Recording Mic for $100?
October 7, 2010 9:33 PM   Subscribe

Music Recording: Do I want a Shure SM57, 58 or something else?

Hello, musicians of MeFi! I asked a previous question or two about home recording equipment, and since then I've bought some stuff and gotten more into it, I'm actually starting to do some semi-serious recording with some friends and it made me start looking at what else I need.

The one thing we're weak on is mics. We have access to 3 or 4, but they're extremely cheap and I'm not pleased with the quality at all. I think it's time to invest in a slightly better one for our primary vocals. Budget is about $100, I know that's not a lot for recording equipment but I think it should be enough to get something that's at least a little better.

The first thing that came to mind was the Shure SM57 or 58. I've seen them mentioned many times and so they seem like they might be a good choice. But I'm not clear on what the difference between the two is, or which one I should choose. Is there a different mic in the same price range that you guys would recommend instead?

I'd say 75% of its use will be for vocals. We may want to mic my Vox AC15 for electric guitar parts, but I'd rather get a good vocal mic that's terrible for instruments than a mic that's mediocre for both.

Thanks for the help!
posted by DMan to Technology (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
57s are instrument mics and 58s are for vocals, but neither are really for recording.
posted by FlyByDay at 9:45 PM on October 7, 2010

sm 57 & 58 have the same guts. not having the bubble windscreen on the 57 ... this is the information i found when researching the same question:

Bruce Bartlett

I was a microphone engineer at Shure.

The SM57 and SM58 are essentially the same, except that the SM57 was intended mainly for instruments and the SM58 for vocals. The SM58 has a ball grille that acts as a pop filter. The two mics have the same proximity effect at the same miking distance.

Because of its smaller grille, the SM57 lets you get closer to it for more bass boost. But if you are 2 inches from the diaphragm in either mic, they have the same bass boost.

They have a slightly different response at high frequencies because of the acoustical effects of the different grilles.

i always want my voice to sound more bass-y so i opted for the 57. plus i liked the thought that it's supposedly better for mic-ing amps, though i've recorded amps with the 58 and its not bad.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 9:46 PM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

oh, and while i have seen the crit that they are not for recording, as flybyday says, the appeal is that they are very sturdy for bashing around rough-and-tumble gigging activity at a good price, thus the appeal as many a musicians first choice.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 9:49 PM on October 7, 2010

Response by poster: Okay, so taking the information that those mics aren't really best for recording, I've done a little more research (sorry! should have done so to begin with :( ) and it looks like I probably want a condenser mic for recording vocals?

This MXL 990 looks like a really good deal for the price, and it seems to get decent reviews. Would that be a better option for what I'm wanting to do?
posted by DMan at 10:08 PM on October 7, 2010

Best answer: If you don't have a 57 or a 58 or a Beta equivalent, I would personally get the 57 (or 58) over the MXL 990 (I have all the mics in this discussion).

You say you'd rather have a mic that was good for vocals and terrible for instruments rather than mediocre at both. The thing is, that's not really the choice you are facing. The 57 is excellent for guitars and other instruments. In fact, the 57 is just so familiar-sounding that its actually hard to tell if its not crap. The sound of guitars over the last umpzillion years is the sound of the 57. If you get a 57, you will use it forever. You can use it on drums, bass, amps, horns, anything. Also, its indestructible. I have a couple of them that got knocked over in a flood. They were caked with Brooklyn mud and street grime, and submerged, for a couple days before I got back from out of town and found them. They still work. I took them apart, cleaned them, and let them dry out for a few days. And they hold their value. You don't really have to buy SM57s, you just temporarily convert your money into SM57s, and if you need money back, you just go the other way.

The MXL990 (and the rest of its price-competitive brothers) is at best mediocre. Its shocking how good these Chinese condensors are for how much they cost, but they are not something you definitely need, they are not durable at all (they're pretty shoddily made and in general condensors are going to be easier to break because of the inherently more delicate capsule mechanism, plus the super-high gain head end electronics you need to make a capacitive microphones produce decent levels are generally easier to destroy. I have destroyed many condensor microphones by accident).

Depending on what kind of band you are in, who sings, and how they sing, its entirely possible that a 57 will sound better on their vocs anyway. Loads of singers like the sound of 57/58. Its never going to be as broadband, as clear and detailed, but, well, most singers don't actually gain a whole lot from that. If you guys have tried this, and you're like, "damn, our singer really needs this sound," then ignore everything I've said and get some kind of large-dia condensor in this range. For what its worth, my favorite of the el-cheapo LDCs is the AT2020, but I haven't played with the newest generations, and the quality control on these things is pretty shitty so they could vary considerably from mic to mic (like shitty guitars).

Finally, its easier to use. No phantom power, no batteries, way less dependence on preamp quality, no worrying about breaking it, easy to orient null points (so if you are tracking with live vocs).

You could just go some place like Guitar Center that has a cash-back return policy and try both.

re: SM57 and 58 I was under the impression that they had same guts/capsule/electronics but that in addition to the wind screen the venting was slightly different, which changes the null point, pickup pattern and proximity effect fall off slightly)
posted by jeb at 10:50 PM on October 7, 2010 [6 favorites]

Nthing the comments so far. I was using SM57's and 58's from the 1970's to 1990's. They are classic, effective workhorses. No idea what's current as I left music around '95 but you really can't go wrong with the Shures.
posted by michswiss at 12:28 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Edit to add (I really should have previewed) that most of my work was with live folk music, but also some contemporary radio and recording. The only time I worked with other mic's was if we weren't direct mic'ing a performer or instrument.
posted by michswiss at 12:32 AM on October 8, 2010

I'm just stepping in to second that the AT2020 is a lovely condenser mic that makes for very warm and pleasing vocals. The XLR version also requires phantom power, so take that into consideration...
posted by disillusioned at 1:01 AM on October 8, 2010

The Mic/voice combination is not a matter of "get a '57" - you need to find the right mic for your voice. Just buying something because lots of people say it's good may still get you a mic that sounds bad with your voice.

That said, you can't go wrong with a 57 as a general mic to have in your arsenal, and Bono uses one in the studio for his vocals (and whether you love or loathe the man, you can't deny, he and his 57 have been on a few hit records over the years!)

And yes, the 58 and the 57 are the same mic in a different chassis, and on high SPL sources, such as guitar cabs, both are great...
posted by benzo8 at 2:11 AM on October 8, 2010

Nthing not to use SM57 or 58 for recording unless you want the specific sound they will give you.

A large diaphragm condenser mic is definitely the way to go for vocals, and a cheap but bloody good option is the Rode NT1. I have two of these and they've never let me down.

If you're lucky, you'll find a deal (like i did for one of mine) which includes a pop shield and mini vocal booth. Sweet!
posted by greenish at 4:48 AM on October 8, 2010

Best answer: This MXL 990 looks like a really good deal for the price, and it seems to get decent reviews.

I'm going to agree 100% with jeb here. Skip the MXL990 (I have one; it's fine for the price, but I still wouldn't buy it). I'd say get an SM58. I use it on vocals and guitar cabs all the time and it's great. Even on vocals (although it needs some top-end sweetening). I've used it on acoustic guitars (it's fine, if you want that sound). Seriously, if you want to buy one mic to do it all, get a 58. Will it be great? No. But it does the job, and it's rugged and versatile.

(If you want to hear an SM58 on vocals--along with a number of very poor mixing choices--listen to my Metafilter Music posts between last May and this August. I didn't go to the MXL990 once during that time period, even for acoustic guitar. That said, I've gone back to the 990 recently on softer vocal lines, and it's treating me well.)
posted by uncleozzy at 5:36 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

57s are instrument mics and 58s are for vocals, but neither are really for recording.

what an absurd suggestion that neither are for recording. both of these mics are just standards in every studio and have been used on innumberable recordings.

if you are currently using $20 mics from radio shack than a sm57 or sm58 will be a huge step up. Personally i'd probably go with a sm-58 if Its for vocals mostly.
posted by mary8nne at 5:51 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

This and this were recorded with a MXL990. For an inexpensive entry-level recording mic, I think it works quite well.
posted by tdismukes at 6:22 AM on October 8, 2010

Response by poster: Okay. Looks like it's a consensus, I'll go with the SM58 for now. I'm still intrigued by the MXL 990 but I'll save that for a future purchase. While I only have one mic I want it to be durable.

Thanks for all the help!
posted by DMan at 6:36 AM on October 8, 2010

Used to intern in a studio for a very talented indie-rock producer. He was playing back an album he'd recorded one day to test some new monitor speakers, and I was stunned by the richness of the sound. The drums were totally 3d, the cymbals sparkled, the guitars had guts and texture and richness.

I said, what sort of mics did you use on this session this? (imagining the Neumanns and other lovelies he'd recently purchased). He shrugged. "It was a couple years ago, I didn't have many mics, I just borrowed 5 or 6 SM57s".
posted by Erroneous at 10:00 AM on October 8, 2010

In the $100 range either SM57 OR SM58 is a great purchase... and one you will never regret.
Ultimately you'll want some more options. For just over $100 you can get some pretty delectable sounds out of the MXLV67... I've been beating the hell out of mine and it still sounds great on my guitar.

Beware that once you start hearing the differences between microphones, you'll want to buy dozens of them... it can get very expensive. But, in the meantime, these Shure mainstays are just dandy to get you started.
posted by Erroneous at 10:02 AM on October 8, 2010

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