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Shure SM58 - better than a Neumann U87 for a thirtieth of the price?

In a recent test, Record-Producer.com visitors judged the $100 Shure SM58 microphone to be more expensive-sounding than the $3500 Neumann U87. Are they deaf?

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In the recent Audio Masterclass shootout among three microphone preamplifiers, a secondary test compared two microphones.

Three tests were carried out under identical conditions with the three preamplifiers using the first microphone. The three tests were then repeated using the second microphone.

The test wasn't intended to be anything more than a quick and easy, 'let's see if the preamp works' kind of test. There will certainly be more precise tests in Audio Masterclass in future.

But each set of three tests was consistent, with only the preamps being changed. There was however a difference between the two sets of tests. Because the gain of one of the preamps was fixed, and set at a value suitable for the first mic, when the second mic was connected it was found that the gain was too much. Therefore the distance from the microphone was increased from around 20 cm to around 40 cm.

So the microphone part of test therefore was the first mic, a Shure SM58, against the second, a Neumann U87 at twice the distance.

Granted, this is not comparing like with like. But the responses to the test chose the Shure SM58 mic at 20 cm as being the more expensive mic over the Neumann U87 at 40 cm, by a margin of 43 votes to 13.

So, there is at least one worthwhile conclusion to this test - if you position a Neumann U87 at other than the optimum distance, it will sound worse than a cheap $100 mic.

It says to me that the positioning of microphones is more important than which mic you choose. And I think this is true (with the one exception that dynamic mics will never work well with metallic percussion - they simply do not have the detailed high frequency response that is necessary).

It's easy to buy a good mic - just slap a $3500 charge on your card and the mic is yours.

But to learn how to position mics well - now that is an art that is only learned over a period of years and not something you can just go out and buy.

But that SM58 didn't sound bad, did it?

(Of the two recordings, I preferred the SM58 too!)

By David Mellor Monday January 23, 2006
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