How exactly does a $99 microphone become a Hall of Fame inductee? Well, if that mic is the Shure SM57, the answer comes easy. For four decades, the SM57 has proven itself in perhaps the most demanding application of all: delivering solid, dependable performance placed in front of amp stacks or an inch or so above (and below) snare drums, where the excruciatingly high sound pressure level would cripple lesser mics. Yet that same mic has been the presidential microphone of choice, capturing press conferences and speeches for every U.S. chief executive since Lyndon Baines Johnson. In fact, Shure even offers a “VIP Dual Microphone Kit” that includes all of the hardware and cabling to use two SM57s side-by-side for fail-safe vocal coverage of important events.
The lineage of the SM57 began when Shure engineer Ernie Seeler developed the Unidyne III capsule, a cardioid dynamic design that continued the evolution of Ben Bauer’s original 1939 Unidyne (the first single-element unidirectional mic). After three years of hard work and hundreds of tests involving dropping, throwing, cooking, salt spray immersion and submerging, the SM Series was born, and Seeler’s same capsule design was employed for the SM57 and its vocal counterpart, the SM58.
It’s somehow ironic that Seeler—a classical music devotee who despised rock ’n’ roll—created two of the mics that 40 years later remain a mainstay of rock music. Today, it’s the rare session—rock, pop, R&B or country, onstage or in-studio—that doesn’t have an SM57 on a drum kit somewhere, even when far-more expensive microphones are available.