"No, not the Shure SM57," I said to the young clerk at the mega guitar market, "I need an SM-SEVEN." " Dude," he replied. "There's no such thing. You mean a FIFTY-SEVEN." At that point, luckily, I spied an SM-7A box behind the counter and pointed it out to him. The poor fellow was embarrassed, to say the least. He said, "Dude, I had no clue." "You said it, not me," I thought to myself. The conversation made me realize that many recording people are not familiar with the wonderful but humble Shure SM7, a mic I have employed for years.

The first I had heard of it was in the early '80s, when legendary recording engineer Bruce Swedien revealed he had used the SM7 for Michael Jackson's vocals on the Thriller LP. A bigger endorsement there could not be, because here was an artist who could afford anything, and instead of some expensive vintage tube condenser, they had chosen the SM7, a cardioid dynamic known primarily as a radio broadcaster and voice-over instrument.

Later in the decade, I myself had a mic shootout where the SM7 won. We were doing a metal band with a gattling-gun vocalist, who spat out the words fast and furious. In front of him I lined up three vintage Neumanns, a U48, a U67, and an M49. Just for kicks, I decided to throw the SM-7 up there in to the mix. To everyone's surprise, the $500 Shure was the best mic for him.

In the last couple of decades, the Shure SM7 has become a quiet staple of many studio engineers, not only for vocals, but also for electric guitar, bass cabinet, horns, and even kick drum. In fact, some pro recordists out there might be a little steamed that one of their best-kept secrets has just been revealed by Tape Op.

The current version of the model is the SM-7B, which might be the perfect mic for the lower-budget project DAW. Instead of trolling the market trying to decide which $499. Asian-made condenser sounds like a $3,000 Neumann, get the SM7B. Not only can it do a multitude of tasks well, it's possibly the perfect source mic for Antares Mic Modeler. (It's on the Mic Modeler's menu, whereas some of the newbie cheapo mics are not). The Shure has a big enough frequency response and dynamic range to compete with a good condenser any day. And at a street price of under $450 brand new, it's hard to beat.

And when the singer asks you, "Wow, what's this mic?" you can respond, "Sorry, I can't tell you. It's my secret weapon."

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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