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Shure SM81 Microphone Review

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If there’s one microphone brand that’s proven its quality time and again, it’s Shure. The company has produced legendary microphones that remain as earnestly popular as they were when they were first released. From the iconic SM58 to the legendary SM57 and fan favorite SM7B, Shure has a product line full of top quality mics that have graced cabinets, studios, and stages all around the world.

Since Shure was first established in 1932, it’s become a giant in the microphone industry. Whether you’re a professional or an amateur, if you don’t already own a Shure mic, then you’ve probably heard one more than once. Their straightforward yet top quality sound has been the backbone to their enduring popularity over the decades.

More evidence of this popularity can be found in the Shure SM81, a small condenser studio and stage microphone that has been an industry standard since it was first released in the 1970s. It’s a mic that has played an important role in hundreds of thousands of recordings throughout the years. If you want to see how it holds up in the present, check out this Shure SM81 review below.

NOTE: As an Amazon Associate, Shout4Music earns from qualifying purchases. This post includes Amazon links throughout.

About the Shure SM81 Microphone

 

Polar Pattern

Cardioid

Frequency Response

20Hz – 20kHz

Sensitivity

-45 dBV/Pascal (5.6 mV)

Output Impedance

150 ohms rated (85 ohms actual)

Max SPL

136 dB at 800 ohms load

Self-Noise

16 dB typical

Finding the right kind of instrument mic can be a bit of a journey, especially since there’s such a range of sound and volume to be found in modern instruments. A small-diaphragm condenser mic— also known as SDC— like the Shure SM 81 can often end up the crown jewel of a studio, as long as it’s got the right features and specs.

SDC mics can often come in pairs, and arranged with the purpose of capturing the best possible sound. The Shure SM81 pair can be similarly found in studios all over the world, and the mic is a particular favorite thanks to its detailed and clear sound. Whether used for acoustics, strings, pianos, or as drum overheads, the Shure SM81-LC has proven its worth time and again.

Shure SM81 Microphone Pros

The SM81 mic is well known for its neutral and transparent sound, which has proved to be the driving factor behind its decades of popularity. It’s considered legendary in the industry, and has proven to accurately capture anything from a heavy drum set to the gentlest string instrument. While it’s definitely seen its use in the field, you’ll mostly see this mic in the studio thanks to its sensitivity and somewhat high price point.

Flat Frequency Response

Perhaps the main trait that allows the Shure 81 to stand out from the crowd is its fantastically transparent sound. This mic has an almost completely flat frequency response, with hardly any color until you reach 15 kHz. This enables the mic to record nearly every type of sound source as true to life as is technologically possible. Microphone manufacturers have sought to create this perfectly linear response for decades, but only the SM81 is able to reliably achieve this while still producing great sound.

Detailed Without Distortion

SDCs can be difficult to engineer correctly, and you’ll find that although there are a range of available mics on the market, many will offer distortions and brightness that take away from the original sound. In contrast to these lesser mics, the SM81 is able to capture the details of its sound source with clarity. No more worrying about grainy recordings or harsh tones— this mic has got you covered.

Micing With Definition

Due to the size of the diaphragm, SDCs can have some difficulty capturing low-ends without distortion. On the Shure SM81, this distortion is nearly unnoticeable. Although it can get a little too rich, it does have two low cut filters that can help you produce a cleaner sound. This mic is rated for 6 mV/Pa sensitivity and may need a bit more adjustment in order to reach the level of other mics, although it’s perfectly suitable for recording instruments. Increasing the volume of your recording may introduce more noise, which users may want to keep in mind.

Shure and Sturdy

To be completely frank, if there’s one thing Shure is known for, it’s build quality. Shure mics have been lauded for decades for their sturdiness, and the SM81 is no different. The all-metal casing is solid and feels like it could last you a decade of use (within reason). It also comes with a -10 dB attenuation pad and two low cut filters (6 dB/octave and 18 dB/octave). The mic also comes with a stand clip, plastic case, and wind foam. It should be noted that the SM81 has no internal shock mount and is best left attached to a stable mic stand, rather than handheld.

A Mic for All Seasons

If there’s ever been a workhorse of an instrument mic, it’s this one. The SM81 works fantastically on nearly every type of instrument thanks to its transparent sound and incredible definition. With the right placing, it can capture almost anything from acoustic guitars to pianos to drum overheads. The latter is especially well handled with the SM81 thanks to its lack of distortion and high SPL. It may not do so well up close and personal with a drum kit, however, so users will need to take placement into account.

What People Are Saying

Thanks to its neutral response and clean sound, the SM81 has become an almost legendary instrument mic throughout the decades since its release. With a richly defined low end and incredibly durable build, it’s definitely earned the title of industry standard. Sure, the SM81 may be a little too pricy for amateur set ups, but professional studios would do well to invest in a pair.

Where to Buy the Shure SM81 Microphone

The Shure SM81 is an absolute workhorse in the studio. While its completely transparent sound may take a little bit of fiddling, it’s also got the benefit of being a completely blank canvas for you to play with. The SM81 is a bulletproof microphone with an unimpeachable performance, and can last you years and maybe even decades in the studio. Consistency is key, and the SM81 has that in spades. Find the best deals for the Shure SM81 Microphone here.

Sound Quality
9
Design
9
Features
8
Price
7

Summary

The Shure SM81 is an industry standard for a reason. While a little pricy, this mic is able to offer an almost completely flat frequency response, transparent sound, and rich definition on nearly every type of instrument. For micing overheads or acoustic guitars or even pianos, there's nothing that can do the job better.

Total Rating

8.3
Ash Burnett

Hailing from Chicago, IL - Ash made his break into journalism at the age of 23 writing music reviews for a local website. Now in his late 30's and after being pulled closer towards the technical side of the music and live gig industry, he founded Shout4Music to write thorough microphone reviews.

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