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Shure SM86 Microphone Review

September 9, 2023

Today we are reviewing Shure SM86 - a vocal condenser microphone from the well-known and basic line of "SM microphones" from the eponymous manufacturer Shure. The microphone is not ordinary enough as it has a condenser cartridge and handheld housing (quite a rare combination as condenser microphones are usually presented in thick studio housings), while the condenser capsule and cardioid polar pattern make it a universal microphone for absolutely any task and needs. The microphone is perfect for studio work - vocal recording, instrument recording, speech, podcasts/broadcasts, stage performances, outdoor events, and more. But Shure has positioned this microphone more for vocal work, as the handheld shape of the microphone and the frequency response tell us. So, as always, let's start our Shure SM86 review with the technical specifications of this device.

Best Price on Shure SM86 Microphone

Shure SM86 offers a combination of features that make it a versatile choice for a wide range of audio professionals, from singers and musicians to podcasters and audio engineers.

Shure SM86 package Classic Package

Shure SM86 Specifications

  • Microphone Type: Condenser (electret bias)
  • Form Factor: Handheld
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Diaphragm Size: 10mm
  • Frequency Response: from 50Hz up to 18000Hz
  • Impedance: 150Ω at 1kHz recommended minimum load impedance: 600Ω
  • Sensitivity (at 1,000Hz): open circuit voltage: -50 dBV/Pa (3.15mV) (1 Pa = 94 dB SPL)
  • Output Clipping Level: 1000Ω load at 1,000Hz: +3 dBV (1.41V)
  • Maximum SPL (at 1,000Hz): 1000Ω load (1% THD): 147dB
  • Self-Noise: 23dB typical, A-weighted
  • Dynamic Range (1000Ω): 124dB (maximum SPL to A-weighted noise level)
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio: 71dB at 94dB SPL - *S/N ratio is the difference between 94dB SPL and equivalent SPL of self-noise A-weighted
  • Connector: 3-pin XLR male
  • Power Requirements: 11 to 52 Vdc, 5.2mA (requires phantom power)
  • Housing: Dark gray, enamel-painted, die-cast with a stainless steel grille
  • Size: L 183mm x W 49mm
  • Net weight: 284 grams
  • Package: microphone, stand adapter and zippered pouch
Shure SM86 Polar Pattern

Overall Build and Features

The Shure SM86 doesn't look like a classic condenser microphone, as it's housed in a handheld body. The body of the microphone is made very qualitatively - a cast-painted body with a metal spherical grille of stainless steel. We want to note that almost all microphones of the company Shure differ very good quality performance. You can be sure that it will not break at the first accidental fall from your hands! In all other respects, the design of the Shure SM86 is in characteristic fashion for vocal and stage microphones.

Well, let's take a look at the other features that Shure has brought to the SM86. First of all, it's the condenser capsule, which is not typical of stage microphones to a large extent (not everything is unambiguous with it), but we'll talk more about it in the following "Sound Quality" section of our Shure SM86 review. Next, the Shure SM86 microphone has a built-in three-point shock mount - a good feature that will avoid and minimize handling noise + two-stage pop filter reduces wind and breath noise. The cardioid polar pattern will isolate the primary sound source from unwanted background noise.

Sound Quality

So let's get back to the condenser capsule. Since this is a condenser microphone it requires phantom power (without it the microphone will not work). It is strongly recommended to make sure that your mixer, audio interface, or device to which you will connect the microphone has a phantom power supply function. Our editing team doesn't like the fact that a microphone positioning itself as a device for live performances and outdoor events requires phantom power (but at the moment most devices have a phantom power function, which makes us happy).

Shure SM86 capsule cartridge

Next in our Shure SM86 review, we would like to focus on the condenser capsule. The diaphragm of this microphone is only 10mm in diameter - which is quite small, as most studio condenser microphones have diaphragm diameters larger than 25mm. And based on our experience, we can safely say that the Shure SM86 is an electret microphone. Electret mics are also condenser mics (as they have the principle of condenser mics) but we call them "not full-fledged condenser mics". If you want to understand more about how condenser mics work and learn more about the types of mics - we have a great article on this topic, with detailed explanations and descriptions of how dynamic & condenser mics work.

But don't be disappointed, even though the diaphragm of the microphone is only 10mm - this microphone sounds very good, Shure has tried their best in this regard and the sound quality will not disappoint you (it sounds more than worth its price). You can hear it for yourself by listening to the samples recorded on the Shure SM86 below.

Shure SM86 Frequency Response

You can see the frequency response of the Shure SM86 microphone below. The frequency response has uplifts in the range from 2000 Hz to 10000 Hz, which gains an excellent effect on vocal reproduction, emphasizing the upper frequencies of vocals and transients.

Shure SM86 Frequency Response

Here are some Shure SM86 recorded audio samples:

Below are two recordings of male and female vocals on the Shure SM86 microphone, we want to note that the recording was not conducted in ideal studio conditions.

Shure SM86 - Female Vocal recording with a little bit of reverb effect (audio example)
Shure SM86 - Male Vocal recording (audio example)

Shure SM86 vs Shure SM58 vs Sennheiser E865 vs Audio Technica AT2010

Unfortunately, we don't see the point of comparing the Shure SM86 with the Shure SM58 as they are slightly different microphones by type of operation (SM86 - condenser / SM58 - dynamic) and price category (SM58 costs around 90-100 dollars / SM86 costs around 180-200 dollars). But if you still want to compare these two microphone models and are considering buying them, we have a great review of the Shure SM58 mic with recorded audio examples that you can listen to by clicking the link.

It makes sense to compare the Shure SM86 to microphones in its class, such as the Sennheiser E865 and Audio Technica AT2010. The Sennheiser E865 and Audio Technica AT2010 are both hand-shaped condenser microphones designed specifically for vocals and live performances. The Sennheiser E865 sells in the same price range as the Shure SM86, while the Audio Technica AT2010 costs $50-$60 less.

Here are recordings of female vocals recorded on Shure SM86, Sennheiser E865, and Audio Technica AT2010. After listening to them you can choose which microphone you prefer.

Shure SM86 - Female Vocal recording with a little bit of reverb effect (audio example)
Sennheiser E865 - Female Vocal recording with a little bit of reverb effect (audio sample)
Audio Technica AT2010 - - Female Vocal recording with a little bit of reverb effect (audio sample)

Our editorial team was impressed with the sound of the Sennheiser E865 microphone. The Sennheiser E865 captures voice details very well across the entire frequency range, picks up good transients, and infuses vocals with warmth. We liked the Audio Technica AT2010's sound the least, you can hear noise in the background and it's very overpowering in the upper frequencies (but it can also be an advantage because vocalists sometimes lack upper frequencies).

As for the hero of our review Shure SM86, we want to note that the microphone turned out to be very balanced in terms of sound parameters, but no WOW effect. The winner in this competition was Sennheiser E865, but do not think that the brand Shure is worse than Sennheiser, as Shure SM86 is quite an old model of microphone and Shure has more competitive microphone models that can give a head start to Sennheiser.

Final Verdict

Overall, the Shure SM86 turned out to be a pretty excellent and versatile microphone for its price category. Thanks to the condenser (electret) capsule it can also be used for other tasks, not only for vocals. However, the downside of the microphone is that it is a bit outdated by the standards of the industry. If you like the sound quality of this microphone, we recommend it, but there are plenty of other more competitive microphone models on the market. We hope you enjoyed our Shure SM86 review. Feel free to ask any questions or leave suggestions in the comment section and we'll be happy to answer any of your inquiries.

  • Good sound quality
  • Nice Price / Quality ratio (still recommend looking at this mic on the secondary market, it is several times cheaper there)
  • Durable and rugged construction, suitable for live use
  • The only disadvantage of this microphone is its 10mm diaphragm, in fact this microphone turns out to be electret rather than condenser microphone
  • Requires +48V phantom power, which may not be available on all mixers & audio interfaces
Our Score

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