In recent years, the Shure Beta 58A (dynamic) and Beta 87 (condenser) microphones have become very popular choices for live vocals. At the same time, the venerable SM58 has continued to appear on stages as a less sonically aggressive and less expensive alternative to the aforementioned Beta mics. Just as the Beta 87 is the articulate sister to the Beta 58A, the Shure SM86 is a more detailed companion to the SM58 with a less aggressive sound and lower price tag than the Beta mics.
Product PointsApplications:Live sound
Key Features: Cardioid pattern; condenser element; ships with stand clip and adapter
Contact: Shure at 800-257-4873, Web Site.
The SM86 is billed as an extremely rugged handheld mic that can withstand road abuse and deliver studio quality sound. It is a cardioid condenser with a frequency response of 50 Hz – 18 kHz and a max SPL rating of 147 dB (1 kHz, 1% THD). The response graph shows a well-defined presence peak that begins around 1 kHz and crescendos at about +7 dB at 8 kHz. At the same time, the mic has a significant bass rolloff that is claimed to counteract proximity effect. The SM86 features the traditional SM series colors (gray body, silver grille) and it measures 7.2 inches long and 1.92 inches wide at the grille’s widest point. The mic weighs 9.8 ounces and it comes with a stand clip, a bag and a threaded stand adapter (5/8-inch to 3/8-inch). The whole package has a list price of $300.
I had the chance to use the SM86 on a variety of live sound gigs and I also spent some time scrutinizing it in my studio. My first opportunity to evaluate the mic came with a big band that I work with occasionally. The bandleader is the clarinet player and he prefers a stand-mounted microphone to a clip on.
Unfortunately, he tends to stray off axis while he plays and always seems perplexed when he can’t hear his horn in the monitor. Of course, the simplest solution would be to have him keep the clarinet in front of the mic but as we know, some performers can be set in their ways and resistant to change. While I frequently employ hyper and supercardioid mics on the live sound stage, this seemed like an instance that, due to the mic’s more liberal pickup pattern, was ripe for using the cardioid SM86. In this instance, the SM86 was a definite improvement over the hypercardioid I was using. The clarinet sounded great on axis with lots of breathy detail and a reasonable amount of proximity effect. At the same time, the SM86 could still amplify the horn even when the player would turn moderately off axis. Granted this was not an optimal sound but it was certainly an improvement over the results I achieved with the hypercardioid.
Next, I used the SM86 for vocals on another live show. I was doing sound for a Bulgarian rock band, Signal. These guys were very popular in Bulgaria in the 80s and they are currently touring North America. They are a powerful rock/pop group with drums, bass, guitar, keys and the bass player singing lead. While the SM86 sounded great-it had a very detailed sound with a clean, crisp top end-it struggled to achieve ample stage volume in this loud rock band setting with blaring floor monitors. I ended up using a Beta 58 instead. Later, I used the SM86 while working with a local folk singer. In this more subdued setting, the SM86 really shined. On male vocals, it displayed a smooth, extended high frequency response and a clear, uncluttered bass. I did a quick comparison to an SM58 and the 86 demonstrated much more detail than its dynamic stable mate.
The SM86 is a great choice for articulate sounding vocals and certain instruments. It has a very detailed sound that is crisp and pleasant. Without the aggressive upper-mids of the Beta mics, the SM86 is by nature, more appropriate for quiet stages where detail is more important than volume. At just $300, the mic is an affordable entry into the world of handheld condensers.