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My new recording mic: Shure SM7B

Pete Brown - 05 January 2012

Over the Christmas break, I decided to replace my great Samson C01U mic with something a little more high end. Today was the first day I really got to try it out at work.


I knew I wanted a new mic, but there were some specific things I was looking for. For the new one, I had the following criteria:

  • Not a USB mic. Straight XLR
  • Must sound good for close-talking voice overs
  • Must be well under $500
  • Visually needs to let me see more of my screen (more on that in a second)
  • Similar to the last one, it needs to mount on my boom arm, and not require desk space when not in use

Why not USB?

My C01U USB mic worked well, but it was very picky about the juice in the USB line. Depending on what else was running (even with a powered hub) it would sometimes produce really low volume output. In addition, it took up a lot of USB bandwidth while in use. Recognizing that, I made sure to hook up my MOTU using Firewire instead of USB. Still, I have a TON of USB devices hanging off my machine, and I just needed to eliminate this one. The MOTU has balanced mic inputs and plenty of DSP to spare.

The use and price should be easy to understand. I use my mic for Skype and Lync calls almost every weekday, sometimes on podcasts with other folks, and when recording narration for the videos I create (which I plan to do even more in 2012). My office is not silent. There's a fridge behind me, and my PC itself produces more noise than I'd want in video (I'm picky). Also, some mics (especially headset mics) pick up keyboard taps as loud thumps. I can't have any of that.

Seeing my Screen!

When recording a video showing how to use an app or write some code, it helps if I could actually see my screen at the same time. The Samson had a largish shock mount and then a big pop screen. If I ran it without the pop screen (as I did later), the plosives would come through on the recordings as very loud spikes. I spent a bit of time editing them out for the latest Silverlight videos, but I didn't get them all. Small pop screens weren't worth the effort as they were hard to position and also just didn't work well. You should have seen the neck contortion to see my screen with a mic in my face.

The C01U

My C01U is still a good microphone. If you don't have an external audio interface with balanced mic inputs and good preamps, I wouldn't hesitate to to recommend it to someone looking for a USB microphone. In fact, I've recommended it to many others, with the caveat about USB power. Several of the Blue mics are also good to check out.

The SM7B


The mic I finally decided on is the Shure SM7B. This is a broadcast quality mic, but still within the price range of most mortals. The cardiod pickup pattern helps reduce the amount of keyboard and background noise that makes it into the recording.

I decided on this mic after a lot of research. Initially I looked at condensor mics, but came to the conclusion that at my price range, they're all a bit meh. Granted, I didn't get a chance to actually use any in-person, so I was only able to go by recordings, reviews, and feedback on the web.

Why did I pick this mic?

  • Industry standard sound, often used in talk radio and video voice overs. Optimized for those scenarios, but useful in many others.
  • Does not need a separate shock mount
  • Does not need an external pop filter even when used in close-mic applications.
  • Has good shielding for use around computers and other equipment (have you seen my desk?)
  • Price was within budget

I use this mic with the large close-mic foam windscreen over the end. I even like the way that looks a bit better. It's also still smaller than most pop filters.

Here's a good review of the SM7B at TweakHeadz.


The SM7B needs a powerful preamp. That was a bit of a surprise when I picked it up, as I thought my MOTU would be sufficient. The 52db of gain available on the MOTU 828mkIII may be appropriate for a condensor mic, but I got almost nothing out of the SM7B with the gain cranked all the way up. After a bunch of research I made two decisions:

  1. I really want to build my own preamp based on plans/kits on the web. They're just cool electronics projects with significant opportunity for high-voltage electrocution. I can't resist!
  2. I need something fairly inexpensive but decent to work with until I get around to building my own.

So, I went to the local Guitar Center and picked up a PreSonus TUBEPre. This is a tube-based 1/3 width 1U high microphone pre-amp. It sounds decent enough, although you can replace the inexpensive Chinese 12AX7 tube for further customization of the sound. There's a VU meter on the front, but it isn't particularly useful and is more just for eye candy unless you're screaming into the mic.


Surprisingly, the TubePre gain only goes up to about 40db. However, it sounds louder and cleaner than the MOTU at the full 52db gain setting. I haven't investigated why.

I found a number of cool plans and kits for building your own preamp. They all tended to run several hundred dollars in parts, but that's still a lot cheaper than most "good" preamps. More on those when I decide to build one.

In the end…

The mic sounds great, although I am still tweaking it (and the preamp and eq) to see what things I like and don't. In the end, typical video compression renders a lot of the nuance from the preamp and mic pretty much undetectable. That's ok, though, as I'll create the best possible source recordings, and enjoy myself while doing it. It just feels better to work with good equipment.

posted by Pete Brown on Thursday, January 5, 2012
filed under:          

5 comments for “My new recording mic: Shure SM7B”

  1. Dev Hornsays:
    I'm having problems with my Samson CO1U, which I was SUPER happy with when I had Windows XP, but with my new Dell XPS laptop running 64-bit Windows 7, I am getting almost no signal out of the mic. Thanks to your posts, I now think the problem is the USB power. Unfortunately, I have the problem with all of the USB ports (so switching didn't solve my problem). I started thinking about the Shure SM7B that you're recommending, but once you started talking about buying pre-amps, etc. I remembered why I love the CO1U - no need for all that extra "stuff". I just want nice clean recordings - I have no interest in trying to become a sound engineer just to get that. So, I'm going to try getting a powered USB hub to see if that solves my problem so I can once again enjoy the simplicity and quality of the Samson CO1U. THANKS for all your helpful info!
  2. Petesays:
    @Dev Horn

    Glad this was of help to you. The C01U is a great mic if you have cooperating USB ports. Just make sure you have a *powered* hub. As you've found, someone laptops are crap when it comes to USB power.

    Also make sure you don't have anything else sucking all the bandwidth out of the USB bus. You'll find it's not so much about OS as it is about hardware and what else is going on.

    And yes, the preams and everything else definitely make the Shure better suited for fixed installation. Laptops: not so much.


  3. Jadesays:
    hey was just wondering how did you get skype to recognise your sm7b - preamp/interface did it show up in skypes audio settings..... wouldn't skype only be able to recognise the on board sound card and the front panel mic inputs on the computer? or does it show up as a usb microphone? if so what if you were to have a interface that connects via firewire would skype pic that up to? if you got it to work some other way plz let me know I am looking into getting one of those mics and a interface but I need to know if it will work with skype, thanks

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