Blue Microphones Snowball
Blue Microphones' Snowball, now available in the UK, is a USB condenser microphone designed to be used by anyone who needs to record professional-level audio on their Mac.
First impressions of the Snowball are good. The microphone itself is around 10cm in diameter and weighs in a shade less than half a kilo. It has a USB socket and three-way switch on the back, and a mic grille and LED on the front. Underneath is a screw-in mount for the included tripod stand. The tripod is sturdy but easily manoeuvred so you can rotate and angle the Snowball to suit.
With the Snowball connected, the LED glows red to indicate that it's powered, and all that's left is to select it in System Preferences' Sound Input pane. Although the manual warns of setting the input level too high, we found that we needed to set it at close to its maximum to achieve the volume we wanted when recording speech using QuickTime 7's audio recorder.
The Snowball can be used in either omnidirectional or cardoid (directional) modes by flicking a switch on the back of the device. A third setting attenuates the cardoid signal by 10dB to avoid overloading the microphone and creating distortion. In omnidirectional mode, the Snowball is great for recording a multi-person podcast or even a recording session where musicians are scattered around the room. Used in cardoid mode, it makes an excellent podcast or acoustic instrument microphone.
In our tests, audio quality from the Snowball was excellent. Speech was crisp and clear, our acoustic guitar test reproduced every string pick and fret buzz, and background hum was non-existent. Even with music playing at a reasonable volume in the immediate background, the Snowball minimised it and reproduced the recorded speech brilliantly.
The Snowball is perfect for podcasts, interviews, and recording vocals or acoustic instruments in GarageBand. It may be a little larger than other USB mics but its quality and the option to use it as a directional or omnidirectional mic make it a great choice.