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December 2014
Issue: February 1, 2012

Review: Shure KSM42 microphone

By: Luke Harper
PRODUCT: Shure KSM42 mic

WEBSITE: www.shure.com

PRICE: Streets for around $999

- Warm yet honest. Like Dr. Huxtable.
- Quiet, in the way you want gear to ideally be.
- Can be punched directly in the face. Exceptionally tough.

Shure long ago reached the point where one wouldn’t expect them to do anything rash or ill-advised. They have a sterling reputation that has been cultivated and maintained since 1925, which is forever-ever, in an industry where n0obs pop up every 10 minutes with some neat piece of fun. 

Anyway, this is what was going through my head as I pulled the Neumann U87 out of my booth and put in the KSM42. I do around 20 voiceovers a month, and am pretty accustomed to the 87 and its versatility. Was this to be an embarrassing mistake? A “hang on, that mic doesn’t suit your tone, gimme a sec while I switch it out, thanks” moment? In front of the producer and his minions? It helped, I suppose, that I knew the talent pretty well. Helluva guy. So caution to the wind, and out of the packaging it came.

Before I get into the general “mic-ness” of it, the actual physical item that is the KSM42 should be commented on. It’s about the size of a Sennheiser 421, but heavy. When you first grab it you do a weird mental double take as you move it up and down in your hand, remarking on its heft. Solid, thick, heavy, really nice. It’s a uniform light charcoal grey, and looks pretty serious. It comes in a lovely little box with a shock mount and a magnetic pop filter, which is new to me. Are other companies doing this? Designing the pop filter to magnetically latch on to the body of the mic? No idea. I’ll have to experiment with how to distance the filter so I can do cute stuff like throwing a pencil in there for particularly egregious popper stopping.



THE SOUND & FEEL

So up it went. My signal chain for this particular job was a Great River pre through an EL8 Empirical Labs Distressor — with the EL8 set to barely brush at 3:1. Everything was flat, no loading or harmonicing (sure, that’s a word) or impedance twiddling. The talent was a male VO who has been around the block a few times. The script was 17 pages, so there was a LOT of material to chug through. It was the first time he was seeing most of it, so there was a lot of head up, head down, read talk, read talk, action going on. Which brings in a key feature of the mic: it is a dual-diaphragm cardioid condenser. The sweet spot is a good two-feet around, so tonal inconsistencies were impressively minimal. We all have those incredibly expressive vocalists as well — the type that feel the music and are all over the booth. There’s limits to everything, but the KSM42 really does a lovely job in ameliorating the issue. The design also greatly cuts down on plosives, so it turns out the pencil trick issue is moot. You don’t have to fiddle and tweak a great deal with your results, which we can all appreciate. 

The mic doesn’t go for hyper-sensitivity, the results of which are apparent in both self-noise and frequency response. It isn’t shiveringly crisp on the highs, which is just fine with me. We all have a few mics in this price range that love to bring forth the demons of sibilance, so this was a pretty refreshing sound.

On this particular talent it was a tad thick, highlighting the 150-400Hz area. Nothing drastic. Nothing problematic. Just characteristic. Sonically, I would describe it as quiet, warm and pretty honest. The lack of hyper-sensitivity also contributes to the low self-noise. You have to turn your gain up a little, but you aren’t bringing up the noise floor when you do unless you really push it harder than any normal situation would require. It picked up what I wanted it to and when I wanted it to, and I didn’t have to slice or gate as much as I normally do. 

Next up was a female vocalist of the jazz persuasion. Her tone can be very rounded and thick, which is her appeal. The mic performed exactly as it should. I actually ended up boosting a molecule of 5K to taste, but left the bottom completely alone. Since it seems to subtly enjoy the low-mid range a little more than others, one instrument you could conceivably throw it on would be an upright bass. You could even throw it on a cab, were you so inclined, but be aware: this thing is NOT designed for high SPLs, and Shure is very up-front about that. Not that the mic is wimpy, by any means — it actually passes the Shure SM57 torture tests, which is really, really impressive. In order to verify this I beat it with a drum stick and then had an intern drop it down the stairs without telling me. Not really. You should see the stuff I have to sign. Anyway, good on them for ensuring the longevity of their products.

FINAL THOUGHTS

When Shure says, “optimized for world-class vocal recording and performance applications” they really mean it. And I can appreciate that — I like a niche mic. There’s something weirdly comforting about the thought that I could throw this thing in front of 90 percent of the vocalists that wander in and be perfectly satisfied with the results. It’s a vocal mic. A jack-of-one-trade, albeit a very effective one, both cost- and performance-wise.

Luke Harper is the Owner of Audio Altimeter in Minneapolis (www.audioaltimeter.com).