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.

Blue Nessie Adaptive USB Condenser Microphone, Cardioid Blue Nessie Adaptive USB Condenser Microphone, Cardioid
List Price: $109.99
Sale Price: $83.00

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.

apogee-micA common complaint about USB microphones is that most only do 16-bit/44.1 KHz recording. This is CD quality and ample for streamed content. However, when working with the Blue Yeti I often found myself eyeballing cases containing XLR mics and my Apogee Duet, lusting for 24-bit goodness.

Blue addressed this urge for high-definition audio by releasing the Yeti Pro. And Apogee has stepped up with the MiC 96k, a revision to the original MiC.

The MiC 96k and MiC look identical on the outside. The differences are of course internal and on the spec sheet. Both allow you to record on your Mac, iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. Like the name implies the Mic 96k allows you to set sample rates all the way up to 24-bit/96kHz.

Some may be irritated that Apogee excludes Windows users but I see it as an advantage. This means their software people can focus all their attention on iOS and Mac OS X, rather than spreading themselves too thin and falling behind as new OS updates come out.

Mini MiC

I was surprised how tiny this microphone is. It measures 4.56” (115.8mm) tall x 1.52” (38.60mm) wide. It is dwarfed by the Blue Yeti, which measures almost 12” tall.

Despite it’s stature this is a USB mic worth taking seriously. It features a road-worthy all metal construction.

The Sound

Beyond the pro level sample rates it is also equipped with Apogee’s highly regarded preamp and converter technology. Sound quality is excellent and may even surprise gear snob producers that trash talk about cheap USB mics. Experienced ears should hear a clear boost in depth when switching from 16 to 24-bit. The small size does have some tradeoffs in the sound department as expected. Due to the form factor Apogee had to use a small capsule; it sounds good but the impressively huge sound of a large diaphragm condenser mic will defiantly not be replaced by it.

Features

Functionality is simple and stripped down although if offers more hardware-based control than the basic Audio-Technica offerings. Those that prefer hardware controls will like this gain control dial on the side. This gives you up to 40 dB of gain.

The indicator light is unique and a pretty nifty detail. This lets you know if the device is ready to record or if the gain is set too high and the signal is clipping. For podcasters and musicians that record themselves, the red status light to denote clipping is useful indeed. And thanks to the dial you can quickly make adjustments without having to touch your Apple device.

One disadvantage to this mic is the lack of different polar patterns. It is configured to record directly in front of the mic (cardioid) only. While this is fine for the vast majority of applications it’s fun to experiment with omnidirectional and bi-directional settings. Blue products give you the ability to do this, even with the modest Snowball.

Review Verdict

This could be the perfect mic for doing high-quality field recordings with an iPhone.

If you need an extremely portable mic that does 24-bit the choice at this point is a no-brainer. This is the only microphone out there that checks these two boxes.

Apple’s iPad and iPhone are now recognized as serious audio production tools. Now that iOS devices have able, multicore processors the trend is only expected to gain momentum.

Top microphone manufacturers such as Blue, Apogee and Samson have jumped onboard; and quick changes from Apple have made it hard to keep up. At present you need a Lightning adapter to use an iPhone 5 or 4th generation iPad with any of the mics listed. While not perfect, it sure beats lugging a laptop around.

Apogee MiC

Like all Apogee products, MiC is exclusively made for Mac and iOS devices. This specialization has so far meant drivers and software work seamlessly with Apple’s gear.

The big advantage this has over the others is 44.1/48kHz 24-bit analog to digital converters. This means studio quality sample rates rather than just CD quality sound. Nearly all other USB mics are presently 16-bit. While this is fine for YouTube videos and streaming, it makes sense to archive in hi-res and sample down if the content will be relevant in the future.

Blue Spark Digital

While Apogee is known for great audio converters and software, Blue is known for their great XLR and USB microphones.

SOS praised the Spark for its “no‑nonsense, not overly‑coloured sound, robust low-end and capable vocal handling.” As expected the Spark Digital takes these qualities and adds direct compatibility with hi-tech devices.

Some have complained about how USB mics tend to have a cheaper feel then their traditional, XLR counterparts. This definitely isn’t the case with the Spark Digital as its brother is analog, and components were added to bring it into the digital realm.

Samson Meteor Mic

Not only does the Meteor Mic have vintage cool factor but it’s also a very good value. If you’re doing rough recordings, or doing podcasting rather than music, this may be enough for your needs. It’s a good desktop PC mic to boot.

The Meteor records 16-bit audio at 44.1/48kHz resolution, which is currently the standard. While the sound quality doesn’t match that of the the MiC or Spark Digital, its a fraction of the price.

If you’re just getting started and aren’t sure if you’re going to stick to making audio recordings the Meteor provides a starting point.

Apogee ONE

This is more than a mic; it’s also an audio interface. If you’re a musician that could use an all-in-one device for travel or recording on location the ONE is definitely worth considering.

It’s amazing that they’ve managed to pack so much functionality into such a small package. Although I was skeptical about the built-in mic due to the size, it turned out to be as good as a full-size, inexpensive microphone such as the MXL 2001.

The downside is ONE has a reputation for being fragile. This is a concern if you travel and it’s recommended that you ensure there is plenty of padding around it in your bag.

Blue Mikey

Mikey stands out from the rest because it connects directly to the iPad/iPhone connector. This is an advantage and disadvantage depending on how you look at it. If you’re a reporter type that needs to move around this solution beats all others. The downside is you need a Lightning adapter and this makes it tough on the Lightning or 30-pin port.

It won’t replace a condenser mic in terms of quality but Mikey is good to have in your audio toolkit for certain applications.

FiRe 2 software is great and features automatic compression so it balances very loud and quiet sounds on the fly. This can make the Mikey very handy for recording loud band rehearsals or concerts.

Overall it’s a cool solution that turns and iPad/iPhone into a field recorder.

The Snowball ICE is a stripped down version of the earlier released Snowball.

Although the Snowball is very affordable it includes features many solo podcasters and gamers will rarely if ever use. Blue recognized this and released ICE to shave down the MSRP.

If you’re a musician the choice is easy. The Snowball has an omnidirectional cardioid setting that allows you to pick up everything surrounding the mic, not just sounds in front of it. This can be used creatively to record room ambiance or to capture several instruments at once. Additionally it has a cardioid with -10dB pad setting so you can record loud guitars, drums, etc. These features are absent from the ICE.

For podcasters who want to do interviews or record commentary with more than one person speaking, the original Snowball is still the way to go since it has omnidirectional capability.

Gamers opting to ditch their headset are the only audience I recommend the Snowball ICE to. The original Snowball’s switching features are useless in this application.

Even if you hardly use omnidirectional mode or the -10dB pad, it’s well worth the small premium. Plus it will give you room to grow, as you never know if a friend might want to join in or if you’ll become interested in new recording methods as you gain experience.

Snowball and Snowball ICE sound the same and record at the same bit rate, 16-bit, 44.1kHz. For more detail on sound quality and features common to both USB microphones, read my review of the Snowball.

Oddly, Amazon.com is doing its own thing and has priced the ICE above the Snowball, at least at the moment. Unless the ICE is at least $10 cheaper, there’s no reason even those with the most basic needs should choose it over the Snowball.

For such a small, inexpensive USB mic Blue makes lofty claims about the Tiki. In Intelligent Speech Mode it minimizes background noise. In Natural Recording Mode it balances levels from various sources such as vocals and acoustic guitar.

While this seems like godsend on paper, anyone who‘s applied noise gates and various filters to accentuate sounds is better tuned to the reality. When you gain one advantage via heavy tinkering you usually do it at the cost of another.

I found the audio quality in Intelligent Speech Mode to be below average due to internal DSP processing which rendered it dull and muffled. While this mode is designed for use with Dragon NaturallySpeaking or Skype, it ironically crippled speech recognition capabilities.

Natural Recording Mode faired better however the processing to make various instruments equal in volume wasn’t pronounced enough to place this above solutions such as Samson’s excellent Go Mic, which I reviewed here. Besides, most people are picking this up for its Intelligent Speech Mode.

One reason it can’t see serious podcasters or musicians using this is due to the awkward mic placement. Granted condenser microphones are adept at picking up distant noises but it’s awfully low to be speaking or singing into. This lowers proximity effect so the deeper frequencies in the voice won’t be as pronounced.

Another fatal flaw is the way the Tiki plugs into the USB input. The USB connection is oversized, putting unnecessary stress on the input of Apple laptops particularly. The convenience of doing away with cables that run to the device is clever on paper but again real-world application isn’t so hot. If you value your hardware you’ll be using a USB extension cable and that defeats the purpose of the design.

Despite the gripes if you want to record rough music AND use Skype and don’t have much money to spend the Tiki is a decent solution as it’s a jack-of-all-trades. Still, the gimmick-free Go Mic is a better bet.