Imagine the year is 1982 and you are Michael Jackson. You are 23 years old. The commercial and critical success of Off The Wall is nearly three years behind you. But you’re disappointed. Disappointed because Off The Wall didn’t win Record of The Year at the Grammys, and you feel undervalued by the music industry.
So you get back together with Quincy Jones to make an album with nothing but hits. Pop music’s version of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. With a $750,000 production budget, you have almost unlimited options in fancy microphones and high-end production equipment. But you, Quincy, and your sound production team decide to go with the Shure SM7B – a modest dynamic cardioid microphone used primarily in radio broadcasting and spoken word – to record most of your vocal tracks, and all of Vincent Price’s (in two takes, no less!).
Having Thriller on your resume isn’t such a bad thing. The Shure SM7B has been a staple of recording since, and has continued to be at the pinnacle of the industry.
According to Shure’s Davida Rochman, the SM7 story really begins with the SM5 broadcast microphone, “A dynamic boom microphone that found a home in many radio and film studios following its introduction in 1966.”
The SM5 was beloved, but huge (measuring about 25cm long). John Born, Product Manager at Shure, said in Rochman’s 2012 interview that a group of Shure acoustical engineers were given the Unidyne III cartridge element from within the Shure SM57 (cousin to the SM5) sometime in the 1970s. The engineers were told, “without restrictions on size or cost, to make it better. And they went nuts.”
The result is that the SM7B is optimized for low end response (the deep, big bass sound heard in many of today’s recordings). The shock mount is optimized to reduce stand vibrations. Rochman says the SM7B “does a good job of masking a poor recording environment, handling a screaming vocal, and performing double-duty as a drum or guitar amp mic.” It makes for an excellent instrument mic and vocal mic in live sound broadcasting and recording.
Over time, the SM7B has become the industry workhorse, partly because it’s a $350 microphone that compares – and occasionally bests – other studio microphones that can cost hundreds of dollars more. The recent rise in podcasting has helped the SM7B too, as demand has increased for high-quality voice-over mics at an affordable price.
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