It’s been a while since Elvis was in the building, but the Shure 55SH Series II, or Elvis microphone, lives on. This die-cast metal microphone marries old school rock and roll with modern mic technology. It’s great for live and studio performances alike. If you want a mic that will rock your socks off, this one is worth buying.
Editor’s note: This review was updated on July 26, 2021, to mention the Shure MV7.
Who is it for?
- Musicians should get this microphone. Not only will it earn you style points on stage and in the studio, but it’s specifically tuned to emphasize vocal frequencies, making them more intelligible during live performances.
- Podcasters may also consider the 55SH Series II mic, again, for its crisp vocal reproduction. Additionally, the cardioid recording pattern effectively shunts off-axis noises, which is great if you work from a less-than-optimal environment like your home studio.
What is the Shure 55SH Series II like?
The Art Deco-inspired body hearkens back to automobile grille designs from the 1930s. Its archetype was originally named the Unidyne and took the world by storm with its unique design and grade-A vocal reproduction. This mic looks fabulous and weighs a hefty 626 grams.
There’s just one toggle for powering the 55SH on and off, located on the front of the microphone handle. A tension swivel mechanism bonds the handle to the microphone’s body. This permits 125° of motion, 45° forward and 80° backward. The movement isn’t completely smooth as it’s easier to turn the mic toward me than away, but the tension may loosen over time. Shure includes a ⅝” to ⅜” thread adapter in case your microphone doesn’t accommodate a ⅝” thread.
A foam filter rests beneath the metal grille and mitigates plosives and fricatives. If you want to ensure their absence, an external pop filter may help. That said, unless you get closer than six inches to the microphone, pops and hisses rarely present themselves. There’s an internal shock-mounted cartridge to reduce noise from the mic stand, which is a huge help.
A dynamic mic with a cardioid pickup pattern
Dynamic microphones are sturdier than the condenser alternative. They’re also less sensitive than condenser mics, meaning they can withstand plenty of loud noise before any noticeable signal distortion. If you’re putting on a live show, it’s hard to keep a constantly appropriate distance from the mic. Additionally, you’re bound to brush against it or speak louder than you intend to. However, since it’s a dynamic microphone, the distracting effect of accidental noises is lessened.
The Shure 55SH Series II doesn't require phantom power, making it a great plug-and-play pick.
Unlike some microphones, the Shure 55SH has a single polar pickup pattern: cardioid. Sounds directly in front of the microphone are registered the most, while there’s some pickup from the sides and nearly none from the back. As you may expect, this results in a heart-shaped recording pattern. A huge benefit of cardioid microphones is their forgiving nature with regards to placement. You don’t have to be precise about where you’re standing relative to the mic. Its cardioid polar pattern also allows it to be used near loudspeakers without feedback issues, another reason it’s a great choice for live gigs.
Requirements for the Shure 55SH
- If you plan to bring the mic onstage, you’ll need a proper mic stand. For those working from a desktop, you may be better off with a mounted boom arm.
- The 55SH is an XLR microphone, so regardless of where you use it, you’ll need an XLR cable. If you’re using a guitar amplifier, you’ll need an XLR cable that terminates in a ¼” plug.
This dynamic microphone doesn’t require external or phantom power.
- However, you will need something to transmit the signal like an amp or USB interface.
The Shure 55SH Series II is renowned for its clear vocal reproduction. Midrange frequencies receive more emphasis than their low-end counterparts. This serves two purposes: vocal resonances remain audible, and the proximity effect is less prevalent. If you aren’t formally familiar with the proximity effect, this is when bass notes increase in loudness the closer you get to a given microphone. It’s particularly noticeable with smartphone mics.
In the recording below, I’m speaking from my desk in an untreated room. There’s no post-processing with the audio; it’s as raw as it gets. As you can hear, my voice sounds indubitably clear. To help you understand the effectiveness of its caridoid polar pattern: I was in the center of my kitchen which has hardwood floors and many auditorily reflective surfaces. Yet, there’s hardly any reverberation of my voice.
Shure 55SH Series II demo:
Limiting the frequency response chart to the human voice band illustrates just how well the 55SH Series II renders vocals. No matter how high or low your voice is, it will sound true to life with this microphone. As much as you may want to hold the back of the microphone like Elvis when performing, try and avoid that for the sake of sound quality. The sound of a hand brushing against the back of the mic is relayed and can degrade, or at the very least distract from, your voice.
Should you buy it?
Yes, this dense microphone has merited its legendary status. Not only is it a globally recognized design, but it also has the audio quality chops to justify the $179 price. Of course, it doesn’t excel in every single situation. If you’re looking for a TV or movie set microphone, you’ll need a shotgun or boom mic. Otherwise, the Shure 55SH is a stunner.
Looking for something a little more versatile? Try the Shure MV7
The Shure 55SH Series II is a great vocal microphone but doesn’t come with a lot of extra features. The Shure MV7, on the other hand, is absolutely teeming with features. It has both an XLR and USB input which makes it easy to create backup files. When you download the ShurePlus MOTIV app, you can adjust things such as the monitor mix, the mic’s tone, can optimize the settings based on your proximity to the mic, and more. Though it only offers a cardioid polar pattern, it’s still a super versatile mic that reproduces vocals very well.