Can I use the Shure SM7B with my Apogee Interface or do I need a Cloudlifter?

The Shure SM7B gets a reputation for needing more Gain than other microphones, and for good scientific reason, as it is a Large Diaphragm Dynamic microphone.

Dynamic microphones are by nature less sensitive than condenser microphones and will require more gain to reach similar levels.  When comparing a large diaphragm dynamic to small diaphragm dynamics, like SM57, it takes more Sound Pressure Level, or volume from your voice or instrument, to move the capsule.  This means these large diaphragms will generate lower level waveforms from the same sounds, requiring more gain at the pre-amp.  This is why large diaphragm dynamic mics like SM7B and Electrovoice RE-20 are so popular for radio broadcast; the large slow diaphragm smooths the waveforms of the voice and gets a good bass response.


This is not to say that such a huge amount of extra gain is required that you cannot use a standard mic-preamp with these microphones.  Most pre-amps on the market should give you at minimum 45dB of gain, while the Apogee units start around 62dB of gain on our smallest models.  When you consider the volume level of a normal conversation standing next to someone is around 60-70dB you can understand why this should be plenty of gain for most purposes.


So what is a Cloudlifter?  Do I need one?

The Cloudlifter is a device that is placed between a dynamic mic and mic-preamp that uses phantom power to add 25dB of gain before the pre-amp.  You can see it here.

This can be very useful if you are recording a very quiet source, like a whisper, or are sitting very far from the mic, or if you don't want to turn your pre-amp farther than a certain amount.  All these variables play a large roll in the final signal, not just the model of pre-amp, so it really comes down to your specific setup needs.


You will also hear a lot of engineers like Cloudlifters because they prefer to never turn their pre-amps up over a certain amount, what they call a "sweet spot" on the pre-amp.  This is because on some gear you can hear more noise and hiss from the pre-amp itself when it is turned up close to maximum.  Thus with some gear, especially older analog pre-amps, the Cloudlifter isn't used because the pre-amp doesn't have enough gain, but because the engineer prefers to get the extra +25dB of clean gain before the pre-amp, and turn the pre-amp up less, for less noise in the final signal.


This should not be a concern with our pre-amps!  They are extremely clean, even at maximum volume, so you can turn them up 100% just fine.


Overall, as the need for the extra +25dB from Cloudlifter relates to all the factors, how loud your source is, how far away you place the mic, how much headroom you want, and if you are personally comfortable turning up your mic-pre past a certain amount, this is personal choice.


Your Apogee pre-amps will allow you to gain the SM7B plenty hot and clean, if you want to set it up that way!