That's a Shure Model 55 Unidyne making a very historical appearance.
In the world of pro audio, there are seemingly hundreds upon hundreds of manufacturers out there all competing for your well-earned dollars. Along the way, there have been a few players that have risen above the rest through their excellent products and consistent brand integrity – a task that’s far easier said than done that can take decades to acquire. When you talk about guitars, Fender and Gibson come to mind. In the world of pickups, EMG and Duncan are two examples of the industry leaders while in the world of effects pedals, Electro-Harmonix and MXR (a division of Dunlop) reign supreme, among a few others. Now when it comes to microphones, you simply can’t have a conversation about the best of the best without mentioning Shure Incorporated. Over the years, Shure has released more than its share of mics that are now essentially industry standards and better yet – many of these superior mics are downright cheap in comparison to the competition!
Still though, while there are plenty of other excellent choices in microphones at outstanding prices available out there, we here at PAL would like to take the time and acknowledge one of our most respected partners in the industry and introduce our readers to their surprisingly storied history along with a few of the products that took them to the top.
The History of Shure Incorporated
The company that would eventually become one of the top dogs of the microphone began way back in 1925 as the “Shure Radio Company” located in Chicago, Illinois, founded by Sydney N. Shure. When the company first began, they made most of their business through selling radio parts via catalogs – one of only six radio parts catalogs at the time – but decided to change directions at the advent of the Great Depression in 1928. By now, the company included Sidney's brother, Samuel J. Shure, and wasbrenamed the “Shure Brothers Company.” About a year later in 1929, the manufacturing of affordable radios had increased which forced the company to switch over to manufacturing small microphones instead. Unfortunately though, by 1930, Samuel J. Shure had left the business, leaving Sydney N. to find a new business partner, which he did in engineer Ralph Glover.
Fidel Castro singing on a Model 55 Unidyne
By 1931, the pair had developed the first official Shure branded creation dubbed the Model 33N Two-Button Carbon Microphone. It's important to note that during this time, Shure was only one of four microphone manufacturers in the US, further emphasizing Sydney Shure’s propensity of jumping into uncharted waters – a trait that would later prove ultimately successful. By the end of the ‘30s, Shure had already released its first condenser microphone, crystal microphone and microphone suspension support system as well as the notable Model 55 Unidyne Microphone – a product that went on to become one of the world’s best known microphones.
During the Second World War, Shure was contracted by the United States to produce microphones for the war effort and did a particularly outstanding job there too. By 1942, their T-17B was the microphone most widely used by the U.S. Army and Air Force. The company also produced throat, headset, and oxygen mask microphones.
During the rest of the ‘40s, Shure expanded its product line to include phonograph cartridges for notable companies such as Magnavox, RCA, Emerson, Admiral and Motorola, quickly become the top cartridge manufacturer. The reason behind Shure’s successful cartridges – which are still manufactured to this day – lies behind the innovative “needle-tilt” design which was created by Ralph Glover and Ben Bauer. This new design not only made it possible to play both Long Play and 72 RMP records, but greatly reduced the wear on them as well. Not only that, they were the first cartridges to be certified for stereo recording.
Continuing in its spirit of innovative product designs, Shure introduced the very first wireless microphone performance system in 1953 and kept in going with the release of the Unidyne III Microphone in 1959 – the predecessor to the Shure SM57 which would be released six years later alongside the equally legendary SM58. In case these two models don’t ring a bell, they’re pretty much two of today’s most notable and recommended live performance and recording microphones.
Today, the small Chicago-based company that started off selling radio parts through catalog is now a professional audio-electronics manufacturer of microphones, wireless microphone systems, mixers, digital signal processors, headphones, high-end earbuds, monitors and – as mentioned above – even phonograph cartridges. Not bad at all wouldn’t you say? Alright, now let’s take a look at a few of their hit products.
Shure Model 55 Unidyne: Now this is a microphone that has plenty of world political history. The quality of this microphone was only surpassed by its very notable design. Remember that iconic photograph of Harry Truman holding up that infamous Chicago Daily Tribune issue that incorrectly announced his defeat? Yep, that’s a 55 Unidyne right there. Have you even taken a look at Fidel Castro’s January of 1959 Life Magazine cover shot? How about the microphone used by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech? Well, I’m sure you already get where I’m heading with this. Yes, the Model 55 Unidyne is as Americana as McCarthyism and the Great Depression – albeit in an entirely more positive light! From public figureheads such as JFK and Truman to big time artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, this microphone has been there since what seems like the very beginning of modern America.
Shure 55S: This very popular microphone came as direct spin-off of the Model 55 Unidyne and had just as much success. In today’s terms you can think of it as pretty much as a Model 55 ‘Lite.’ You might have also heard about the 55S by its other nickname, the “Elvis mic.” As you might imagine, Elvis used this particular microphone quite a bit during his career, so much so that the 55S was actually featured with the King of Rock on the commemorative first-class Elvis stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service in 1993. More recently in 2009, Shure released the Super 55 Deluxe Vocal Microphone featuring high gain before feedback and excellent off-axis rejection, successfully bringing the Unidyne series into the 21st Century.
Shure T-17B: AS mentioned above, the T-17B was the most widely used microphone by the US Army and Air Force during World War II. What made this particular microphone so important (as well as the rest of Shure’s military T series mics) was that it was the first to adhere to the government’s Military Standard Specification which focused on creating products that would conserve precious metals for the war effort and instead feature much more common materials. The T-17B featured a plastic case which not only conserved aluminum, but was also lighter and more reliable in a variety of temperatures and climates, perfect for combat situations. Shure would also release a water proof variant during WWII that was quickly adopted and equipped on nearly every Navy vessel.
Patti Smith singing with the very well known SM58
Shure SM Series: This iconic series of Shure microphones began back in 1965 with the release of the SM57 and the SM58 a year later in 1966. Named SM as in “Studio Microphone,” this series of mics were first intended to be used by television stations which is why they were introduced with no on/off switch as well as a utilitarian design unlike that of the flashier Unidyne series. When it was first introduced, the SM57 became widely known for its very durable design as well as it’s truly versatile sound thanks to its use of the Ernie Seeler-designed Unidyne III capsule. This low-impedance, unidirectional, dynamic microphone was the very same used by Michael Jackson for the vocals on “Billie Jean.” This mic was so versatile in its application that it has been regularly used as an industry standard for miking vocals, drums, and guitar amplifiers both in live sound and recording applications. Not only that, the SM57 has pretty much been used by every single United States President since Lyndon B. Johnson – now that’s a lot of history! The SM58 was just as durable, versatile and successful as the SM57 but featured a cardioid microphone pattern and as well as popularized the proximity effect for vocals. So popular were the SM57 and 58 that it they are still in production to this day, along with several other member of the SM family such as SM48, SM86, SM87A, SM94, and SM81. The SM57 and SM58 are currently two of the bestselling microphones in the world.
Shure Beta Series: Introduced in 1989, the Beta series of mics are essentially supercardioid versions of the SM series but with neodymium magnet structures for higher output. The Beta series also introduced two new mics specifically tailored for used with drums, the Beta 56 drum mic and the Beta 52 kick mic – the latter of which has been updated to the Beta 52A. Like the SM57 before it, the Beta 58A was awarded a TEC award in 1996 while several other Beta series mics have been continuously nominated.
That’s only a small slice of what Shure Incorporated has to offer. To check out the rest of Shure’s product line – at the best prices, guaranteed – hit the link at the end of this article. Enjoy!