Surviving the Shure Microphone Test Gauntlet: Sweat, Extreme Heat, and More

Shure’s meticulous attention to durability can be traced back to World War II when Shure Brothers Incorporated became one of the prime suppliers of military microphones.

For Mr. Shure, this was a formidable responsibility. The safety of military personnel depended upon the proper operation of acoustical devices that bore the name of Shure. Needless to say, with the stakes so high – every component great and small became subject to strict quality regulation.

When World War II ended, Shure decided to keep using military quality specifications. The higher quality specifications resulted in lower scrap rates during manufacturing, fewer repairs, and improved product reliability.

shure-mic-durability

Today, Shure have turned a passion for reliable audio into a science; every product is subjected to a stress-test gauntlet – some procedures described below:

Essentially, we test until something breaks, make any necessary improvements and then we keep going until it can’t be fixed anymore. Once we’re done, we can be confident the product is ready for what the world can throw at it.

The level of testing is very comprehensive, and involves a brutal quality testing procedure including extreme heat, freezing, synthetic sweat, and, of course, the famous drop test.

It’s not just the ubiquitous SM58 either; all Shure products are put through a strict and thorough regime. In fact, the standard is so high that our condenser mics are just as durable.

Let’s look at some of the tests in detail:

The Drop Test

Each mic is dropped at least ten times onto a wooden platform from a starting height of six feet. The platform is similar to the floor of a conventional stage, which helps to simulate the typical impact of a mic being knocked over during a performance.

What’s interesting about the SM58 is how the grill design acts like a shock absorber when it dents. The grill on your SM58 is actually designed to dent. By making the metal relatively soft, the grill acts like crumple zones on a car to absorb impact and protect the precious capsule inside. Once the grill becomes unsightly, replacements are cheap and easy to replace.

Sweat Test

Prolonged exposure to sweat can damage electrical connections, switches, and paint. Therefore, considering live performance can be sweaty business, it’s important we test meticulously for sweat resistance.

To determine sweat durability, Shure have developed a custom synthetic sweat solution and products are typically exposed to a sweat bath for up to 48 hours.

Temperature Test

In addition to the delightful sweat test, microphones spend time inside temperature-controlled chambers. They look like refrigerators, but in addition to creating freezing cold conditions (below -100C), they can be cranked up to extremely hot temperatures.

All our microphones are expected to survive and still function after the above processes are completed.

HALT Chamber

HALT is short for ‘highly accelerated life test’. It’s designed to simulate the life time of a mic – battering it until it breaks. Using the HALT chamber we can see what breaks and then determine exactly which components failed first. The whole process gives us a pretty good idea of how far the product can be pushed, but also allows us to identify areas for engineering improvements.

Anechoic Chamber

Finally, a first class stress test also requires first class performance testing. Our anechoic chamber allows for completely isolated testing in a room designed to block radio waves in the same way a soundproof chamber blocks external sound.

The chamber also has zero reflections, which aside from making for a really odd space to be in, also enables us to test products in complete isolation – free from external noise sources and reverberation.

Engineering Excellence

Shure owns the most well-equipped microphone design and testing facility in the world. Currently in our 91st year, an obsession with durability that began with World War II is now so deeply engrained in our culture as a company it’s hard to imagine things any other way.

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Marc Henshall

Marc forms part of our Pro Audio team at Shure UK and specialises in Digital Marketing. He also holds a BSc First Class Hons Degree in Music Technology. When not at work he enjoys playing the guitar, producing music, and dabbling in DIY (preferably with a good craft beer or two).

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2 Comments

  • Paul Stefanowicz says:

    I have been using Shure SM58s for 32 years and I have never had one break down. At one time I had about six of them; I now have three.

    The older I have become, the more I have got into recording; and inevitably the SM57 has become one of my priorities. I now own two of those, which I sourced from the used market, in excellent condition.

    Recently, I fell in love with using the SM57 for live vocals because its close-capsule allows me to sing “closer” to the mic without having the soundman wind the gain up too high; it’s really useful for pharyngeal-range singing, where notes are more compressed than in chest range; and we get around the obvious-popping problem with a high-pass filter at around 80 Hz, or so.

    I assume that without the bulbous grille of the SM58, that the SM57 is slightly less robust? I know soundmen that would rather not put a ’57 near a clumsy drummer, instead going for a ’58. Is this level of caution necessary?

    • shureUK says:

      Hi Paul, thanks for your comment. I’m glad the 58 and 57 have served you well all these year’s – it’s always nice to hear stories like that. To answer your question, all Shure mics have to meet the standards of our test described above, but the 58 does benefit from the addition of a ball grille designed to crumple (a bit like car crumple zones). This does make it particularly robust.

      On the other hand, the 57 is still very robust and the swivel grille can still be replaced if damaged. It’s really up to you, but in most cases it should be fine to use a 57 on snare, etc. You’ll get more proximity effect as you know with a 57, but the cartridge design is the same. I believe Primacoustic actually make a ‘crash guard’ to protect mics from careless drummers – try one of these, also. Hope this helps.

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