The Definitive Shure SM7B Review
It’s not just the industry standard for spoken word and voice…
Reviewed by: Paul Narang
Review date: May 2023
Current price: Under $400
Shure SM7B Review
|Clear, detailed sound
Reduces room noise
Very high SPL
Lower output than some vocal mics
Shure SM7B Review
The Shure SM7B is a staple of podcasting, radio and music studios around the world. This iconic microphone is built to last and has a rich and clear sound. It is a versatile mic which will feel at home on electric guitars and horns. But the SM7B nonetheless particularly excels at the voice and has become an industry standard for spoken word.
What is it?
In 1978 Shure adapted the already popular SM57 instrument mic and SM58 vocal microphone to produce a larger mic intended for the studio – the SM7. This new dynamic cardioid microphone was widely adopted for use in radio and TV. In recording studios the microphone was initially used to capture horns, drums and other instruments. However in 1982 the SM7 was famously used on Michael Jackson’s lead vocal on some of the tracks on the Thriller album. Since then it has become a favourite of many singers and producers in studios around the world.
The latest iteration, the Shure SM7B, was introduced in 2001. After being a staple of radio broadcasting, this has become the industry standard for podcasting and live streaming. If you have watched tutorials or livestreams on youtube, then the chances are you will have seen this mic in action!
The SM7B is a real workhorse, and many users will describe having owned their trusty mic for a decade or more. It is more usual to favour condenser mics in the studio, however this dynamic microphone has some real advantages.
As well as these advantages, the microphone also has a wide frequency range and a flat response. It has a great reputation, and a lot to recommend it. Let’s see how it performs in our review.
In the box
As well as the microphone, the Shure SM7B comes with a:
- A7WS Detachable Windscreen
- RPM602 Switch Cover Plate
- ⅝” to ⅜” stand adapter
A dynamic microphone in the recording studio?
Condenser mics offer a lot of detail and clarity, especially in the higher frequencies. They’re powered with phantom power, and offer a higher output than dynamic mics. But they’re also more delicate, and the diaphragm inside can get damaged if the mic is dropped.
They’re also prone to feedback if there’s speakers nearby and can easily be overloaded. This makes condenser mics well suited to the recording studio, where the sound can be controlled, and there’s minimal risk of accidents.
By contrast, dynamic microphones are known for their strength and durability. They’re less sensitive to distortion from high sound levels, and better at handling feedback. This makes them well suited for live performance.
However, in recent times, the roles of condensers and dynamics have started blurring, with some excellent stage condensers, such as the Sennheiser E965, and high quality dynamic studio mics such as the SM7B.
Being a dynamic mic, the SM7B has very good noise rejection, which is useful if you don’t have an acoustically treated room to record in. It also has a high max SPL of 180db which makes it easily able to cope with loud drums, horns and the loudest vocalists. There’s a reason the SM7B has been used to record vocals in bands such as Iron Maiden and Metallica!
Shure SM7B Polar pattern
Like most dynamic mics, the SM7B has a cardioid pickup pattern, It picks up sound from a heart shaped area in front of the mic, and rejects sound from the back and sides.
The cardioid pattern is good for a home studio which hasn’t been fully acoustically treated, because sound is only picked up from where you point the mic. You’ll capture more of the sound source, and less of the room acoustics.
Does the Sure SM7B require phantom power?
One of the great things about the SM7B is the ability to plug and play without the need for phantom power. That’s because it’s a dynamic mic, rather than a condenser, which you’d normally find in a recording studio.
Connecting the Shure SM7B
The SM7B connects to your audio interface or mixer with a standard XLR cable. These cables are ‘balanced’, which means they’re shielded from interference over long cable runs.
Shure SM7B Design and Build
The Shure SM7B has an instantly recognisable and unique design, with a chunky black aluminium enclosure and foam windscreen.
One unique feature of the SM7B is its own specialist mounting with an integrated ‘yoke’. This is a small adjustable arm and hinge which for supporting the microphone. It’s a nice touch, and makes mounting and angling the microphone convenient and easy.
You can easily attach the yoke to a microphone stand or a microphone boom arm. Next to this sits the XLR socket, which is connected to the microphone via a short wire.
The SM7B ships with two different foam windscreens of different thicknesses. I found both of these to be effective at reducing plosives, removing any need for an external pop filter.
I tried the SM7B with and without windscreens, and found that there was a slight dampening of the high frequency response. Depending on the sound source, I’d probably use the mic without a windscreen for critical studio recording, place a pop shield in front of the mic for vocalists. When you take the windshield off, you’ll find a mesh grille covering the diaphragm.
Internally, the capsule is held in place with an ‘air suspension’ shock mount. This minimises how much the microphone picks up stand noise and external vibrations, and removes the need for an external shock mount.
On the rear of the microphone are the two EQ switches – a low cut filter and a presence boost. If you prefer these to be kept in a fixed position, the backplate can be swapped out for a plain one without the switches.
Shure SM7B Dimensions and Weight
The weight of the SM7B speaks of its durability and inspires confidence. It is slightly larger than many handheld microphones, but it’s a good size to use with a mount or a stand.
- Length 7.8″ (197mm)
- Width 2.5″ (62.5mm)
- Height 5.9″ (149mm)
- Weight: 766g
Shure SM7B Frequency response
The Shure SM7B has a wide frequency range of 50Hz – 20kHz. I first tried the SM7B without the EQ switches engaged, and found it to have an impressively flat response. The low-end gently rolls away below 100Hz and there’s a neutral midrange.
Between 5kHz and 10kHz there’s a series of some small peaks in the top end. This adds some brightness and air to what is an otherwise neutral sound.
The neutral setting will work for most situations, providing a balanced frequency response. I thought it sounded great on saxophone, with a clear, open sound with a rich low-end. A real perk of the SM7B is its ability to adapt to different voices and sound sources – it was easy to fine-tune the microphone to suit a range of instruments.
There are two EQ switches:
- Bass roll-off filter
Activating the Bass roll-off (low cut) filter alters the frequency response by rolling off the bass below 400Hz. I found this to drastically reduce the proximity effect, so it might be a good option for recording bass-heavy singers, or vocalists that move around the mic a lot. For recording my own (male) spoken voice, I preferred to leave the filter unactivated, as it added a ‘larger than life’ richness and depth to the recording.
- Presence boost filter
The presence boost switch affects the 1-10kHz range and adds about 3db of gain. This can help make speech more intelligible, as well as providing a brighter sound. This made a small but significant difference to my voice, adding a gentle lift.
Shure SM7B Sensitivity and Impedance
It’s typical for dynamic microphones to be less sensitive than condensers, and the SM7B is no exception, with a low sensitivity rating of -59.0 dB (1.12 mV). At first glance you might wonder if this is a problem, surely the more sensitive the better? Not necessarily – a low sensitivity microphone can have some distinct advantages in the studio.
One major advantage is the ability to capture louder sounds without distortion. The SM7B has a high maximum SPL of 180db. At this level the mic can cope with horns, drums, loud guitar amps and the loudest rock or metal vocals. Lower sensitivity microphones also reject a lot more ambient and room noise. They’ll capture whatever’s immediately in front of it, and little of anything else.
Like many professional studio microphones, the SM7B has a low output impedance. At 150 ohms, this will ensure a high quality audio signal even if the microphone is attached to a long cable.
One downside of the SM7B is that with low sensitivity comes a low output signal. Although in theory, my audio interface can handle the SM7B, I tested with and without a Cloudlifter, as I had one to hand. I can confirm, that it made a noticeable difference to the signal, saving the interface from going into overload.
You can certainly get good results without one, but if budget allows, look at what I suggest in the section below, to avoid background noise and get the best possible audio quality.
Adding gain to the Shure SM7B signal
You have the choice of ‘in-line activators’, which use phantom power to add extra headroom to the signal chain, or preamps, which can bring their own quality and sound. There’s a huge choice of options, but only two that I’ve personally tested with SM7B.
- Cloudlifter CL-1 Mic Activator
The Cloudlifter is one of the most popular activators used with the SM7B. It provides up to +25dB of clean gain, and has a very low noise floor. It’s not the cheapest option, but you won’t regret buying one.
- DBX 286S
The dbx 286s is a rackmounted unit, more expensive than the Cloudlifter. It’s a fully featured channel strip that also includes compression, EQ, de-essing, and a gate. It’s probably overkill for most situations, but definitely an option for any perfectionists out there.
Shure SM7B in the recording studio
One of the great strengths of the SM7B is its ability to pick up voices with a great amount of clarity, whilst at the same time rejecting unwanted background noise.
The low sensitivity, and heart-shaped cardioid pickup pattern ensures that it’s not too sensitive to sounds from the rear or sides. Anything from further than around 1 foot away begins to be rejected, and at about 5 feet, there’s extremely low sensitivity.
This is a huge advantage if you’re working in a room thats not acoustically treated, or not well insulated from background noise. Your recordings will need much less post-production when compared to most studio condensers.
The SM7B also has a built-in stand mount, internal shock protection, and ships with two different sizes of windscreen. The internal shock protection eliminates the need for an external shock mount cuts out stand noise and other vibrations.
The windscreens do a great job of reducing plosives and cuts out the need for a pop-filter. This is a particular advantage for video streaming as the windscreen won’t obscure the view of the camera in the way that a pop-filter might. The built-in stand mount is easily adjustable and makes it easy to angle the microphone as needed.
Shure SM7B Sound quality
The Shure SM7B series has a formidable reputation gained from decades in the music and broadcasting industries. Innovative design and durable build quality play a huge part in this, but so does the microphone’s distinctive timbre. It’s unmistakably warm and rich, with a sound and frequency response particularly well suited to the spoken voice.
The SM7B boasts a surprisingly wide frequency range which rivals many of its condenser counterparts. Inevitably for a dynamic microphone, the SM7B is not as bright or sparkly at the very top end as most studio condensers. But this has benefits – it’s fantastic for spoken word because it helps tame harsh sibilances.
Beyond this, the SM7B has the combination of a neutral frequency response and a balanced, clear sound. If I didn’t know the mic, I could easily have mistaken it for a condenser.
Towards the low end, the SM7B gets even richer and warmer. It’s a quality which increases with the proximity effect – the closer you get to the mic, the more bass is added to the signal. This is a feature used by podcasters and broadcasters, providing that classic smooth and deep sounding radio voice.
However if you need less bass, or more brightness, the low-cut filter or presence boost switches can be engaged to tweak the sound to your requirements. I used the presence boost to add a little more clarity and sparkle to be my male voice. The results where lovely – very clear and warm, with a high level of detail, but no sibilance or harshness.
As well as vocals, I found the SM7B performed well on other instruments. I used the SM7B to record saxophone and trumpet, and found that it rounded off any high frequency harshness, and coped well with the high volume. I was really pleased with the sound just leaving it on the neutral frequency response settings.
I also tried it on acoustic guitar, and found it to have a nicely balanced, warm quality. I know it’s also very popular for adding warmth and depth to electric guitars, guitar cabs and drums. The Shure SM7B is certainly a good all rounder microphone – for music studios, podcasting studios and radio stations.
Dynamic vs condenser microphones
We all know that condenser mics are sensitive, and pick up a lot of high frequency detail. Whereas dynamic microphones are robust and can handle very high sound sources. But what actually makes them behave so differently?
Dynamic mics have a simple internal mechanism. The signal is produced by a diaphragm which is attached to an electrical coil wound around a magnet. As the diaphragm vibrates, it produces an AC current. Dynamic microphones are “passive” – they don’t need an external power source.
The mechanism inside a condenser mic is more complex. It contains a metal diaphragm placed next to a metal backplate. Both of these components are polarised with an electrical charge. As the diaphragm vibrates this varies the distance between the two plates, which produces a small electrical current.
From here, the output needs to be increased to a usable line level. This is why condenser mics are “active”, meaning that they need an external power source. This usually means they’ll use +48v phantom power from a mixer or audio interface, though some are battery powered.
Shure SM7B vs Electro Voice RE 20
Another broadcast microphone found in studios around the world is the Electro Voice RE20. Like the Shure SM7B it’s a dynamic cardioid microphone designed for use in radio, podcast studios and music studios. The RE20 has an extremely durable build quality and a great sound to match.
In practice the RE20 has a similar (though not identical) frequency response to the SM7B, and a similar sensitivity. The design of the RE20 is a bit less chunky, and doesn’t come with its own stand mount, though it is also a little longer.
So what are the differences between the two mics? The most striking differences is in the way that they sound. The standout feature of the RE20 is its bright-sounding, extended top-end. It has a sparkly airy quality which you’d normally associate with a condenser microphone.
The low end is well controlled, with a slightly understated mid-range. By contrast the SM7B is a little rounder, more mellow and with a generally flatter response and more pronounced mids. Both sound great in their own way, so it will depend on your personal preference.
Also consider that the RE20 doesn’t ship with its own stand mounting, and doesn’t have an internal shock mount. In practice, it’s nowhere near as good as the SM7B at rejecting vibrations or stand noise. To use the RE20 successfully, I’d recommend also investing in the companion Electro Voice shock mount.
Perhaps the most important difference between the Shure Sm7B and the Electro Voice RE20 is the price, with the RE20 significantly more expensive than the SM7B. Ultimately, these are two great versatile microphones that have their place in any good recording studio, each with their unique signature sound.
Shure SM7B vs Rode NT1-A
The Rode NT1-A is a studio cardioid condenser microphone aimed at the home studio market. It’s gained a reputation for clear, reliable sound at an affordable price. For anyone looking to upgrade to a better vocal microphone for music or podcasting, the NT1-A is certainly worth your consideration. But how does it compare to the Shure SM7B?
The Sm7B and NT1 are both great microphones, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The NT1-A is highly sensitive, making it especially good at picking up fine detail. It also has extremely low self-noise, which means that you can make very quiet recordings, including ASMR, if that’s your thing.
However, if you don’t have a quiet or acoustically treated room, this sensitivity can be a downside. The SM7B will do a better job of rejecting room noise, reflections and background sounds.
The two mics have slightly different colours to their sound too. The NT1-A has a sparkly, clear top-end, with a few peaks in the higher frequencies. It’s great for high-frequency detail, and this can really suit certain instruments or voices. The SM7B’s frequency response is warmer and rounder, with a more pronounced low end. This works very well on spoken word, or in taming harsher high frequencies where needed. It also has a higher SPL than the Rode, meaning it is better suited to louder voices or sound sources.
The NT1-A is slightly cheaper than the SM7B, so this might be appealing to anyone setting up their first home recording studio. However, if you’re unable to use a quiet space or acoustically treat your room, then the Shure SM7B can save you time and money in the longer term.
Mic Placement for the Shure SM7B
Where you position your mouth in relation to the microphone can make a big difference in sound. Professional vocalists are always playing with the distance between themselves and the mic to change the tone and add expression to their performance.
The Shure SM7B should be placed on a mic stand in the studio, to avoid rumble and handling noise.
When you have other instruments in close proximity and you just want the sound of the voice, it’s best to sing or speak directly into the mic. This will add more bass to the sound, due to the ‘proximity effect’. It’s an effect used by radio presenters to give them very deep voices.
For a more natural, balanced sound, hold the mic between 5 and 10 cm away from your mouth. There’ll be less of the proximity effect, and the mic will pick up more sounds from other instruments, and the acoustics of the room.
To bring in more of the room sound, and the instruments around you, hold the mic 10 cm or more away from your mouth. This is also a good position for any sudden loud notes, or to shape, and tail off a long note.
What else do you need?
The Shure SM7B already comes with a pop filter, and doesn’t need a suspension cradle. You’ll also need:
- Microphone stand
Heavy or bulky mics like the SM7B are best mounted on a stand. This will reduce any handling noise in the studio. Try a good quality boom stand, with a tripod base like the K&M 210/2
- XLR cable
When you invest in a premium studio microphone such as the SM7B, it’s definitely worth getting a good quality cable. If you want the best quality XLR cables, try these. Go for the shorter lengths where possible.
- Optional – Mic arm
If you’re using the SM7B for podcasting or voiceovers, you might find a desk mounted stand like this handy. If you’re short of space, try a desk mounted boom arm, which is handy for positioning the mic into place whenever you need to use it.
- Optional – preamp
The Shure SM7B is a microphone that has earned a solid reputation since its inception. A dynamic microphone with an advantage in the studio from offering great noise rejection, high frequency taming, and a clear and balanced sound.
A solid studio workhorse, the SM7B delivers a natural sound with drums, horns, guitars and speaker cabs. But with its rich, warm character, the SM7B really shines on vocals and the spoken word. A great addition to recording studios and podcasting studios.
Shure SM7B Frequently Asked Questions
Does the Shure SM7B need phantom power?
Although it’s used in the studio, the Rode NT1-A is a dynamic microphone, so it does require phantom power.
Can you use dynamic mics in the studio?
Although condenser mics are normally the first choice for the recording studio, dynamic mics are also used for their particular sound, or to reduce the impact of the room acoustics.
Which artists use the Shure SM7B?
The Shure SM7B was famously used to record Michael Jacksons’ Thriller Album in the 1980s. Other artists include Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow and Metallica.
Check out the very best mics for recording vocals