Most mobile DJs, at some time or other, will be asked to make announcements. Many DJs actively use a microphone to give direction at functions, voice requests and to inject energy into the room in between tunes. Some of us are guilty of using the microphone too much, while others don’t use it enough, and a few DJs don’t use it at all!
What makes a good microphone? How can a quality microphone be identified among the dozens available to choose from? Why does their cost vary so much? Will your voice sound different if you choose one model over another? In this article I will try to answer these questions, avoiding the technical side and keeping everything as simple as possible. But, first, a brief history lesson…
The Early Years
Carbon microphones were independently developed by David Edward Hughes in England and Emile Berliner and Thomas Edison in the US. This was in the last quarter of the 19th century. Between 1870 and 1900 the race was on to develop what we now know as the telephone. The telephone needed a transmitter (microphone) and a receiver (speaker) to work effectively and Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison worked hard to develop these devices.
The next major development took place in 1916 when the first condenser microphone was created by C. Wente of Bell Labs. This was followed in 1923 by the invention of the moving coil microphone and then, later in that same year, the ribbon microphone appeared. The driving force behind this creative activity was the advent of radio. The first radio news broadcast was aired in 1920 and this produced a demand for better quality microphones.
Shure Radio Company
Interestingly, the Shure Radio Company was founded 90 years ago, back in 1925. The company was set up to supply self-assembly radio kits as there were no ready-made receivers available at the time. Unfortunately in the late 1920s the company went into decline due to the effects of the Great Depression coupled with the introduction of affordable factory-produced radio receivers.
However, in 1931, a young engineer at Shure named Ralph Glover started work on his own design of microphone and the following year the Model 33N Two-Button Carbon microphone went on sale. It was the first lightweight high performance microphone to hit the market. The next few years saw more models introduced: the Model 40D, which was Shure’s first condenser microphone; the Model 70, the company’s first crystal microphone; and, in 1939, the iconic Model 55 unidyne dynamic microphone. Its distinctive styling has gone on to make it the most recognised microphone in the world.
During the Second World War Shure was a major supplier of military throat microphones to the United States Army. Then, in the ‘50s, they returned to the development of domestic stage performance and radio microphones. A smaller version of the iconic 55 was launched. The Model 55s soon became identified with great artists such as Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley and is still available today, having been refined and developed constantly. Shure then developed its first lightweight dedicated instrument microphone. The Unidyne lll made its debut in 1959 and was the forerunner to the SM57, which made its appearance some six years later.
The swinging ‘60s was a very dynamic time in the music industry and the demand for live performances was growing and growing. In 1966 Shure launched the Studio Microphone 58. It soon became the industry standard for live performance vocals. The SM58 is still favoured by many artists today, despite a wealth of other makes and models produced by AKG, Audio Technica, Beyerdynamic, Electro-Voice, Line 6, Peavey Electronics, Samson Technologies, Sennheiser, Sony and TOA Corp to name but a few.
The SM58 – Why Is It So Well Regarded?
Shure’s SM58 has enjoyed unprecedented popularity for decades, and for a number of good reasons. Firstly, it is well built. It feels solid in the hand. The weight is reassuring. It also has excellent resistance to handling noise. It is a dynamic microphone with a cardioid (heart-shaped) unidirectional polar pattern, which means it picks up sound well from in front, while minimising background noise, delivering warm and clear vocal reproduction.
The full article can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 73, Pages 48-50.