The “bomb proof” Shure SM58 Revisited

 

I know, you’re thinking, who needs a review of the SM58, a microphone that everybody already knows? But there comes a time when we have to revisit our assumptions, and see if they are still valid. Lets start with the specifications. What greets us is a respectable list which has remained relatively unchanging throughout the years. Some manufactures have made it their aim to supersede these, so that on paper, they can acquire bragging rights.

  • Frequency Response: 50 to 15,000 Hz
  • Screw on metal mesh pop filter.
  • Pneumatic (soft rubber balloon) shock-mounting for handling noise reduction.
  • Impedance: Rated impedance is 150 Ohms (300 Ohms actual) for connection to microphone inputs rated low impedance.
  • Standard XLR connection
  • Weight 10.5 oz
  • Length: 6.37795 inches
  • Diameter: 2 inches
  • Usage: general-purpose but predominantly live focused.
  • Polarity: Positive pressure on diaphragm produces positive voltage on pin 2 with respect to pin 3.
  • Construction: Dark gray, enamel-painted, die-cast metal; matte-finished, silver colored, spherical steel mesh grill.
  • Sensitivity: (at 1,000 Hz Open Circuit Voltage) -54.5 dBV/Pa (1.85 mV) 1 Pa = 94 dB SPL

Bragging rights aside, the special sauce for the SM58 isn’t in the specs; it is the totality of the package. In the 1960s Shure engineer Ernie Seeler and his team created the ideal live vocal microphone in trying to solve television studio mic fragility and glare problems. Back then condenser microphones were large, fragile and extra shiny, so the glare from the studio lights was blinding. The Shure guys made a sturdy non-reflective gray metal housing for their equally sturdy dynamic mic and a legend was born.

It’s common to see an old SM58 with its mesh grill all dented up and yet happily functional; that stands as a testament to the mic’s durability. The grill is designed to collapse so as to prevent the mic element from taking a direct hit. Sound wise the SM58 is great for blues, rock, and rap. Big time acts still use it because the SM58 is that good. It’s not that you can’t find better sound for less, but that will require trade-offs. One caveat, is that female voices are not as well served by it; yet with some finagling a very good result can be achieved.

Patti Smith using an SM58
Patti Smith with SM58
Sheryl Crow using an SM58
Sheryl Crow with SM58

Sheryl Crow

and

Patti Smith

endorse it.

 

Some further geek notes straight from the manufacturer:

  • Designed to dent upon impact, shock-absorbing grille protects the cartridge from damage.
  • Foam on top of the resonator cap serves as the second stage in pop filtering.
  • Calculated porting in capsule ensures a uniform cardioid polar pattern across the frequency range for maximum gain-before-feedback.
  • Pneumatic shock mount virtually eliminates stage vibration and handling noise.
  • Adhesive compound secures transformer and prevents moisture and temperature changes from entering the handle. It also creates an airtight chamber to enable proper shock mounting and low-end frequency response.
  • Low-cut roll off reduces handling noise, wind noise and plosives.
  • Presence peak increases intelligibility for speech and enables vocals to cut through the mix of amplified instruments.

SM58: the quick and the dirty

Henry Rollins with the SM58 as a bludgeon
Henry Rollins brandishing an SM58
When praised:

It’s “Predictable”, “Sound engineers should already know it”, “good for reducing handling noise”, “if you don’t have a hammer handy you can use your SM58”

When cursed:

Folks call it, “androphilic”, “rhinal”, and/or “plebeian”.

All told after the next world war, all that will be left is the rats, the roaches and the SM58.

Shure SM58 at Audio46
Shure SM58-LC Cardioid Dynamic Vocal Microphone at Amazon