Sunday, October 28, 2007

Snowball Microphone

Let's face it, most webcams produce less than ideal sound. Loic le Meur, who is just setting up a new social software platform with video does a test here of the Snowball Microphone from the US/Latvian company of Blue. Headquartered in Westlake Village, California and with engineering and manufacturing facilities in Latvia, Blue Microphones continues to come up with cutting-edge designs. Blue is also known for its vintage microphone store and restoration services.

The Snowball USB microphone isn't all that new, but it hasn't really been discovered by the podcast community yet and it is probably the wrong shape for reporters in the field!. But it is easy to use. Just plug it in, adjust your input level and you’re up and running.

The Snowball is a condenser microphones but derives its operating voltage from the bus voltage always present on your USB port. As long as the red LED is glowing, the microphone works. The Snowball does not require batteries or phantom power.

To get the most out of the Snowball, you’ll want to have some kind of software that allows for digital signal processing and non-linear editing that will accept audio from the USB port. As long as you are using Windows XP, Vista or Apple OSX, you will not need any drivers. Not sure whether there are any compatability issues with Mac's Leopard.

The Snowball’s digital output is set to 44.1 kHz / 16-bit, just like an audio CD. The sample rate / word length are not user-definable. The mic comes with a sturdy stand and a 2 metre USB cable. The ball itself seems very sturdy. Out of the box the Snowball is set to record at low levels (fine for instrument, less fine purely for speech), but the Blue website has firmware updates that will fix that. But there is no software to control the mic reception pattern settings. This can be done manually though, using Snowball's 3-pattern switch which allows you to choose from cardioid, cardioid with -10dB pad, and omnidirectional. Cost? In the US around US$100, that around 70 Euro. In Europe, there doesn't seem to be a dealer in the Netherlands, but Thomann in Germany will ship. They charge 99 Euro for the microphone and another 8 Euro for shipping. Not often you see "Made in Latvia" on a product.