SHURE 520DX PROFESSIONAL HARMONICA MICROPHONE
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Those of you who are true fans of Chicago Blues will certainly remember scenes of the old blues masters cupping their hands around a half rounded green colored microphone that they were using to amplify their harmonica solos with. Those old blues masters were frequently seen using a Shure 520D microphone to amplify the sound of their Harmonica, or as it is more traditionally known as the Blues Harp. Some of the old blues masters who used the Shure 520D were the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter, and Walter Horton, to name just a few. Shure has updated the old 520D or Green Bullet as it is sometimes affectionately called, and the new and improved incarnation of the 520D is now known as the Shure 520DX.
The Shure 520DX has a rounded contour that fits comfortably into the palm of ones hand. It also has the legendary sound that is associated with Chicago style electrified harmonica playing. The 520DX has a handy volume control knob at the base of the microphone, which allows a performer to make adjustments to the volume during a live performance without having to rely on someone else controlling their sound (i.e., a sound engineer at a sound board). The 520DX also has a cord attached to the microphone, just like the old familiar model did, and it has a standard phone plug attached to the other end.
The reason for this type of wiring set up is that the old blues masters plugged their harmonica microphone directly into a guitar amplifier, and they typically did not use a house P.A. system, as the places that they were playing frequently did not have any sound system. In order to more closely emulate the sound achieved by the old blues masters, the Shure 520DX has a quarter inch phone plug instead of an XLR plug. The Shure 520DX is a microphone that is designed to be typically plugged into a guitar amp, and thus, it is wired for high impedance, and for easy use with a guitar amp. It is the combination of the microphone and guitar amp, together with the harmonica, that gives the 520DX is authentic old Chicago Blues sound.
However, what if you want to run the Shure 520DX though your P.A. system or sound board, which of course typically has low impedance inputs? The simplest thing to do is to plug the output of the Shure 520DX into transformer, such as the Shure A95U, and you are all set. If, on the other hand, you want to rewire the 520DX for low impedance, this can easily be done, but by so doing, the volume control becomes disabled, and personally, I think this is a very important feature for a microphone to have that is being used to play live blues with a harmonica. Just imagine for a second how you guitarists out there would react if your guitars volume control was disabled during a live performance. Lets face it, the more control a musician has over the sound of their instrument, the greater will be their ability to tailor their sound to a specific situation or song.
At this point, I would like to discuss some of the specs on this microphone. Firstly, the Shure 520DX has a frequency response of 100 to 5000 Hz. That may not sound like much, as it is about a third of the frequency response of a comparably priced good microphone, such as the Shure SM58 (both microphones sell for a discounted price of $99.95), which has a frequency response of 50 to 15,000 Hz. The difference is that the SM58 has a frequency response that is tailored to make vocals sound their best, while the 520DX has a frequency response that is tailored to make a harmonica sound its best.
The Shure 520DX is an omnidirectional dynamic microphone. The term omnidirectional means that this microphone picks up sounds equally from all directions, including the sides and back. That is part of the reason why blues harp players can be seen cupping their hands around this microphone, as by so doing, one is able to block the microphone from picking up sounds from behind or to the sides of the microphone, and of course the harmonica player as well. Omnidirectional microphones are also very good a reproducing the low end, and as such, when used to amplify the harmonica, the 520DX does not produce a sharp shrill sound, but rather more of a richer and warmer sound, which helps the harmonica to sound full and yet very clear and present.
The Shure 520DX comes equipped with a 20 foot attached cable, and a quarter inch phone plug. It also comes in a green casing, with a chrome grill. This gives it a very nostalgic and authentic appearance. The whole microphone and cable together is 26 ounces, making it light enough to gyrate around the stage for live performances.
In using the Shure 520DX in a live situation, it is important to remember that the amplifier that the microphone is being plugged into will have a significant effect on the overall sound and tone of the harmonica. It is a good idea to test out the settings on the amp and set your sound before the start of a performance. It is a good idea to start off with the volume setting on the microphone turned off when first plugging into an amp. Remember the closer to the amp, the greater the likelihood of feedback. Do not set the treble and presence settings of your amp too high, as this will also promote feedback with this microphone. Keep the volume setting on the microphone low as you adjust the tone and volume settings of the amp, and do not raise the volume knob on the microphone until you have gotten a good distance from the amp.
Remember because the Shure 520DX is an omnidirectional microphone, it will pickup sounds from all directions, including the sounds off to the side and to the back of the microphone, and thus it is more prone to feeding back as well. Make sure that you position your amplifier, or P.A. speakers and monitors (if you are going to plug the 520DX in to it), as far away as is reasonably possible from the 520DX so that there will be less chance of feedback. It is also important to have a powerful, clean sounding amp to plug the 520DX into, as a distorting, squeaking harmonica is not a beautiful thing to listen to. I personally have always liked a Fender Twin Reverb Guitar Amplifier for situations such as this.
There are other microphones out there that are labeled as being made to be suitable for live harmonica playing. However, if you are looking for that authentic Chicago Blues Harp sound, look no further than the Shure 520DX.
I would like to thank you for taking the time to read my review of the Shure 520DX. But now, if you will excuse me, I must get back to my practicing.
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