There are many mics worthy of being in a guitarist’s studio or gig bag. Whether you’re mic’ing a cab, an acoustic soundhole, capturing room vibe, serving vocal duty or maybe a little bit of everything, the sheer number of mics makes the choice daunting. And it doesn’t help that most companies describe most of their mics as being able to handle almost any application.

It’s no wonder so many musicians keep it simple—limiting the breadth of their mic familiarity to those famously affordable sticks, the venerable Shure SM57 and SM58. After all, they’ll get you through many situations while setting you back a mere hundy apiece.

Enter the SM27, Shure’s side-address cardioid condenser that promises to be a worthy candidate for any working guitarist needing a jack-of-all-trades mic in the $300 (street) range. Originally rolled out as the entry-level model in Shure’s studio-leaning KSM line, the 1" diaphragm FET condenser is a good fit for the SM Series with its improved specs, rugged housing and low-key looks.

The SM27 has a 20 Hz to 20 kHz frequency response and an 84.5 dB signal-to-noise ratio. It has a built-in Class A preamp and requires 48-volt phantom power. It’s a quiet mic, with just 9.5 dB of self-noise (the KSM version rated at 14 dB). With three different mesh layers that reduce wind and pops, and a -15 dB pad switch, it can handle SPLs up to 152dB. There’s also a low frequency filter with three positions: flat, an 80 Hz roll-off (via an 18dB octave filter) and a 115 Hz roll-off (via a 6 dB octave filter). The mic is also equipped with an internal shock mount. It comes with a soft gig case and a simple hard mount. (The SM27-SC model comes with a suspension shock mount and a velveteen case.)

Testing, Testing…
Between the -15dB pad and the roll-off options, the SM27 really is like several different mics rolled into one. Right off the bat, the range of nuance this mic translates is impressive without being overbearing. Mic’ing the acoustic soundhole of a Cole Clark Fat Lady II (with somewhat old strings) revealed a full sound and much of the rich character that makes that guitar such a joy to play, but without the overly biting string noise that condensers tend to magnify when gritty strings are involved. Doing the same with an X-Series Martin dreadnought accurately captured the tension between the guitar’s lively unfinished spruce top and the tempered resonance of its HPL back and sides.

The SM27 also worked well with cabs. Attenuating the signal by 15 dB, it bore the SPL brunt of an Orange Tiny Terror combo and an Egnater 4x12 (hooked up to a JTM- 45) and delivered healthy, expressive signals. It did make sense to back the mic up a bit in both cases. At high volumes, being placed 4–6" further back from where a 57 was most effective allowed the SM27’s pronounced bump in the 5 to 8 kHz range find a better balance with the mic’s colorful low-mids.

I didn’t fully appreciate the SM27 until I realized that every situation needed significant experimentation with distance, axis angle, pad, rolloff, and preamp fader manipulation before finding the mic’s own strengths. For example, the SM27 needs more gain on a Digidesign 003 preamp pot than I expected, but once there I didn’t find nearly as much extra noise to deal with that usually tends to come with that side of the taper.

Unexpected Delights
The SM27 worked really well as a bass cab mic, pairing nicely with a Yorkville combo with 15 in it, and a kit cab with four 10s hooked up to a GK Backline 600. I had full control of low-end rumble with the roll-off switch. I’m partial to well-framed bass note articulation with beefy low mids, and this mic dialed it up easily. The SM27 also came in handy during a session with congas where 57s were working nicely on the heads and a Rode NT1-A was doing a great job with room 'verb from a distance. We needed something near the floor by the shells in order to fill out each drum’s low tonal character and the SM27 worked great, even eliminating some ground vibration that two other mics with shock mounts couldn’t eliminate. The mic also worked well for overhead drums, even in a situation when a room’s ceiling was lower than preferred.

The Verdict

The SM27 has a wide vocabulary. It is truly versatile and has a distinct character for every situation. Learning to use that to your advantage—for example, harnessing its pronounced 5 to 8 kHz bump at the right distance in order to elevate your lead sound above the mix—is much more involved than slapping a trustworthy handheld dynamic in that familiar spot on the grill. So, I can’t say this mic is for just anyone. But, depending on your experience and willingness to experiment, this could be the ultimate microphone for a one-mic kind of person with a $300 budget, or a great third mic for someone looking to evolve a beyond the 57 and the 58. In fact, while A/B’ing this mic with a 57 I ended up really liking it how well it worked in concert with a 57.

This SM27 is musical and offers a lot of presence that can coax some nice complexities out of otherwise typical signals. I can’t say I experimented with vocals enough to have found its strong points in that regard, but its applications for guitarists and its general versatility in the studio has me convinced that Shure has designed another microphone worthy of its place in the formidable SM line.

Buy if...
you’re willing to learn what this mic is capable of.
Skip if...
you’re looking for a no-nonsense, one-trick-pony.

Street $299 - Shure -