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Snowball USB Mic
Score: 85%
Developer: Blue Microphones
Device Type: Audio
Compatible With:


Function:

A core concept of the Web2.0 movement is broadcasting. It's now possible to create content - written, audio, video, or other - more easily than ever before, and for the widest possible audience. Cheap bandwidth and storage, combined with low-cost personal PCs, powered the revolution but those of us with greater aspirations eventually look for slightly more premium hardware. We don't have the same resources as a professional radio station or recording studio, but we'd like to sound better than amateur. Enter devices like the Snowball USB Microphone, which puts higher-level audio hardware in your hands at a price that won't completely bust your wallet.

For about $60, Snowball USB Microphone gives you a quality mic that records equally well for home studio podcasting, and conference-hall lectures. It's powered by USB, making it simple to use in a situation where you may only have a laptop running on battery power. It's also effective on multiple platforms; we tested it on both Mac and Linux with zero issues, and any PC running Windows XP or Vista is also supported. It's refreshing to see the device recognized without any special configuration. Flexibility is key when you need to record in a wide variety of scenarios, and Snowball USB Microphone delivers the goods in this respect.


Performance:

What allows Snowball USB Microphone to do well where other mics might falter is primarily a little switch on the back of the device. There are three settings, but it's more like two-and-a-half settings because two of them are closely related. On one setting, you get to take advantage of what they call the "omni" setting of the Snowball, using the widest recording range to capture ambient sound, perfect for recording in a room where you aren't entirely sure where your sound source will be located. The other two settings involve the device's cardioid capsule, best for focused sound sources like a voice or instrument. For a louder source, the cardioid can be set to automatically dampen 10 decibels, which is the "half" setting mentioned earlier.

Snowball USB Microphone features a standard mic-stand mount, but also comes with its own tabletop tripod stand. The stand works well for places where you only need about 6-8 inches of elevation, and would be especially nice for recording at a conference from the back of the room. To get the most out of Snowball USB Microphone, you'll need to tweak the settings on your PC or laptop, mostly because the default microphone built into your computer isn't nearly as sensitive as this, and doesn't have much if any dynamic range. The default settings for volume will need to be adjusted, and Snowball provides some good documentation in the box and on their website to help you.


Features:
  • Three Hardware Settings for Recording a Variety of Sound Sources
  • Supported Device on Windows XP/Vista and Mac OS X
  • Swivel-Mount Tripod Stand for Tabletop Use of Snowball USB Microphone
  • Standard Attachment for Use with Microphone Stands
  • Powered by USB Compatible Computers

Drawbacks & Problems::

The most obvious and almost exclusive issue with Snowball USB Microphone is its enormous size. The thing is possibly a bit larger than a softball, not including the metal tripod stand and USB cord. If you plan to do nothing more than set this up as a semi-permanent feature in your home office, size really isn't a drawback, but if you're going to a conference and plan to do some recording, the heft of this thing will be a setback. Not only is it heavy, but it will barely fit in your carry-on bag. The stand adds weight and won't be something you want to attach and detach constantly, so you'll tend to keep them together. It's mostly a ding on portability, and it depends how important good sound is for you. The only other issue we noticed was that the stand tended to jiggle a bit and didn't tighten down as much as we wanted. It's a simple enough stand, but the mic can easily slip down or wiggle unless you apply some serious torque when tightening it in the desired position. Once attached, the mic will swivel, but what we wanted in the stand was something more solid. It feels like this was a corner cut, compared to the mic itself.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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