The sm7b Vocal Microphone

First Choice For Voice

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What do entertainer extraordinaire Conan O’Brien, psych soul outfit Black Pumas and the rapper-turned-gamer Logic have in common? They all rely on the SM7B to connect to their fans when it counts most.

While Conan uses the legendary vocal mic for his acclaimed podcast Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, the Black Pumas turned to the SM7B for a crucial live recording of their Grammy-nominated hit ‘Colors’, and the wildly popular Twitch star Logic depends on his daily to stream to his millions of followers.

These days, the SM7B has come to dominate high-level podcasting and streaming, while remaining indispensable in the world’s best recording studios. But it’s fair to say the mic, first released back in 1973, was a rather late bloomer. So why do so many people, from so many different fields, still favor a nearly 50-year-old microphone? To find the answer, we have to go right back to the beginning.

Photo: Team Coco

Twenty Thousand Hertz is the podcast that explores the world’s most recognizable sounds. Listen to a special episode telling the story of the SM7B microphone. From countless classic tracks to the pinnacle of podcasting, discover what makes the SM7B such an audio icon.

Hearing the History

When it comes to its origin story, the SM7B has a thoroughbred pedigree. The dynamic microphone can trace its roots back to the Shure Unidyne III cartridge created by engineering wizard Ernie Seeler in 1959. Besides powering the SM57 and SM58, this was also the key ingredient in the true SM7 forerunner, the rather bulbous SM5.

This beast weighed over two pounds and was first sold as a boom mic (which must have led to a lot of tired boom operators) before it was adopted as an on-air broadcast mic.

The SM5 sounded great but was too big for a lot of studios. So the bosses at Shure gave the engineers a mission: make the best broadcasting mic you can, with no limitations. The result was the SM7, which looks almost identical to a brand new SM7B purchased today. And what a silhouette they came up with!

The SM7 is like a Coca-Cola bottle – it’s a design that is just perfect and will last forever.

Now, it’s no secret that the Unidyne III, which peaks in those frequencies that make speech intelligible, just loves the human voice. But what really set the SM7 apart was a shape designed to capture lots of low end and give a rich tone to anyone speaking into it. The mic was also brilliant at cutting out unwanted background sounds. And the big windscreen and air pocket at the front means it stopped plosives and other annoying sounds without an extra pop guard.

So where did the ‘B’ come from? Though there have been very few changes over the years, the engineers at Shure eventually put in a bigger humbucking coil so the mic wouldn’t pick up interference from TV monitors in radio station studios (that was the SM7A). And then in 2001 they started offering the SM7 with a bigger windscreen – the SM7B was born.

Starring In the Studio

For such an iconic microphone, the SM7 (still without the ‘B’ attached) was a bit of slow burner at first. Still, the mic still managed to find its way into the hands of people who really knew how to make the most of it. Early adopters included Mick Jagger, who has used it on tons of recordings since.

But the SM7’s real breakthrough moment came with the release of the now classic Michael Jackson album Thriller. With Quincy Jones behind the desk, legendary sessions engineer Bruce Swedien was given free rein to choose whichever microphones he thought worked best. Swedien loved the way the SM7 worked with the voice, and so he used it across the album, putting the mic at the center of the biggest selling album of all time.

I used a Shure SM7 on most of Michael’s lead vocals – Billie Jean, The Way You Make Me Feel – and boy, did that raise some eyebrows! But I love that mic.

Featuring on countless hit records over the years, the SM7B isn’t just great for vocals, of course. Producers often use the mic to capture guitar tone, while some even swear by it when recording a snare drum and hi-hat!

The mic is also a favorite of the experimental R&B artist Velvet Negroni. Check out his live rendition of his song ‘Wine Green’ to find out why he was nominated for SHURE24, a platform for audio innovators.

The Podcast Revolution

Though established in the studio, the mic only started to lose its anonymity with the wider public around 2008 when podcasting took off in a big way. Suddenly, thousands of people needed a quality mic that would make them sound great wherever they were recording. The answer was the SM7B.

The SM7B is the most reliable mic I’ve used. Whether it’s for recording vocals, or recording the voices of guests on Song Exploder, I can depend on it to sound great in all kinds of circumstances and settings.

Besides Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, the SM7B is now the mic of choice for My Favorite Murder, 99% Invisible, Pod Save America and countless other top shows. That’s because it’s perfect for podcasting – it makes your voice sound rich and full, it cuts out unwanted background noise and yet it doesn’t cost a fortune.

I need to be able to record everything – music, voiceovers, you name it – on an always ready, always reliable piece of equipment. More than that, it needs to sound great. And that’s why we use an SM7B.

Streaming the Future

The SM7B hasn’t changed much over the years. What has is the general awareness of what a great mic it is. First came the musicians, then the podcasters, and now the mic has spread to an entirely new community on Twitch and YouTube with famous fans like Logic. Part of that success is due to the SM7B’s unmistakable style – it just looks like a broadcast mic should – but it’s those unique sonic characteristics that make it such an icon and ensure its bright future.

Most Twitch and YouTube content isn’t being recorded in a studio – it’s being made in bedrooms, basements and everywhere else you can think of with little or no acoustic treatment. That would spell disaster for a sensitive condenser mic, which would pick up every unwanted sound. But it’s no problem at all for the SM7B, because it zooms in on the voice alone. So, when you watch someone playing Fortnite online, you’re not hearing their fingers mashing the buttons – just their commentary on the game.

There just aren’t that many products that have delivered for so many generations in so many different fields. Technology has marched on, but the physics of the human voice have not. The SM7 sounded amazing back in 1973, and the SM7B still sounds amazing today.

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