MIC REVIEW: Shure SM81

general questions, comments and ideas about recording, audio, music, etc.
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joel hamilton
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MIC REVIEW: Shure SM81

Post by joel hamilton » Thu Apr 01, 2004 6:14 pm

I always forget what a great mic the SM81 is until I put it up in front of something like an acoustic guitar. I have a pair of 81's, and I just happened to pull one out a few months ago after not touching it for a year, literally.

Traditionally, you would see these on acoustic guitar or as drum overheads in some picture of a session in the 80's or early 90's it seems.
These mics are GREAT. They are not exotic, or do anything radical to the source, and they seem to be heavily influenced by mic pre choice. (what isnt i guess?)

I have a Manley tube reference pre, that really lets me know what a microphone sounds like. There were only 100 of these pre's made, and according to Evana, only 40 were sold to the public.

This pre is a single channel, tube mic pre that takes up one really deep space in the rack.

With the '81 plugged into this pre I feel like I am hearing a nice, semi accurate, flattering version of what is going on in the live room. In mono no less, but there seems to be this beautiful, broad mono image that comes from using a nice mic pre. Excellent depth, and detail bring a life to the instrument being recorded. I have used these as overheads and got the same sort of flattering results using Sytek mic pre's or auditronics pre's. (the auditronics sound like a slightly darker api).

With a good pre, this mic can be exactly what you are looking for when recording acoustic instruments. They are versatile in that regard. You can just sort of aim them at anything that makes a noise, and assume you will have a good representation to tape, or DAW.

This is a common microphone. Nothing exotic, but it is totally worthwihile, and lots of studios have them for that reason.

In the current glut of rebranded chinese condensers, these are a refreshing quality item that works under many conditions.

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Re: MIC REVIEW: Shure SM81

Post by jspartz » Fri Apr 02, 2004 7:13 am

I can second this. I have been enjoying my pair of SM-81's which also sat unused for quite some time. They sound great with my HV-3 on acoustic, overheads, and percussion. I even had a stereo X-Y pair about 3 feet in front of an acoustic guitar/singer performance. The balance and imaging was better then I thought it would be. It was easier (and better sounding) then fighting with two separate source microphones (vocals and acoustic) in close proximity (plus the phase issues)!

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Re: MIC REVIEW: Shure SM81

Post by Family Hoof » Sun May 02, 2004 3:07 am

I second the thoughts posted above. Good SPL handling due to their pads and low sensativitiy. Can you say SMOOTH mids? (and overall response isn't bumpy) Lovely on piano, and a can't go wrong choice for overheads, room mics, acoustic, anything stereo.

But while we're on the topic, anyone used the new KSM141s? According to Shure, they were designed to mimic the SM81 in cardioid. I've used them quite a bit lately in the same applications I'd use SM81s. While very similar, they don't sound quite as smooth, whatever that means. A lot more sensitive and possibly more accurate. Very quiet but they just don't seem that have the same gel in the upper mids that I like SM81s for. I think they excel in omni mode however, yes there is a twistable mechanical switch to change them to omni. $50 more expensive and take up less space. Either are a great pair of SD condensers if you can only have a few. **Should note that I've been operating both with Millennia Media preamps so I can't really make anything sound bad.**

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Re: MIC REVIEW: Shure SM81

Post by nestle » Fri Sep 10, 2004 10:39 am

I have a pair of these. They are a great workhorse mics. For a while I was dissapointed with the apparent lack of sensitivity. They just sounded a bit thin on quiet things and I began to move over to km184's. Then I began to relize that this could be thier virtue. Loud things like under a snare work great, and you have the benifit of the roll off and pad- excellent crack-
They are very nice on piano which makes sense, its precusssive,
acoustic...soso..there are many other mic's I'd reach for first before the sm81 on that app.


I agree, these were the only game in town late 80's-early 90's...
so they have found a place and I won't be selling them anytime soon,
Last edited by nestle on Tue Nov 30, 2004 11:16 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: MIC REVIEW: Shure SM81

Post by stillafool » Fri Sep 10, 2004 10:48 am

I like my sm81 too. Does a killer job on a resonator guitar, percussion, and even vocals (especially for faux female performances). I've noticed alot of people on this forum rip on this mic, along with the Rode NT-1 (which I also like alot), as being too clean/sterile. It wouldn't be my first choice for warmth, more for clarity.

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Re: MIC REVIEW: Shure SM81

Post by nestle » Fri Sep 10, 2004 1:43 pm

yes, thats what I guess I was trying to say too... clarity-
I think of the 414 like that too, not too sexy but super real/clear-
its like a SDC 414

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