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Shure Beta 181 Microphone Review

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Shure Beta 181 Microphone Review

Shure Beta 181/C Microphone

Courtesy Shure, Inc.

The Bottom Line

The Shure Beta 181 is an excellent microphone, combining low-profile design characteristics with excellent sound quality and top-notch build quality. While it's not the cheapest in it's class ($499 MSRP new), it's a truly utilitarian microphone that's well-suited for any recording or live sound reinforcement application. There's nothing better than a great microphone for a fair price that exceeds your expectations -- and the Shure Beta 181 certainly falls into that category. With a round, full, accurate sound signature, the Beta 181, especially in stock cardioid mode, is a top-notch addition to anyone's mic pack.
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  • Side-address, low-profile design.
  • Similar sound signature to legendary SM81.
  • Robust build quality.
  • Interchangeable capsules


  • Some mild handling noise.
  • Requires clean phantom power.
  • Slightly more expensive than competition.


  • Side-address, low-profile condenser microphone.
  • Cardioid capsule stock; omni, figure-8, and supercardioid capsules available separately.
  • Max SPL in Cardioid mode: 151db at 2500 ohms.
  • 55 decibels rear rejection (cardioid mode).
  • Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz

Guide Review - Shure Beta 181 Microphone Review

Low-profile microphones are extremely useful. I can't tell you how many times I've been in a recording session or in a field recording situation and I've been disappointed at how poorly my standard-sized, standard-shaped microphones have fared when I need to stick them somewhere with a tight fight; it's generally a pain in the neck to try to position microphones when you're working with limited space. Over the years, several manufacturers have tried to ease small-space-recording pains, but the systems they've designed -- small microphone capsules with preamp-extension cables or 90-degree swivel necks -- have generally been unreliable, not to mention expensive. Enter the Shure Beta 181/C, the cardioid-capsule version of Shure's new Beta 181.

The 181/C is an exceptional microphone, based in part off of Shure's legendary SM81 condenser microphone. The SM81 is one of those utility microphones that you'll find in every serious microphone collection around the world. It's a stellar mic on high-hat, cymbals, acoustic instruments, and for ambient recording. The only drawback to the SM81 is that it's long and obtrusive; it's really hard to use the SM81 for low-profile applications. Enter the 181/C.

The 181/C is an impressive little microphone, around the size of a standard Shure SM57, but with a small-diaphragm condenser capsule mounted in a side-address configuration. The standard capsule with the 181 is the cardioid capsule, but omnidirectional, figure-8, and supercardioid capsules are all available separately, as well. Capsule change is very easy -- simply unscrew the stock capsule, and install the pattern you'd like to use. Very simple, and all of the patterns sounded fantastic (now that I've heard the 181's figure 8 capsule, I'd love to try a pair in mid-side configuration).

The 181, in cardioid mode, has a frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz, a pencil-flat response perfect for a variety of applications. I tried the 181/C on overheads, high-hat, acoustic guitar, and on an electric guitar amp, and each time, I was blown away with the results. The sound signature has a crisp, open sound, with a solid low end and a crispy (without being brittle) high end. Mid-range was warm, accurate, and without harsh spikes in the upper-mids, as you'll find with some value-priced microphones.

I'm giving the Shure Beta 181/C four stars; it's an excellent buy, and despite the mid-range price, it's a truly utilitarian product with many uses. The Shure Beta 181 requires phantom power from your mixer or recording interface, and comes conveniently packaged with a mic clip, a zippered pouch, and a windscreen, for use outdoors or with vocalists. With a retail price of $499, the 181/S is an excellent microphone -- and an excellent venue. It's truly earned it's place as one of my "Swiss Army knife" microphones, as it's proven it's worth in many different situations.

The 181/C is available now from Shure retailers worldwide.
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