Author: J. Hawthorne

Rode-NT-USBThe Rode NT1-A has long been a stable condenser microphone in home project studios. Since they’ve built a reputation for good entry-level gear it makes sense that Rode has introduced a USB mic as these are generally geared towards the same audience that seeks bang for the buck.

A pop filter doesn’t usually seduce me, but this is an exception. It’s the standard to toss in a micro stand with a USB mic, and now Rode has sweetened the deal by adding a super sleek pop filter. It’s perfectly proportioned to the NT-USB’s dimensions and sans the often unwieldy and pointlessly versatile gooseneck.

The Rode records at a maximum resolution of 16-bit at 48kHz. This can still be considered the norm for USB mics. Close competition such as the Blue Yeti Pro and Apogee MiC 96k can do 24-bit and for not much more money. If your content is YouTube-bound the NT-USB’s specs are just right but for more serious music applications especially jumping up to 24-bit is well worth it.

The casing is very solid and the capsule inside is no different from Rode’s studio-grade condenser mics. The NT-USB looks and feels like a professional piece of kit worthy of sitting along side

There are two knobs nicely placed at the side of the mic that control monitoring. One knob controls the minijack headphone output level and the other sets the balance between the dry sound at source and the signal coming back from your computer. The blend feature is pretty unique and useful if you’re particular about latency or adding effects such as reverb while you track.

No extra drivers are needed to make these functions work; the NT-USB is a class compliant device. This is a huge plus as it’s frustrating to invest in a USB mic or audio interface only to find the driver is no longer supported by a new OS years down the line. It works with an iPad but you’ll need Apple’s Camera Connection Kit or similar.

The NT-USB is a cardioid pattern mic with no extra fancy features such as a pad or low frequency roll-off switch.

Frequency response goes from 20Hz to 20kHz, equal to the Blue Yeti and better than the Blue Snowball. There is an upper mid-range boost for a more flattering sound. Giving you a pretty polished result without a lot of EQ.

Verdict

This is a well-constructed mic with some great extras: pop filter, micro stand, and generous 20-foot USB cable. It would have been nice to have 24-bit recording capability but considering the extras and pro-standard capsule the price seems about right. Built-in monitoring features that go beyond the norm is another aspect that make this mic shine. The Rode NT-USB may be a Yeti killer for podcasters wanting a bit more without stepping up to the Yeti Pro.

Sennheiser-ClipMic-digitalApogee’s innovation in the realm of mobile audio recording has been tireless. They seem to be betting that many podcasters, YouTubers and even self-recording musicians are coming to view even a rig comprising of a laptop, small audio interface and USB mic as burdensome.

Being able to record pro quality audio on an iPhone or iPad is great, but without a tiny, true pro quality mic it didn’t make as much sense to transition into a micro-sized recording setup.

Of course for the film/TV production crowd that has relied on lavaliers for years, this fully digital route is simply more convenient as a separate audio interface is no longer needed.

Enter Apogee’s ClipMic digital and MKE 2: an entry level and high-end lavalier respectively. This is essentially Sennheiser’s lavaliers with a 24-bit/96 kHz converter by Apogee and lightning connector at the end.

Both models have identical specs in many respects. They work with a large range of iOS devices such as iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad Air 2, iPad Air, iPad mini. You can record at up to a 24-bit/96 kHz sampling rate with any iOS app that allows it.

The difference is the mic capsule. The ClipMic uses a Sennheiser ME 2 capsule while the MKE 2 uses, you guessed it, a MKE 2 capsule.

The price gap is substantial, with the ClipMic currently retailing for $199 and the MKE 2 for over double that cost at $499.

For film/TV production professionals or journalists that may set up in possibly harsh environmental conditions, the MKE 2 is the right choice due to its superior membrane. For a larger proportion comprising of podcasters, YouTubers, etc., the ClipMic will hold up just fine for general use.

Now we come to the comparison you’ve likely been wondering about all along. How does the sound quality differ between the two?

Make no mistake, the MKE 2 isn’t just tougher, it does indeed sound better. The ClipMic’s sound has been described as hyped in the highs or bright, while satisfactory for the low price point. The MKE 2 is no compromises mic, with richer, fuller sound and the ability to create better dimension in the sound due to better omnidirectional technology.

The Verdict

All but the pickiest interviewers, podcasters and YouTubers should be happy with the great value and above average abilities of the ClipMic.

The MKE is tough and sound-wise the omnidirectional performance takes you into its world with more detail and dimension. However in applications other than film/TV or music production those advantages wouldn’t give you as great a return and won’t be worth the price leap for many.

meteor-micI’m often amazed that manufacturers can price certain USB mics so low. A decade ago even on a shoestring budget you’d be looking at a few hundred for a mic and audio interface. And that is what a USB mic really is: a one-channel audio USB interface and mic built into one device.

The Blue Snowball has garnered much attention due to its quirky design, versatility and incredible value. The Meteor Mic seems to be Samson’s answer to it, as it’s similarly priced and has vintage look all it’s own.

Standing only 6 inches high with the legs extended, this is a good mic for your portable laptop or iPad rig.

The super reflective chrome body includes a fold-back leg design; I really this appreciated for portability since you don’t have to fold and pack a stand separately.

A killer feature absent from its competition is the threaded stand attachment. You’ll be able to mount it to any standard mic stand making positioning for acoustic instruments, guitar amps and percussion far more precise. Nice to see Samson thought of the needs of musicians rather than putting all focus on podcasters.

Most noticeable at the front is a large headphone volume dial with a mute switch in its center. Just above is the intelligent LED light: when connected it glows blue and when muted it’s amber. The mini-USB port and 1/8” headphone jack are positioned at the rear.

Most companies have remained pretty hush-hush about the size of condenser diagraph inside the casing.  As a rule of thumb, the bigger the diagraph, the bigger the soundstage it can capture. Samson claims the Meteor Mic has one of the largest condenser diaphragms (25mm) of any USB mic available.

Sound quality is crisp, articulate and quite full bodied when recording male voiceovers. This is rare as many USB mics are lacking in bottom-end that can be picked up.

The most common pickup pattern is possible: cardioid. This means it captures sound from in front of the mic and rejects noise coming from the back. In this regard the Snowball has a leg up on the Meteor as it gives you a choice of three patterns for around the same price.

The Verdict

Those that want something highly portable but not too tiny when set up, this is a nice compromise between a desktop mic like the Blue Yeti and the super compact Samson Go Mic.

The sound has a rich character considering it’s low price tag. The retro chrome body is a little quaint and not as rugged as something like the pricier Apogee MiC, but for under $70 few could find much reason to complain.

blue-nessieThe designers at Blue are experts at injecting cool-factor into their mics. And they’ve really topped themselves with the future-retro styled Nessie. Like the fabled sea beast of Loch Ness, it has an intriguing angled neck worth admiring.

It’s not done this way just for the sake of aesthetics. It’s a very practical design.

The “head” of the mic can be tilted for a myriad of applications such as instrument micing and capturing overhead ambience. Like other Blue products it has

Blue calls it’s headphone output “zero-latency” and I found it too indeed to be very responsive and without noticeable delay. The headphone input is hidden away at the back, directly above the mini-USB port.

The base of the Nessie is a giant headphone volume dial. Just above that is a large mute button. While handy and absent from many competing mics, due to the position and size it may be prone to accidental activation.

To eliminate extra time setting up, the pop filter and shockmount is built right into the mic. This is a huge plus for recording on location and helpful to beginners as there are two less items of concern to think about.

Unique Audio Processing Settings

Nessie’s three recording modes are different from the standard polar pattern switching you might expect. It sticks with the cardioid pattern and tunes the sound for the application. One position is optimized for rich vocals, another for detailed instruments, and a raw audio option is there for experienced producers who prefer to make adjustments in post-production.

This is an interesting step toward allowing the hardware to get the right sound, rather than expecting users to find the right EQ curve via software. If you’re a beginner when it comes to recording, this is welcome, but experienced individuals may prefer the more advanced setup the Yeti provides, with it’s three polar patterns.

The Sound

The sound may not rival vintage tube mics but it’s definitely more than good enough for podcasting and recording demo music tracks. In the right hands you could make a hit record with the Nessie. Onboard audio processing does help achieve a serviceable voiceover sound but I prefer the Yeti for this. The real strength of the Nessie is capturing instruments and female vocals because of the character of the small capsule condenser inside.

The Verdict

This is a great choice for budding musicians but it didn’t quite cut it for a deep male radio voice. The Nessie makes it difficult to capitalize on the proximity effect, which is speaking very close to the mic for a bass-rich sound.

The swivelling head allows for some creative positioning options, which the Yeti and Snowball cannot do, so beside the uber-cool design this is what makes the Nessie stand out.

MiC-macbookI’m often asked “what is the best USB mic for Macs?” In some way it’s a misguided question since nearly any USB mic will work with Macbook Pros, Macbook Airs and iMacs alike.

There is some legitimacy to this inquiry.

Sure the “Audio MIDI Setup” in OS X will allow you make use a massive array of mics without the clunky drivers of ages past. However, there is one company that tailors their equipment to work with Mac devices. That company is Apogee.

For years Apogee was focused on the Mac. Now that the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch are powerful enough to be used as professional audio production devices Apogee has adapted their hardware and software to play nice in the iOS realm. So when you get an Apogee product (excluding their super high-end stuff like Symphony), it’s guaranteed to work with your newish Mac plus any additional Apple device.

The Apogee MiC and now MiC 96k are the most Apple-friendly USB microphones out there. While you can’t take advantage of the power of their Maestro 2 software, you don’t need it, as there is only one channel of audio and the MiC has a hardware dial allowing you to change gain levels on the fly.

With a clunky 30-pin or Lightning to USB adapter mics such as the Blue Yeti will also work in iOS. The MiC offers a much slicker solution as you are given a 30-pin and Lightning cable that connect to your device out of the box.

This may not be a huge deal with an iPad but the adapter looks pretty absurd when plugged into a tiny iPhone 5s.

Since the MiC and MiC 96k are the most plug-and-play mics that work with Apple iOS devices, they are easy to recommend to people that prefer creating music and podcasting within the Apple ecosystem.

Technically the MiC isn’t just a USB mic. It’s a 30-pin/Lightning/USB hybrid mic and if you like to keep your possibilities open, that’s pretty cool.