Snowball Microphone Review
Platforms: PC, Mac and iPad
Windows System Requirements: USB port, 64 MB RAM, Windows XP or more recent operating system
Blue Microphones has re-released its prestigious Snowball Microphone, packaging an impressive balance between performance and price into a gorgeous spherical package that connects to a PC, Mac or iPad through a USB port.
The Snowball is as fine a microphone as you can find for the price, retailing for $100 (or less). It's a perfect entry-level microphone for anyone interested in recording everything from podcasts to performances, and an ideal upgrade for anyone frustrated with that cheap microphone clipped to the monitor or included in an off-the-shelf headset. This is the perfect microphone for computer users looking to record directly on the PC or Mac, particularly podcasters and amateur musicians for whom sound quality is critical, but who aren't ready to step up and drop a fortune on recording and mixing equipment and software. It's even compatible with the iPad, making the Snowball a strong choice for a professional blogger on the road or recording casual improvisation and jams.
I want to be clear what the Snowball is. The Snowball microphone is a quality monophonic microphone. It does not record stereo sound and it does not include software for processing, mixing and equalizing recordings. If you plan to use the Snowball to release recordings of any sort (for which it is well suited), you'll need to acquire the appropriate software to put the finishing touches on what you record. That said, the Snowball performs well enough to rival a decent USB sound card and is set up to record a variety of room profiles well. It also looks supremely cool, is very stable and easily adjustable.
Beyond the unit's straightforward high quality for the price, it has three recording settings, controlled by a switch on the back of the unit. The first is the cardioid capsule mode that I used most often (the "cardiod" refers to the fancy curved shape of the capsule). This is well suited to recording voice in a relatively quiet room. The second position uses the same cardioid capsule but with a pad that dampens the signal by 10db. This is suited to loud settings, live music or settings with more background noise. The third position is the Snowball's "Omni" capsule which is better for capturing sounds from a variety of sources, such as several people sitting around in an interview or conference. The functions were great, my only complaint is that I could never remember which mode the "1," "2" and "3" on the switch referred to if I hadn't recently changed modes.
For podcasting-type activities, the cardioid capsule mode was great. The microphone captured a wide range of sounds, and I noticed little to no background hiss that needed to be removed in later editing. Plenty of folks, especially podcasters, already have one of these on their desks, but the new model comes in two more colors, adding chrome and black to the previous white option. That's convenient if you want two of these microphones and need an easy way of distinguishing (or are just particular about your furnishings).
I was eager to try out the Snowball for gaming as well, and while the price tag will discourage cost-conscious gamers, the Snowball provided a markedly better experience in gaming than the microphones most gamers are using. Set to the second position (with the dampening pad), the Snowball was great for a shooter match or a raid in an MMOG. Positioned correctly, I was easily the clearest person in the raid, and didn't have any problems with background noise leaking through. Besides, the gleaming white sphere on the desk near the keyboard just feels cool while playing, and the tripod is heavy and stable enough that even a few overly enthusiastic gestures weren't enough to knock the Snowball over.
Let's put it simply. If you don't know much about recording, the Snowball is the best microphone that you can purchase at an affordable price point. If you have enough technical audio expertise to lift your glasses and look askance down your nose at any single feature of the Snowball, you'll be spending a lot more money on a far more sophisticated sound setup. As an example, the Snowball only supports USB output. There are no line or headphone outputs, so a professional might be looking for something more advanced. But for nearly everyone else, the Snowball is both enough, and everything you need.