The Legend vs. The Newcomer, the SM7B Dynamic Microphone has ruled the roost with its lofty status and industry changing versatility for half a century but has it met its match? The SM7dB is the new microphone on the block packed with power and impressive rejection capabilities. But which one is better, and which one should you invest in?
First introduced to the world in 1973, the SM7 (now known as the SM7B) and its history has made a resurgence in recent years. It was born when a group of acoustical engineers were given free rein to improve on the lengthy SM57 (used in the broadcast and film industries) and make it for a variety of applications.
The SM7B made famous when legendary sound engineer Bruce Swedien used it to record Michael Jackson's album ‘Thriller’. A record on which, according to Bruce, you can hear every word that MJ sang. It is now used as the ultimate jack-of-all-trades microphone used as a vocal and instrument live sound, broadcast and recording microphone, that often outperforms the SM57.
It has gained popularity in recent years and became an industry standard in 2010, largely down to the rise of podcasting as content creators search for high quality voice-over mics. However, it still used and has been used for recording guitar and bass amps for popular artists and bands such as John Mayer, My Chemical Romance, Keith Urban, Metallica, Billy Idol and rumour has it, even Bruce Springsteen. This is due to its ability to focus on a single sound source and emit other sounds in the room.
The Shure SM7dB builds on the immense reputation the SM7B has forged and amps it up to +28dB of gain with 48V of powerful in-built phantom power, great for picking up every detail in someone’s voice. This gives it enough juice to work on any XLR audio interface and incorporates the flexibility to switch off the preamp for recording things like drums and guitar. Thanks to the preamp the SM7dB does not require added in-line preamps, this creates a streamlined audio chain and saves you buying more equipment.
The clarity associated with the SM7B is also improved upon with great rejection of electromagnetic hums which protects against broadband interference and any noise more affordable audio interface may create. This clarity when coupled with low-cut and presence boost EQ settings produce an even warmer sound than the original for pronounced vocal takes.
The SM7B or the SM7dB?
Aesthetically, these two microphone titans look very similar, the SM7dB is not much bigger than its predecessor, they are made from the same material, the colour is slightly darker and considering the built-in preamp the SM7dB is only 72g heavier. However, this is where the similarities end.
The SM7dB is a welcome successor to the SM7B, the preamp adds enough power to pick up even more of the sound that SM7B does not. Consequently, the former has enhanced rejection, eliminating the buzz you may get from broadband interference and the noise that came from connected in-line preamps on the SM7B.
The SM7B needed a lot of gain in order to work to the best of its ability, coupled with an increase in popularity, it started to move out of recording studios and into people’s homes to create a radio-like sound during the boom of podcasts. Consequently, portable “in-line” preamps such as the Cloudlifter and Imperative Audio FetPre started to appear on the market. These devices delivered the additional gain that the SM7B needed, although making your audio setup a bit more cumbersome and cluttering your signal chain.
The benefits of each microphone boil down to who would need one and why they need it. Studio engineers, producers and musicians are much more like to already have established high-quality set ups with preamps, as they need to make more tweaks to their sound inside and outside of a DAW.
They would more often or not require the SM7B and maybe more than one to get the best out of a vocal or an instrument individually. Then why not save and use an SM57? The SM7B is able to pick up more low-end frequencies and the internal shock mount is designed to reduce stand vibrations versus the SM57’s which is designed to reduce vibrations while being held for live applications.
On the other hand, podcasters, out of accessibility, productivity and sound need to do a lot less to achieve the sound they want but every consonant and every vowel needs to be heard, hence the need for more gain. Their nomadic, plug-in and play style of recording lends itself to less being more, the built-in preamp on the SM7dB allows for a streamlined audio chain.
Though the SM7dB still needs an audio interface to record the sound into your computer due to its XLR port. For some content creators this extra hassle may be less than desirable, especially when they need to record anytime, anywhere.
In this case, Shure conveniently produced the MV7; a USB-powered dynamic microphone with a light-to-dark tone changer that comes with an iPhone app and laptop app to create the sound you need on the move. The sound isolation technology in the mic helps combat some of the obvious noise that would come with recording on the go but may not give you the same rejection results as the SM7B or SM7dB.
If you already have a high-quality audio set up it would not be cost-effective to invest in a SM7dB but if you are just starting out, it would be considerably more viable to buy the SM7dB, as the price of a decent preamp as well as the SM7B may be out of your price range. Although, the majority believe most in-line mic preamps have become more affordable so there is not too much in it.
Ultimately, it is not about which one of these fantastic microphones are better but about the application you will need it for, if you are recording a single sound source like a podcast, the SM7dB would be the best for the clarity and rejection but if you are recording multiple sound sources on studio-like setup then SM7B would be the best option because instruments and vocals tend to be louder. They do not need to compete and could quite easily both be used in some recording situations.