The Shure SM57 is undoubtedly one of the most popular and widely used microphones in the recording world, suitable for almost any application, including the focus of our discussion today; podcasting.
Being one of Shure’s flagship dynamic microphones and famed for its durability, the SM57 is a versatile mic, whether that is within the studio or in a live sound scenario. This cardioid microphone can definitely take a beating and still continue to deliver top-level sound quality. Whether that sound is a snare, tom, saxophone, or guitar amp you generally can’t go wrong by sticking an SM57 on it. It really is the ultimate workhorse of a microphone.
Still don’t believe me about its durability? Check out the drop test a couple of the guys from Shure did with it.
Not only is it strong in its durability and wide range of uses, but also in its price which is, of course, the overriding concern for most avid home studio podcasters or musicians. You can pick up this mic for a modest price relative to some other dynamic mics that are popular with podcasters. When considering its strong points mentioned above, makes it a great value addition to your gear bag. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that this microphone is likely to be one of the best investments you will make when adding to your home studio setup.
Although marketed and more often used as an ‘instrument mic’, there is absolutely nothing stopping you from integrating it into your podcasting setup. After all, artists such as The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bon Iver, and John Lennon all tracked vocals with it and their records turned out OK, didn’t they?
Its cardioid polar pattern makes it ideal for a podcasting scenario, isolating your vocal source and reducing unwanted background noise from the back and sides of the mic. This is particularly useful when recording in a noisy space or one that is sonically untreated. The fact it is dynamic too rather than a condenser microphone assists in a similar manner, only picking up the louder, close sounds, rather than the background ambiance. See here to learn more about recording in an untreated room.
Table of Contents
SM57 vs SM7B
There is often contention that the ‘gold standard’ of podcast vocal sound comes from one primary contender. The famed SM7B.
This has become a favorite for many amateur and professional podcasters alike, largely due to the warm, colored sound it instills on the character of the vocal. This gives recordings a very intimate and close nature. Its cardioid polar pattern and dynamic nature also reduce off-axis noise like the SM57. Notable appearances for the SM7B can be found on the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast, various TED talks and those heard on NPR radio/podcasts. Must be a load of rubbish then?
Additional features are its detachable windscreen and inbuilt pop shield which are very effective at reducing those pesky plosives, even at a close distance. It also has a customizable frequency response via the rear switches. This gives you a bass roll-off, flat, and presence boost setting. Hence, there is a lot of bang for your buck packed into this mic.
When compared with the SM57 however you will be making a much more substantial investment with SM7B costing around four times as much. Consequently, this may currently be out of the budget of some home studio podcasters. However, not to fear as the SM57 can definitely stand up to the task and deliver a very respectable sound quality in comparison with its more high-end competitor. Check out this review of the pair by Dave Cheung if you want to hear for yourself.
In essence, there is no doubt that the SM7B probably delivers a more desirable podcast sound for the majority of listeners however, as I always say, the best microphone for your setup is going to be the one you can afford!
SM57 Podcasting Setup
Before trying to plug things in any old place to get going with your podcast recording, stop and take a second. I know I know, you’re raring to go but by considering a few things prior to hitting that record button you can give yourself the best chance of making your recordings sound even cleaner and more professional.
First, take a look at the room you are recording in. What is the shape of the room? Is it a square? Rectangle? Whatever the shape, the main point to note is that we are trying to avoid the build-up of sonic energy between parallel surfaces.
Just like light bounces off a mirrored surface and reflects around a room, sound waves love to work in a similar way. This has enhanced negative effects between parallel walls, creating ‘standing waves’, which occur when sound reflects off a parallel surface, back onto its original path. This creates audible phase differences and an altered amplitude response within your room.
Therefore, when positioning your microphone for recording, and your critical listening position for monitoring, you should aim to find a point where standing waves have a lessened effect. This is normally 1/3 of the way down the length of your room. By doing this there is less chance your microphone will pick up these audible phases and amplitude differences while recording and when listening back on monitors, your audio perception will be true to what was recorded, not altered by the acoustics of your room.
Another way you could combat this issue is by acoustically treating your room. This is something you will likely have come across in pictures of music studios or performance spaces and wondered “what is that weird-looking surface for?”.
As seen above, the grooves in the foam create an unparallel surface that allows sound waves to disperse in multiple directions upon hitting it. Hence, standing waves are reduced in these problem areas. Simply assess where the sound wave is going to make contact with a flat, parallel surface, and acoustically treat with an absorbent or diffusing treatment panel. You could even try making these yourself! Check out this easy to follow guide.
If you’ve only previously used USB mics for podcasting, you will run into an issue straight away. That being that the SM57 uses an XLR connection. No more plugging straight into the computer!
You can see this is formed of 3 pins, and hence requires a standard XLR cable to connect it. From here you will need to run the mic into a preamp of some sort. In essence, this just applies gain to the low level ‘mic signal’ so that it is loud enough to be brought into our DAW at ‘line level’. I will expand upon this more when going through mic setup with an audio interface.
Mic setup and technique are also going to be of paramount importance for any podcaster if they want to increase the quality of their recordings. As such there are 3 bits of kit I recommend everyone reading this should invest in…
1. Microphone Stand – Whether this is a floor or a desk stand is up to you. However, the primary motive for using one is to remove the need to hold the microphone itself. This means you aren’t going to pick up low-frequency handling noise in your recordings which means you can position the mic at an adequate and consistent distance from your mouth throughout the recording.
2. Pop Shield – This is a must for reducing plosives. These are the ‘p’ and ‘tss’ sounds in your words which unfortunately for us podcasters, stick out like a sore thumb in an otherwise lush audio recording. You can pick up a decent one for between $10-15 and this is something I wouldn’t recommend omitting.
3. Shock Mount – Perhaps considered more of a luxury item at around $20-30, this is one that would undeniably improve audio quality. A shock mount, as suggested by the name, isolates the microphone from impact noises via decoupling the mic from its stand and the floor through elastic suspension. Hence if you accidentally knock the stand or move your feet, you will still retain a clear, unmuddied low-end response.
Aside from equipment, mic technique is the next best savior for your podcast recordings. Try to keep an outstretched hands width (pinkie to thumb) between you and the microphone. This prevents it from picking up excess mouth noise and plosives. Also, keep hydrated! This is massively overlooked by many but constant hydration (sipping not gulping) is the best way to keep your vocal delivery clean.
As mentioned previously we have to get the balanced line signal from our XLR connection into our DAW via an audio interface. The interface simply converts the analog signal into a digital version that can be transmitted electronically into the computer.
There are a host of audio interfaces out there ranging from the cheap and affordable to the expensive, pro-level models. Whatever make and manufacturer you choose is up to your budget however, I recommend getting one that at least has a master volume control, 2 inputs (with dedicated gain knobs), and 2 outputs.
In my setup, I am taking the SM57 straight into my Focusrite 18i8 interface as a ‘line level’ source on input 2. As you can see I’ve had to apply quite a large amount of gain (around 3 o’clock position) to achieve an adequate signal level. This is not the worst thing in the world as the mic does not emit a massive amount of noise (even at this level), however, it is advisable to run it through an external preamp/mic activator (see our Cloudlifter alternatives article for more information), prior to taking the signal back into the interface.
Now that your signal is entering the interface, we have to get it into our DAW. First, make sure your interface is correctly selected as the input and output device in your DAW’s preferences.
Next, select the input you have plugged the mic into (in my case input 2) and turn on input monitoring. In Logic Pro this is the orange ‘I’ next to the record enable button. At this stage, you should now be hearing your own voice.
You can now start setting your gain levels properly. My preference is that the loudest parts of your podcast vocal peak at around -12dB on your DAW’s meters. This is recorded at a slightly lower level to leave headroom within the audio file. By doing that we can apply gain altering processing (e.g. compression, EQ) and still be far away from digital clipping at 0dB, which trust me, is not desirable for anyone! If you need to make it louder later, you can just apply a gain plugin.
Now that you have got your mic signal coming through and you’re recording your podcast audio, the only thing left to do is polish up that vocal sound to really make it sound professional.
Standard procedures for me would be a high-pass filter to remove any low-end rumble and a high-end shelf at around 10-14 kHz to give your vocal some air and ‘sparkle’. The rest is often down to taste and what your voice tone is like. Hence, everyone’s EQ settings will be different. Below is what I felt suited my voice on the SM57 however you should experiment. In particular, I felt the boost at 665 Hz gave a much-needed warmth, similar to the SM7B. For more information on adjusting EQ settings for your podcast see Best Equalizer Settings for Podcasts: Our Guide to Voice EQ.
Compression is also key to achieving a dynamically stable vocal. You don’t want to listen to a podcast where the host is loud one minute and quiet the next, do you? My compression settings were an attack time of 8ms, release on auto, a ratio of 2:1, and adjustment of the threshold so that it only comes in on the loudest parts of the vocal. Overall this gave me about 4dB of gain reduction.
The main thing with compression is not to overdo it. It should be transparent. You shouldn’t really notice it. Again, play about with the settings to find a happy medium that works for your vocal.
You may also want to apply some de-essing (to reduce harsh ‘sss’ sounds) and some fade editing so that you are not getting clicks or pops at the start or end of your recordings or at the points where separate recordings join (if you have done multiple takes).
To conclude it is entirely possible to achieve a high-level podcast vocal sound by using the SM57, even though some may consider it to be exclusively reserved for instrument miking. The most important thing is that you are creating your content to the highest standard you know how to, with the equipment that you’ve got. The rest is practice and perfection over time. Happy podcasting!
For more information on the Shure SM57 and to check the latest price, click here (Amazon).