Shure KSM Series Microphones
Affordable solutions for high-end recording
By Brian Chapman
You know the old adage, “Great mic, great recording.” Well, it’s not quite that simple. There’s a lot of other equipment and technique involved, but still, the right mic makes a huge difference. It is the most critical piece of gear in the capture of sound—the interface that determines what actually gets onto the tape or gets turned into ones and zeros on the hard drive. Start with good music and a good mic, and you have more than a fighting chance of coming up with a quality final recording.
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Shure has created more than its share of legendary microphones over the years. It is the undisputed ruler in the stage mic world and a number have done double-duty as stage and studio staples. Now, a new series, the KSM studio microphones, are on their way to becoming new legends.
The KSMs are true studio mics, large-diaphragm condensers designed to meet the needs of recordists on all levels, from the do-it-yourselfers to the fully professional studio. There are currently three models in the series, ranging in price from just under $300 to a high-end of $700 (Musician’s Friend prices). All three are excellent performers and offer exceptional recording quality relative to cost. The KSM27, which sells for $299, is a remarkable value and a mic that puts high-end performance within the reach of anyone serious about recording.
I was impressed by the KSMs as soon as I saw them. They are built with Shure’s characteristic sturdiness. You wouldn’t want to deliberately bang them around, but they have that same solid construction as the SM57 and 58. They look strong enough to survive accidents.
Here’s a big deal: All three mics come with suspension mounts at no extra cost. Most other companies don’t include the mount, and to get one costs you from $100 to $200 extra. With the KSMs, they’re free and they’re cool mounts, too, with locking rings on the bottoms that the mics thread onto for upside-down positioning. They come nestled in thick, protective bags to keep them dust free. The 32 and 44 also include a swivelmount and come in a flight-style aluminum case. Very cool. The kind of things you’d likely buy as necessary extras, so it really sweetens the deal to get them free.
Of course, the real point is how they sound. I got them plugged in, put the headphones on, and started to check them out by singing into each. I started with the KSM27, Being the lowest priced, I expected to find a respectable but not exceptional mic. But I was blown away. I found it thoroughly impressive: super sensitive, extremely quiet, full, pleasing, and smooth. A sweet mic indeed.
I tried cranking it up to see how quickly the noise floor became apparent. It picked up the ambient room noise from the computer before I could hear any self-noise. It’s as quiet as mics costing three times as much.
The KSM27 also features a 15dB pad and a bass cut-off/roll-off switch which enhance its versatility. Sensitive and quiet enough for recording delicate acoustic passages, the two switches enable it to serve for recording loud stuff as well. In general, I would describe the KSM27 as a mic that performs way above its price with a self-noise level that makes it highly suited for digital recording and the flexibility to be a valuable mic in any studio. At under $300, this baby is a dream-come-true for musicians recording on a digital desktop unit and a budget.
Being so impressed with the lowest-priced KSM, I couldn’t wait to try out the KSM44, top-of-the-line The sound I heard was similar to that of the 27 (expected, because the 27's diaphragm is the same as the front diaphragm of the 44), but fuller, warmer, and with more bass response.
The KSM44 compares favorably with the TLM103 that I use extensively, but it offers important advantages. The main difference is that it is pattern-switchable (cardioid, omnidirectional, and bi-directional), which makes it especially versatile. The KSM44 can be paired with a 32 or 27 for M-S stereo recording. Its dual-diaphragm design makes it handy for recording two back-up singers together and enhances its power as an overhead choral mic.
The KSM32 is an affordable compromise between the other two mics. It seemed to have slightly less output than the KSM27 but more of the tonal character of the 44. One big difference between the 32 and both the other mics is that it has a 3/4-inch diaphragm instead of the one-inch, making it perhaps a preferred mic for accurately recording both acoustic and electric guitars. Generally, it serves the same purposes as the other two—voices, acoustic instruments, overhead drums, percussion, choral, and orchestral miking.
Since these mics are generally similar and serve the same set of applications, I’d say go for the highest in the series you can afford. With each step up in the series, you get lower self-noise and a warmer tone, and the KSM44 gives you the advantage of selectable polar patterns, dual-diaphragm structure, and overall sweet sound. The KSM44 would be a great mic to combine with one of the others for M-S stereo recording. All these mics can easily hold their place in the mic locker of any pro studio or serve as the primary mic for a home recording setup.