Reverb Soundcheck: Inside Shure

Whether it's a karaoke lounge or an arena of thousands, somewhere on that stage a Shure mic is probably being used. The sheer ubiquity of Shure equipment makes it easy to take the company's work for granted. As revealed by our recent trip to the Shure headquarters in Niles, IL, this is a 90-year-old company with pre-WWII roots and huge contributions to live performance and recording. Check out our video of the trip and our chat with Mark Brunner, Senior Director of Global Brand Management. For a rundown of five landmark Shure microphones, read on.

The Model 55 Unidyne (1939)

Shure's current headquarters in Niles is about 12.5 miles from where S.N. Shure originally housed the company on Wells Street in Chicago's Loop. Founded in 1925, Shure originally distributed radio parts, a booming business during a time when all radios were assembled by hand. Once the Great Depression hit and factory-built radios became more commonplace, Mr. Shure decided to pivot the company into microphone manufacturing in 1931, making them one of only four such companies in the nation. Just eight years later they released what became one of the most iconic microphones ever produced: the Shure Model 55 Unidyne.

Engineered by Ben Bauer, it solved a lot of issues with ambient noise and feedback that its contemporaries faced by using a smaller, unidirectional design. This made it ideal for loud public spaces, something it became forever associated with. It was seen in front of Martin Luther King, Jr. during his "I Have A Dream" speech, next to countless U.S. Presidents giving addresses and in the caressing hands of Frank Sinatra as he sang in noisy lounges. For several decades, the image of the Model 55 Unidyne became the archetypal microphone. It's hard to overstate just how ubiquitous this mic became. Look through photos of any artist from the 1940s through the 1960s, and there's a good chance you'll find a few of them with an original Unidyne. The Shure 55S - sometimes referred to as the "Baby Unidyne" or "Elvis mic" - was even featured on a commemorative U.S. stamp in 1993. In 2008, the Model 55 Unidyne was inducted into the NAMM's TECnology Hall Of Fame for its innovative design and game-changing approach to feedback/noise resistance. With its legacy already cemented, Shure released the Super 55 in 2009, featuring a supercadioid design with greater feedback resistance than the original Model 55.

The Vagabond 88 Wireless (ca. 1953)

Shure worked with the military as a developer and supplier during World War II, often innovating new technologies on the fly such as throat microphones for flight officers working loud runways or a waterproof T-17 mic for naval officers. The scrappy innovation of wartime carried over into the early 1950s, leading Shure to develop the first wireless microphone system for performers. Called the Vagabond - it made you "foot-loose and fancy-free" according to marketing materials - and powered by two hearing aid batteries, it used a copper ring to receive a 2 MHz FM signal from the microphone. This meant that the performer had to stay within the ring, either taped to the floor or suspended from the ceiling. The advertised range was 700 square feet, but stories of Frank Sinatra throwing one at the wall in frustration leads us to believe otherwise. The Vagabond was too pricey, delicate and impractical to survive the market, but like all radical failures, it paved the way for more refined, durable versions of itself: the precise, reliable wireless systems we enjoy today.

Shure got back into the wireless game in 1990, once again moving it forward with an industry-dominating UHF system before pioneering things like "Audio Reference Companding" (low-level noise is eliminated), Li-ion rechargeable mics and software to manage complicated wireless systems. Today, Shure's wireless prowess extends to in-ear monitors and guitar, bass and pedal systems as well.

The SM57 and SM58 (1965/66)

Already established as the go-to for professional-quality workhorse mics in the '40s and '50s, Shure furthered that legacy in the '60s with two models that would eventually become the most popular mics in the world: the SM57 and SM58. They are industry standards in the truest sense of the word, present on nearly every stage and studio in the world. Although they both share the same capsule, the SM57 has a flat head, making it ideal for recording directly in front of amps. The SM58, has a slightly different dynamic range and a bulb enclosure more suited for vocals. Together, the SM57 and SM58 are capable of recording a passable studio album with no help from other mics (something achieved by the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1991 with Blood Sugar Sex Magik). Perhaps even more than their sound quality, these mics are known for their well-documented and precedent-setting durability. Ask any studio engineer, sound tech or roadie. The legend is real. There is a reason most studios have drawers full of SM57s and SM58s. To learn more about the differences and specs of these mics - or to find a great deal - see our SM58 page.

The KSM313 and KSM353 (2009)

While these are both popular Shure products, the innovation behind them belongs to another company: Crowley and Tripp. They were acquired by Shure in 2009 from Soundwave Labs, bringing with the proprietary technology behind these two incredible ribbon mics. Conventional aluminum foil transducers in ribbon mics are legendary for both their impeccable sound quality and unforgiving fragility. Crowley and Tripp developed a "super-elastic paramagnetic composite" they called Roswellite, a material that retains the quality of traditional aluminum foil but is nearly indescructible. As this video demonstrates, Roswellite can take repeated blasts of 48V phantom power without breaking. Both the KSM313 and KSM353 employ this technology, making them two of the most practical professional ribbon mics available. Some of you might recognize that these mics are simply a rebadged Crowley and Tripp Naked Eye (KSM313) and El Diablo (KSM353). Hey, Shure knows a good thing when they see it.

The Motiv Series (2015)

Continuing the trend of innovation, Shure recognized that recording is increasingly done outside of professional studios. With a wealth of on-the-go software in our smartphones, tablets and laptops to record with, the need for durable, simple and portable mics has only grown. The Motiv Series solves that issue by providing three digital mics - the MV88, MV51 and MV5 - that connect via USB or Lightning to your phone, tablet or laptop without needing an interface or preamp. The MV88 is a stereo condenser mic that connects directly to your iPhone or iPad with the help of the Shure Motiv app, making it perfect for field recordings, impromptu live jams and songwriting sketches. The MV51 (larger diaphragm) and MV5 are both digital condenser mics perfect for use with mobile devices. Mic stands are optional, as they both have their own kickstand. Direct monitoring can happen via a headphone jack. Nobody will try and pass these off as studio-grade or analog-equivalent, but that's not the point. These mics step up the game immensely for people experimenting, getting first cuts, recording lectures or live performances. They are a perfect gateway into the larger world of recording that didn't exist before.

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