwithstanding the price they are asking for it, have produced a very useful general purpose mike with good handling characteristics and a good generally applicable sound. Definitely one to check if you're working on a low budget system and need as many mikes as you can get for your money.
RRP approx £39 inc. VAT
This mike literally arrived in the country the day before we received our sample and so, we admit, we weren't able to subject it to all of our tests. However, the experience which we did have with it convinced us that it had to be included here because it will, we're certain, become a very common and widely accepted piece of stage equipment with semi-pro bands within a few months.
The 518 shares an identical body with the 517 and also has the same feature of a lockable switch. Where it differs is that it has the ball head which characterises most vocal mikes these days and endows it with the name 'unisphere' as opposed to 'unidyne'.
If the 517 has rapidly achieved a good sales figure among bands (which we understand that it has) then we reckon the 518 as a vocal mike will do even better. The built-in 'pop' filter effect of the ball head and the overall excellence of the constructional quality combined with a really surprisingly good (for the money) reproduction of vocals, all combine to make this perhaps one of the best mikes on the market for the singer who is short of the wonder wallet filler. We predict good things for this latest introduction.
OK, a little over £100 is a fair bit of money to pay for a mike — but not when it's as thoroughly superb as Shure's SM57! This one was the real pick of the pack for us. It doesn't look all that great (not dissimilar from the beloved old 545 of everyone's past, in fact!) being a very plain, dynamic mike with no switch and a rather plain, unobtrusive appearance. Plug it in, however, and you'll soon realise why this mike is so well regarded by professional PA companies and studio engineers. From the moment you start to monitor it, the SM57 gives you a sound of real class. Vocals have a depth and timbre to them which so few mikes can give and the middle response (especially) is something quite remarkable in our experience, this is so obviously a thoroughly professional mike! Moreover it has many uses. A lot of people use it professionally for miking back line amps, and if that sounds extravagant, think of how important a good miked guitar sound is to a pro band! Yet another use is for overhead stereo drum miking where the sheer quality of the sound produced by the SM57 would be breathtaking.
True, most lead vocalists would probably rather use the SM57's Unisphere brother, the SM58, but we reckon the SM57 is quite amazingly versatile. It may be that most readers couldn't afford, yet, to use one, but if you're seriously into PA or you need a tremendously versatile mike for recording, then, we feel that you'd have to go a heck of a long way to better this mike.
As we expected, all of the mikes we were trying had excellent physical qualities, very important for regular stage use and all of them exhibited what their American makers would probably call 'state of the art' acoustical qualities. As far as we were concerned they all worked well and offered good value for money but two mikes stood out — the brand new Unidyne B 518 SB (excellent value for the vocalist on a tight budget) and that quite remarkable SM57 — quite simply one of the most versatile and best sounding mikes we've ever used. As we've said, mike reviews aren't easy to do but, as far as we could see, Shure's reputation stands intact — and (here's the best news) their entry into the lower end of the market (the 517 and 518) hasn't led to a serious degradation of quality. What it has done is enable a lot of newer singers and players to benefit from Shure's professional knowledge and experience. Up at the pro level (the SM 57 particularly) their quality is quite superb!
Gear in this article:
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