Game Rant’s Andrew Dyce reviews the Blue ‘Snowball’ USB Microphone

There used to be a time when semi-professional recording of music, interviews, or audio of any kind was beyond the reach of anyone not already in possession of a professional recording studio. Those days are over thanks to smaller home audio equipment and accessories, but it’s not easy finding instruments that are both reliable and affordable.

Blue Microphones have a sizable gallery of home microphones and peripherals, but the company’s Snowball USB Microphone claims to be perfect for aspiring musicians and podcasters alike. Is this one microphone that will more than deliver on its smaller price tag – or show that consumers only get what they pay for?

Almost everyone (myself included) has a friend or acquaintance involved in music or audio recording, and as a result, sees the vast complexities of the medium as beyond their comprehension. If that sounds like you, then you’ll be more than relieved to hear that the Snowball is about as simplified as a microphone can be, while still offering some flexibility.

The entire device consists of the ball microphone itself, an adjustable stand on which it is mounted, and one cable. Simply unwrap the components, screw the mic onto the base, plug the cable into the back of the mic and your PC or Mac’s USB port, and you’re ready to go. The appearance of the device certainly doesn’t reflect the relatively inexpensive $99.99 USD price tag. With a retro grill and chromed logo, the variety of finishes gives buyers a very professional looking microphone that’s sure to match your own style.

The Snowball only requires Mac OSX, Windows Vista or XP, and only requires a handful of steps to get up and running. In my case (using Windows 7) no adjustments were needed for my PC to recognize or configure the microphone, which was more than a small relief.

Blue Snowball Microphone Close Up

From that point on, you’ll need to have software of your own to use the Snowball, since none is included with it. That’s not much of a disappointment, but including at least a beginner’s audio recording program would have made the Snowball even more approachable for the tech-wary. The manual accompanying the Snowball lists Garage Band, Logic 7, Sonar and Adobe Premier Elements 4 as compatible programs, but there’s no reason to think that most audio programs utilizing a USB microphone wouldn’t work just as well.

In case a mono microphone might sound a little too simplified for your purposes, the Snowball does have three different settings for different uses, selected with a sliding switch on the rear of the main ball. Setting ‘1’ activates the one-directional cardioid capsule, which is ideal for capturing speech from directly in front of the mic. Setting ‘2’ activates the cardioid capsule with a -10dB PAD, better suited for recording live music, or louder audio. Finally Setting ‘3’ uses the Snowball’s two microphones to capture sound from all around the device, better for recording with a room full of people or ambient noise. The third setting does record from all directions, but is still more sensitive to those in front of the mic.

That may sound a bit complicated, but it basically means you have one setting for capturing high quality speech, another that softens voice or louder music, and a third for 360-degree recording. The modes definitely have their own strengths and weaknesses in practice, but having the slider only marked with the corresponding numbers will lead to some confusion. Letters or images would likely have been easier to remember than the numbers, but again, that’s a minor complaint.

Snowball USB Microphone Garage Band

The Snowball Microphone claims to be perfect for podcasting, and while a significant amount of editing software will be needed to make that a reality – just ask our own Ben Kendrick – the microphone is a good place to start. In my experience, the Snowball was able to produce far superior audio quality while Skype-ing from PC to both PC and iPhone, and voice recording fidelity that many podcasters would be wise to aspire to. There are sure to be USB microphones that could remove even the minor amount of imperfections with the Snowball, but you would be hard-pressed to find one anywhere near as affordable.

If you’re considering starting up a podcast of your own, capturing your own music digitally, or merely improving the quality of your web chats and Skype, then the Snowball is perfect – and since the microphone is available at Amazon, Best Buy and most major retailers for $99.99, breaking the bank isn’t necessary for a microphone you surely won’t regret picking up. The Snowball could have offered some in-box software, or a bit wider range of functions, but it more than lacks up for that in ease of use.

It may not meet the needs of more professional audiophiles, but for the newcomer or budding podcaster, the Blue Snowball USB Microphone is just about perfect.

tags: Mac, PC