Highly regarded as one of the most popular dynamic microphones available today, the Shure SM7B has become legendary for its versatility and the rich sound it produces when used for the human voice. Although originally designed for professional broadcast and voice-over work, the SM7B has found a place among modern musicians, podcasters, and content creators alike. However, despite its ease of use and forgiving nature, there are a few tips and tricks that any potential user should know to make the most of this powerful tool. Whether you're recording vocals, instruments, or podcasts, the tips you find in this article will help you get the most out of your Shure SM7B and achieve professional-quality results.
Included vs. Aftermarket Accessories
Anyone who has recorded with a high-quality mic knows that quality tools need quality accessories. The SM7B comes with a few such accessories to help you along in a wide range of applications, but depending on what those applications are, you may find yourself needing to investigate the plethora of aftermarket items that will help you get all you can out of your SM7B.
The SM7B always comes with a built-in windscreen, which also acts as an effective onboard pop filter for explosive breath sounds, and an A7WS detachable windscreen. The detachable windscreen can be very useful for close-miking and close-talking applications, such as when you want to get close to a human voice for maximum bass-response and warmth, but the microphone becomes more vulnerable to plosives like P's and T's. With the detachable windscreen, built-in windscreen, and an integrated shockmount that helps to isolate the mic capsule and eliminate mechanical noise such as desk vibration, you can get a very clean sound for many simple applications, such as recording instruments and basic voice-over work.
However, if you are engaging in pro-quality podcasting, content creation, or streaming, you may find that you need some extra equipment to get the best possible results. When you are using the SM7B to record your voice on a desk, the environment can often be noisy, with computer fans, air conditioners, mechanical keyboard tapping, and desk vibrations providing frustrating interruptions to your sound that even the built-in features with which the SM7B may struggle. It can also be difficult to find optimal placement for your comfort and the look of your streams when you are working in a confined space like a computer desk or project studio.
That's why you may want to pick up an accessory like a boom arm. These mic stands feature articulated arms that can easily be moved and positioned for optimal mic placement, in a way that normal stands cannot. You can typically attach them easily to a desk with a clamp, and with the included swiveling yoke mount of the SM7B, as well as its aforementioned built-in features, it will be well isolated from any external sounds, while leaving you with the freedom to place your mic wherever works it best for you.
Understanding Mic Settings
The Shure SM7B includes handy onboard controls for solutions to a wide range of problems or specific recording scenarios. But what do these settings do? Let's explore some of the uses of the onboard switches.
First you have the high-pass filter, sometimes referred to as a bass roll-off switch. This feature eliminates the lower frequencies normally picked up by the SM7B. This can be useful if you are recording a source, such as a very deep voice or bass-emphasizing instrument, but want to avoid a boxy or booming sound.
This feature can also be useful to rein in rumbling sounds that can crop up from handling the mic excessively, or from significant vibrations of the desk to which the mic is attached. It can also help to minimize the low-frequency hum of an air conditioner, traffic outside your window, or even someone walking around your recording space. With the wide array of difficult-to-control noises that can be present in modern home recording environments, this feature is a vital one.
The other switch controls a mid-range emphasis, otherwise referred to as a presence boost. This increases the mid-range frequency sensitivity of the microphone. This is a great feature for improving vocal clarity, and it produces a brighter, crisper, more sparkling sound. Rich voices will often sound richer, and you can even combine this with the bass roll-off for a completely different character to the normally wide and flat frequency response of the SM7B.
Preamps, Gain, and Activators
Once you have your mic, you may find that you need a few more pieces of hardware to make the SM7B really sing. First and foremost is the ever-important mic preamp. As an analog microphone, you cannot simply plug your SM7B into a computer for recording; you will need some sort of audio interface to convert the analog signal to digital. That's where your preamp comes into play.
Even a powerful mic like the Shure SM7B needs to be brought up from mic level to a gain level that is easier to work with. However, adding gain to your mic signal can sometimes add unwanted annoyances such as distortion and noise. That's why a quality preamp is crucial for producing quality results. Some of the most popular options include the Scarlett audio interfaces from Focusrite, the Volt and Apollo lines from Universal Audio, and the RØDE RØDECaster series with its quiet, excellent preamps.
If your existing preamp doesn't have enough gain on hand, you'll want to consider a mic activator. An increasingly popular option among recordists today, a mic activator is essentially a specially designed preamp that sits between your mic and your final audio destination. This device is typically engineered to boost the oftentimes weak signals, specifically, that can come from passive, dynamic microphones such as the SM7B.
Among the most popular examples of this technology is the long list of Cloudlifter products from Cloud Microphones. These devices use a combination of active, phantom-powered circuitry, discrete JFET circuits, and impedance matching to offer ultra-clean gain boosting that complements whatever microphone you plug into them. You might be surprised to find out just how many podcasters, streamers, musicians, and content creators use activators like the Cloud Microphones CL-1 to boost their signal before it ever touches their interface, allowing them to achieve a huge, robust vocal sound without feedback, distortion, or noise.
Manipulating the Proximity Effect
Lastly, we should discuss the ever-important proximity effect that has made broadcast-style mics like the SM7B so popular. Basically, the closer a dynamic mic is to the sound source, the more low-end frequencies it will reproduce. In the SM7B, this effect is particularly useful when recording voices and low-frequency instruments such as bass guitar amps and bass drums.
A typical, balanced distance between a human voice and the SM7B will usually be around 1 to 6", to avoid off-axis noise. Within that range, you will find a huge difference in the character of the recorded voice between those two distances. At 6" away, much of the low-end response will be lost and you will get a much brighter sound. If you're recording certain characters or Foley during VO sessions, this can be advantageous.
However, if you are looking to get a fatter, richer, more nuanced voice that booms through your productions, you may want to place the mic closer to the speaker or singer, within the 1 to 2" range, where you will not only pick up more bass response but also more mouth sounds and nuance. This can be great for ASMR, announcers, narration, streaming, rap vocals, and everyday podcasting. Deep voices will sound deeper, and the sounds you record will seem to sound bigger.
Of course, you must always keep an eye on your levels, and the closer you get, the easier it will be to clip your input. If your recorded source starts distorting during particularly loud sessions, try backing the mic off a bit, a couple of centimeters at a time, until you find a happy medium between frequency response and volume levels.
And that's it! With just a few handy accessories and some basic understanding of settings and mic techniques, you can get pro-level results from the SM7B in an extremely wide array of usage scenarios. Treated properly, the SM7B is a microphone that will serve you admirably for years to come as a vital tool for virtually any recording project, from bedrooms to studios, and beyond.
We hope this guide has made it a little easier to squeeze all the potential out of your Shure SM7B microphone. If you feel anything is missing or have any further questions not covered in this article, drop us a line below, and we'll do our best to answer all your comments and questions. For more details on this mic, head on over to the product page for the SM7B.