By Darren Rolfe:
It wasn’t just Apple that announced cool stuff at MacWorld yes I know it was almost nine months ago. But cast your mind all the way back to January and ‘Blue’ Microphones also announced a brand new product that happened to catch my eye and I’ve been on the trail for one ever since.
Well, this week I’m finally reviewing the “Snowflake: portable, professional USB microphone’.
You see when I first clapped eyes on it, it ticked all my boxes:
• A price that wouldn’t break the bank
• That ‘cool’ retro styling synonymous with the ‘Blue’ brand
• A small form factor, as I don’t have a dedicated/permanent studio room
The “Blue” brand is a very well respected name in the recording industry, producing a wide range of microphones. From small entry level models right up to elaborate professional microphones costing thousands of dollars. I’ve been aware of the “Blue” product line for quite sometime and I know for a fact that our very own David Sparks is a “Snowball” user. Well, I guess it would be fair to call the “Snowflake” the baby brother of the “Snowball’.
David has had a really nice, consistent, audio quality for as long as I can remember and this is something that I’ve aspired to achieve, but so far failed miserably at! By David’s own admission he doesn’t do anything special other than sit in his den, plug in his “Snowball” and podcast, what a pro! So I was hoping some of the MacSparky Blue Microphone Mojo might rub off on me!
First impressions of the “Snowflake” were very promising.
It’s a lot smaller than I was expecting it to be, overall the unit is only 10.16 x 6.35 x 3.81cm (LxWxH). Amazing! It really is quite cute and dinky. The construction however is very solid and when you pick it up it has the feel of a quality product. Built out of aluminium and a glossy white plastic (similar to the iPhone 3G) it definitely doesn’t look cheap or out of place nuzzling up to your Mac.
Slide out the white plastic bottom tray and you’ll discover the USB cable, pull the glossy white dome out of it’s back and voila, you reveal the round microphone head! Twist the aluminium chassis round and you have a desktop stand. Twist it around again and you have hanger to pop over your laptop screen. It’s like a beautifully engineered mini “Transformer”!
It’s hard to believe that packed inside this little box of tricks is allegedly all you need to produce professional recordings on the go. But it’s true! Now I have a confession to make I’m not an audiophile by any stretch. I haven’t got a clue about levels, gain, decibels, pop screens and all that other audio geekery. But that’s not to say I won’t ever delve any deeper.
So, I bet what you’re thinking, so why are you reviewing a microphone then? Because I think I’m like quite a few other part-time podcasters out there. Someone who is passionate about podcasting, but has limited spare time and equally limited funds and requires a solution that just works out of the box, yet sounds professional. Plug and play. Correction – plug and podcast!
So what it does sound like? Well, don’t they say the proof of the pudding is in the eating? So, naturally I’m recording this segment with it. Personally, I think it sounds a hundred times better than the microphone I currently use. Don’t believe me? Then let me remind you… (You see normally I use the built-in iSight microphone on my MacBook and I think you’ll agree it isn’t pretty!)…
So I guess by now you’re thinking where’s the technical jargon then?
Well, the Snowflake is a condenser microphone, which means it has a smooth, open sound with a nice, natural high-end. And I’m going to end the technical jargon there. As I mentioned earlier I’m by no means an authority on audio facts and figures.
What I will tell you though is if you plug in the USB cable, then click on a couple of pref panes I’m confident that you’ll be up, running and recording in a matter of minutes. And of course no drivers necessary as your ever so friendly mac will recognize it immediately.
The Snowflake derives its operating voltage from your computer’s bus voltage. As long as your Snowflake is plugged into your computer’s USB, it will be powered properly, and the Snowflake does not require batteries.
Personally for the money I think it sounds great to me. And if you are like me setting out to buy your first microphone – they really are the deciding factors. Does it sound any good and is it within my budget?
But it’s not without a few tiny gripes. The hinge on the joint that connects the microphone to the stand I found to be a little bit loose. So when I hung it over my laptop screen I kept finding myself having to fiddle with the angle of the screen to try and keep it balanced and upright.
If I travelled with it a lot, this looseness of the microphone joint would concern me. It’s just that I have visions of me slipping it into a laptop bag and the microphone element inadvertently popping out and going in head first. Crunch! One solution to this would be the inclusion of some kind of slip case, that fitted snugly and kept everything tight and in its place.
If you’re the owner of a stand alone Apple Cinema Display you may also be disappointed as the thickness of the display is too wide for the “Snowflake” to hang over. Of course you can always use it desktop style. But I must stress these are very minor niggles. Overall I was very, very impressed with the microphone. I think if you are looking for a low cost pocket-sized USB microphone then this is bang on the money.
So now we know that I think it’s perfect for my podcasting requirements. But there is also a long list of other possible uses: voice recognition software, iChat, Skype, Vonage, dictation, field recording, lecture recording, and narration for slideshows or PowerPoint presentations. You could even record music or GarageBand another multitrack recording application.
The “Snowflake” costs a very reasonable $79 but I have seen it for an amazing $59 on the US Amazon store! Here in the UK you can buy it direct from Dolphin Music over at www.dolphinmusic.co.uk for £39.99 inc. VAT, delivery is £6.99.