Sunday, April 21, 2013

Shure SM57 vs Fame MS 57: Do you really have to pay more?



Ok, they say that you get what you pay for and that a cheap copy can never beat the original and blah blah blah. But through years of recording i stumbled upon lots of exceptions to this statement. I heard some cheap condenser mics beat the hell out of some neumanns, heard some cheap preamps to sound on same level with expensive ones, cheap guitars that sounded better than their 2000 € equivalents and so on. Since i am using some Shure SM57s for recording drums, guitars and sometimes even vocals i was always wondering if those 30 $ copies can be nearly as good as the original. Every time i visited the Musicstore in Cologne i looked at the Fame MS 57 and asked myself if they could be any good? I heard different opinions ranging from "peace of sh*t" to "even better than the original", so one day i just decided to pick one up just to solve these questions once and for all.





Let's take a look at the rivals:

Pic. 1: Shure SM57

Pic. 2: FAME MS 57


Optically there is just a small difference, the size is almost identical. The first real difference was waiting inside. As i unscrewed the head of the Fame MS 57 one of the contact cables tore of, so i had to solder it back to where it belonged. This never happened with the Shure. The Fame has also 3 cables instead of 2 within. Can not tell if it's good or bad.

In order to produce a microphone of the sm57 class for the price of a dinner at a mediocre restaurant the manufacturer has to save on something. My main concern about the MS 57 is how long will it serve me, even if it'll sound just like the ms57. This is what cheap hardware is known for. It may act very well at the beginning, but with time the quality gets worse. The response curves of both look quite similar, however i suspect that on really high levels the similarity would change.



THE TEST.


1. Prepairing.

My goal was to see (or better say "hear") how different both microphones are. In order to objectively judge about this difference i prepared following steps:


  • Recording clean electric guitar sound with the SM57 micing a V30 Selecstion speaker of the 4x12" speaker cabinet.
  • Recording the same clean electric guitar sound from exactly the same position with the MS 57.
  • Recording distorted electric guitar sound on medium volume with the SM57.
  • Recording distorted electric guitar sound on medium volume with the MS 57.
  • Recording distorted electric guitar sound on high volume with the SM57.
  • Recording distorted electric guitar sound on high volume with the MS 57.


Furthermore, i wanted to hear how my guitar sound would change in a rough mix with doubled guitars and with drums and bass. They say that better microphones help to cut through the mix better, so i wanted to check this as well.


2. The Recording

The very first thing i noticed is that the Fame MS 57 is a lot louder than the original 57. On the input meter of the interface, where the Shure kept all in green range, the Fame striked yellow continuously. Here are some pictures so you get a clue of how the waveforms look like.

A little info about how to understand the pictures. All waveforms come in VERTICAL pairs (i did double track the recordings each time, to see how the tonal difference will behave itself in real life)

Pic. 3: Waveforms (from left to right) - Shure SM57 clean, Fame MS 57 Clean, Shure SM57 distorted, FAME MS 57 distorted.


 Pic. 4: Waveforms of same signals running in the same order like on the Pic. 3, but adjusted to same level.


 Pic. 5: Waveforms of the distorted guitar signal recorded on high volumes. 


Pic. 6 Waveforms of the same signal but adjusted to same level.

The fact that FAME MS 57 is "louder" than it's archetype is of lesser importance, since you always can set the input gain to a smaller value. In fact, it could even achieve a better signal to noise ratio. The difference in tone is not that dramatic. Both mics have certainly slightly different coloration, but on the first listen i wouldn't prioritize any microphone.


3. The Sound samples

Ok, let's get to practice. Below you will find the sound samples with my comments. Bear in mind, that despite the fact, that i placed the mics on the same spot a few mm variation in micing distane could and probably did occure. I also played the riffs multiple times. For laboratory environment i should have probably used a re-amp track, but i didn't (lost the reamp male xlr cable :( ). So these variables should be taken into account.


Clip 1: In this clip you'll hear the sound of a single guitar track. The first half is clean, the second with distortion. There's a total of 4 riffs. Clean Riff 1 is miced with Shure SM57, Clean Riff 2 with the FAME MS 57, Distorted Riff 1 - SM57, Distorted Riff 2 - MS 57.
Both clean sounds sound pretty similar to me. The sound miced by the fame mic is louder and has in my subjective opinion less detail. But it could be, that i played the clean riff different while micing with Fame. On the distorted side of things, we will notice a significant sound coloration if comparing to the shure. But still bear in mind, the second clip is louder!


Clip 2: Same material as in the first clip, but with both tracks doubled. The input levels are kept untouched and were not adjusted to the same level. There's a total of 4 riffs. Clean Riff 1 is miced with Shure SM57, Clean Riff 2 with the FAME MS 57, Distorted Riff 1 - SM57, Distorted Riff 2 - MS 57.
I actually have similar impressions from this clip, with the exception, that the distorted part miced by the fame 57 has even more differing character. Not in a bad way however.



Now let's get to how those mics will sound in a mix. Ok, it's not really a mix, it's just a drum part taken from a software drum machine with a bass guitar. I did not mix anything.


Clip 3: Same guitar tracks as in Clip 2, but with drums and bass guitar. The levels still remain untouched. There's a total of 4 riffs. Clean Riff 1 is miced with Shure SM57, Clean Riff 2 with the FAME MS 57, Distorted Riff 1 - SM57, Distorted Riff 2 - MS 57.
Here we still hear the difference in volume and in coloration, but due to masking from drums and bass guitars, they become slightly less obvious.



Clip 4: Same track as Clip 3, but with all guitars adjusted to equal level. There's a total of 4 riffs. Clean Riff 1 is miced with Shure SM57, Clean Riff 2 with the FAME MS 57, Distorted Riff 1 - SM57, Distorted Riff 2 - MS 57.
In my opinion the sound difference becomes barely audible in the mix by now.



Clip 5: Here are some distorted guitar track recorded on significantly higher levels, than the first 4 clips. The first half of the clip is with levels untouched, the second part (after a solo drum beat) is loudness adjusted. Here The first riff from the first half is the sound of the FAME MS 57, the second riff of the first hald is the sound of the Shure SM57. In the Second half Fame comes first, Shure second as well.

In the second half of the clip, where guitars are adjusted to the same loudness lrevel the difference is really small. During the recording i noticed, that the signal that indicated green to few yellow peaks on the input indicator with the shure, was always on yellow/red with the fame. This means, that the recording of the Fame MS 57 actually contains overloads. These can be just barely heard, because of heavily distorted guitar sound, but seen on the pictures posted earlier.


CONCLUSION

You listen to the sound samples and you be the judge. To be honest, if someone would show me those tracks, not telling me where's the Shure and where's the Fame, i wouldn't tell which mic is which. We heard, that even on high levels of recording the Fame MS 57 has done well, despite of the fact that it is obviously louder than the state of the art Shure SM57. It does have slightly different coloration, but 2 shure sm57 would probably have these as well.  The only concern is still, how long will the Fame MS 57 live. Only time will let us know, but for now, for guys on a budget i'll tell: You're good to go with the Fame MS 57. For the price of one Shure SM57 you'll get 3 MS 57 by fame + 3 xlr cables and about 15 € for buying a microphone stand. However, this doesn't mean, that i'm selling my shure sm57 and during a recording situation I'll still take the shure sm57 over the fame. Just to make s(h)ure i won't do anything wrong =)))))

I will gladly read your opinions on this!


Stay tuned!


Eugene Getman


8 comments:

  1. Horrible guitar playing, paired with horrible drums and mixing... not too sure that I can take your opinion or that you've informed me well enough regarding Fame vs Shure.

    And losing a cable isn't an excuse to not reamp - it's an excuse to be lazy. Get out your soldering iron and solder a pair of connections in any case.

    If you're going to do something and post it on the internet with your name, might as well do it right!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 3 years later and still waiting on your attempts to be helpful Mr Vella as Eugene has been
      ian
      and apologies if you are Ms not Mr

      Delete
    2. 3 years later and still waiting on your attempts to be helpful Mr Vella as Eugene has been
      ian
      and apologies if you are Ms not Mr

      Delete
  2. Hello E. Vella. Thank you for your reply. I'm sorry to read that you didn't like the article. However the point of the article was not about playing or mixing. It is a microphone comparison. I agree that it would be better if all tracks would be done with a single reamp track, but even without it the difference between the mics was shown clearly, both through sound and graphics. It was my inention not to mix the track, because applying eq & compression to the guitar tracks would rather confuse the listener than help with the comparison.

    Cheers,

    Eugene

    ReplyDelete
  3. In "blind listening", Fame actually sounded slightly better for me.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you for your post!!

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  5. It's nice to see an honest review once in a while. I have two ms57's that i use for quick demorecordings and they serve me well. It's also the way you keep your stuff and clean that determines the lifespan of a product

    I get fed up sometimes with al these so called super-audioengineers on al the big forums who are all nagging on cheaper mics. If you believe them they would bring 2000 dollar mics to a local pubshow.If Paul Mccartney or Pink Floyd used a ms57 everyone would call it "experimental"

    A good engineer is determined by the way he works, not by tools he uses. Leonardo da Vinci was a masterinventer because he was creative, not because he used the most expensive paintbrush.

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  6. I'd just like to add two points: SM57 ist official gear, and it's neccessary to regard crosstalk damping. Means: if you use a SM57 for recording and it doesn't sound good, the source is crap, not the mic. And second point comes up if you record complex instruments like drums, where insteady direction-depending damping can create complex phase mud.

    ReplyDelete