The original SM7 debuted during Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video, and its iterations remain a must-have for recording musicians and avid enthusiasts alike. The SM7B is a costly microphone, and you’re paying for two things: professional performance and premium construction. We’re breaking down what makes the Shure SM7B a studio staple, and why it’s worth the cost.
Editor’s note: this Shure SM7B review was updated on November 22, 2020, to expand the list of buying options, and to address the Shure MV7 USB/XLR microphone.
Who should get the Shure SM7B?
- Vocalists will want to save for the Shure SM7B as it’s the perfect companion for recording in a controlled environment. Users can cycle through three frequency responses: flat, bass rolloff, and presence boost, depending on the desired effect.
- Professional audio mixers benefit from the high-pass frequency response: it’s great for minimizing low-frequency electronic hums from surrounding equipment. This makes post-production more efficient as it’s one less thing to edit out.
- Podcasters should also think about getting this dynamic microphone. Vocal reproduction is clear and off-axis rejection is remarkably effective, thanks to the cardioid pickup pattern. Even if you can’t afford professional room treatment, the off-axis rejection mitigates unwanted background noise, again, for its crisp vocal reproduction.
What is the Shure SM7B like?
The Shure SM7B reflects the company’s attention to detail and prioritization of premium construction. Upon removing the mic from its packaging, I immediately noticed the mutable frequency response illustration on the back. Two toggles allow you to select one of three responses, depending on what the situation calls for (e.g. bass rolloff, flat, presence boost). The yoke mounting mechanism is brilliant and makes it easy to attach and detach the SM7B from your favorite mic stand. What’s more, the yoke’s adjustment is smooth and offers just enough resistance to keep the microphone in its deliberately placed position.
The pre-installed pop filter effectively eliminates plosives and fricatives, meaning you can speak freely without monitoring how close you are to the recording capsule. When testing the microphone, the use of an external pop filter felt redundant. Shure also provides its A7WS detachable windscreen to further reduce plosives and produce a bassier-tone. To install the windscreen properly, refer to the included user guide as it requires the use of an included attachment piece.
There's little need for an external pop filter, since the pre-installed one works so well.
Shure features plenty of advanced internal hardware to protect the cartridge and other components. Its internal air suspension shock apparatus greatly reduces mechanical noises that would otherwise make their way into recordings. It’s also serviced to reject hums emitted from computer monitors. While these sounds are ignored by our brains, they’re often registered by sensitive microphones and can add time to post-production when not preemptively combated.
What do the different frequency responses mean?
The Shure SM7B lets you take control of your projects before you even hit record.
- Flat: this mode is great for users who seek natural audio reproduction and is versatile as it bodes well for both speech and music. The disadvantage, however, is that if you’re recording with a particularly bass-heavy instrument or a vocalist with an unusually low voice, you may find that the proximity effect hampers low-midrange recording.
- Bass rolloff: this mode acts similarly to applying a high-pass filter on a digital audio interface. Low frequencies are gently attenuated, which further quiets low-frequency electrical hums and potential distortion that, again, could be caused by the proximity effect.
- Mid-range emphasis (presence boost): this setting appears similar to that of the bass rolloff response but with slightly more amplification to the mids and treble. This is good if you’re recording a high-pitched string instrument, say a violin or guitar.
What kind of recording pattern does the Shure SM7B use?
Like the famed Elvis microphone, the Shure SM7B is a dynamic mic with a cardioid polar pattern. For those unfamiliar with audio hardware jargon, this means that it’s sturdy and less sensitive to loud noises compared to condenser mics. In other words, the Shure SM7B is equipped to minimize audio clipping and signal distortion from loud outputs.
This microphone isn’t for the generalist as it affords just one pickup pattern: cardioid. Its specialization makes it a great pick for podcasters, announcers, and singers because sounds directly in front of the microphone are clearly registered while off-axis noise is ignored. Another perk of this heart-shaped polar pattern is its forgiving nature. Users need not be precise about placement, so you can focus more on the musician’s performance than logistics.
Requirements for the Shure SM7B
- Whether you record from a blanket fort or professional studio, you’re going to need a mic stand. Podcasters or streamers working from a desktop should consider a mounted boom arm instead.
- No matter where you take the Shure SM7B, you need an XLR cable to plug into an audio interface or mixer.
- Contrary to my initial assumption, the Shure SM7B does not require phantom power. That said, it won’t damage the equipment if you happen to use it with a CL-1 Cloudlifter.
How does the Shure SM7B sound?
The Shure SM7B reigns as king of studio recording for good reason: vocal recording and reproduction is clear and crisp, especially when recording in a controlled environment with the flat frequency response selected. In the demo below, the flat frequency response is selected and my voice sounds unfortunately accurate. This audio snippet was recorded from my makeshift kitchen island desk with the dryer running just a few meters away. Suffice to say, this wasn’t recorded in a sterile room; yet, the untouched audio file remains unencumbered by the din that was undoubtedly present during recording.
Shure SM7B flat frequency response demo:
The bass rolloff and presence boost selections are difficult to differentiate from one another, both by ear and when comparing the frequency response charts. Mids and treble are ever so slightly amplified with presence boost mode compared to the bass boost, but one thing is for sure: they sound distinctly different from the previously mentioned flat response. In the bass rolloff demo below, you may be able to hear that my voice is slightly “off” when directly compared to the flat demo.
Shure SM7B bass rolloff frequency response demo:
Shure SM7B presence boost frequency response demo:
This is because my voice has a relatively low fundamental frequency (~150-175Hz), so the gentle attenuation until 650Hz makes my vocal fundamental and overtones roughly ½ as loud as my formants and harmonics. It’s not a huge deal—and isn’t noticeable to a passive ear or to someone unfamiliar with my voice—but it’s something to be aware of if you’re striving for absolute accuracy.
Shure SM7B vs. Rode NT-1
The Rode NT-1 is a condenser microphone as opposed to the Shure SM7B’s dynamic recording mechanism. This means that the Rode requires phantom power, so while it seems cheaper at face-value, you’re investing in extra hardware to make it usable. This may make the Shure SM7B more appealing to users who want their setup to be as straightforward as possible, with few variables.
Although both mics are sturdy, dynamic microphones have a simpler mechanism build, making them more resilient than their condenser counterparts. This isn’t a huge deal for users who work in a studio, but if you move your gear around a lot or were thinking of using it as an on-stage option, the Shure SM7B may, again, be the way to go.
Rode NT-1 microphone demo:
There are benefits to a condenser: their default higher sensitivity reproduces a more natural sound at higher frequencies. If you intend to record a lot of wind or string instruments, the Rode NT1 will serve you well. What’s more, the actual build of condensers tend to be more compact than dynamic microphones; those with limited space may want to invest in the Rode NT1 over the Shure SM7B.
Shure SM7B vs. Shure 55SH Series II
Shure and Shure go head-to-head here, and both the SM7B and 55SH Series II are elegant microphones that excel at vocal reproduction. The cylindrical SM7B is more versatile than the 55SH Series II due to its integrated frequency response settings. However, the Elvis microphone, as it’s so affectionately referred to, is a better live performance companion for someone without the budget for separate studio and gig mics.
Shure 55SH Series II demo:
Both are dynamic cardioid microphones and result in a similar sound when bass rolloff or presence boost is selected on the SM7B. Neither mic requires external phantom power and off-axis rejection is effective on both, with it being slightly better on the SM7B. The Elvis mic’s swivel mount is functional, but I prefer the SM7B for daily use as it’s easier to maneuver. I also prefer the XLR input placement on the SM7B: it doesn’t interfere with the mic stand adapter, whereas its placement on the 55SH Series II can pose a problem.
Shure SM7B vs. Shure SM58
Ok, this quick comparison is for kicks as the price disparity between the two models makes it unfair to legitimately compare them. However, there are certain instances when the lower-tier SM58 is preferred over the SM7B, namely for live performances. If you get most of your kicks from open mics or regular gigs, the Shure SM58 is the better pick. It features durable construction, a replaceable grill, and excellent vocal reproduction for the price. You don’t have to worry about tossing this mic into your truck or with the rest of your equipment.
Keep the SM7B in the studio and take the SM58 to the stage.
Both are dynamic cardioid microphones, so they can withstand loud noises with minimal distortion. The SM58 is clearly a vocal-oriented mic as shown by the heavily attenuated bass response. Again, this makes sense: during live performances, you don’t want to amplify your drummer or the random bumps and knocks that could otherwise prove a distraction from your performance. For studio use, however, the Shure SM7B wins hands-down.
Shure SM58 demo:
Should you buy the Shure SM7B?
If you’re tired of thinking about how the grass is always greener, you should just go ahead and get the Shure SM7B microphone. Shure is a legacy audio company that has built and defended its reputation through generations of reliable, durable, high-quality audio products. Its microphones have been used by presidents, pop icons, newscasters, and more: the Shure SM7B is one of many top-notch company products within its portfolio. Whether you plan to record solo vocalists or for your personal podcast project, the Shure SM7B will serve you well.
What about the Shure MV7?
The Shure MV7 is the SM7B’s little sibling, and it’s a real performer. Its compact design makes it much more portable, and more streaming-friendly than the Shure SM7B. Although the MV7 audio quality can’t quite match that of the Shure SM7B, it has a few tricks up its sleeve to make it more appealing to producers on a budget: the Shure MV7 lets you record to both the XLR and USB outputs simultaneously, which allows you to preserve a high-resolution audio file from the XLR output, and a low-res one from the USB output for reference.
While raw recording quality is certainly better with the larger SM7B, the MV7 doesn’t disappoint. It records very clear vocals, making it a great option for podcasters and gaming streamers in particular. The ShurePlus MOTIV app is available on desktop, and makes the microphone extremely easy to control. Novices, or those who don’t want to fiddle with too much customization, can select one of three presets from the auto level recording mode, and never touch the app again. Those who enjoy having more granular control over their recordings can switch into manual mode and make adjustments on the fly. It’s also much more affordable than the Shure SM7B, which is great for the average consumer.