Provides: USB audio input
Minimum Requirements: Mac OSX; USB 1.0 or 2.0; 64MB RAM
Microphone maker Blue may have hit on the secret formula for success; create an easy-to-use product with a great design that also works really well. If other companies catch on to this idea…
The first thing you notice about the Snowball is its physical design. It’s fun without being goofy—a white and chrome ball atop a shiny tripod (it’s also available in brush metal and black). It’s professional without being intimidating. In fact, it looks friendly. There’s a small red light that lets you know it’s pulling power, and the tripod legs are thick and support it well; no worries about it sliding around. The physical design is a total winner, making it a microphone that’s interesting enough to have sitting on your desk as a work of abstract art when you’re not using it. If you’re not used to working with a mic, or think you might have “stage fright” when it comes time to speak, the low-key design of the snowball makes it comfortable for amateurs to use. It’s not pointing at you, you see, it’s siting there, waiting for you to play with it.
A single USB cord connects it to your computer (where it gets its power, no batteries required), and on the back is a small switch which controls the mic’s settings: cardioid (records what’s in front of mic), cardioid with -10dB pad (for loud sounds or live music) and omni (picks up sound from 360 degrees around the mic).
Garage Band detects the mic without problem, which figures since it’s designed for podcasting. I found the audio quality to be excellent, but also found myself leaning into the mic to make sure I was getting more volume. When I tried recording in Windows XP (running virtually in VMware) I had to plug the mic in a couple of times for the computer to recognize it, and really boost my speaking voice to get adequate volume, but it was an unusal setup, and I had neither of those problems when running it in Leopard or Snow Leopard.
Once I had a physical setup that I was comforatable with, figured out where the Snowball worked for me, and how loudly I needed to speak, the audio quality was excellent. I’ve used only low-end USB mics before (along with the internal mics on my Mac for Skype and iChat), and the Snowball has none of their problems (tinny sound, static, etc.). The audio is rich and the playback was warm and realistic.
At almost $100 retail, the Snowball isn’t the cheapest microphone you’ll find, nor is it truly a “pro” mic; you can only connect it via USB, and its simple settings make it ideal for home office use. It’s a prosumer item, but for those who need to take their audio seriously (podcasters, people who use audio chat frequently) without having a home studio, the Snowball is a well-designed piece of hardware that delivers great audio and connects simply with Garage Band.
Buy the Snowball Mic from Blue