George Petersen is SVC's Senior Consulting Editor. He grew up in Italy, where he performed in rock bands, opening for acts such as The Searchers. Returning to America for...more

Shure Model 55: Still Cool After All These Years

shure-55-collage.jpgAFTER MORE THAN 70 YEARS IN PRODUCTION, Shure’s Unidyne 55 series easily takes the prize for the longest running, most successful product in audio history. The story begins in 1937 with Shure engineer Benjamin Bauer looking for a single-capsule approach to creating a unidirectional microphone.

He experimented with capsules having front and rear openings that allowed sound waves to reach the diaphragm. Partially blocking the rear openings created a short phase delay that effectively cancelled the sounds from the rear. Varying the rear port resistance created various directional patterns—cardioid, hypercardioid and supercardioid—and the Unidyne was born. In 1939, Shure announced its model Unidyne 55.

The model 55 was an immediate hit. With its clear sound, high feedback resistance and rugged dynamic capsule the 55 became accepted as a standard for decades to come. Numerous improvements followed, and with its popularity in the early days of rock, the 55 eventually took on the nickname “the Elvis mic,� even being immortalized on a portrait of The King on a U.S. postage stamp in 1994. With retro looks fully in vogue, Shure rechristened the mic as the 55SH Series II in 1996, bearing the model 55S body introduced in 1951, but with a modern SM48-style element. And like the 1939 version, the 55SH Series II was also a hit, with the showing up on stages, music videos, movies, TV shows—just about everywhere.

Now, the 55 enters its latest generation as the Super 55, which keeps the cool chrome-plated, die-cast zinc body, but updates the mic with a new supercardioid capsule based on Shure’s successful Beta 58A. The Super 55 has a sensitivity of -53 dBV/Pa, resulting an output that’s approximately 5dB hotter than that of the 55SH II for increased gain-before-feedback. As another plus, the frequency response extends out to 17kHz, providing some extra air and articulation. At the other end, the Super 55’s bass response is smoother and seems more controlled, while the mic retains the 6k to 7 kHz presence boost that helps vocals cut through the mix. One change I appreciated was the omission of the on/off switch, which more often than not, would inadvertently get switched off, leaving vocalists starting a show with no audio. I’m definitely a fan of the “no switch/no problem� approach.

With its blue internal foam windscreen, the Super 55 retails at $311 ($249/street) and the original SH55 II remains in production at $199. And just last week, Shure announced the Special Edition Super 55 ($299 retail) a version with striking black body and red windscreen and offered exclusively through Guitar Center. But whichever model you pick, Shure is definitely making it easy to stay cool this summer.

Click here for more info on the Shure Super 55.

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George Petersen is an internationally recognized expert on audio production; he has written five books and more than 1,000 articles and lectured worldwide; he has been a writer and editor for SVC for 10 years and a leading voice at Mix since 1981. As an IATSE Journeyman, he has done sound reinforcement, 35/70mm motion picture projection, Dolby Stereo theater installs and film/video production. He also operates a record label, ASCAP publishing company, 24-track recording studio, and performs with the Bay Area rock ensemble ARIEL.
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