Hands-on review: Snowball USB microphone

Blue Microphones recently added another retro and stylish-looking microphone to its audio recording device collection: the Snowball. Here's the hands-on review.

Blue Microphones is known for its retro and stylish-looking microphone collection, and here's a hands-on review of one of the staples in the catalog: the Snowball.

SET-UP

Much like the THX-certified Yeti USB microphone that debuted last year, the set-up process is incredibly simple. Only one cord is included in the box: a USB 2.0 cable that connects the Snowball to a Mac or PC. No software is required - except whatever you plan to use to record audio (i.e. GarageBand, Audacity, etc.).

The only assembly required is attaching the Snowball to the silvery tripod, which was a little wobbly when I first tried it. So be sure to make sure it's attached tightly. You wouldn't want the Snowball to roll off the table during a recording session.

When the Snowball is set up on the tripod, the round microphone part can be tilted and pointed around in varying directions. On the reverse side of the Snowball is a switch to toggle between three mic patterns.

[For a size comparison with the Yeti, check out the photo at the end of this post.]

Once the Snowball is attached to the computer, a red light will illuminate at the top of the Snowball to signify a connection.

USE

Even though this is advertised (even on the box) as a plug-and-play device for Windows and Mac computers, it still would have been nice if there was a quick start guide or instruction booklet included in the box. (Update below.) I tested it with my MacBook Pro, and it's impossible to tell which mic pattern is best for which recording use by just looking at the Snowball or the packaging. Although, Blue Microphones took the greener approach (which is better in the long run) by posting the manual online, which I found within a few seconds of looking at the site.

After testing out the different mic patterns, the Snowball is certainly good for basic uses, such as VoIP calls and video chatting (i.e. Skype, Google Voice, etc.), doing voiceovers and podcasts. It's also decent enough for recording your own music (i.e. with a guitar or other personal instrument - not a whole symphony), but the Snowball offers two optimized mic patterns for speech whereas it only has one customized for music. Users do have to be careful as this device will pick up every little sound with a spherical microphone recording 360-degree audio. A sound-proof room isn't exactly necessary, but be sure to close the windows and turn off the TV in another room.

With a dual-capsule CD-quality microphone inside that pale round orb, the Snowball only supports 44.1 kHz / 16-bit digital output - no traditional analog mixing. This isn't a sound studio or professional-grade microphone, but rather just a high-end one for personal and semi-professional uses.

Given that the Snowball connects to computers via USB, Blue Microphones boasts that the Snowball is also ready to connect to the iPad 2 with Apple's recently released Camera Connection Kit, which should come in handy for that tablet's support for GarageBand and similar apps. The Snowball would be a better option than some of Blue's other USB-connected mics as not only is it a bit more compact but it also drains less power from the iPad than the Yeti or Yeti Pro.

AVAILABILITY

Available in three classic shades (black, white and brushed aluminum), the Snowball microphone is available now. The MSRP is $99.95, which you'll see from some retailers such as Apple. However, Amazon has the Snowball priced at $63.57. It could be a limited-time offer, but it's worth checking out before making a purchase.

UPDATE: Blue Microphones has contacted me apologizing that a printed manual was not included with my review unit. The Snowball does in fact ship with a paper manual guide - I just turned out to be unlucky with this copy.

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