A friend and I were having a video meeting the other day when he mentioned that the Shure SM 7B is a fantastic microphone for recording vocals in untreated (or “poor”) environments. Some decent guys nodded in agreement, but one stood up and said, “Bull***t, I tried it, and it was a nightmare.” Do you need a treated room with an SM7B?
After having that talk, I became aware of how pervasive the misconception that the SM7B is “the vocal microphone to use in terrible environments” is. I’ve heard it a lot throughout the years, Additionally, I’ve heard from several others who were dissatisfied with it.
Well, the cause is, as is frequently the case, a misunderstanding of the situation. The Shure is a good microphone for vocals in “poor rooms,” that much is a fact. But only if you employ it properly. Let’s examine its benefits and what it means to use it correctly. Do you need a treated room with an SM7B?
Imagine you have a poor room.
It isn’t quiet, square, incredibly reflecting walls, the works. And for whatever reason, you can’t hang broadband absorbers or bass traps in the proper places. Not even a carpet on the wall or the equally worthless cartoon eggs will help. Do you need a treated room with an SM7B?
Now, a terrible room is one in which a signal and its reflections strike the microphone capsule in such quick succession as to at least partially induce comb filtering. It sounds awful and far worse than it should because this eliminates the sound. EQ is useless because there is nothing to equalize. After all, the information was lost while recording.
How can you record something at least somewhat decent in a space like that?
Four things can assist you:
1) Sing as closely as you can to the capsule
2) Use a microphone with a low “popping” and an inbuilt pop filter.
3) To record all aspects of the performance that can be recorded, utilize a microphone with a comprehensive frequency response (just like you can do in a nice-sounding studio space).
4) At high frequencies, employ a microphone with as much rejection as feasible (i.e., a tight cardioid pattern).
Why? Let’s examine each in turn.
Do you need a treated room with an SM7B? Regarding 1), there will be some space between the singer’s mouth and the microphone capsule if they use a standard side-address microphone (such as a U87 or an AT2020). Most likely, a pop filter will be placed in between. This implies that a certain amount of direct signal and a certain number of reflections (sometimes known as “noise”) will reach the capsule.
The less significant or audible the noise, the more direct the signal. In other words, the signal-to-noise ratio (S/N) in a noisy room should be as high as possible. How can the signal be increased about the noise when the room is what it is?
By signing as close to the capsule as you can! And which microphones allow you to (or are required to) sing with your lips on or nearly on the grille while yet getting the best bass response? Of course, stage dynamic vocal microphones! For instance, an SM58. Also, an SM7B.
Regarding 2) stage mics like the 58 effectively prevent popping due to their built-in pop filters, ad-hoc grilles, and other features. Since a pop filter doesn’t look well on stage, it must be. On an SM 58, you can breathe directly, and it won’t be surprised. Do you need a treated room with an SM7B? Which other microphone exhibits the same behavior?
For example, the 58 has a limited frequency response, rolling off high frequencies much sooner than the 20 kHz of a standard studio condenser mic. However, most microphones that benefit from 1) and 2) do not have this problem. A dynamic microphone with 1) and 2), as well as a complete 20 Hz–20 kHz response, would be ideal. Which microphone responds in this way? No point in speculating…
For point 4), many dynamic microphones designed for live performance are super cardioid or designed to reject more sound from the loud musicians performing directly behind the singer (who maintains the microphone firmly in place about the lips).
However, super cardioid microphones feature a “back lobe” that allows them to pick up some sound from the back. Onstage, the band can be pretty loud, but the audience is typically where the back of the microphone is pointed, so there isn’t much of a problem. However, noise might be heard in a noisy environment behind the microphone (reflections, a spinning washing machine, or both).
Do you need a treated room with an SM7B? Therefore, you need a cardioid pickup pattern at almost all frequencies and narrows even further at higher frequencies (capturing even fewer reflections or washing machine sounds). Which microphone has that pattern, by the way?
So there you have it: the SM7B is one of the few microphones that can be used up close without much popping, has a steady cardioid pattern that gradually narrows with frequency, and has the complete frequency response of a studio mic. It’s also not outrageously pricey. Although you must use a Cloudlifter or other clean-gain device because of its extremely low sensitivity to use it with standard preamps, the extra effort may be well worth it.
Do you need a treated room with an SM7B? Even if it would be even more worthwhile to use the money to upgrade your accommodation and take advantage of your available microphone, I must say it! Returning to the myth, remember that you will need to use the SM7B up close if you choose to record voices in a subpar environment. You won’t experience any benefits if you don’t sign into an SM7B a few inches or centimeters away from it (and you’ll still need to use a Cloudlifter).
Here are a couple other things to note while we’re at it:
By this point, it should be clear that employing an SM7B in a poor room with a distant source won’t yield many benefits. When used to record an acoustic guitar, for instance, it won’t be as effective as a standard condenser mic because you can’t get close enough to mic an acoustic guitar. For this reason, it works well when linked to the grille of an electric guitar amp.
Even while it doesn’t help much with noise or reflections in these circumstances, it is still a perfect-sounding microphone in and of itself and is well worth utilizing for that reason alone. It is still true that a room is better if it is more extensive and less reflective. Even a 7B will struggle in your tiled bathroom if you have a choice.
The 7B can produce a living room-like sound when used closely. Just half; the performance, as always, makes up the balance. The SM7B offers a complete frequency response, but depending on your ears and preferences, it could still sound slightly darker than the ordinary condenser. The key is to use a high shelf boost to (moderately) brighten the situation without being overly frightened of raising the volume. This is because you recorded with the mic very closely, which resulted in a very high S/N ratio. As a result, the boost should almost entirely bring up the direct signal, which is your vocals, and not the noise. You now understand when, why, and, most importantly, how to use an SM7B. Appreciate your records!