Friday, February 3, 2012

Shure 520DX Green Bullet Harmonica Microphone Review


Shure 520 microphones have been the industry standard for harmonica players as far back as I can remember. Their latest version of this classic is the 520DX, which we are looking at here today.

When blues harmonica players started using microphones, they would usually take the head off of an old radio desk microphone, as they were small and easy to hold in their hands while playing the harp. In 1949 Shure introduced their first bullet harmonica microphone, the 520, which came with a controlled magnetic cartridge. This microphone was discontinued and later came back as the 520D, which was essentially the same microphone, but made in Mexico.

Today you can purchase a Mexican-made 520DX, which is a bit different than the originals. It is still green, but there is now a volume control and it uses a dynamic cartridge inside. The tone is about the same as the older models, but output is lower, so you will have to depend more on your amplifier for overdrive/distortion.

The Shure 520DX is small, measuring about 2.5 by 3.25 inches, and it weighs in at a little under a pound. It has a sturdy die-cast body with a distinctive industrial green finish and silver grill. As I said, it has a volume knob, so the user can make quick adjustments (mostly unintentionally) on the fly. There is a built in cable with a ¼-inch connector, so it can be plugged directly into an amplifier.

This dynamic microphone has an omnidirectional polar pattern, and a frequency response of 100 to 5 kHz. The 520DX is a high-impedance unit which reduces its output a little, but I have heard it can be taken apart and switched to a lower impedance. I guess if you are running a really big amp, you might want more output so you can get better distortion at lower volume levels.

In actual use, the 520DX is the perfect shape to cup between the harp and hands, and allows the user to get a good-sized chamber for the warm Chicago-blues tone. It has a distinctive low-fidelity natural distortion, and I have messed around with it a bit for vocals and have gotten some cool tones out of it.

I have a few gripes (don’t I always?), as I do not care for the integrated cable or the volume control. I would rather have an XLR connector on the mike so I can use whatever cable I please, and not be limited by the length or ¼-inch jack of the stock unit. The volume control is not really necessary, and only makes the unit heavier and more expensive. Also, it would be nice if Shure included some sort of case with the 520DX.

But these are minor things, and do not change the fact that this is the best stock harmonica microphone that is available today. The Shure 520DX has a list price of $186.44 and a street price of $119. If you are a harp player or are providing a backline for others, you really should pick up one of these.


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