Updated: Mar 7, 2022
Learn how a simple unassuming microphone became a studio and stage staple.
Want to listen to this article? Check out our podcast below.
If you have listened to a popular song, a political speech, or any television show, from the last four decades, chances are that you have heard the work of a Shure SM57 microphone.
You may be asking yourself how this small microphone became so popular. This article will go over the Shure SM57’s history, and reveal how it eventually became one of the industry’s standard microphones most commonly used today.
About the Shure SM57
The Shure SM57 is a fairly basic and inexpensive general-purpose dynamic microphone. It is superior to other similar microphones for several reasons. It was originally used by people in the media industry who broadcasted news and sports. Eventually, the music recording industry fell in love with the Shure SM57 because of its versatility. Performance-wise, the Shure SM57 is just about unrivaled.
You can throw one in front of a guitar cabinet and it'll effortlessly capture every harmonic. Or you can throw it on a snare drum and it'll capture not only the transient but also the drum's body with ease. Not only is it a go-to instrument mic, attach a Shure SM57 to a lectern, and listen to it catch every nuance of a presenter’s voice.
The Shure SM57 can be used in just about any kind of environment, loud or quiet, hot or cold. The microphone will never disappoint. The reliability of the Shure SM57 is what makes it so popular and its versatile nature can accommodate just about any situation. These microphones are adaptable, affordable, sound good, and are built to last.
The Shure SM57’s lineage traces back to the art-deco microphones that Elvis Presley was fond of using – the Shure Model 55. The Model 55’s contained a capsule known as the Unidyne, one of the first dynamic microphone capsules. They proved to be much cheaper and less fragile than ribbon microphones that were the prevalent choice at that time. Because of the Model 55’s popularity, Ernie Seeler, a Shure engineer, started working on another version of it. The capsule known as Unidyne III was integrated with the company’s updated product: the Model 545. It has since been cited as the first end-fire, unidirectional dynamic microphone in the world.
During this period, loud rock music and television were reaching new heights of popularity, which put a lot of demand on these kinds of microphones. An updated version of the Shure Model 545 came out containing the Unidyne III. This newer model needed a casing capable of handling the rigorous use that busy television studios required. This is when the Shure SM57 was born.
“SM” stands for “studio microphone,” however, it was built for television studios more so than music studios. Its matte black paint minimizes camera reflections and helps to blend in with its surroundings and the lack of a power switch on the microphone prevents them from getting switched off accidentally during a broadcast.
It didn’t take long for this durable, low-cost microphone to grow in popularity – particularly within the A/V industry. Many were fond of the Shure SM57’s cardioid pickup patterns, as it filtered out ambient noise beautifully. They were also fond of the capsule’s rigidity. Industry professionals raved over the way the microphone delivered sound, no matter how loud things got.
Before the Shure SM57 came along, close-miking wasn’t commonplace, because ribbon mics often broke under the pressure of high SPLs produced by loud instruments (or from being dropped or mishandled). The Shure SM57 was able to withstand all of these things and more without issue, which aided in its quick rise in popularity.
What is the Shure SM57 Suitable For?
The Shure SM57 can deliver optimal results with any recording endeavor. If you need to mic someone up for a speech or musical performance, or even for field recording and filming, this general-purpose mic will be able to accommodate all situations.
When considering music, the Shure SM57 will prove to be invaluable for you. In recording studios, guitarists have been known to combine a Shure SM57, placed up against the cone of a speaker cabinet, with a ribbon or condenser mic behind it to balance out the sound.
Toms and snares also sound great with the Shure SM57 because of its high SPL ranking, which indicates the amount of pressure or volume the capsule is capable of withstanding before distorting. This, combined with their tight cardioid pick-up pattern, which helps the mic pick up what it was intended to, makes the SM57 truly appreciated in live settings. For example, pointing the Shure SM57 towards a speaker cab will allow you to pick up that speaker cab only. It will simultaneously work to reject surrounding noise, such as a drum set next to it.
When it was being designed, Shure’s engineers put it through rigorous abuse. The robust construction of this mic is remarkable. The microphone was dropped from great heights, baked inside an oven, and submerged in water. The Shure SM57 didn’t succumb to any pressures that the engineers forced on it through their testing process.
Who Should Use the Shure SM57?
Historically speaking, the Shure SM57 was used to record songs and albums. The list of things it has recorded over the last four decades could fill a book. The White House is a big endorser for the Shure SM57, as it’s been the most reliable option for presidential addresses since 1965. Since presidential speeches are often held outdoors, government officials depend on a microphone that is capable of handling certain weather conditions. The Shure SM57 has yet to let the White House down.
What Makes the SM57 So Popular?
There are many reasons why this microphone is so beloved. For starters, its versatility insurers top-notch results, no matter what the situation entails. The build quality of the Shure SM57 is unrivaled – these devices simply won’t break, nor will they come with “off days.” It is capable of handling all sorts of volume pressures. Fortunately, these microphones are only $90, showing that high quality does not always come with top-dollar pricing. You will find the Shure SM57 in the cabinet of every major studio, and it is a staple in Channel Audio’s rental arsenal, a testament to its reliability.