Shure Inc. - Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on Shure Inc.

5800 West Touhy Avenue
Niles, Illinois 60714

Company Perspectives:

We believe in working hard and doing things right. We don't believe in short cuts. Our associates are trained in and truly practice Total Quality. Our aim is to have the best products in our markets, and we strive to provide the very best service worldwide. These principles, conservative by some people's standards, are precisely what has allowed Shure to remain an innovator and an industry leader. At Shure, microphones are not a side business, they are our life. And the expertise we have gained over the years in related product lines has furthered Shure's standing in the audio industry. ... We produce a wide range of audio products for many applications. Audio professionals have appreciated our quality for over 70 years.

We believe users will always appreciate top quality products and outstanding service, particularly when the price is affordable. Customers will continue to support a company that treats them fairly, courteously, and ethically. We will continue, as we have since 1925, to offer all of these things.

History of Shure Inc.

Shure Inc. is one of the world's largest, most respected manufacturers of microphones. Shure's microphones have been used by the world's leading performers and public speakers for over seventy years. The company makes a broad range of sound equipment, including mixers, conferencing systems, phonograph cartridges, signal processors, and personal monitor systems. Shure products are endorsed by over 240 of the world's best-known performers in the entertainment industry. The company markets its products outside the United States through a network of subsidiaries and distributors. Shure Incorporated has been owned by the Shure family since its founding.

Founded at the Dawn of the Radio Age

Shure Incorporated was founded in Chicago in 1925 by Sidney N. Shure. Shure became interested in amateur radio as a child and, like every other radio buff at the time, built his own radio sets. After his graduation from the University of Chicago, he set up a company to distribute radio parts. Radio's popularity was growing by leaps and bounds in 1925, but ready-made radios were still not available for purchase. If a consumer wanted a radio, he had to build it himself. The firm took off. After Shure's brother, Samuel J. Shure, joined the company in 1928, the name of the firm was changed to Shure Brothers Company. At the time, with over 75 employees and a bustling site in downtown Chicago, the business seemed to be on solid footing.

Microphones for War and Peace in the 1930s

Serious challenges lay ahead for the young firm. The Great Depression struck in 1929; however, more important for the Shure Brothers was a critical shift in the radio market. By 1930, the National Broadcasting Corporation was operating two networks in the United States, and 13.5 million finished radio sets were sold that year. Suddenly, radio was no longer a hobby market--it was a consumer market. The demand for parts plunged. Sidney Shure cannily saw new opportunities in the collapse of his market. The dawn of the radio age was also the dawn of the microphone age. Microphones were needed for broadcasting, for police radio, for aviation. There were, however, few major microphone manufacturers in the United States. Many of the best microphones came from overseas and were quite expensive. Shure dove into the microphone business, licensing microphone patents and hiring engineers to develop new products.

The Shure Brothers released their first microphone, the Shure Two-Button Carbon Microphone, in 1932. The new product had everything going for it. It was compact, durable, lightweight, versatile, and dependable. It won immediate popularity for live sound and two-way radio applications. Both professional and amateur broadcasters bought it. Its most alluring characteristic was undoubtedly its price. The Two-Button Carbon Microphone sold for about $30 at a time when other microphones--primarily imports from Germany--cost several hundred dollars. Shure established a network of sales representatives to market the new microphone through electronic parts distributors. The businesses that less than five years earlier had been the Shure Brothers' competitors now became their outlets.

Microphone development was still in its infancy in the 1930s, and Shure experimented with various types throughout the decade to find out what types worked best and what the public wanted. The firm introduced its first high-end condenser microphone, the Model 40D, in 1933. It put a crystal microphone into production in 1935 and two years later brought out the world's first noise-canceling mic. In 1939, Shure researchers, under the direction of engineer Ben Bauer, hit pay dirt with the groundbreaking development of the Model 55 Unidyne microphone, the world's first single-element unidirectional microphone. The development of unidirectional mics was significant because they greatly reduced extraneous noise and limited feedback.

Unidirectional microphones existed before the Unidyne, but they were constructed from two elements that had to be combined electronically. Bauer found a way to make a unidirectional microphone from a single element, greatly simplifying production and reducing costs. The Unidyne also had a striking Art Deco design based in part on the front grill of a 1937 Cadillac.

The Unidyne established Shure's name as an important manufacturer of microphones. Politicians addressing large crowds of the time were almost certain to speak into a Unidyne. The new product also launched a change in popular music. Singers of the big band era no longer had to rely on their own volume. Smooth-voiced, intimate crooners, like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, came into vogue. The start of World War II in Europe helped the Unidyne as well. Once German microphones were no longer available, the Unidyne mic became the dominant microphone in the United States. Its reasonable $45 piece tag also helped sales.

The war brought Shure a major new market. Microphones were needed in ships, tanks, planes, and the infantry. Beginning in 1941, when the War Department contracted with Shure to produce microphones, Shure developed a range of models for the military. Shure's best-known war mic was undoubtedly the T-30 Throat microphone, which was fastened near the collar of a bomber pilot's jacket and operated by throat vibrations. With metal at a premium, Shure also developed mics made of plastic, an early manufacturing application of the new material.

Becoming a Consumer Company in the 1950s

With the end of World War II in 1945, the annual demand for tens of thousands of mics for the military dried up. Nevertheless, the late 1940s and 1950s witnessed another successful period in the company's history. Once again, Shure shifted focus, this time to a consumer market that was on the verge of explosive growth: home hi-fis. Shure had launched a line of phonograph cartridges in 1937. It was a natural extension of its product line. Phono cartridges and microphones work on precisely the same principle: a magnet or coil of wire generates an electric signal from an acoustic or mechanical signal. Almost from the start Shure's phono cartridges were supplied to the country's leading phonograph manufacturers, including RCA, Emerson, and Magnavox. Although for a time the firm also produced playback and recording heads for tape recorders, the bulk of its efforts went into developing better cartridges. By the 1950s, Shure was the leading manufacturer of phonograph cartridges in the world.

It continued to work on new microphone technologies as well. In 1953, it developed the Vagabond, the world's first wireless microphone for performing, a product that utilized walkie-talkie and hearing-aid technologies. The microphone sent a signal to a perimeter of wire that encircled the stage. A performer had to stay within that perimeter for the microphone to operate. It was used for a short time in Las Vegas, with Frank Sinatra its most noteworthy tester. Unfortunately, the Vagabond was fragile and undependable. In addition to its technical shortcomings, it was also extremely expensive, selling for about $800 in 1953. The Vagabond was phased out in the mid-1950s. Another thirty years would pass before wireless microphone technology came into its own. A Shure component was also part of another product that was ahead of its time. In the mid-1950s, the company manufactured a phono cartridge for Chrysler's short-lived in-car phonograph, the Highway Hi-Fi.

Shure introduced a number of other products that were more enduring during the 1950s. In 1958, it brought out the world's first stereo phonograph cartridge, the M3D. A year later, it changed the way microphones would look forever with the Unidyne III. Previously, microphones were designed to detect sound from the side. The Unidyne was wand-shaped and picked up sound from its end. Within a few years, it would be the most common microphone design in the world. In 1956, Shure gave up its production and office facilities just outside Chicago's Loop and moved into spacious new headquarters in suburban Evanston. It set up a new microphone factory in the same complex.

A major impulse for the development of new microphones in the 1950s was the rise of rock and roll. With electric guitars more and more the instrument of choice, volumes were climbing ever higher, and vocalists could not perform without a microphone. As concert venues grew larger over the next two decades, other instruments began to be miked as well, in particular drum kits. Shure continued to refine its mics during the 1960s to meet musicians' increasingly demanding standards for sound fidelity as well as to better cope with the high sound levels on stage. In 1965, Shure released the SM57. Extremely versatile, the SM57 could be used to amplify speech, singing, or musical instruments. It has been on the podium of every American president since Lyndon Johnson.

A year later, Shure set a new standard for the industry with the introduction of the SM58. ("SM" stands for "studio model.") Accurate and rugged, the SM58 has become the standard microphone for vocalists in every genre of popular music, especially rock. It is the best-selling microphone in Shure's history. Ironically, while the SM57 and SM58 have major played a role in the growth of rock music, they were originally designed by an engineer who disliked rock and roll. However, sound engineers for touring rock bands soon discovered the SM58's rugged construction and reliable sound and made it the microphone of choice for leading rock groups, including the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and the Who.

At the same time it was bringing out the SM57 and SM58, Shure broadened its product offerings for musicians with the VocalMaster, a portable public address system that appealed to weekend performers as much as it did to seasoned professionals.

Shure made a major contribution to television news in 1968 with the development of the M67, a battery-powered mixer that could be used outside a studio. For the first time, TV camera crews and reporters were able to cover news stories live on location with battery operated equipment. Shure portable mixers were eventually used to cover many of the major stories of the late 1960s, including the space shots and the Woodstock Festival.

Technologies Shift in the 1970s and 1980s

Shure continued to expand and develop its phono cartridge line during the 1960s, introducing the first of its V15 Cartridges in 1964. By the 1970s, the company had evolved into a manufacturer of expensive, high-end, audiophile stereo components, and the V15 was the showpiece of the line. Shure continued to supply its phono cartridges to most leading makers of stereo equipment. By the 1970s, with Baby Boomers reaching adulthood, phonograph sales were hitting all-time highs. At their peak, the company produced a line of approximately forty different cartridge models ranging in price from $20 to $150. So profitable was the line in the 1970s that Shure focused most of its energies on phono cartridges during the decade. It even constructed a plant in Phoenix, Arizona, specifically for their manufacture.

In the 1980s, however, disaster struck the phonograph industry. The CD player was introduced, and phonograph sales plummeted. Shure's cartridge segment which, according to the Journal of Commerce, had grown 700 percent in the 1970s until it comprised 67 percent of the firm's business, had dwindled to 16 percent by the mid-1990s. The market shrank so rapidly that for a while the company may have been in danger of going out of business. In response to the crisis, Shure made the fourth radical shift of its history, largely abandoning its old consumer base and reinventing itself again as a company that made tools for sound professionals. It expanded its selection of products for broadcasters, introducing the Field Production line of sound mixers for the burgeoning Electronic News Gathering (ENG) markets, perhaps most popularly represented by cable station CNN, which at the time was an upstart news organization. It also began aggressively marketing its microphone line to music stores once again. Music and broadcasting were not the only fields to appreciate the quality of Shure microphones. Since the National Aeronautics and Space Administration could not use electrical connections between the space shuttle and the rockets that powered it--the rockets break away once their fuel is spent--Shure mics were used to monitor performance acoustically.

Growth into New Markets in the 1990s

As the 1990s got underway, Shure was making inroads into teleconferencing systems, a market in which it had first become involved in the mid-1980s. Teleconferencing was a natural extension of the firm's expertise in microphones and sound mixers. This market gave birth to a completely new division of Shure, one that specialized in selling teleconferencing systems which, unlike microphones and cartridges, sold for thousands of dollars. Furthermore, teleconferencing was still relatively unfamiliar outside the United States at the time. To publicize the usefulness of the technology, Shure set up the first global interactive teleconference between 21 cities in the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia, South Korea, and South Africa. The first transatlantic trial, held between Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and London, England, also used Shure equipment.

By the mid-1990s, according to the Journal of Commerce, exports comprised 35 percent of Shure's total teleconferencing systems sales. Foreign markets had long been important to Shure. For years it had been active in England, Western Europe, and Japan. In the early 1990s, soon after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, Shure began distributing its products in Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Later in the decade, it expanded into Ecuador, Paraguay, Guatemala, and Vietnam. By 1995, China was Shure's main export market, accounting for 22 percent of its total foreign sales. At this time, the company began moving some of its production out of the United States. In an effort to keep its labor costs as low as possible, Shure built plants for the assembly of microphones and phono cartridges in Agua Prieta and Juarez, Mexico.

Shure's microphone line was refined and expanded in the 1990s. It finally entered the burgeoning wireless market it had given up in the 1950s when it abandoned the Vagabond. Shure had nevertheless been active in the wireless market, albeit indirectly, through much of the previous decade, during which it had produced microphone heads for other manufacturers' wireless systems. The company's leaders eventually realized that the huge numbers of heads they were producing represented an equally vast market they could be selling to directly. Its "L" series of modern wireless mics was introduced in 1990. Shure also actively promoted its line of high-performance Beta microphones first developed in 1989. Because of their improved design, these microphones reproduced vocals with even greater fidelity than the old "SM" series. In addition, the new mics possessed hardened grills and sturdier shock mounts.

A third new market that Shure aggressively courted in the 1990s was sound contractors. Shure products had always been favorites of these businesses which specialized in the design and installation of sound systems in churches, auditoriums, and similar buildings. Shure developed a new line of products specifically for the needs of sound contractors.

In 1995, at the age of 93, after leading the company for seventy years, Sidney Shure passed away. He had given up running the day-to-day operations of the company in 1981, when a new president was named. He remained as chairman of the Shure board of directors until his death, when his widow, Rose Shure, succeeded him. Mr. Shure had been an individual of broad and continuing interests. He was a renowned collector of stamps who eventually donated much of his collection to the Smithsonian Institution. He trained himself to be an accomplished photographer. He had a longstanding interest in languages and began learning Hebrew when he was in his eighties. His modest, unassuming nature helped create a family-like atmosphere for workers at Shure.

A Long History Continues into the 2000s

When Shure Incorporated celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2000, the difficulties of the 1980s were forgotten. Microphones, wired and wireless, were once again the central focus of the company's business. The line that had included about 50 various mics in the 1950s had grown to some 300 items in 2000. The introduction of inexpensive digital recording gear--especially for home recording--led to the growing popularity of Shure's KSM line of mics, which were designed especially for recording. By 2003, Shure had lines of microphones for broadcasters, sound contractors, recording studios, live sound, two-way communication, and paging. Other new products were also beginning to gain in popularity, including a selection of in-ear monitors for live performance situations. In the spring of 2003, Shure left its longtime headquarters in Evanston for a futuristic building designed by architect Helmut Jahn in Niles, Illinois.

Principal Subsidiaries: Shure UK; Shure Europe; Shure Asia.

Principal Competitors: Sennheiser; Audio Technica; Telex Communications Inc.


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