103: THE SM7B – Popularity, Noise, & First Mics

Have you thought about getting the *Shure SM7B? Does it seem like every podcaster is using this microphone or saving up to buy one? On this episode you’ll hear the SM7B, learn some of its history and why it’s an industry standard and a podcasting favorite. Why did I buy this microphone and should you get one? Let’s dive into the SM7B and find out why I think it’s the most used microphone in podcasting.

If you’ve seen a recent episode of my other podcast, Podcasters’ Roundtable, you’ll have seen me using the SM7B and so far I’ve enjoyed using it after figuring out my optimal setup for getting the results I want from the microphone. In this case, I’m using the Fethead (mic. activator to provide additional clean gain) together with a DBX286s which goes to a Focusrite 2i4 for use in those live-streams. When I’m recording The Podcasters’ Studio, I bypass the 2i4 and instead go directly into a Tascam DR60D audio recorder because I don’t need the computer to record that podcast.

In my case, the setup I have is overkill. I could go without using the Fethead and instead just use the DBX or even go directly into the 2i4, believe it or not, I get satisfactory results (i.e. a good signal to noise ratio) using the 2i4 even without a Fethead. But because I already own all that gear, I make use of it and the results are only slightly better than what I would get if I just went to the 2i4. I actually have a mixer in that chain too but it’s essentially just passing the line level to the other devices I connect to and used mostly for various routing setups. When going direct to an audio recorder only (my preferred setup) I would ideally use a MixPre3 or 6 which has plenty of clean gain (+75db) to push the SM7B to useable levels.

There are many reasons I’ve wanted this microphone over the last few years. Some of those include:

  • It’s ease of use would make for a good guest mic – the SM7B has built-in pop protection and is internally shockmounted while also having a consistent cardioid polar pattern. All of these things make it a great mic. for a guest that may not be as used to talking into microphones. It’s adjustable frequency controls also helps any voice sound great.
  • It’s an industry standard and workhorse so I was naturally curious why and how would my voice sound on this mic.
  • As mentioned above, it comes out of the box ready to use without the need to purchase additional add-ons like pop-filters, shockmounts, and mic. mount.
  • The mic. has decent background rejection due to it’s cardioid polar pattern and dynamic transducer.
  • Due to its low sensitivity (-59db) the mic. is a great tool for me to use when testing preamps/mixers/recorders. If a device will power the SM7B to useable levels (clean), almost all mics will work with that device.
  • It just looks great. I love the look of this mic., it’s recognizable, sleek, all black, gets cables out of the way and just screams professional.

For many all the reasons I listed above for liking or wanting this microphone, there are plenty of negatives. Here’s what I don’t like about the mic.

  • Low sensitivity makes it difficult to power even with clean preamps, you just need a lot of gain and therefore in some cases such as use with many consumer recorders (Zoom H5, H6, Tascam DR60D) you’ll likely need to add additional gear such as the Fethead or CloudLifter.
  • It’s solid reputation and proven track record make it much pricier than many mics that can sound just as good such as the Shure SM58 (this is subjective of course).
  • While the shockmount is good, you can hold it and move it around while recording, you still need to be cautious. The primary function of the internal shockmounting is for protection against microphone stand vibration. So don’t be lulled into thinking you get as much protection as a mic. that is suspended in a rubber band type shockmount. Just go easy;)
  • The side and back rejection is good, the rear rejecting much more than anywhere else but all around it’s not the best. I’ve heard other dynamic, cardioid mics such as the Rode Procaster do a better job at side rejection.
  • It’s built like a tank and when you buy this mic., you’re likely buying for life but that build quality means it also weighs as much as a tank. It’s heavy and many boom arms will struggle to hold the weight so be ready for a possible upgrade or alternative. I got the OC White, low-profile arm but it’s certainly not a cost effective option. Funny enough, the SM7B is the mic. attached to the boom arm in their picture.

The SM7B is a pro mic, no doubt and you’ll know it as soon as you hold it if not look at it. It’s built to outlive you and that’s reflected in it’s ability to reject interference that can be caused by other gear in your recording location such as computer monitors. The video below is an example how how the Shure SM58 shows off its superior engineering over cheaper options like the Q2U and ATR2100 (which, btw, I think both are excellent first microphones and worth every penny, just be more mindful of this issue when using them).

So in the end, I love the SM7B. I’ve been recording podcasts for 14+ years and I feel like I’ve worked my way up to this mic. Both in supporting gear and budget. Is it the best mic. I’ve ever heard on my voice? Nope. That award, at least in 2019 goes to the AT875r, a mic that is a third of the cost but isn’t necessarily made for podcasting. That doesn’t mean you can’t support it with proper gear and use it for podcasts, I have, but I prefer the SM7B as my daily driver and how it fits into my setup. And of course, I like how my voice sounds on it too…it’s a very close 2nd:)

Should you buy an SM7B? That’s ultimately up to you and what you need and what your budget is. If this is the top of your budget then probably not. Wait till you have a preamp that can support the mic. but if you love the way it sounds (every voice will sound different on the same mic.) and you want the features the SM7B offers, go for it. Just make sure to put it in your will, someone else will love receiving it after your “done” with it;)

Links mentioned in this episode

Intro/Outro Music by Ronald Jenkees
Track: Outer Space

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About Ray Ortega

Full-time podcast producer and host of The Podcasters' Studio and Podcasters' Roundtable, I enjoy sharing my ten years of experience making podcasts to help others improve or start their own show.

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