Shure Whitelabel Review - by ProfessorBX - December 2004
DJ’s are generally pretty damned vain-this much is established fact. No matter how little we keep up our appearance (cue picture of filthy scratch DJ here), we often times pick form over functionality when it comes to gear. I can’t count the number of times I have heard of people choosing a 07pro over TTM54 for the simple reason that “The 07 looked better.” This is not to say that the prettiest choice is always the worst, but simply to state that often people can be swayed simply on appearance without weighing the pros and cons. The Whitelabel is perfect example - I hear of many a (wannabe) scratch artist choosing this as their needle even though Shure themselves has never pitched this as a scratch needle. Is this an incorrect decision though, or do these folks know something that even Shure doesn’t?
At first glance the Whitelabel may be one of the most well designed all in one needles ever put out from both a functional and a visual standpoint. The needle cutout is simply perfection with both a wide viewing angle and a blue line contrasting the white painted body to aid in cueing, and the metal casing honestly looks, well, classy. Every DJ that I use the Whitelabel in front of has been seemingly entranced by how good it looks and usually says something about wanting a pair even before asking how they perform. The body also allows for performance tweaks not found in a normal all in one design, as one can actually change the stylus overhang using the supplied screwdriver, making it a good choice for both straight and s-arm designs (previous all in one designs did not function very well on straight arm designs due to the stylus overhang being set to default at 52mm, the setting for a Technics 1200, while a straight arm design functions best with the overhang set to 50mm). Honestly I cannot think of one complaint about the Whitelabel from a design standpoint, which I think may be a first.
Scratch Artist’s have pretty unique needs as far as how a needle sounds. The 447, which from an audiophile standpoint is a pretty foul sounding needle, is prized for it’s accented high end, while flatter sounding needle’s tend to have the eq tweaked until the sound coming from the needle is unrecognizable. With that said I decided to critique the Whitelabel from both a listening standpoint and in direct comparison to the 447.
With a styli based upon the 35x and the body of the famed V15xr audiophile cart, the Whitelabel already has a pretty good pedigree from an audio standpoint. Frequency response across the board is noticeably flatter than the average DJ needle, with the only areas of accent being gentle boosts in the high and low midranges for both warmth and presence. Listening to old jazz and blues albums is a treat as the level of detail from the Whitelabel is frankly rare in a DJ needle and is quite refreshing in the “good enough” world of DJ audio. The only times that I really found the frequency boosts to be a bother were when listening to old 45’s which already tend to be pretty heavy in the high mids. As such, I found myself cutting the mid and high eq’s by a db or two when doing 45rpm mix sets. Overall though this is a VERY small complaint though, and may not even be an issue depending on what kinds of music you spin (electronic, etc).
Whitelabel vs 447
When doing a direct head to head comparison the first thing that I noticed is that the 447’s bass definitely had a warmer quality to it, and was definitely the “boomier” of the two. The Whitelabel in comparison had a much more clinical quality to it, with nothing being too overwhelming in comparison to the almost overwhelming highs and lows of the 447. I did notice that some details such as reverb tails on drums and plucked strings on acoustic guitar tended to come through a bit more clear, as well as sounding a bit more natural. The Whitelabel would definitely be a far better choice to sample from, and with the use of a decent paragraphic eq, could ALMOST be used as an archival needle in a pinch. That said, the 447 did win from a strictly scratch audio standpoint, as the almost overpowering high end did cut through the mix better than the Whitelabel for typical Ahhh/Fresh type sounds.
Hold On Tight Beautiful
So the Whitelabel looks the part and sounds decent enough, but how does it hold? Well….it isn’t the best, but it isn’t bad either. In comparison to an old 500al it will get the job done, and with proper setup can be used for medium to heavier scratching, but at the same time it does not hold a candle to the 447 or 44g. Doing basic back cue juggles yielded no problems, nor did harder trick mixing style cuts, but doing lazers and other record modulation scratches caused more skipping than I would have expected. Taking extra time in needle setup will help this somewhat, but the Whitelabel will never be considered a true tablist needle, period. One thing of note is that like both the 447 and 44g putting too much weight caused more skipping than too little weight, and the needle tends to bottom out pretty quickly with too much weight. This is definitely a needle that you will want to take an extra five minutes to set up before a performance, and is not really the safest choice for a battle.
Ready To Wear
One consideration that becomes progressively more important the more mixing one does is record wear, and I have to say the Whitelabel is easily the top dog in the scratch world as far as record wear. Even the most brittle old record is made scratchable, with minimal “fuzz” appearing with the proper amount of weight used. Like the 35x before it, the Whitelabel is one of the only needles I will let touch my 45’s, period.
The Morning After/Overall
In the end the Whitelabel is not really a choice for the serious scratch artist, though to be fair Shure never positioned it as such. In fact, Shure has done pretty much everything it can to market the Whitelabel to everyone BUT scratch artists. From a mix needle standpoint Shure wins hands down in the all in one design area-holding wise it is only seriously passed up by the Ortofon Scratch (which doesn’t sound nearly as good and eats records a bit faster), and sound wise it is unmatched (Yes, it does even kick the mighty Ortofon Nightclub and Stanton Groovemaster series respective asses). For cueing the extra wide cut out is a dream as well. That said, if one is simply wanting a cheaper mix needle with some scratch capabilities the 35x may be a more sound choice as it uses the same styli as the Whitelabel (though not with the same body). To the Whitelabel’s credit, the 35x isn’t half as good from a cue standpoint (nor is it quite as clear sounding), and with the free metal needle cases that the Whitelabel comes in there is a bit of extra value as well. In the end I guess one has to decide what is most important-ease of setup and cueing as opposed to overall value. For me the Whitelabel would be my choice, but then again I have always been a slave to fashion. :>
From a Scratch Artist Standpoint - 6.5/10
From a Scratch/Mix Standpoint - 9/10