Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Snowball Review

Posted on Sweetwater's site, with a few typo corrections.

Somewhat Disappointed

by Paul R. Potts , May 2006

I purchased this mic from Sweetwater.

I would like first to point out that while BLUE promotes itself as making mics in Latvia, this mic was made in China. BLUE's promotional images were actually doctored in Photoshop to remove the country of manufacture; their online company profile does not mention manufacture in China and the downloadable PDF file of the manual still claims it is made in Latvia. If country of manufacture is important to you, please take this into account. I have written to both BLUE and Sweetwater about this, but I have received no response from either.

In general, the mic functions pretty well; however, I have found that it is not really suited to the use I have put it for, which is recording myself for podcasts. This is true despite the sticker on the box that claims it is great for podcasting.

The omni setting picks up too much background noise from even a quiet room. For example, even in an empty office late at night, with the air-moving equipment off, the overhead fluourescent fixture can be heard quite noticeably, as can a quiet laptop placed 10 feet away, or traffic noise coming in from a roadway 100 yards from the building. The first cardioid setting is somewhat better in this regard, but in general this makes the mic less than ideal for podcast recording in a quiet room; in a noisier setting the problem would be greatly magnified.

It also seems to me that the mic has a fairly high level of self-noise that sounds like tape hiss, although I can't determine exactly how much in the recording environments I'm able to find.

In a quiet office I've set the mic on its included tripod, on a table in front of me, and am recording about 12-18 inches from the mic. Closer might be better, but I'm reading, so I need a little bit of space for my printed material. Even with the gain all the way up, the recorded audio is rather quiet, and needs to be punched up a lot to reach a reasonable level; this increases the level of background noise, and I found myself immediately having to try out all kinds of noise-reduction strategies just to get an audio recording with a tolerably low amount of noise. I have not found the best strategy here, but have wasted a lot of time.

I have not tried using the Snowball to record instruments or a live band. If you are considering using it for recording music, you might like the second cardioid setting, which adds some attenuation for recording loud sources. However, if you intend to record in stereo, you might find it very difficult to record from two of these at once, particularly when trying bring the resulting audio into phase. It would probably be much easier to use two conventional mics with a USB interface that provides a stereo signal out.

Some of my frustration with this product is doubtless because of my inexperience trying to record podcasts without a full-blown studio, although I've done a modest amount of studio recording and live sound with conventional microphones without too much trouble. If you are typical podcaster, you probably don't have a recording booth available; you may not even have a nice quiet room. If this is your situation, the Snowball will disappoint you. I am considering getting rid of this mic and purchasing a headset mic or broadcast-style dynamic mic instead, even if an external audio interface is required. Although it is nice to have a built-in USB interface, which combined with a laptop makes my recording setup very portable, it just is not quite the right tool for the job I'm trying to do.

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