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Michael Jackson and the sm7b Dynamic Microphones
Old 12th January 2019
  #1
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Michael Jackson and the sm7b

I’m pretty set on purchasing a tlm 102, but I have a question that I’m sure many have wondered yet there doesn’t seem to be a straight answer online. Sorry if it’s an obvious question but I’m rather new to the audio technical side of things.

As a light tenor, over the past year I’ve been wanting to purchase the Shure sm7b as it was famously used for Michael Jackson’s vocals on Thriller and has been used by The Weeknd as well on his most recent album. My question is, over the past year I have read so many reviews and watched so many videos of the microphone and in every single one of them (even when they’re using a top quality preamp) the audio has quite a dark tone that almost makes the voice sound deeper than it really is. So why would both MJ and The Weeknd use this mic when they’re trying to capture that amazing softness and light tone in their voice?

I would get one myself but I feel that it’ll take away the soft tone in my voice that I want to capture.

Cheers James
Old 13th January 2019
  #2
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So for some reason I posted this thread yesterday and it hasn’t shown up till now, and I’ve already posted this question on a different thread of mine because this one wasn’t working. Not sure how to delete a thread on my phone.

If anyone wants to add some extra input though it would be much appreciated!
Old 13th January 2019
  #3
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Sigma's Avatar
Listen in CONTEXT...THRILLER was at the time , one of the those productions that most studio projects wanted to be matched to... we always bought the new hits to A/B our mixes in Philly..and there was a dark one and a bright one.. we stayed inside
of those lines .. Thriller was so edgy and thin that I remember my dad going."if your mix is near this go no further" inside a mix is all relativity...SM7 is not a fat mic..when we recorded Michael for PIR it was just our standard 87 into LA4 thru an MCI 424 console and 3M M79 iso loop..(Enjoy yourself etc..)

Last edited by Sigma; 13th January 2019 at 02:40 PM..
Old 13th January 2019
  #4
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szmola's Avatar
SM7b is rather smooth with foam on. Even if you add 7dBs in highs. It's not sharp or crispy either but it is pretty dry, so maybe that makes it dark and deep...however, like Sigma said, it's mater of context and also - sound of that mic can be transformed easily with some processing.
Old 13th January 2019
  #5
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I'm pretty sure Michael Jackson was recorded with the original SM7, not the SM7B, which is a re-issue. Bruce Swedien talks about it in his book (The Bruce Swedien Recording Method) and is pretty clear that he does not consider the original SM7 and SM7B to be equivalents. He recorded those tracks, so you'd expect he would know.

Cheerz,
John
Old 13th January 2019
  #6
All voices are different, it can be tricky to predict the best mic for a voice....as you know, just because a mic worked on MJ, doesn't mean it will work for you....and I'm sure MJ recorded with a bunch of different mics during his long career.

Here's my approach for selecting a vocal mic for a singer:
For the sake of saving time, I'll hookup 3 vocal mics (3 vocal chains) and have the singer audition each one during a couple of "warm up" takes.
Usually, those 3 are:
SM7b
U87ai
u 47 (flea)
there are other mics available but these are what I call "high percentage mics". I usually have an idea in my head what will work best, but sometimes I'm completely wrong.
Sm7b wins 20% of the time..
U87 wins 40% of the time
U 47 wins 40% of the time.

My daily experience, with many different singers and many different types of music, the SM7b beats out a $5k mic and a $3k mic 20% of the time which is amazing. This also means the sm7b may not work for you.

My point is, don't be frustrated if a mic doesn't work for you. If you can, try several things before you buy.
Old 13th January 2019
  #7
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Oldone's Avatar
Tonally the SM7B is great but it's grain is coarse (meaning certain notes in the upper mids tend to sound distorted or grainy when pushed). It works for some people but not everyone. I would say, as a tenor, that might be a problem but you really need to try before you buy. And now a short story:

The holy grail in guitars is the 335. I own teles, strats, a great Les Paul and an SG. Because everyone raves about them I thought to complete the tonal range of my guitar herd I needed and obsessed for a 335 for 10 years. I found two in recent years that I bought but returned because after several hours of playing I realized something...the sound of the 335 doesn't interest me. I don't like the shape of the necks and most importantly, I don't play the kind of music that would be best served by a 335. Also I don't record other people that do the kind of music I don't enjoy. GAS over on that one.

It's the same for mics. I've bought many and found that certain models just ended up NOT being used and live out their days in the storage cabinet. So I vowed not to buy another mic unless I could use it for at least 30 minutes in some recording situation to determine what it does, what it's best at and if I actually record that way. And finally:

If you record only yourself, the need to try and buy is really important. If you record a lot of other people, the chances of a certain model being useful, that people recommend on forums, is probably a good recommendation to have in your mic locker because it's worked on someone somewhere sometime.
Old 13th January 2019
  #8
Lives for gear
What you should gather from the above, and from the many other threads on the SM7b, is that you have, at best, a 50/50 chance that it will be the perfect mic for your voice and genre.
If the price is small money to you, buy and try it. If you aren’t happy enough to keep it, you sell it used and probably take a 30% loss. If you decide it isn’t THE mic, but you might use it for other voices or instruments, it becomes part of your mic locker.
BUT, if this purchase represents a big chunk of the recording money you will spend this year, DON’T buy it. A 50/50 chance is not good enough to commit the money. Find a way to borrow, rent, or somehow try the mic in your studio with your preamp and monitors. If you love it, buy it. There is still a chance that down the road you will decide to go in another direction, but in the meantime you should get more than your money’s worth from the SM7b.
Old 13th January 2019
  #9
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I agree that the mic has to be demo'd. I did 7-8 quick demos at various times on my laptop at gc, then finally spent a week with the mic to test at my studio.

My conclusion has always been that I have no use for an sm7b. Maybe someday, but doubt it.

As to mj, Bruce used the 7 on six mj vocal tracks.....but used an 87 for a further 40-some mj vocals in subsequent years.

Get the mic and try it.

Even if your voice is exactly like mj....you don't have the signal path, tape, dual bounces, or lathe mastering......which is what you hear on an mj....or weekend...track.......so....

you're just gonna have to try the mic and see if it gets you where you wanna go.
Old 13th January 2019
  #10
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I don't know for sure, but I'm going to guess that MJ's voice packed a punch (I can't speak for The Weeknd). The SM7 is great at handling LOUD vocalists, who might sound strident through some condensers. In an old band of mine, the singer was a classically-trained tenor who could really peg some VU meters, and the SM7 worked pretty well to record him. It's also good for your metal-type screamers. It won't necessarily be the best match for a singer who doesn't project unusually strongly.
Old 13th January 2019
  #11
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guavadude's Avatar
Another perk of using a dynamic mic is that it won’t pickup a lot of room sound which is great when you start cranking up the compression.
I use the SM7b without the foam filter with a pop filter in front. The Great River pre is a good match for it too. I’ve used it for VO, lead vox...and hi hat just the other day, sounded great.
Old 13th January 2019
  #12
The way you use the SM7b will determine how it sounds on your (or any) voice. It has a high-pass filter and a presence lift switch that really does change the way that it sounds. It also exhibits proximity low-frequency boost. So the closer you are to it, if you're not rolling off the bass, it will take on a more bass-y sound.

I think the SM7b sounds pretty close to whatever you point it at though not as authentic as a more true-to-life mic like an Avenson STO2 or an Earthworks SR40. A lot of vocals are recorded with them (SM7b). A lot of radio folks use them. It's not an oppressive mic in that it doesn't impart an overbearing tone on the signal if you know how to place it and use the switches.

Nobody can say that it will or won't work for your voice. You'll just have to try. But I think that with so many professional users the mic has proven that it's useful in a wide variety of situations. I don't find it inherently dark or even gritty. I find it somewhat plain. You can do a lot with plain.
Old 13th January 2019
  #13
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One thing I can say about that mic is that since I bought mine (which must have been like 12 years ago), it has racked up more usage than any other mic I have. It's rare that I do a session where I don't end up using for something.
Old 13th January 2019
  #14
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lasso's Avatar
 

I own both - the sm7b is very grainy, dark and thick in the lower mids. Therefore it doesn’t stack well. It’s not very good on female vocals. You need to really mess with eq to make it pop. Sometimes it’s just what you need. The TLM102 always works for me. It’s not a very special sounding mic but it just works. Not too bright not too boomy either. Both are great mics but the 102 is way more versatile. At least to me
Old 13th January 2019
  #15
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Blaine Misner's Avatar
 

my sm7b is the right mic 100% of the time that i use it. however, i know my mic collection very well and can usually tell what will get the needed color for the track.
Old 14th January 2019
  #16
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bgood's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shrdni View Post
I'm pretty sure Michael Jackson was recorded with the original SM7, not the SM7B, which is a re-issue. Bruce Swedien talks about it in his book (The Bruce Swedien Recording Method) and is pretty clear that he does not consider the original SM7 and SM7B to be equivalents. He recorded those tracks, so you'd expect he would know.

Cheerz,
John
I have both and they’re not so different that you couldn’t use one to punch in and fix a line from the other

I always think of the sm7 as like a hi-fi ribbon... it’s also a great example of the term “takes eq well”

I just listened to thriller the other day because one of the kiddos was... what I forgot was (a) just how much content there was in every track of that record... synths, vox stacks, guitars... it’s a sonic marvel to have made a space for each element to sit... (b) what Sigma said... it’s just tickling the ballz of “strident”

Last edited by bgood; 14th January 2019 at 12:02 AM.. Reason: Sp
Old 14th January 2019
  #17
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bgood's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jmw21 View Post
I’m pretty set on purchasing a tlm 102, but I have a question that I’m sure many have wondered yet there doesn’t seem to be a straight answer online. Sorry if it’s an obvious question but I’m rather new to the audio technical side of things.

As a light tenor, over the past year I’ve been wanting to purchase the Shure sm7b as it was famously used for Michael Jackson’s vocals on Thriller and has been used by The Weeknd as well on his most recent album. My question is, over the past year I have read so many reviews and watched so many videos of the microphone and in every single one of them (even when they’re using a top quality preamp) the audio has quite a dark tone that almost makes the voice sound deeper than it really is. So why would both MJ and The Weeknd use this mic when they’re trying to capture that amazing softness and light tone in their voice?

I would get one myself but I feel that it’ll take away the soft tone in my voice that I want to capture.

Cheers James
Is your room treated? The sm7 (I think) gets so much love is because of its great rejection... whereas even a great Ldc will sound like garbage in a poor room... so, crappy, untreated room? Don’t both with an LDC as it will not sound anywhere as good as you think it should.

The sm7 isn’t ever gonna make you feel sad or foolish for having bought it and will grow with you as you go from recording in your closet to when you open your personal Paisley Park.

I don’t agree about stacking the sm7 makes poopy sound... hi-pass is your friend all day with this mic...

Last edited by bgood; 14th January 2019 at 12:09 AM.. Reason: Sp
Old 14th January 2019
  #18
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Thank you everyone for all the replies, all this information is truly helpful! Yes the room I record in is treated, I’ve spent quite a fair bit of money recently making a decent vocal booth. I guess my only concern is that I’m no good with the technical side to editing the audio so I don’t want to be getting a mic that is going to need a whole lot of it to sound right. Guess I’ll just have to find one I can test out.
Old 14th January 2019
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Enlightened Hand View Post

I don't find it inherently dark or even gritty. I find it somewhat plain. You can do a lot with plain.
That’s a very fair description.
My disappointment with the SM7b might be from the expectation, in part fueled by many Gearslutz threads, that the mic does some subtle euphonic magic with certain voices. IMO it does not. But it does do a good honest job with many sources and voices. If that’s your expectation, you probably won’t be disappointed.
Old 14th January 2019
  #20
Lots of legitimate thoughtful posts there

Someone I am familiar with used an sm7b on loud and strident singer using only the mic pre on the apogee duet in a hotel room.

This true story demonstrates several germane points to what makes the mic what it is

1) It handles higher pitched forceful singers well
2) it rejects room noise very well considering its presence
3) it is more of a utility piece than glamour piece
4) it gets compared to the sm57 but it's physical make up separates it from the 57

My own experience with John Kurzweg recording my (tenor) voice is that John added high frequencies in the 10-12k range and one other range to get my voice where it sounded "right" to us-

I will likely buy another because it functions as a vocal mic that rejects noise well- it's just that it requires Eq for some voices and instruments
Old 14th January 2019
  #21
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bgood's Avatar
Someone I think mentioned it here already... but, rip the foam cap off, but a pop shield in front of it and it opens up the top end a bit...

If you can find one used in good shape and price jump on it... or, buy it new it ya can swing it

Or take advantage of the guitar center proline rental shop... in other words, their super generous no questions asked return policy!
Old 14th January 2019
  #22
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thepilgrimsdream's Avatar
 

My SM7B sounds phenomenal. Balanced and smooth. Really great for male singers. Like it's been said before, a high pass filter is your friend.

Warning about the Neumann TLM102....I don't believe this mic deserves the Neumann name. I've been very disappointed every time I've used it. I'd check out Roswell or Octavamod to get that 'Neumann sound' on a budget
Old 14th January 2019
  #23
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ABBA's Avatar
 

I don't like the Shure Sm7b much. Kind of grainy, dry and boring. I consider it more of a problem solver.
I don't know on what tracs this mic was used but
I have always felt that recordings of Michael Jackson sounds like a little angry girl shouting in a closet.
Old 14th January 2019
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bgood View Post
I have both and they’re not so different that you couldn’t use one to punch in and fix a line from the other

I always think of the sm7 as like a hi-fi ribbon... it’s also a great example of the term “takes eq well”

I just listened to thriller the other day because one of the kiddos was... what I forgot was (a) just how much content there was in every track of that record... synths, vox stacks, guitars... it’s a sonic marvel to have made a space for each element to sit... (b) what Sigma said... it’s just tickling the ballz of “strident”
I own an SM-7B, but not an SM-7, so I cannot comment personally. I was just reporting 2 things: 1) MJ was recorded with an SM-7, not an SM-7B. 2) The person who made those recordings has been quite clear that he does not consider the two mics (SM-7 and SM-7B) to be interchangeable - I haven't done the comparison myself, so I cannot comment.

Regards,
John
Old 14th January 2019
  #25
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I also dislike the tlm. The op may find that a 414 is great for his soft voice.

Also, as many know, the sm7b is a 57 capsule coupled with a transformer that smoothes out freq response, inserted into a big enclosure to boost lows......which then, apparently everyone likes to defeat with high-pass or the mic's own low cut switch........

Which leads me to suggest to the op.... Since your voice divebombs, beginning around 6-7khz....and you likely have a soft-voice rise around 100hz.....

.....have you tried the 57 or 58? If not, definitely do.

Like I say, I'd also get some time in with a 414. Not though tlm. Imo.
Old 14th January 2019
  #26
I haven't actually compared an SM7 with an SM7b. But I know that Shure says that acoustically they perform identically.

Check out this article:
SM57 on Steroids: The Shure SM7(B) Story | Shure Blog
Old 14th January 2019
  #27
Gear Maniac
Quote:
Originally Posted by Enlightened Hand View Post
I haven't actually compared an SM7 with an SM7b. But I know that Shure says that acoustically they perform identically.

Check out this article:
SM57 on Steroids: The Shure SM7(B) Story | Shure Blog
It’s been my observation that mic companies have a tendency to say that a new version of a mic performs identically to previous versions when, in fact, they don’t.
Old 14th January 2019
  #28
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I know Swedien talks about the SM7 vs SM7B in his book (The Bruce Swedien Recording Method), but it's also here: A Good Set of Affordable Microphones?, post#23.

Regards,
John
Old 14th January 2019
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by adampaulson1217 View Post
It’s been my observation that mic companies have a tendency to say that a new version of a mic performs identically to previous versions when, in fact, they don’t.
True, but by the same token, some people have a penchant for wildly exaggerating the differences between minor model revisions of a piece of gear. Just saying...I don't think I've ever heard a claim about there being something different about the SM7 as opposed to its revisions coming out of the mouth of anybody except Bruce Swieden.
Old 14th January 2019
  #30
Gear Maniac
Quote:
Originally Posted by Whoopysnorp View Post
True, but by the same token, some people have a penchant for wildly exaggerating the differences between minor model revisions of a piece of gear. Just saying...I don't think I've ever heard a claim about there being something different about the SM7 as opposed to its revisions coming out of the mouth of anybody except Bruce Swieden.
I'm sure the truth lies somewhere between the manufacturer's marketing and the opinions found on gearslutz
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