Shure hid a preamp inside its latest SM7dB microphone

And bravo to whoever came up with the name.

Photo by James Trew / Engadget

Even if you’ve never heard of Shure’s SM7B, you’ve almost certainly heard the SM7B. From live radio to podcasting and streaming, the sleek, black microphone can be found hanging in front of mouths, delivering its trademark broadcast sound. Today, Shure is unveiling the latest edition — the SM7dB — to celebrate the microphone’s 50th anniversary. It also happens to solve one of the mic’s biggest pain points (the clue is in its name). The $499 Shure SM7dB comes with a built-in preamp that adds either 18- or 28dB of much-needed gain.

The SM7B famously needs a lot of amplification which can lead to quiet audio or an undesirable “hiss” on inferior preamps. To solve this, people often purchase an in-line preamp such as a FetHead or a CloudLifter — which is an additional $100 or so on top of the $399 SM7B.

The SM7dB eliminates the need for additional hardware and also promises a “clean” boost in volume. What’s more, it does this without adding any significant size or a change in form factor. To be clear, the new microphone is a shade longer than its un-amplified counterpart. And there’s a minor cosmetic change from the sleek, stealthy matte black to a slightly shinier paintjob. There’s also a glossy “Shure” logo now on the microphone body which makes the whole thing look a bit less cool if you ask me but you might not be so sensitive to such things.

The addition of a preamp brings with it some other practical changes. The classic SM7B has two switches on its rear: a high pass filter and a mid-frequency boost. The SM7dB still has those, but there are two more switches — one for bypassing the preamp and the other for toggling between the amount of gain (the aforementioned 18- and 28-dB boosts).

Rear view of Shure's SM7dB microphone with built-in preamp.
Photo by James Trew / Engadget

When “bypass” is activated, the SM7dB acts as a regular dynamic microphone and won’t need phantom power. Once you activate that preamp though, you’ll need to supply 48v to drive the preamp. The vast majority of audio interfaces with an XLR input will also supply phantom power, so there’s no issue here but if you're used to working with dynamic microphones and the mild convenience of not having to think about phantom power, just know there's a slight workflow change here.

One of the main benefits of a dynamic microphone is its noise rejection —- they're much more forgiving on background noise or the sound of passing traffic, for example. Thankfully, the built-in preamp here doesn't change that as the microphone still works as a dynamic should (unlike condensor microphones that need phantom power to work and are much more sensitive).

With the full 28dB of gain applied, I initially thought there was some audible noise when recording silence, but it quickly became clear that with all that extra gain and my audio interface set to record at full volume it was simply just too loud and was picking up more ambient noise — it would have been far too loud if I had started speaking into it. Once the levels were adjusted accordingly, the noise floor disappeared.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, without any preamp turned on, the new SM7dB sounds near identical to its legacy sibling. I tested both via a Rodecaster Duo which has ample gain to drive these microphones on its own. However, when I tested both of the SM7dB’s preamp settings (while lowering the gain on the Rodecaster accordingly) the output remained just as clear and noise free with no obvious change in character — which is exactly what Shure was going for.

A press photo of the Shure SM7dB shows the microphone hanging from a boom arm.

The obvious downside is that, the SM7dB costs about $100 more than the regular SM7B. That’s a decent amount more, especially if you don’t really need the preamp but are maybe hoping to future-proof your setup, or just upgrade to the newest model. On the other hand, if you were going to buy an SM7B knowing you’d also need a separate preamp then the new model costs about the same as buying both separately.

Given the sheer popularity of the SM7B, the new edition should be well received. Not least because of the obvious advantage of it being louder, but for a more practical, if slightly superficial reason, too. That being that the design of the SM7B puts the XLR port facing either directly up or down on most boom arms or mic stands (rather than perpendicular) which certain inline preamps can look a little, well, ridiculous sticking out of the top or bottom. With the SM7dB, then, you can possibly eliminate one more visual distraction from your streams. Whatever your motivation for considering the new microphone, it's available starting today.