Getting Great Audio with the Right Shure SM7B Setup
The SM7B might be the podcaster’s microphone of choice, but you’ll need plenty of gain to get that legendary sound. ANDREW ANDERSON explains how to optimize your Shure SM7B setup and who might benefit from the new SM7dB instead.
I have a confession to make.
When I bought my SM7B a few years ago, I was super excited. Finally, I had the mic that all my podcasting heroes – Conan O’Brien, Glynn Washington, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark – used.
I lifted it lovingly from the packaging, fitted it to a boom arm, plugged it into my interface, and hit ‘record’.
But when I played the recording back, I didn’t hear the warm, deep voice I was hoping for. Instead, it was very quiet. I checked the cables and tried again, but still nothing. What was going on?
Well, here’s the thing: the SM7B can make your voice sound as warm and lush as Barry White gargling honey. And yes, it will cut out a preposterous amount of background noise. But in order for it to work, you’ve got to have either an in-line preamp or rather beefy audio interface with lots of clean gain on tap…
…and, unfortunately, I had made the rookie mistake of buying an SM7B without one. This is the sonic equivalent of asking for your gazpacho soup to be heated up, or going to the toilet without checking if there’s paper first.
For a music tech journalist like me, it was frankly a bit embarrassing.
But why do you even need a preamp? Well, it all ties in with the mic’s prestigious and prodigious history.
You see, when the original SM7 was launched back in 1973, it was designed with radio stations in mind. And radio stations back then had huge mixing consoles, with a ton of preamp power. This would allow them to turn even the quietest signal into an ear-splitting roar.
It also meant you could use mics with low outputs, like the SM7. Low output mics are great, because they capture all the details of your voice, but without picking up a ton of background noise like paper rustling, breathing and electronic hum. It’s the reason why podcasters and YouTubers – who generally aren’t recording in soundproof studios – love these mics.
However, in the 80s and 90s along came smaller mixing desks and cheaper condenser mics. As a result, most recording interfaces cut the preamp power, since they were primarily being used for loud things (like guitars and drums) rather than radio broadcasts, or in combination with sensitive condenser mics that didn’t need so much gain.
All this meant that your classic SM7 now needed to have its own designated preamp. It’s the extra kick that gives the mic it’s celebrated sound, while maintaining the noise cancelling qualities that make it the number one podcasting mic.
So, what is a preamp, and where can you buy one?
A preamp takes your audio signal and boosts it, increasing the volume dramatically. You’ll find them inside recording interface, mixing desks, and even guitar amps.
Now, back in the day, professional mixing desks could boost your signal by up to +100dB. But until quite recently many of your typical consumer-level audio interfaces simply didn’t have enough power for the SM7B, which likes around +60dB of clean gain to hit that sweet spot of tone. So, if you don’t have a fairly new interface, you’ll probably need an extra preamp to use the microphone properly.
There are tons of affordable options out there, but we’d recommend sticking with a phantom-powered option that you can just plug and play. These don’t have any dials, and there’s nothing to setup – all you do is put an XLR from your mic into one end, and then another XLR from the preamp into your recording interface. Easy.
And if you’re looking to record straight to your computer, the new MVX2U Digital Audio Interface has just enough onboard juice to pair superbly with your SM7B and USB-C port.
Of course, if you want to cut out the extra step, there is now another way: the SM7dB.
The SM7dB has the same characteristics that make it the perfect partner for the human voice, but now with a built-in preamp. If you use your mic on the road, have a low-gain recording interface, or just want to simplify your setup, then this is the mic for you.
The SM7dB provides up to +28dB of clean gain, more than enough for even the quietest voices, and superior to most of the third-party preamps traditionally matched with the mic. You can also bypass the preamp whenever you want to use the mic in its original state (for example, when you’re recording a super loud snare drum).
And here’s the other thing: buying an SM7dB is significantly cheaper than buying an SM7B and an in-line preamp or new beefier interface. So, if you’re working on a budget but want that iconic and unbeatable sound, this could be the choice for you.
In conclusion, if you’ve bought an SM7B, but it sounds too quiet, don’t worry – the mic isn’t broken, and it’s working exactly as it should. All you need to do is pair it up with some extra clean gain and you’ll be ready to enter vocal recording heaven.
In fact, no one need ever know about your error – so long as you don’t go ahead and write it all down in an article about the ideal Shure SM7B setup…