Shure SM81 by Aaron Miller
Shure's SM-81 is a studio staple for good reason: It's versatile, rugged, inexpensive, and sounds great. It's been on more live and studio recordings than I can count and will go down in history as one of the most widely used SDCs. Let's hope Shure never stops making and never changes this mic. Well, selfishly it would be kind of nice if they did because I'm sure it would become a sought after classic--and I've got a pair.
As an SDC, it is detailed and crisp but not as bright as some of its competitors. Although there is an initial "wow" associated with buying a brighter SDC and although this might make some other mic more compelling on a quick A-B, the real test comes after months or years of use, and many of us find ourselves coming back to the 81 over and over because of its unhyped response, ability to capture detail without sounding harsh, and the way tracks recorded with it sit in the mix. At only $350 or so, this really sets it appart from some of its cheaper and even some of its more expensive competitors.
In the studio, this mic accels on any source that needs focus, high end detail, flat mids, and a full--or with the mic's two position high pass, not quite as full--low end. 10-15" off the 12th fret on an acoustic guitar and you have instant tone that fits perfectly in a rock mix with zero EQ. Need a more percussive cut for a denser mix? Move it in a few inches and use the gradual high pass to roll of the boom coming from the sound hole--this high pass reaches far enough into an acoustic's boom range to do that. For singer songwriters who want to play and sing at the same time, a pair of these combined with an SM7B or RE20 is the best starter kit I can imagine.
And on a drum kit? If you want a larger than life sound of the whole kit, use an LDC or ribbon spaced pair. But if you want a tight, detailed, focussed tone, use 81s in XY or ORTF. This thing kills on overheads, hats, and even snare. In fact, you absolutely must shoot this mic out with the usual snare contenters; you may be surprised. The high pass and -10db pad are very useful and the cardiod pickup pattern minimizes bleed, which is especially important on kits in less than ideal spaces.
Finally, if you are just getting started and are looking for a mic that you won't ever grow tired of, get this mic. If you're considering doing it on the cheap, do yourself a favor and get this mic used!