Sunday, April 28, 2013

Mic Week - Part 1: The Humble SM58

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It's high time we got down to business and covered some microphone basics. You salty old dogs aren't off the hook though. It's up to you to read these posts over and fill in the gaps in the comments so any aspiring young engineers aren't missing out on anything. We're not covering mechanics here, but specific models and their uses.

We start with what may be the most common microphone on the entire planet. So common even your mother would recognize it. Type the word microphone into an image search and the results will be split between something that looks like the humble Shure 58 and the "Elvis Mic". (The Shure 55 that we'll get to later.)

Though many express their distaste for this mic it's not for nothing that it's been an industry standard for decades. This simple highball contains an utterly rugged capsule that does a fair job with just about any vocal you can throw at it. I've seen one mashed flat at a metal show and it still passed signal at the end of the night. Jump on YouTube and you can find a multitude of heavy hitters singing on one. Freddy Mercury sang on one at Live Aid, one with a switch even!

The SM in the name actually stands for "Studio Microphone" although with better sounding mics becoming ever more available at low prices it's not all that common to see one in studio work these days unless you're going for a lo-fi effect.

On modern stages where performers wear in-ear monitors it's possible to use condenser mics and not worry about feedback. On a tight stage though a good old 58 isn't a bad choice to pull out of your mic box. It's got decent rejection of off axis noise so you can park it right in front of a wedge and be all right. Likewise with the quality of main PAs getting better all the time the deficiencies of a 58 will stand out.

There's just something about the look of an SM58. Some feel so strongly about it that they'll have them modified with capsules from much more expensive mics. Billy Joe from Green Day has one with a Telefunken capsule because nothing looks more punk rock than a ratty old 58.

If you know a thing or two about mics you may be wondering why I didn't include the 58's sister mic, the SM57, in this post. It's got the identical capsule in it but it's design and uses are different as well. So check back tomorrow Brethren of the Knob and Fader when we'll get into it more in depth. Meanwhile get busy in the comment section and add in anything we forgot.

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