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Shure Inc. (http://www.shure.com) is a company which is most famous for producing quality microphones, headsets and wireless mics. They have created two almost legendary dynamic microphone models which can be found just everywhere: SM57 for instruments and SM58 for vocals.

For their most popular microphones, especcially their live preformance microphones Shure has three different levels of product. The Performance Gear (or PG), the SM line and the Beta line. The SM line is Shures oldest line, many of the mics in that line have been being made for 20 years or more. Stand outs in that line include the SM57, SM58, SM87 and SM81. As time went on and materials and manufacturing techniques improved it became possible to produce better quality mics. This lead to the Beta line. Standouts in this line include the Beta58 and the Beta52. In the late 90s as more people were building home studios Shure decided to try and get in on the market and came out with their Performance Gear line for the budget concious. With one or two exeptions I think everything in this line is junk.

For the most part you can tell between the three lines at a glance. Once you develop some listening skills and have heard the various mics you'll probably be able to tell the difference by sound as well. The Performance Gear typically has a green ring around the head of the mic (Green and Gear both start with G as a reminder). The Beta mics typically have a Blue Band (Beta = Blue) and the SM gear typically has no band. This is good at a glance but if you want to be sure you should at least look at the name plate on the microphone. The bands have been known to snap, and the heads are often interchangable, so it is possible to make a PG58 look like a Beta58 at glance.

Some notables from Shure's line include

The 57s (PG57, SM57, and Beta57). Typically these are used for micing of brass insturments, and sometimes for the toms and snares of a drum kit. Some people like them for vocals, but I've never been very fond of them in that application.

The 58s (PG58, SM58, and Beta58). As I said before I consider the PG stuff junk. The SM58 is a great run of the mill microphone, you'll see a lot of them all over the place. Stands up to bumps and bruises well and still sounds good. The Beta58 is about as durable and sounds a fair bit better on people with richer voices as well as being capable in my opinion of cleaner sound at higher SPLs than the SM58.

The 81s (PG81, SM81). There is not to my knowledge a Beta version of this mic. The SM81 is generally used a lot for micing woodwinds, as well as the overheads on drum kits.

Shure is also famed for its phono cartridges, which have an ardent following. The company was the first to introduce a stereo cartridge in 1958.

There have been many, many devices designed to take the analog scratch in a vinyl platter and convert it into music, but Shure is among the few names that ring through the history of audiophile endeavor. In a day where you can almost find a CD player in a box of Cracker Jack, people still routinely shell out several hundred dollars for Shure's version of a needle in a paper cup.

The Shure V15 Series of record pickups are a testament to developing design in pursuit of analog reproductive perfection. Since the line was introduced, V15 series phono cartridges have always stood among the best of what was commercially available. Groove-hugging stylus shapes, stong and lightweight cantilevers, superior tracking, and a tiny brush for vibration dampening are notable V15 features. The current version, the V15VxMR, has a highly-polished elliptical diamond stylus with a front radius of 0.003 in. and a side radius of 0.00015 in. It has a tracking force of only one gram.

As long as there is a demand for quality analog music reproduction, there will always be a place for Shure phono cartridges.

mkb reminded me to point out that Shure also makes cartridges for turntablists (turntable artists like mixers, scratchers, and DJs.) These have rounder styli for back-cueing (spinning the record backwards to find the right spot to begin or just to make an interesting sound) and a more robust cantilever and construction to handle the heavy useage.

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