Over the last year I’ve really jumped into recording podcasts, from InfoSmack to the VMware Communities Roundtable. Since I work out of my home office, I’m also an avid audio and video conference user. I’ve long suffered listening to the inaudible and miserable microphones used by so many others, but my own gear wasn’t much better. Wanting better sound, I upgraded my Logitech microphone to the highly-regarded Blue Microphones Snowball desktop USB microphone. Here are my initial thoughts.
Tip: Although Blue Microphones enforces a “minimum advertised price” of $99, Amazon actually sells the Blue Snowball for under $75 with free shipping!
The Blue Snowball
Ironically, the Blue Snowball doesn’t actually come in blue. It’s a white softball-sized usb mic with three selectable audio modes. The Snowball has received great reviews (I first heard about it in Wired magazine) but since Gestalt IT handed out a few as door prizes at our first Tech Field Day in November the raves have been coming in from folks I know and trust.
The Blue Snowball impresses from the start. It’s heavier than one would expect thanks to a cast metal housing. The bundled tripod is solid and stable thanks to three low and wide legs. The mic can be located by telescoping the tripod and tilting the Snowball mic itself. But the included USB cable is so burly that its weight tugs the mic out of alignment – I used a slimmer USB A-B cable instead.
The Snowball required no drivers in Mac OS X, setting up instantly. I was able to select it in System Preferences as the default mic, and set Skype to use it, too. I imagine it’s just as easy to use in Windows.
Of the three audio settings, I imagine most will leave the switch in position 1. Being a desktop mic, a directional pattern is most useful. Position 3 is great for recording group conversations, however.
Tip: In Mac OS X, Option-click on the audio slider in the menu bar to quickly select a mic!
How Does It Sound?
Although the Blue Snowball is much hyped in podcasting circles, I wanted to hear the difference for myself. I connected the Snowball and my old Logitech USB mic to my late 2009 iMac and matched the levels in System Preferences. I then recorded the following comparison in Garage Band using the “Male Voice” setting.
Personally, I like the full, rich sound of the Blue Snowball best. The Logitech isn’t as bad as I feared, but the internal iMac mic is just terrible.
An earnest plea: If you are using the internal mic on your computer to record podcasts or Skype, do us all a favor and invest in a halfway decent mic like the Snowball! Amazon sells the Blue Snowball for under $75!