Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mic Week - Part 2: The Versatile SM57

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It's Mic Week and don't worry Brethren of the Knob and Fader, it's not going to be all Shure products. But we are kicking things off with a couple of the most widely used mics in the industry. Yesterday it was the humble SM58 vocal mic and today it's the close cousin, the SM57.

The two mics utilize the same capsule but have different grilles. The 57 was intended for use on instruments. It's smaller cap makes it better suited for getting up close and personal with drums and guitar cabinets. Some find that because there's less in the way a 57 is still useful as a vocal microphone. (You can see Marylin Manson singing into one in some NIN videos.)

The SM57 is just an absolute work horse in the live sound industry. They're still the first choice for many on snare dums and guitar cabinets. You'll also see them on toms, brass and just about anything else you can think of. For a small company with a limited mic box these are usually what's left when a last minute addition shows up. Your humble host has even used them for drum overheads in a pinch. It's a favorite trick on a small stage where bleed is an issue.

They're also the mic of choice for the President of the United States. Any time you see one speaking there will be a pair of 57s on the podium, one hot, one for back up. Put enough gain to them and they'll give you clean crisp vocals even from a distance and their bomb proof construction will see them through years of duty.

In the studio they're used less and that's an obvious move. When you've got multi-thousand dollar condenser mics on hand it doesn't make sense to reach for a $100 dynamic mic. But there's always a few in the mic locker and they're a known quantity. If you're going for a vintage or lo-fi sound they're an obvious choice.

Don't let them fool you though. A major engineer when posed with the question, "What would you buy if your studio burned down and you only had a couple thousand bucks to get going again?" The answer was, "After Pro-Tools and a computer to run it on I'd probably pick up a handful of SM57s." (If anybody can remember what episode of Pensado's Place that was on I'd love to attribute it correctly.) I feel the same way. Whether live or in the studio, if you give me a source and a 57 I'll get you useable signal.

So in conclusion, it's not the best mic for anything, but it's a pretty good mic for just about anything. And with that, now it's your turn. I'm calling on all the salty old dogs out there to hit the comments section and fill in anything I left out so that the younger Brethren aren't wanting for knowledge. Tune in tomorrow for another dose of Mic Week!

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