Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mic Week - Part 6: Shure SM81

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Mic Week is back and this time we're covering mics that will do double duty on the stage and in the studio. I know it seems like Shure mics show up a lot more than other brands but hey, they make a decent mic for the entry level folks and they're pretty common place. Eventually we'll get to the esoteric stuff but for now it's the garden variety that we're concerned about.

Theh SM81 is a small diaphragm condenser mic in a form factor sometimes called a "pencil condenser". It's long and thin with no noticeable flare at the diaphragm end. It requires phantom power to operate and has a 10 dB pad and a two stage low cut filter. They have a cardioid pattern which means they reject noise fairly well from the back side but don't have a super tight focus.

First off they're probably seen most often as a high hat mic. The small diaphragm reacts quickly to sharp transients and you get a nice clean sound. They also find use around the drum kit as a snare bottom mic and quite frequently as overheads. They're also a great choice for auxiliary percussion.

More than just a percussion mic, they're well suited for work as choir mics, close mics for strings, podium mics, and stereo pair room mics. If you have two of these in your box you'll find yourself reaching for them time and time again.

There are many inferior knock offs, even within the Shure line. The entry level PG series has the PG81 which is well under $100 and while it's better than nothing, the difference between this pipsqueak and it's older sibling is night and day. The closest thing I've ever found is in the short lived Beta Green series. The 4.0 is slightly larger and has no roll off or pad but does have an on/off switch. Head to head with an 81 on a choir I was hard pressed to tell the difference. They'll also run on a battery which makes them great for field recording and video work. I was given three of them years ago and use them for all of the above and more. Once again though, once you hear a real 81 you'll see why they're the pro choice so many times.

Other similar mics are the AKG C-1000 which has it's followers but a lot of detractors as it is not only bulkier but can also have a harsh sound. There are also several different versions and it's said that the older ones are better but still not up to snuff compared to the 81. The Rode NT5 is another similar mic and much loved in the film and video world.

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