Product Review: Blue Microphones USB Snowball

I’ve always owned PCs, and have never had much of an interest in home recording, so when Dave, Jason and I started recording the Popdose podcast a couple of months ago, I entered the fray as an absolute beginner — and if you listened to our first few episodes, you probably already knew this, because each of them was marred by some sort of audio glitch on my end, be it excessively low levels, annoying popping, or, in one case, my stupid accidental use of the Logitech camera microphone I have clipped to my second monitor.

After six episodes, I knew my Plantronics headset microphone wasn’t going to cut it in the long term. We record the podcast over Skype, which opens us up to all kinds of sound quality issues to begin with; I was desperate to do anything I could to at least make things sound passable on my end.

Enter Blue Microphones.

Blue has been manufacturing professional-grade microphones for the last 15 years, combining award-winning design with high-quality sound. Of course, demand for high-end studio gear isn’t quite what it used to be, so Blue has recently started moving into the consumer market, releasing a line of USB-powered equipment targeted at the many consumers who need more than an entry-level Plantronics headset, but aren’t willing to shell out ridiculous amounts of money. The Blue consumer line includes everything from the THX-certified Yeti to the iPod-ready Mikey. I had my eye on the Snowball — it isn’t as feature-rich as the Yeti, but it’s a step up from the ultra-portable Snowflake, and I assumed it would give me more than enough sound quality for the show. Plus, just look at it! If you’re in the market for a mid-priced microphone, how can you even look at the Snowball without falling in love?

Of course, a good-looking electronic gizmo is often a piece of junk trying to hide between a pretty exterior, so I was cautious about the Snowball — but much to my delight, its performance reflects its aesthetics. To begin with, using it is no more complicated than simply plugging it in; there’s no software to install and nothing to adjust. Just find a USB port and away you go.

And then there’s the way it works — or, to be more specific, the ways it works. The Snowball is a full-featured condenser microphone, with three modes: Cardioid, for straight-ahead recording; omnidirectional, for capturing a room; and cardioid pad, which adds a 10db dampener to avoid clipping in high-volume situations. With the Plantronics microphone, I had to keep it aimed away from my mouth or my vocals would pop all over the place — but since I hate listening to myself talk, and tend to use a pretty quiet voice when I speak, that meant my track always needed to be boosted in the mix, usually adding hiss and hum to the show. The Snowball is, needless to say, more powerful; I used it for the first time during our show’s seventh episode, and I quickly realized that it would record at normal levels even if I was one or two feet away. I’m still learning how to use it, but I was thoroughly pleased with my first Snowball recording — and the fact that I didn’t do a thing with it before we started the show demonstrates just how simple it is to use. I’d recommend it without reservation for any kind of home recording — I think it’d even make a really affordable addition to a home music studio.

And it’ll look great on your desk, too.

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  • http://www.wingsforwheels.net dslifton

    And as the guy who has to often boost Jeff's audio, the times I did on the new episode produced far less background noise than with his other headset.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    This might be in my future. I record with a hand-held mic with a mini-amp between that and the PC. Not only do I have to compensate for the quirks of the mic and the program, but the amp has separate bass, treble and midrange controls, any of which could ruin a recording at a moment's notice.

    Time to start saving up.

  • http://homemusicstudio.org/ Brian

    Cool review, cool mic!

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