Shure SM81 Condenser Instrument Microphone Review

We continue to review the core product line of Shure microphones. And today we take responsibility to cover higher budget mics, it is time to take a look at more professional stuff. And today we are talking about Shure SM81, microphone for instruments that will satisfy most of sound engineers and (what is more important) most of musicians and singers no matter what instrument and style they perform. So, ladies and gentlemen, let us introduce to you SM81 and let us start with its specs, as usual.

Specifications

Microphone Type: Condenser
Polar Pattern: Cardioid
Frequency Rate: from 20Hz up to 20000Hz
Sensitivity: -45dBV/Pascal (5.6mV)
Impedance: rated at 150Ω ohms (85Ω ohms actual)
Output Clipping Level: 800Ω ohm Load: -4dBV (0.63V) 150Ω ohm Load: -15dBV (0.18V)
Maximum SPL: 800Ω ohm load: 136dB (attenuator at 0) 146dB (attenuator at -10) 150Ω ohm load: 128dB (attenuator at 0) 138dB (attenuator at -10)
Power: 11 to 52Vdc, 1.2mA
Form Factor: Pencil
Connector Type: Three-pin professional audio connector (male XLR type)
Housing: Steel construction with vinyl metallic paint finish and stainless steel screens
Net Weight: 230 grams (without cable)
Size: L 212mm x W 23.5mm at the widest point

Overall Build & Design

As always, Shure please us with outstanding design. Monolithic structure is used here not only for caching your eye with its simplicity but also to simplify working process. Stainless steel construction looks expensive and moreover it looks durable, you can be sure, that you will be able to break this mic only in case you really want it and you fortunately have gas burner in your studio. Shure SM81 microphone is also designed to operate over a wide temperature range and humidity, which once again shows its reliability

Now to knobs and switches. To knob and switch, to be precise. The switch under grille is attenuator and the knob in the center of body is low-frequency response selector, but we will talk about them later. All you need to know in “design” part is that they are useful. Reasons in the “sound” section.

As for accessories, mount parts and case – there will not be any problem with it. Shure took care about it (as they always do). SM81 package bundle is furnished with classic Swivel Holder, Foam Windscreen to eliminate all flaws of human voice and wind noise (in case if you want to record vocals with this mic or to use this microphone outdoors), also package bundle include storage case as you can see on picture above and attenuator-switch lock. Yeah, good microphone is expensive treat. As an optional accessory we recommend to buy A53M shock mount clip designed for Shure SM81, which reduce mechanical vibrations & noises by more than 20 decibels. Another great accessory for this mic is OnStage MS7701C Tripod Stand, which proved to be excellent in reliability and available in two color schemes (black and chrome).

Features & Sound QualityShure SM81 Frequency Response

Sound characteristics of this model are strongly above average, but more important thing is that Shure allow us to customize some of them. Nearly linear frequency response of the SM81 can be changed by using the built-in switch of low-pass characteristics (which is located on the mic housing / Three selectable variations: flat, 6dB or 18dB/octave rolloff). This is great feature if you want to saturate your recording with low frequency or to cut it. Handy stuff, especially for recording instruments!

The microphone has a 10dB attenuator to mute a bit instrument if it is needed (good news for drummers).

SM81 has cardioid polar pattern which means that only direct sounds will be recorded, this microphone also has really powerful output level and low distortion over a wide range of impedances. A lot of people on the internet claims that this mic is really good for recording acoustic guitar and that is all. That is not truth because there are dozens of factors which influence subsequent recordings and we are not going to name them here. We have special articles on our site, that will help you to “squeeze” the best out of your stuff.

The main feature of this microphone – is frequency response. It’s not curved all over the frequency range as you can see on the picture. Shure SM81 designed with flat frequency response for accurate reproduction of sound sources. You’ll hear / record your instrument or sound source exactly as it sounds without additional saturation.

Don’t forget about the phantom power. Shure SM81 is working with phantom power range from 11 to 52Vdc. We don’t recommend to use this mic with phantom power lower than 48Vdc as it’ll cause small deformation of your sound, whereby the sound will not be so clear at all frequency range.

If you are real microphone geek you can also check this article about modifying SM81 model, this is step by step tutorial from Recordingmag. Actually this mic is really great without modifications, but still this article can be useful for you.

Here you can check out some audio examples recorded with Shure SM81

Shure SM81 vs Rode NT5

The main competitor of the Shure SM81 in the instrumental microphones class is Rode NT5. Both microphones provide great recording quality and they have similarity in technical specifications as you can see in our comparison table. But they also have some differences & advantages over each other that make them unique, for example: frequency response of SM81 is flat on whole frequency range, while Rode NT5 has some uplifts on frequency range (but this uplifts are also flat). Another difference is that Shure SM81 has three position low-frequency controller and 10dB attenuator, while NT5 doesn’t have this features. Main advantage of Rode NT5 is its price, while SM81 is more expensive expensive. Package bundle is similar too, except of one detail: SM81 comes with storage case, Rode NT5 comes with zipped pouch. You can to listen to comparison audio examples of this mics and to choose for yourself which one will be better for you (first playing Shure then Rode).

Here is comparison table for more detailed technical specs:

Shure SM81 Rode NT5
Polar Pattern Cardioid Cardioid
Element Type Condenser Condenser
Frequency Response 20Hz to 20000Hz
Frequency Response on Scheme
20Hz to 20000Hz
Frequency Response on Scheme
Sensitivity -45dBV/Pascal (5.6mV) -38dBV/Pascal  (12mV @ 94dB SPL)
Impedance 150Ω ohms (85Ω ohms actual) 100Ω ohms
Pros Great Sound Quality
Good Package Bundle
Durability
Selectable Variations of Low Frequency
Great Sound Quality
Durability
10 Year Warranty
Price / Quality
Cons
Check the Price

Three Reasons to buy:

  • Flat frequency response allows you to pick up clear raw sound from the instruments. This feature will help to process recorded instrument a lot easier during mixing.
  • Price / Quality. For its money you’ll get an essential microphone for your studio, in case of recording any instrument. Once you decided to record acoustic string instrument, organ, piano, keys, woodwinds, brass, violins, choir, drums, percussion this is your choice.
  • Comparing with the other instrumental microphones Shure SM81 has built-in three position low frequency filter: flat, 6 dB/octave rolloff, 18 dB/octave rolloff).

Final Verdict on Shure SM81

It becomes more and more difficult to make fair and objective review as microphones we taking a look at are more expensive and professional. There are some things that we can say without a doubt. When you are looking for a mic in middle price range, you should realize that the quality of sound will be greatly influenced by your instruments, devices and recording space. If everything is okay SM81 is one of the best choices for you, at least because of the engineering quality of Shure masters and good reviews in media.

And most important thing: follow your heart, young padawan.

May the music force be with you.

Lowest Price on Shure SM81 (Free Worldwide Delivery!)
Click To See 
Global Shure SM93 Rating
  • Sound Recording Quality - 9.5/10
    9.5/10
  • Overall Build & Features - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
  • Design - 7.8/10
    7.8/10
8.6/10