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This article was originally published in issue #38
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I’m pretty certain that I still have every mic I’ve everbought, and probably a few others too. We all know that a great and classic mic can last a lifetime and do lots of wonderful things, but the simple fact of life is that sometimes you don’t need that one great mic, you need a few decent mics, or perhaps you just want something different.
Shure’s PG ALTA series of microphones provide entry-level options for a wide range of jobs. We can take a fair guess that some, like the PGA57 and PGA58 are based on older, iconic Shure mics, whilst others like the PGA181 appear to be new designs. There are currently (I think) ten different microphones and three mic kits available, so I’ve selected three of the mics to take a look at and a listen to. Check out the video with this review for sound samples.
According to the Shure website the PGA57 is “Best suited for” electric guitar, and “Also great for” Snare, Toms and Brass - which is about what we probably expected. Compared to an SM57 it’s a bit less sensitive, a bit lighter in the bottom end, and has a similar sort of peak around the 6kHz mark (I’m looking at the traces on the website here - I didn’t actually measure it). Does it sound the same? Well, it’s in the same ballpark and I’d certainly be happy to use it for the same sort of job, especially as it costs about 2/3 of the price of the SM model and half the price of the Beta57 (which it actually looks more like)!
Of the three mics I tested the PGA27 fixed-cardioid, large diaphragm condenser is by far the most neutral sounding. It’s more sensitive with a flatter frequency response and stronger low-frequency response than either the PGA57 or the PGA181, has a switchable -15dB pad and low-cut filter, and it’s happy with loud sources (130dBSPL without the pad, 145 with). The product description pitches it for speech, acoustic guitar, strings and brass, as well as vocals, hi-hats, drum overheads and other acoustic instruments. I’d use it as a very decent general purpose daily-workhorse mic that you could use on just about anything and get good results.
I have to admit that I sort of fell for the looks of the PGA181 straight out of the case; it’s small, distinctive, and like all the PGA mics it feels like quality in your hand. It falls between the 57 and the 27 models in several ways (sensitivity, frequency response, maximum sound pressure levels, cost). Its sound has more colour than the PGA27, but not to the extreme where it becomes too restricted in what you could do with it. In some ways this may be the more limited of the three mics I tried, but also possibly my favourite.
If none of the mics I’ve mentioned here seem to do quite what you need, then check out the rest of the PG ALTA series;
There are condenser and dynamic mics for instruments, vocals and some drum-specific models (though “drum” mics can sound wonderful on other sources too) with a good range of mounts including stand and gooseneck clips. Specifications vary by model, and whilst noise and sensitivity figures are not world-class, they are certainly plenty good for just about anything you’d want to do in music or speech recording (or sound reinforcement).
So many manufacturers now make cost-effective microphones that it can be difficult to know where to start to look. There are a few microphones available that are bit cheaper, but certainly all of the mics and mounting hardware in the case that I got to review felt and looked extremely solid and well made, and Shure seems to have pulled off the pretty neat trick of producing to a price whilst still keeping real character in the products. And they say “Shure” on the side!
This is a well specified and priced range of microphones and it's apparent that Shure has responded very well to the challenge from other manufacturers who have offered cut price Shure lookalikes. Compromises have been made, inevitably, but they are minimal and the sturdiness and reliability that has always been a Shure trademark seems to have been retained. If you were looking to equip a new project studio this would be a sensible place to start. The same would be true for a band looking to build up a reliable, roadworthy selection of mics for PA use and, of course, this being Shure, quite a few in the wide range will handle both duties with ease.