I often get asked the question, “Should I buy a Shure SM58 or a RODE NT1-A for my first vocal microphone?”.
The answer is it depends, though you probably should have both.
Yep, a bit of a cop-out of a response. But hear me out…
The Shure SM58 is a dynamic microphone and the RODE NT-1A is a large diaphragm condenser. Two very different microphones that will work better or worse across different applications.
Where will you be recording most of your performances? The Shure SM58 and RODE NT-1A each work better in different environments.
Will you be getting hands-on with the microphone? You (probably) can’t handle a RODE NT1-A as you would with a Shure SM58.
Do you have a certain ‘sound’ in mind? They each have very audible differences in their tonal characteristics.
So if you’re reading this, chances are that you’re looking to buy your first vocal microphone and wondering how to begin your journey into professional home recording.
As the Shure SM58 and Rode NT1-A are both considered to be the benchmark in respect to price and popularity among home studio owners, this article will help you decide on which is best for your home studio based on how you work (because everyone is different).
Shure SM58 VS RODE NT-1A? Read This Before You Buy
While the question of “whether you should buy a Shure SM58 vs RODE NT-1A” is certainly a valid one, it is almost akin to comparing apples and oranges.
The Shure SM58 is a professional cardioid dynamic microphone, and the RODE NT-1A is a large-diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone.
It is difficult to apply hard-and-fast rules to condenser vs dynamic microphones, because simply put, general rules don’t really apply when there are hundreds if not thousands of microphones in each category to choose from, each with their own personalities and characteristics.
That being said, this article is about comparing the Shure SM-58 and RODE NT-1A, so let’s hone in on which is best for your personal recording situation.
Can your audio interface/soundcard supply phantom power (+48v)?
Shure’s blog has a great explanation of what ‘phantom power’ is.
Phantom Power is a term given to the process of delivering DC (Direct Current) to microphones requiring electric power to drive active circuitry.
Like many other condenser microphones, the RODE NT-1A can only be used with audio interfaces that can supply phantom power.
The Shure SM58, on the other hand, does not require phantom power to be used. So, if your audio interface lacks the capability to power +48v, and you are unwilling to upgrade, the Shure SM58 will be the option for you.
The last thing you’ll want to do is have a RODE NT-1A delivered to your doorstep, only to realize you can’t use it.
The RODE-NT1A will be more sensitive to environmental sounds
The RODE NT-1A is naturally a much more sensitive microphone than the SM58. What this means is that if you have a room that sounds poorly, it is going to capture that in the recording far more audibly than an SM58 will.
Also, if you live in a very noisy area with lots of traffic, or live in something like a shophouse or farm — the RODE NT-1A may be a poor choice as all that unwanted, background noise will likely be captured in your recording.
The lowdown? Go for the Shure SM58 or another similar equivalent if you will be recording in noisy spaces or bad sounding rooms.
Will you be using the microphone in a ‘live’ context?
The Shure SM58 has been designed with the live performer in mind, though this is by no means a hard-and-fast rule.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen this microphone used countless times by performers worldwide. That’s because they are rugged and can withstand high amounts of sound pressure levels (SPL).
Musicians swing them over their heads by the cable, shove them in their mouths, and do all sorts of reckless shit with them – because they can. Shure even goes as far to describe them as “virtually indestructible”, which honestly is hard to argue against.
They both have wildly different tonal characteristics
Something to consider with the RODE NT-1A is its ability to pick up a wider frequency and transient response. Compared to the Shure SM58, they are much more sensitive. Here are the specs of each, in regards to its frequency response:
Frequency response refers to a microphone’s ability to reproduce frequencies across the audio spectrum.
This is part of the reason I own and like using both. I’ll use a RODE NT-1A for my main vocal lines, and experiment by recording backup vocals/doubles with the Shure SM58 to achieve a sound that sits ‘in its own space’. This creates a distinctive sound between the main vocal melodies and adlibs which I enjoy the sound of.
For most studio applications, it is safe to bet that many producers would opt for the RODE NT-1A in most circumstances. Though, that is not to say you can’t get a fantastic recording out of an SM58.
Will you be recording anything else besides vocals?
The RODE NT-1A will work well across most instruments with a wide frequency range/timbre. So, if you’re looking to record guitars as well, the versatility of the RODE NT-1A may be a very attractive feature.
That being said, for some applications, you don’t always require a microphone with a wide frequency and transient response. Some instruments such as snare drums can benefit from sounding a little more ‘natural’ in its tone due to the slower transient response offered from the SM58.
As a final note, both of these microphones have been hailed as workhorses in the industry for decades. Neither will make or break your career, but understanding your needs and choosing the right microphone off the bat will get you that one step closer to the sound you want to achieve. And that is the ultimate goal here.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let me know which microphone you ended up going with, what your thoughts on either of them are. Feel free to ask any questions as well.