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Audio recording involves a lot of experimentation to get it right. Vocals are arguably the most critical part of the track. In the past, it was easier for an artist to pick up any mic, press record, and voila! A perfect vocal! Sadly that is not the case anymore, goalposts have shifted in the music industry and listeners want high fidelity recordings. Can you still achieve that with the Shure SM58 microphone?
The answer is yes. A Shure SM58 microphone can be used for recording vocals and can give nice results. However, it is traditionally used for live vocals and does have some limitation in the studio.
If you step into a recording studio today, you will find that producers have stocked on a variety of microphones, each with its purpose. Slowly, the lesson starts to sink in; when it comes to mics, there is no one size fits approach. Be that as it may, music production relies on skill as much as your tools. Spending a fortune in a microphone will not necessarily make you an overnight star- sometimes a simple installation like the Sm58 is all it takes to get started. But is it the best choice you can afford? And what are some of the limitations?
The vocal recording advantages of the Shure SM58 Microphone:
- Consistent sound quality
- Its proximity peak adds warmth and richness to your vocals
- It eliminates low-frequency rumble
- The cardioid polar pattern isolates the source of the sound and as well as reducing the background noise
- Pneumatic suspension curtails handling noise
- It has an in-built pop and wind filter to reduce plosives and breath noises
What is a Shure SM58?
The Shure SM58 is a mic etched deep in history. It goes back to 1966 when Shure Incorporated made the first Shure microphone. The mic has managed to impress a long list of artists for its quality sound and durability. This cardioid microphone is still the best pick for live vocals performance today. Market surveys show that the Sure SM58, alongside its kin the Shure SM57 is the bestselling studio mics (SMs) of all times.
The Shure SM58 is a directional microphone, meaning it can only pick up sounds from one direction. When you sing into it too close, you get a low-frequency bass boost. Its cardioid response is what makes it a darling for live performers; it minimizes audio pick up from the rear and the sides so that there is less feedback on stage. The mics also gave an in-built shock mount for curtailing handling noise.
The Shure is designed for handheld use. The mic capsule is placed inside a soft rubber suspension. As opposed to a solid rubber encasing, the pneumatic suspension enhances isolation from feedback and handling noise.
The mic is a no brainer for live vocal performers. The un-switched mic can amplify the clarity and warmth of your tones. Its directionality targets a single sound source while cutting out all background noise. The mic can be used for vocal recordings, but you should ready to work around some caveats.
The SM58 for studio recording
Most producers and sound engineers use studio condenser microphones for recording vocals in a studio setting. Condensers have a great frequency response, more than you will find in dynamic mics like the Shure SM58.
If you want to learn more about the difference between dynamic and condenser microphones then check out this article.
What does that mean for your vocal quality?
Wide frequency response in the mic enables it to capture more vocal details. Your recording will come out as high fidelity with rich vocals and clear instruments. Artists that have been recording with the SM 58 always have one common complaint – “My music came out dull.”
Sweet music that compels a long time of listening encompasses a mix where each single instruments has its space in the frequency spectrum. In a ‘busy’ mix, everything will be competing, including the vocals the guitar and the bass. That is the reason why many artists prefer the accuracy of condenser mics.
Be that as it may, many legendary artists (including John Lenon) have made their music with the SM58. This mic will enable you to avoid capturing unwanted room sound. But you should be ready to deal with some hissing sounds in your recording.
Just remember that when you get too close to an SM58, you activate the proximity bass boost effect. The vocal recording will also be flatter at the low end if the mic is too close to the mouth. The bass response falls off the more distance you put between you and the mic.
Why do some producers love them for recording?
The unique sound
Some producers explicitly use the SM 58 for vocals and guitar recordings. You only need to find the right distance for between you and the mic to eliminate the low-end waffle. Instruments like the piano and acoustic are designed to be loud enough, and so you wouldn’t necessarily need the sensitivity of the condenser mic in this case, or they will get into the frequencies of other instruments.
The SM58 also comes in handy when you want your vocals not to have too much presence in the mix. Vocals recorded with a Shure SM58 would naturally blend in a mix without requiring a lot of equalization. Any vocal artist and any instrument would sound great with the SM 58.
Even though many prefer the Shure SM58 mic for its indestructibility, it scores points on excellent sounds as well. The low tuned frequency response can reduce all low-end rumble critically. The mic also adds some rise in mid frequencies, an aspect that will make your vocals sound warm and rich.
All SM58 mics give out the same audio quality. That can be convenient in studio recording where an artist may not always get the same mic every day. You can mix and match recordings from different days without worrying about inconsistent sound quality. These mics have a similar cardioid polar pattern that makes your vocals stand out over frequency-choking instruments.
SM 58 mics are robust, much so unlike condenser mics. The Shure mics can stand a lot of abuse in and out of a studio. You can drop it, step on it, or tore it without care and you will still have a mic to sing into the next day. The sound quality will not be compromised in any way.
Less worry about ambient noise
You could record in your home, and it would still sound great Condenser mics are known to be super sensitive. They will pick up all the sound details in a studio no matter how low the frequency they are. You will often hear some sounds that you don’t want in your recording. For that reason, they need a well-soundproofed room to get a crisp and clear vocal recording. These are troubles that the SM58 will not give you.
You could record your vocals right in your living room without worrying about echo or ambiance noise coming into your mix. The mic doesn’t sound crisp and clear per se, but the audio quality is still satisfactory. Studio time is becoming more and more costly, and come to think of it, most of us don’t have sound proof walls so ‘satisfactory’ would do in this case.
Some possible alternatives
The Audio-Technica AT2020
To get more clarity in recorded vocals, in a studio setting where damage is less likely a condenser microphone might be a better option as you will pick up greater range and clarity. If you are on a budget then a great starter option is the Audio-Technica AT2020.
Like the Shure SM58 it is a cardioid microphone and so doesn’t pick up too much background noise, which is very handy in most home studio settings.
For under $100 you get really good sound quality and a microphone that looks really nice as well.
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MXL V67G Large Capsule Condenser Microphone
In terms of the best looking microphone, the MXL V67G wins hands down. But it isn’t just a looker. It is also a top-quality microphone.
Like the AT2020 above this is also a condenser microphone and so not really suitable for live use but perfect for recording vocals in the home studio. MXL wanted to give the microphone a warm, tube like tone to the sound and this really come through in the vocals.
I actually prefer the tone of this microphone the warmth of the Shure SM58 as it has a bit more depth and clarity. It doesn’t perform great when recording instruments, so I would only really recommend it for vocals.
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The bottom line
Different mics have different uses. When choosing a mic for recording vocals, you will have to consider the bigger picture; how will the finished piece sound after equalization? These mics are also easy to maintain, less costly, and don’t require a soundproof booth to sound okay.
I have personally used a Shure SM58 for recording vocals in my home studio for years. Mainly because I had one from the days when I used to play in a band. Nevertheless, I still really love it for recordings and the warm tone and lack of background noise it picks up have given me some great results.