If you have ever seen a band play live, then more than likely you have seen a Shure SM58 microphone being sung into. Although commonly known as a great live mic, the SM58 is also often used in the studio as a versatile recording microphone.
The Shure SM58 is a good choice for a recording microphone due to its reliability, clarity and low cost. Its cardioid pickup pattern helps minimize unwanted recorded noise. The SM58 also copes well with volume, so can be used on loud sources such as guitar amps or snare drums in addition to vocals.
You may have encountered the attitude that you need an expensive microphone to get good results when recording in your home studio. As this article will show, that is simply not the case. It is entirely possible to use a Shure SM58 to great effect for recording vocals and other instruments.
If you are new to home recording in general, I highly recommend you check out my beginner’s guide to recording music at home.
If you are interested in checking out the best recording gear such as audio interfaces, studio monitor speakers, microphones, etc., you can find them at Amazon by clicking here.
Reasons the SM58 is a great live mic
I can’t write any sort of article on the SM58 without talking about its use in live performances. So many musicians, myself included, use an SM58 for vocals on stage. Here are some of the reasons why it is such a popular live vocal microphone…
- Durability & reliability – SM58s are built like tanks, and can take some punishment. They will survive being dropped, knocked and accidentally kicked about. As long as you are prepared to replace the grille from time-to-time, they can last a lifetime. I’ve had mine for over 15 years and it’s still going strong.
- Handles loud volume – as the SM58 copes admirably with loud volume, singers can get very close to it. This means the sound engineer can turn down the gain at the desk, minimizing bleed from other instruments into the vocal mic.
- Inexpensive – music equipment is expensive! So to have an industry-standard microphone that will last for decades costing about $100 is a huge benefit to musicians’ wallets.
- Internal shock mount – the SM58 has a built-in internal shock-mount system. This helps minimize handling noise from singers in a live environment who don’t like to use a mic stand and prefer to feel the microphone in their hand.
- Built-in pop filter – there is a built-in pop filter inside the SM58, which helps reduce plosives (loud rushes of air caused by ‘p’ and ‘b’ type sounds).
- Cardioid pickup pattern – this means the microphone picks up sounds from in front of it, but largely rejects sound from behind it. This helps minimize background noise and bleed from other sound sources.
Even though the SM58 does have a small pop filter inside it, I would still recommend using an external pop filter for recording vocals in any sort of studio environment, home or professional. My article entitled “Is a pop filter necessary?” details when you really need to use a pop filter, and when you don’t. It’s essential reading if you are going to be doing any sort of recording using a microphone.
Why the SM58 is good for recording
All the reasons the SM58 is a great live mic also apply in a recording situation. Its reliability, handling of loud volume, pickup pattern, internal shock mount and pop filter all contribute to the SM58 being a great studio tool. Its low cost is also welcome, as we all know that kitting out a home studio can get very expensive! It’s also widely available – you can buy an SM58 from Amazon here (affiliate link).
Using the SM58 to record vocals
When choosing a microphone to record vocals, the general consensus is to use a large-diaphragm condenser mic (LDC). This type of microphone is famed for its clarity, accuracy and high-end sparkle. In general, I would say this is good advice and can give you the absolute best vocal sound possible.
If you are considering buying a microphone for your home studio, definitely check out my article on whether you should buy a condenser or dynamic mic. You’ll discover the pros and cons of both types, and the article will help you make an informed choice that’s right for you.
Just because an LDC mic is often recommended for vocals does not mean that you cannot get great results with any other type of microphone. Indeed, a dynamic microphone such as the Shure SM58 does offer certain advantages for recording vocals over an LDC…
- The SM58 still gives you a great clear sound; it is a little more bass-heavy than a typical LDC, but you can compensate for that with EQ
- LDCs are a lot more delicate than SM58s. Drop an LDC and you will most likely damage it – the SM58 will probably be absolutely fine. With an SM58, you are unlikely to start a vocal recording session to find your mic broken and unusable.
- Due to their sensitivity, LDCs are susceptible to picking up background noise. If you are recording in a noisy environment e.g. a home studio with a computer with a loud fan, the SM58 can help reduce the amount of background noise captured.
- Related to the above, the cardioid pickup pattern of the SM58 means you could point the back of the mic at the offending loud computer, and most of that noise will get rejected.
The SM58 has quite a dark sound i.e. quite bassy with less top-end, especially when compared to an LDC. This is not necessarily a bad thing though; this is the reason why dynamic microphones such as the SM58 are often used on female vocals – they add a bit of low end to the already present lovely top-end.
Personally, I like the sound of my voice through an SM58. I have quite a high singing voice, with an almost feminine quality to it, so I enjoy the low-end it adds. Backing off from the mic a bit will help reduce that low end if you find it too much.
If you want an example, I recorded all my vocals on my “Smile!” EP using the SM58. All the lead vocals, all the backing vocals you hear were captured through that mic. You can find it here.
No microphone is magic – you still have to set up your recording environment, equipment and software correctly to get the best recorded sound. How many takes you are prepared to record is also an important consideration. Check out this article on if you should record vocals in one take for insight into how many takes you should be looking to capture, depending on several different ways of working.
Perhaps the most compelling reason to use an SM58 is that you might already have one, especially if you are a gigging musician or play in a band. This means you can get started recording right now!
This is a very important point; you do not need to wait until you can afford that super-expensive high-end mic. Use what you have now; you will get to your musical goals far quicker by adopting this type of attitude.
As with all microphones, it takes some time and effort to discover how to get the best out of an SM58 for you. Experiment with positioning in your room and distance from the mic, remembering to not get too close. Compare with other mics if you can, and see what works for you.
Something as simple as whether you record a singer sitting or standing can make a big difference to the quality of the recording. That’s why I wrote this article on whether sitting or standing is best for singers when recording. I recommend reading through it if you are going to record a singer, whether that is yourself or someone else.
For those of you who like your information in video format, here’s a video of mine discussing using an SM58 for recording vocals…
Finding the ideal position for your microphone, especially when space is limited in a room not designed for recording can be a challenge. That’s why I wrote this article on recording vocals in a small room, which I urge you to check out to help get the best possible sound from your own room.
Using the SM58 to record instruments
The SM58’s ability to cope with loud volumes means it is ideally suited to close mic’ing of instruments. Volume levels that could damage other microphones will be handled without issue by the SM58. Common examples of loud sound sources in a home studio include guitars amps, bass amps, and snare drums.
You will often find the SM58’s sister mic the SM57 recommended for this type of application. The two microphones are very similar – the SM58 is marketed as more of a vocal mic, with the SM57 as more of an instrument mic.
But take the grille off an SM58, and it looks very similar to an SM57. I don’t know how similar the internals are, but they sound very, very similar.
So if you have a guitar amp or a snare drum you need to mic up, I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to use an SM58 on it – it will do an excellent job.
Acoustic guitars can also be recorded very well with either an SM57 or SM58. Check out this article on recording acoustic guitars with an SM57 for more details and best practices. Everything in there also applies to using an SM58 as well.
Other instruments can also work well through an SM58, especially loud wind instruments. Think saxophone, trumpet, etc. Just be careful not to get too close, to avoid getting an extra bassy sound due to the proximity effect (the tendency of microphones to capture more bass the closer they are to a sound source).
Drawbacks of the SM58 for recording
Although the SM58 can be a great recording microphone, it is not perfect and does have some drawbacks, especially when recording vocals.
The sound of an SM58 does have certain characteristics. The most important ones are…
- An increase in the frequency response around 5 kHz – the so-called “5kHz hump”
- A high bass content, especially close-up
Some people really dislike the 5kHz hump of the SM58. It can add a perceived harshness to a vocal. EQ can help reduce this effect, but some would prefer to capture a smoother sound through a large-diaphragm condenser mic.
Personally, the 5kHz hump has never bothered me. It’s one of those things you will have to try and make your own mind up on.
As already mentioned, the SM58 can sound dark, being quite bassy. You can mitigate this to some extent by backing off from the mic – bass response increases the closer you get to the mic. Between 6 and 12 inches away is probably the optimum distance, depending on the singer and singing style.
Again, if this overly bothers you an LDC may be a better choice for recording vocals.
As a quick aside: if when you are recording singing you are getting a distorted sound captured, my article on avoiding distortion when recording vocals should help you eliminate the problem and get a cleaner recorded sound.
Is the SM58 the best mic for recording vocals?
While it is possible to get great results recording with an SM58, I would not say it is the best mic for recording.
As already discussed, a large-diaphragm condenser microphone is generally regarded as the best choice for vocal recording. Even a relatively cheap LDC such as the excellent Rode NT1A (affiliate link) will give you that shimmering high-end that you just can’t typically get with a dynamic microphone like the SM58.
Even if you wanted to use a dynamic microphone, perhaps if you are recording a female singer, there are better options than the SM58. But you will pay for them; a fantastic microphone commonly used on female vocals is the Shure SM57B (affiliate link), which is considerably more expensive than the SM58.
The SM58’s value
Most of us have limited funds to kit out our home studios, and generally want the best bang-for-buck possible. It is possible to spend thousands of dollars, even tens of thousands of dollars on a microphone.
You may be familiar with the concept of diminishing returns; as the price goes up and up, the percentage benefit becomes less and less. A mic 10 times the price certainly won’t sound 10 times as good – it might sound 10-20% better.
You have to decide where your optimum price point is. This is one of the killer features of the SM58 – you know you are getting a quality microphone for a pretty low price. Couple this with its reliability and durability, and you know you have something that will work for decades for a low initial cost.
Here is some of my favorite home studio gear…
Thanks for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful in your home music-making activities. Here are a few of the tools that I personally use in my home studio. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to use any of them I’ll earn a small commission.
Audio interface: My personal choice for audio interfaces are the Focusrite Scarlett series. I have been using these for years, and they have always given me great-sounding recordings. For a very reasonable price from Amazon you can buy the excellent Focusrite Scarlett 4i4, or if you don’t need MIDI capability the Focusrite Solo is a great choice.
Amp sim: Guitar amplifier simulator software has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, such that I record all my electric guitar parts using amp sims these days. One of the very best is the incredible Amplitube from IK Multimedia, which I have used on many of my songs.
Headphones for recording: My favorite headphones for recording are the Sony MDR-7506s, which I use for monitoring during all my recording sessions. They can also be found in many pro recording studios. Get the Sony MDR-7506 headphones from Amazon here.
General-purpose microphone: You can’t go wrong with a good ol’ Shure SM-57, one of the most versatile and ubiquitous microphones around. I’ve been using one in my home studio for as long as I can remember. Amazon offers the Shure SM-57 for a very competitive price.
To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations, check out this resource I made for you!