Blue Snowball – The Tape Op Review

TapeOp Issue #54/July, 2006 | by

For all of you audiophiles out there, let me begin this brief review with a disclaimer: I am not, nor will I ever, be a recording engineer. But, as Tape Op‘s Copy Editor, John seemed to think I would be a good person to review this. My knowledge of recording terminology is scant at best. I began recording demos at my house with the help of GarageBand just a little over a year ago. In the course of that year, I have used virtually nothing to supplement my recordings — no Mbox, no amps, no microphones (save the tiny pinhole mic built into my PowerBook) — nothing. If you find this all a little disconcerting, kindly skip the rest of my review and move on to the discussion of bigger and better things.

Up until now, I have disliked using any external microphones to record my vocals into GarageBand. The myriad of background noise that my pinhole mic picks up — the click of my mouse buttons, the whirr of my computer processor, the bass-y grumble of passing delivery trucks — was a welcome distraction from my vocals. (Most new singers will attest to the fact that they find it easier to perform when their vocals are super low in the mix or drenched in reverb, or both — and I am guilty on all counts.) Well, with the pinhole mic, I could never record more than a few tracks on one demo, as the initially “charming” background hiss would become so loud that it would drown out both my voice and guitar.

When I decided to use one of my GarageBand demos on my record, Robert Cheek (my superb engineer) had to spend a while cleaning up that track, “Out Here,” in Pro Tools (sorry ’bout that, man).

Well, with the Blue Snowball mic, I am able to get beautifully clear vocal and guitar takes, whether I record them separately or together. The Snowball comes with three built-in presets that allow the user to fully utilize its dual-capsule design. The first setting is great for warm, rich-sounding vocal takes. Blue claims that the second setting is great for electric guitar, though I admit I did not actually try this one out. The third setting opens up both capsules to allow for a fuller, roomier sound — this was my personal favorite. It allowed me to record a song in one take — guitar and vox together — without picking up all of the bad ambient noise that came through the pinhole mic. I still had the open room sound I liked (birds chirping, wood creaking, etc.) without the distracting hiss that my computer mic couldn’t get enough of. To top that off, I found myself actually giving better vocal performances, able to hear nuances in my voice that I never heard before. (This might be a big “Duh!” to all you experts out there, but it was certainly a momentous day for me.)

This mic is incredibly easy to use for both PC and Mac operators — as plug-and-play as they come. To any fellow super-green home recordists out there, just remember to change the audio input device on your computer from built-in to the Blue mic, and you are ready to go. At around $160, this mic will help anyone record great little demos. It provides the poorer musician with the opportunity to record with a studio-caliber mic every day. If you need help rationalizing the cost (I know $160 is usually my food/drink budget for the month), think about all of the time it won’t take your engineer to clean up your hiss-addled demos in studio, and all the money you won’t be paying him or her to do it. Heck. I’d take that over a sixer of Pabst any day. ($189 MSRP; Blue Microphones)

[Check out Caitlin’s band Two Sheds. –JB]

Read more about the Blue Snowball USB mic.

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