Home Microphone Comparisons Audio Technica AT2020 vs. Shure SM57: Clash Of The Titans

Audio Technica AT2020 vs. Shure SM57: Clash Of The Titans

by Stuart Charles Black
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Greetings mate and Welcome aboard!

Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions, so…

In the world of audio recording and sound engineering, the choice of microphone can be a pivotal decision, greatly influencing the quality and character of the recorded sound.

Two microphones that often find themselves in the spotlight for various recording applications are the Audio Technica AT2020 and the Shure SM57.

These microphones have earned their reputation as versatile and reliable tools in the arsenal of musicians, producers, podcasters, and sound engineers alike.

In this article, we will take an in-depth look at both, exploring their individual characteristics, strengths, and best-use scenarios.

While both microphones are celebrated for their exceptional performance, they cater to different aspects of audio capture, making them suitable for a wide range of applications – some different, some the same.

By delving into the unique features and capabilities of each microphone, we aim to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of how these two popular choices stack up against each other, ultimately helping you make an informed decision when it comes to your specific recording needs.

So, whether you’re a musician searching for the perfect vocal microphone or a sound engineer seeking the ideal instrument mic, read on to discover the distinct qualities that set the Audio Technica AT2020 and Shure SM57 apart in the world of professional audio recording.

Build

Shure SM57 Review

To begin, both the SM57 and AT2020 are incredibly durable mics, but I’ll have to give the nod to the former as being one of the most indestructible pieces of equipment I’ve ever used.

Aside from the fact that it’s pretty well-known how rock solid it is, it’s fallen over countless times on my desk without so much as a single scratch.

This is simply remarkable.

Those reading this may or may not be familiar with HIFIMAN products, but it’s a good example to use.

If you so much as fart in the wrong direction, you can expect the paint to chip on a HIFIMAN headphone. Full stop.

Seriously, I treat those headphones like glass and they still somehow get nicks and scratches in various places.

A Shure SM57? Good luck trying to get it to crumble under pressure.

Because I can assure you of this: It AIN’T Henry Hill in Goodfellas.

 The SM57 is more like a steel anvil.

It’s been said many times before, but it bears repeating; you could literally use this thing to hammer nails and hang pictures on your wall like Biggie.”

 

After reading this sentiment many times on the internet over the past few years, I always thought it was overblown until I bought one for myself and was like, “Wow. Yeah. You really could use this thing to hammer nails and hang pictures on your wall like Biggie.”

AT2020

The AT2020 is also super durable, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable using it to hammer nails and hang pictures on m… Okay, I’ll stop. xD

That said, it’s very heavy and feels substantial, which is a little surprising given it’s only around $100. The same can be said for the SM57.

Holding these mics in your hand may lead you to believe they’re actually products in the $300-500 range. They are that good.

The SM57 specifically is made of enamel-coated metal, a polycarbonate grille with a stainless steel screen, and a pneumatic shock mount system.

The culprit behind its incredible durability?

Well, as it turns out, Shure was actually a contractor for the United States Military in WWII and made an array of military-grade items for the U.S. Army.

This strict attention to detail continued in their product line, with the SM57 being a standout example.

In addition, it’s been used in every U.S. President’s speech since 1965. Wowza. 

Intended Applications

Shure SM57 Review

Aside from build, one of the main differences between the 2 mics is their type.

The SM57 is a dynamic microphone while the AT2020 is a condenser.

Large-diaphragm condenser microphones like the AT2020 are typically used for vocals, but they can also be good for instruments depending on the situation.

Dynamic microphones, specifically the SM57, are fantastic for guitar cabinets, snares, loud brass instruments, etc.

Due to its incredibly high SPL of 190, the SM57 could theoretically record a space shuttle (measured at 180dB) taking off without batting an eyelash.

Because of these things, it becomes the go-to for anything LOUD as it won’t distort at all and has a fantastic transient response.

The AT2020 by contrast, while still good in its own right, only handles an SPL of up to 144dB and isn’t nearly as good at miking loud sources. 

Again, I may primarily stick to vocals with the AT2020.

As far as other applications?

I have used the SM57 to mike an acoustic guitar with mixed results and wouldn’t generally recommend it.

It’s a bit difficult to find the sweet spot and it’s very picky about directionality.

In addition, you’ll be taking out a lot of the low-end (post-processing) and it’s generally a bit trickier to EQ.

For acoustic guitar, I’d recommend a small-diaphragm pencil condenser like the MXL 991 as its frequency response is specifically tailored for this instrument.

It’s much more forgiving and records an almost perfect first take – with minimal EQ needed.

MXL’s 991

FR & Sensitivity

The AT2020 and SM57 are two distinct microphones that vary significantly in terms of sensitivity and frequency response.

Sensitivity

Audio Technica AT2020

The AT2020 is a condenser microphone known for its sensitivity.

Condenser mics are generally more sensitive than dynamics, and the AT2020 is no exception.

It is designed to capture a broad range of frequencies and subtle nuances in audio.

This high sensitivity makes it an excellent choice for capturing vocals and acoustic instruments with intricate details.

The AT2020 has a sensitivity rating typically expressed as -37 dB (dBV) re 1V/Pa, which means it can capture softer sounds with greater clarity and detail compared to dynamic microphones.

Shure SM57

Shure SM57 Review

The Shure SM57, on the other hand, is a dynamic microphone, and dynamic mics are generally less sensitive than condenser mics.

The SM57 is specifically designed for durability and handling high sound pressure levels, making it ideal for instruments, especially those with loud sound sources like guitar amplifiers and drums as alluded to earlier.

The sensitivity of the SM57 is typically expressed as -56 dB (dBV) re 1V/Pa.

While this sensitivity rating is lower than the AT2020, it allows the SM57 to handle high sound pressure levels without distortion, making it a preferred choice for close-miking instruments and amplifiers.

Frequency Response

Audio Technica AT2020

The AT2020 boasts a relatively flat and extended frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz, which covers the entire audible spectrum.

This flat response is favored for capturing vocals and acoustic instruments as it faithfully reproduces the source material.

Shure SM57

The Shure SM57 has a more tailored and focused response, ranging from 40Hz to 15kHz.

This tailored response is designed to accentuate midrange frequencies, making it a great choice for instruments like snare drums, electric guitars, and brass instruments.

48v Phantom Power

What Is 48v Phantom Power?

The Audio Technica AT2020 is a condenser microphone and requires phantom power to operate.

Phantom power is a DC voltage typically supplied by an audio interface or mixing console.

It’s needed to power the internal electronics of condenser microphones.

In contrast, the Shure SM57 is a dynamic microphone and does not require phantom power.

Dynamic microphones generate their own signal without the need for external power, making them more versatile in terms of connectivity as they can be used with equipment that may not provide phantom power.

That said,

The Shure SM57, when connected to a standard audio interface like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 or Universal Audio Volt 2, often requires additional gain from devices like a Fethead or Cloudlifter.

Shure SM57 Review

This is because the SM57 is a dynamic microphone with lower sensitivity, and it may not provide a strong enough signal level on its own.

External preamps like the Fethead provide clean, transparent gain, allowing the SM57 to reach an optimal recording level without introducing noise, ensuring that the microphone performs at its best.

Directionality

Both the Shure SM57 and the Audio Technica AT2020 feature a unidirectional cardioid polar pattern.

This pattern captures sound primarily from the front of the microphone while minimizing pickup from the sides and rear.

The unidirectional cardioid pattern is beneficial for isolating a specific sound source while rejecting unwanted noise from other directions.

This makes both microphones highly suitable for a wide range of recording scenarios, whether it’s for capturing vocals, loud instruments, or close-miking amplifiers and instruments on stage or in the studio.

In live sound applications, the cardioid pattern helps minimize feedback issues, as the microphone focuses on the sound source in front, while in the studio, it allows for precise control over the recorded sound, making it a popular choice for achieving clean, focused audio recordings.

My personal experience with both of these would indicate that the SM57, and all dynamic microphones really, is better at rejecting pretty much any noise you might encounter; especially if you’re like me and live in a noisy apartment complex.

Sound

With all that said, you be the judge. And I’m not talkin’ about Aaron.

Demos

The first SM57 demo was recorded without a Fethead.

I did the best I could in balancing the gain on my interface and minimizing noise vs. getting it loud enough for a clean take, but…

If you plan on buying an SM57, which you absolutely should, be prepared to spend some money on either an interface that’s powerful enough or invest in a Fethead and A81WS windscreen like I did.

You won’t be sorry.

AT2020


SM57 (No Fethead/No A81WS)



SM57 (With Fethead + A81Ws)

Shure SM57 Review

Shure SM57 ReviewI thought about not including the first recording, but it drives the point home that a Fethead, at a very minimum, is mandatory.

Yes, jacking up the gain to near maximum theoretically works, but it also introduces distortion/artifacts/noise, etc. and that’s something I wanted to avoid.

Final Verdict

Shure SM57 Review

In the world of microphones, choosing between the Shure SM57 and the Audio Technica AT2020 can be a tough call.

However, if versatility, durability, and time-tested performance are your priorities, the SM57 emerges as the compelling long-term choice.

Having personally owned and used both microphones, I found the Shure SM57 to be the one I consistently reached for.

Here’s why:

First, is versatility.

The SM57 is a Swiss Army knife in the microphone world.

Its rugged build can take a beating, making it a go-to option for live sound and stage performances.

It can handle high sound pressure levels without distortion, making it perfect for close-miking instruments, drum kits, guitar amplifiers, and even vocals when needed.

The higher Sound Pressure Level (SPL) handling of the SM57 ensures that it excels in diverse recording and sound reinforcement environments.

Whether you’re rocking out on stage, tracking in the studio, or simply need a reliable microphone for a variety of purposes, the SM57 consistently delivers.

And let’s not forget its legendary durability.

The SM57 has proven its resilience time and time again, becoming an industry standard for over half a century, and hasn’t budged in price since.

It’s a microphone that can withstand the test of time and continue to perform flawlessly, even in the most demanding conditions.

While the AT2020 is a decent microphone in its own right, particularly for studio vocals and acoustic instruments, its sensitivity and condenser design make it more specialized.

If you’re seeking a microphone that can handle a multitude of situations and endure years of use, the Shure SM57 is the clear winner.

Its reputation and track record speak for themselves, making it the microphone that you’ll turn to time and time again, ensuring your investment is a great one.

Consider this last point and check out the video below on how to, with the A81WS windscreen, make the SM57 sound basically identical to an SM7B – a mic that costs roughly 4x the price.

It was Matt’s video that convinced me to buy the A81WS, and I couldn’t be happier with the purchase.

Video Comparison

Credit to Matt Rygelski for an excellent comparison!

Learn More:

 

Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this Audio Technica AT2020 vs. Shure SM57 Discussion and came away with some valuable insight.

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!

Which of these are you more likely to go with? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…

All the best and God bless,

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

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