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Shure History: Unidyne Microphone Technology

01/06/2022

Shure has a reputation for producing amazing audio quality. They’re known for building durable microphones that are ready to take on the stress of touring. Founder Sydney Shure started the company selling DIY radio kits from his home in 1925 and, after decades of innovation and development, Shure has given the world some of the most legendary audio technology ever known.


Shure Unidyne

976 x 1342 pxShure developed the world’s first single-element unidirectional dynamic microphone in 1939. This microphone was smaller, less expensive, and more accessible than other microphones at the time, meaning it could be in the hands of live vocalists all over the world.

The most notable microphone that was created using Unidyne technology was the iconic Model 55. Its design stood out and it was used by legends like Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and Billie Holiday. The mic even captured iconic cultural moments as it was used by the likes of Martin Luther King and John F Kennedy.

The Model 55 is possibly one of the most iconic microphones of all time and marked the start of the journey for Shure Microphones.  
 
Before Unidyne, microphones that had a unidirectional response were made by combining an omnidirectional element with a bi-directional element, which would then create a cardioid pick-up pattern.

These early microphones had many drawbacks; they were big, heavy, and lacking in sound quality. Shure engineer Ben Bauer set out with the goal to make a unidirectional microphone that had a single dynamic element. That goal was quickly achieved and Bauer developed the Model 730 as well as the iconic Model 55.  

The microphone swiftly made its way into the hands of club singers and public speakers due to them being inexpensive and much higher in audio quality than other microphones. 
 
The word “Unidyne” can be interpreted in a couple of different ways. “Uni” can be seen as “one dynamic element” or “uni-directional” and “dyne” could either be “dynamic” or a unit of force that is sometimes used in acoustic measurements.  
 
Between 1939 and 1946, the Unidyne microphones remained the same. It wasn’t until 1951 that the first update of the Unidyne microphones came about. The update saw an improvement in all features, including audio quality, size, and weight, making them much more compact compared to the originals.

This was the introduction of the Model 55S (S for small) and the “Unidyne II”.  A version of this microphone is still available today – the modern version of the Model 55 is now known as the Model 55SH. It still keeps the iconic retro design as it was in 1951. 


The Design

722 x 555 pxThe iconic design of the Model 55 was based on art-deco style and cars of the 1930s that had large radiator grills on the front. As well as being used by iconic musicians and cultural figures, the microphone was even used as props in films.

You can see the grill of the Model 55 being used as the mouthpiece of a medical droid in the 1980 film Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back.  

Musicians were granted a small, high-quality microphone that solved common problems of live performance. At the time the Unidyne microphone was debuted, Shure promised that it would provide:

  • True Uni-directional Pickup pattern  
  • Zero feedback  
  • More space between performer and mic 
  • Increased volume and coverage  
  • Close placement of microphone and speakers  
  • Marvellous reproduction of sound.  

This was more than any other microphone could offer, and it was very reasonably priced – starting at $42.50 in 1939.

No matter how familiar you are with microphones, it’s likely that you’ve seen the Model 55 used by someone at some point in your life. Over 80 years later, the Model 55 is still an iconic microphone.

382 x 571

Ella Fitzgerald with the Model 55 1940


Unidyne III

513 x 401The year 1960 saw the introduction of the Unidyne III microphone, starting with the 545. This was a major update to Unidyne technology and the introduction of “end-address” microphones (previously, the Unidyne microphones were all “side-address”). If you are unsure what a “side-address” mic is, check out our guide.

A huge benefit of “end-address” microphones is that the polar pattern is much more uniform and stable, providing greater gain before feedback occurs. This meant that sound systems could be louder, and venues could be larger.

At Woodstock 1969, almost every single microphone used was a Unidyne III microphone. The Unidyne III had a shock mount that allowed the microphone to be held without much handling noise 

The Unidyne III revolutionised the music industry. Its technology helped develop some of the most iconic microphones of all time: the SM58 and the SM57. These mics have their own stories to tell. Check out the history of SM58 blog here.

Unidyne III was huge in the live sound scene, especially for rock and blues music. But, ironically, creator of Unidyne III Ernie Seeler was not a fan of rock or blues music and originally designed these microphones to be used for TV and broadcasts.

Shure realised that a more durable mic grille would be a big improvement, as drum sticks or rough handling could damage the 545. This birthed a brief period of Unidyne VI, and it went on to inspire the Beta Series of mics in the 1980s. 

Ernie Seeler wanted the microphones to have the “flattest” frequency response possible. However, they ended up having a bit of a “presence peak” in the higher frequencies. Ernie saw this as a major flaw in his design, but it actually gave the microphone the characteristic that we know and love today.  


Unidyne today

800 x 533To this day, Unidyne technology is still being used extensively by musicians and performers worldwide, the original Model 55 is still going strong and is used by thousands of vocalists. 

When it comes to Unidyne III, the SM58 and SM57 are the industry standard for capturing vocals, guitar cabs, and drums in both live and studio settings.

Over the years that Unidyne has existed, microphone technology has developed and improved, with wireless systems becoming more accessible and headset systems that make a microphone diaphragm the size of a fingernail. Shure has developed their iconic technology and created the world’s first dual-diaphragm handheld microphone, calling the technology Dualdyne.  

300 x 250The first Dualdyne microphone that Shure created was the KSM8. As you can guess by the name, instead of having one diaphragm like the Unidyne, the KSM8 has two diaphragms. One diaphragm is active whereas the other is passive, giving the microphone incredible control over proximity effect, presence peaks for clear sounding crisp vocals, and amazing sound with minimal EQ and processing. 

The Dualdyne was inspired by the Unidyne, and it took Shure almost 7 years to develop. However, the use of the internal shock mount still remains the same to help reduce handling noise.

Shure always pushes the boundaries of pro audio equipment, keeping microphone technology moving forward. They’re the leading brand when it comes to high-quality audio reproduction.

You can always count on Shure microphones to give you incredible-sounding results for captivating performances.  

The most recent addition to the family is the brand new premium microphone capsule for wireless systems called the KSM11. The KSM11 is a removable microphone capsule for Shure wireless systems that provides premium quality, detailed, and incredibly clear vocals for live performance. You can find out more about the KSM11 capsule here

Brand Manager

From selling out Local Leeds Venues and performing at Slam Dunk Festival, Jordan has performed with a number of bands as a session musician and as a songwriter. He has a huge passion for guitar and live sound, working as a live sound engineer for a number of venues throughout Yorkshire.

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