I have GAS, a.k.a. gear acquisition syndrome. I am constantly in search of the perfect audio gear. I sacrifice on things most people spend a lot of money on so I can buy more gear. I don’t spend much on clothes, and my wife and I share one car. I put the savings into buying fun stuff to improve the four podcasts I do each week, and the films I make every few years.
This post is aimed at podcasters (though the Beta 57A is also good for recording music). Unlike me, most podcasters have little or no audio experience, they just have something to say and want to say it, without having to devote years to studying audio engineering. Novice podcasters without audio engineering experience tend to buy condenser microphones, because condenser mics look “cool” and “pro” and have gotten very inexpensive.
But for someone without audio engineering experience, a good $130 dynamic mic is going to sound a LOT better than a $130 condenser mic. The $130 condenser mic is going to pick up your voice, but it will also pick up the rustling of your shirt, and the refrigerator in the next room, and the truck going by outside a half-block away. The $130 dynamic mic is going to pick up only your voice. A condenser mic in skilled hands (and ears) can sound amazing. But in a beginner’s hands it can, and probably will, sound horrible. In an expert’s hands, a dynamic mic will sound amazing. In a beginner’s hands, a dynamic mic will sound consistently pretty good. Plus condenser mics require phantom power, dynamic mics do not. And if you don’t know what phantom power is, you REALLY should be using a dynamic mic, not a condenser mic.
I recently did a post on getting the greatest sound I could from the cheapest mic I could. I succeeded in getting a really good sound out of a $17 NADY SP-4C dynamic mic. You can hear an audio example of that mic with this short MP3. If you’d rather hear it as an uncompressed WAV file, it’s not very big and is here. (In the audio example I say “this is an expensive mic”, but I was trying to see if my audio-nurd friends could be fooled, and they were. A lot of people believed when at first I told them it was a 500-dollar ElectroVoice RE-20 dynamic mic. It is not.)
That cheap Nady has a lot of proximity effect, so it’s got a sort of low-rent “voice of god” booming quality when used very close, which is a combination of the mic, my voice, my mic technique, a good preamp, and my decades of experience in all things audio. While it is a booming and commanding sound, it’s not the clearest sound. I decided I wanted the clearest sound I could get, because I’m all about the message. I want it to be understood. So I did a bunch of research and decided the dynamic mic I wanted to try was the Shure Beta 57A. It’s a very clear mic, some would even say bland, but that can be good for podcasting, especially if you also do streaming audio as we do, which adds audio artifacting and lowers bit rate, so you want the clearest signal to start with that you can get. The Beta 57A is perfect for this.
The Beta 57A is an update on the less expensive but quite venerated rock and roll vocal workhorse the Shure SM57. The SM57 is also used as the presidential podium mic for all presidential speaking events run by the White House, has been since 1965, and is still used today. (<WARNING: That link is to a photo of of a POLITICIAN.)
I’ve often wondered why they didn’t update the liar-in-chief mic at some point. Since the State can steal, borrow and print all the money it wants, they usually “spare no expensive.” I believe it’s because since each mic has a “sound”, they don’t want to change the sound of “the king’s voice” that the people have come to know and worship. They want that same consistent voice of faux-authority regardless of whether there’s an R or a D after the liar’s name. They want you to think the person lying and stealing and killing makes a difference, but they don’t want to “change microphone workhorses in mid-stream” when some percentage of Americans still buy the whole lie.
The Beta 57A is 4db louder than the SM57, and clearer to boot. It has a bit of roll-off on the low end to reduce overt proximity effect. Proximity effect is cool if you know how to “work it”, i.e. if you have good mic technique. But if you don’t, and even if you do, it will muddle your message, especially if you do streaming audio. The Beta 57A is really good for recording talking, singing or electric guitar.
While the Shure SM57 is the voice of the liar-in-chief, the Shure Beta 57A is often used in courtrooms and in places of worship. I call it “The Church and State Mic.”
But I’m liberating the Jack D. delivering a eulogy in a church on a Beta 57A.and making it a Freedom mic….the same way I take Communist guns like the Mosin Nagant and US “Government Guns” like the Glock model 23 and make them my liberty guns.
(These examples are taken from this interview I did with Larken Rose.)
I paid $139 for my Beta 57A, HERE, on Amazon. If you pay less than $130 for one, it’s probably a Chinese counterfeit, which are common with all Shure mics, because they are so in demand. Make sure you buy from a reputable dealer, and watch the below video by Jaco Mersh about spotting counterfeits. Here’s another resource, a great post on eBay on spotting fakes, that has some info that the video does not.
I recommend buying a lot of gear used, but never a mic. Once it warms up a bit from your voice, a used voice will start to kick back the smell of the breath of years of the previous owner’s beer, ciggaretts, cheap food and stale beer into your face. Also, any mic that’s been used around anyone smoking anything is not going to sound as good as one that’s new.
For the audio examples above, I ran the Beta 57A through an Art Tube Pre-Amp USB audio interface. (Also check out my video below of hot rodding it with a better tube.) I ran the pre-amp out of that into my mixer for the interview, but that could have been skipped. Running the pre-amp into the computer via USB would have had the same sound. I recorded into SoundForge (though free Audacity would have sounded the same.) I normalized that (in SoundForge, using the “speech” setting), as I do with all my spoken audio. (I did that also with the cheap mic example at the top of this post.)
I really like the sound of the Beta 57A. It’s very clear, but present. Every word can be understood, which is the main goal with what I do. It’s got a tight super-cardioid pattern, so it’s not the best choice for people who move left and right off the mic a lot. (If you really have a problem staying on the mic, you might be better off with a Shure SM57 or SM58.)
The Shure Beta 57A mic doesn’t have as much proximity effect as many dynamic mics, which makes for less “voice of god” effect, but that doesn’t help clarity anyway. Here are the curves for this mic:
The mic has a thin built-in internal pop screen, but I like to be pretty close (1-3 inches), so I add an external one. This mic has a smaller ball than many mics, so you need a specific pop filter. This one is good.
All in all I love the Shure Beta 57A. I highly recommend it for podcasting, radio or other voice applications for anyone looking for a mid-range price microphone where understanding every word is paramount.
–Michael W. Dean of the Freedom Feens.
I’m not an audio engineer by trade, I’m a guy who likes to make things sound good for not a lot of money. But I do have real experience in and around studios going back to analog and tape, including Dave Bock engineering my first album, in Hyde Street Studio A, back in 1987, and being produced by Bill Laswell at Greenpoint on one record, and I always paid attention to what those cats were doing.