Hands-On Review:Sure Things- Shure KSM27 and KSM137 condenser microphones
Shure built its rep as a top pro-sound manufacturer on the strength of classic dynamic microphones like the SM57 and SM58. In recent years, the company's mic roster has expanded to include a number of affordable large- and small-diaphragm condensers.
The two latest entries in the Shure KSM line are the large-diaphragm KSM27 and the small-diaphragm KSM137. We had a chance to test both in various situations, and found each to be fine performers that offer outstanding value.
The large-diaphragm KSM27 is a side-address condenser mic with a fixed, cardioid polar pattern. It sports a one-inch, ultrathin gold-plated Mylar diaphragm, which is designed to offer quick transient response. This allows the mic to cover the large-diaphragm condenser's traditional territory (which includes vocals and featured tracks like electric guitar amp) as well as sources like percussion.
Controls include a -15dB pad (useful if the input source is very loud) and a three-position low-frequency control that toggles between flat response; a cut filter with an 18dB/octave cut at 80Hz; and a gentler 6dB/octave roll-off at 115Hz. This is especially useful for taming stage rumble or other low-frequency issues. The fact that the KSM27 offers an internal shock mount-and also comes with a sturdy external shock mount-doesn't hurt. Although most at home in the studio, this mic can be used onstage as well.
I tested the KSM27 on a male vocalist, an electric guitar and drums, and I liked the results with each of the three signals. The mic sounded warm on the session singer, bringing out the resonance of his voice without sounding dull or dark. And because the KSM27 can handle Sound Pressure Levels (SPLs) up to 138dB, it can tackle a loud amp or drum kit with ease. I especially liked the KSM27 on toms, where it captured the drums' attack and midrange resonance.
The KSM137 is an end-address mic and, like the KSM27, has an ultrathin, gold-plated Mylar diaphragm with a cardioid polar pattern. It can handle SPLs up to 145dB (depending on the impedance of your mic preamp), and its three-position attenuation switch lets you pad the mic by -15 and -25dB, allowing you to mic just about any source this side of Cape Canaveral. The low-frequency switch offers the same curves as its KSM27 counterpart. Sturdily built (I've never seen a Shure product that wasn't), the KSM137 comes with a case that holds the mic, clip and windscreen.
Pencil mics like the KSM137 are a guitarist's best friend. They're great for acoustic guitar and offer a viable alternative to dynamic mics. In addition to being great for miking cabinets, they have a fast attack that makes them ideal for tracking percussion and drum overheads.
I tested the KSM137 on cymbal overheads, a guitar amp and a Taylor acoustic guitar. It worked well on the overheads, but I liked it best on the two guitar sources. When miking the amp, I set the mic both extremely close to the speaker and about a foot away from it, and both positions produced useful sounds. The latter seemed to have a little more clarity, while the close position offered plenty of midrange punch.
The KSM137 really shone when used on the Taylor, where the mic's fast response and low self-noise (a quality shared by the KSM27) let the subtleties of the acoustic shine through. The KSM's tight, smooth midrange perfectly captured the jangle and detail of the guitar, and helped it sit nicely in a dense rock mix. Thanks to the low-frequency roll-off switch and a tight polar pattern, the KSM137 would also be effective onstage for a range of instrument sources (purists would likely enjoy it much better than a typical piezo pickup for acoustic guitar).
Note that the KSM137 is actually one of three new Shure small-diaphragm condensers, each of which shares the same basic design. The other entries are the KSM141, which offers switchable polar patterns, and the entry-level KSM109, which has the same basic features but with a one-position pad switch and no roll-off switch.
The Bottom Line
Earlier entries in the KSM series have become sleeper mics among engineers thanks to their good sound, versatility and value. The KSM27 and KSM137 continue in the same vein. Both are solid performers that should stand up to years of use. A pleasure to operate, they are highly recommended.
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