The Shure SM7B is a great workhorse microphone for any studio. It’s been used by platinum selling artists spanning several decades, and more recently, it’s become the mic of choice for podcasters and content creators. However, it’s also notoriously quiet. I personally have owned a pair of SM7Bs for a long time now, and depending on the application, I’ve gotten mixed results. When recording with a low-gain preamp, like the ones found on cheaper interfaces, I’ve found the SM7B signal can be a bit lacking.
Thankfully, there’s a solution for this gain problem, the blucoil Cloudlifter! The Cloudlifter is an in-line mic activator, adding 25 decibels of clean gain to any mic signal. The Cloudlifter uses 48 volts of phantom power from your preamp to boost the signal of your microphone. To set it up, simply plug an XLR from your mic to the Cloudlifter, then you’ll plug a second XLR from your Cloudlifter into your preamp, and then turn on phantom power.
However, you may be wondering if the Cloudlifter is a necessary addition to your signal chain. So, let’s go over the numbers and find out if you need a Cloudlifter!
Should I just get a different mic?
You may be wondering “why would I keep this mic if it’s not loud enough?”
That’s a totally fair question! However, I think that the SM7B is a fantastic sounding microphone when it has enough gain, and the Cloudlifter is a simple way to make that happen! It’s a great choice for podcasts, broadcasts, and voiceover work, mostly thanks to its sound signature and rejection of background noise. If you’re looking to capture great sounding audio, the SM7B is a fantastic option, and I find the sound quality to be worth the tradeoff of having to use a Cloudlifter.
Consideration #1: Preamp Selection
The main consideration for whether or not you’ll need a Cloudlifter is your available selection of preamps. Because the SM7B is a dynamic microphone (doesn’t require phantom power), it is much quieter than the typical recording microphone (condenser mics that require phantom power). For that reason, some recording interfaces do not supply enough gain to get your Shure SM7B recording at the right level. According to Shure’s documentation, the SM7B requires around +60 decibels of preamp gain to get a clean signal at regular speaking volumes. If you’re recording with less than +60dB, you may have a hard time getting your mic loud enough to fit into your recordings.
If you’re using an interface like the Focusrite Scarlett, which has exactly 60dB of preamp gain, you will need to have that preamp turned all the way up to record speech at an acceptable level. I’ve had to do this for podcast recordings, and it really only works if everyone speaks super clearly and keeps their mouth right on the microphone.
Check the documentation of your interface to see what your mic input gain levels are. If you’re using an external preamp, instead of the built-in preamps on your interface, check for that number instead. I’ve put together this chart of some popular preamps for quick reference.
As you can see, most external preamps have a higher level of gain than the built-in interface preamps. For that reason, you might want to look into upgrading your preamp (but we’ll get to that later).
Consideration #2: Source
If you’re typically recording quiet sources, like podcasts/voice overs, jazzy vocals, and fingerpicked acoustic guitars, odds are you will need some assistance in the gain department. If you’re typically using your SM7B to record loud sources like screaming metal vocals, loud electric guitar amps, or a snare drum, odds are there’s enough volume there to get a great signal without a Cloudlifter. Keep in mind that the +60 dB number is considering recording human speech. If you’re recording something louder than speech, that number goes down significantly, and even a lower gain preamp would suffice.
My friend’s Andy and Alex have a YouTube channel, and when they upgraded to SM7Bs, their Focusrite interface wasn’t giving enough gain for their speech, so I suggested they add a 2-channel Cloudlifter to their setup for their video recording studio, and it got the levels to where they needed them to be.
Consideration #3: Portability
If you’re someone who is looking to have a portable recording setup, a Cloudlifter is a lot smaller than a bulky external preamp. It also doesn’t require external power besides the phantom power your interface already has, so you don’t need access to an extra outlet. You can easily toss it in your backpack and be ready to go!
If your setup is semi-permanent, like a vocal booth or video studio that stays set up, using a Cloudlifter probably won’t be much of a hassle. If you’re a producer or engineer recording bands, you’re probably going to be setting up and tearing down all the time, and you’ve probably got tons of XLRs around, so it won’t be a big deal to add a Cloudlifter to your setup.
Cloudlifter Buyer’s Guide
Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter CL-4 Mic Activator 4-Channel Rack
There are two main types of Cloudlifter, the 1 and 2 channel options. If you only plan on using one SM7B at a time, the single channel option is for you! If you are creating a podcast with two hosts, or you plan on recording stereo sources, the two channel option will suit your needs!
There’s also a convenient bundle that includes the Shure SM7B and a Cloudlifter, so you can get started with both right away!
You can even purchase a 4-channel Cloudlifter that fits conveniently in a rack case, which is a solid choice for studios with lots of ribbon and dynamic mics, or a podcast with multiple hosts and guests.
So, do YOU need a Cloudlifter for your SM7B?
If you already own an SM7B and a cheaper interface like the Focusrite Scarlett, and you find that the volume is just not cutting it, go ahead and grab a Cloudlifter. If you’re already happy with your interface, but need a bit more juice to get your new mic sounding right, the Cloudlifter will fix your problems.
If you’re having a tough time getting that professional sound out of your SM7B, the Cloudlifter just might be the missing piece in your recording setup!