Shure Beta 181 Condenser Mic
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The new Beta 181 is a small diaphragm side-address condenser mic. Normally small diaphragm condenser mics are "end fire" or stick mics and using them requires extra space for the mic's length and the attendant cable and connector sticking out. The Beta 181 looks like an old-style lollipop microphone in miniature--it is just 4.9-inches long including any one of four different interchangeable capsule heads attached. The Beta 181 body/pre-amp comes with your choice of any of the four capsules and you can buy additional cardioid, omni-directional, super cardioid and/or figure-of-eight capsules.
It is obvious that this mic will fit into the tightest of places on a live stage or around a drum kit in the studio. It is capable of withstanding over 150dB SPL and so will not "fold up" under the loudest of closely-miked drums or guitar cabinets.
I received two Beta 181 pre-amp bodies and all four capsules. Shure uses a gold-pinned socket in the body to mate to the capsules' plug and then a knurled knob to secure it all. This industrial strength method is superior to other company's typical screw on capsules that are easy to cross-thread if you are not careful. I tried all four capsules on voice, piano and acoustic guitar and found them to produce clear sound, have loads of gain, and have very low self-noise.
For studio vocals, I used a JZ Microphones Pop Filter because, like all small diaphragm condensers, the 181 will "pop" with close in vocals or in windy locations and the 181's kit includes a foam windscreen for these applications. For piano or orchestral recording, you should use the optional A53M shock mount clip or an appropriate shock mount basket so vibrations coming up the mic stand do transmit to the mic itself.
I was impressed with the figure-of-eight capsule because it rejected so much of the sound coming from its sides and I like the option of the slight difference in sound pickup depending on whether you use the front or back of the mic. The omni capsule worked well for capturing acoustical events in a room or for acoustic guitar recording when you want to pickup the whole instrument not just the sound coming from the 12th fret area. The cardioid capsule exhibits proximity and works well to fatten up thin sources by moving it in very close. Finally, super cardioid becomes useful for spotlighting a certain drum within a drum set--this mic is fine on snare drums and the side-address is a big plus when placing it in the (always tightest) sweet spots around a kit. You could use many Beta 181s all over a drum kit and I know it would sound great.
The Beta 181 with any capsule sells for $624MSRP and the extra capsules are $311MSRP each. The Beta 181 also comes with a stand adapter, windscreen, and carrying case that'll hold up to four capsules. www.shure.com.
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