Admittedly, I've never been the biggest fan of the Blue Snowball.
I'm not an audio equipment snob. On the contrary, I'm all about lower costs, ease of set-up, and I'm always willing to accept that not everything is going to sound as good as a £1500 studio condenser mic.
So I felt it was time to give the Snowball a fair trial. Have I previously been too harsh on the little chap?
I've also enlisted the help of self-confessed Snowball fan Pete Lutz of Pulp-Pourri Theatre. Pete's creating highly produced audio dramas with this mic and he's given us a sound sample of a raw recording to help you make up your own mind about its sound.
Firstly though, did you know that there's actually two different versions of the Blue Snowball…
Blue Snowball Vs Blue Snowball iCE
So what's the difference between the two?
The regular Snowball is what Blue refers to as the “professional quality option”, whilst the iCE is marketed as basic quality. This is down to the regular Snowball having an extra condenser capsule.
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There's an extra polar pattern option on the regular Snowball too, which offers both cardioid and omnidirectonal. The iCE on the other hand, only has a cardioid option. So is this a reason to opt for the regular Snowball?
Polar patterns show us the directions and areas a mic “hears” sound from. The cardioid polar pattern is suited to a solo presenter, as it is most sensitive the sound at the front of the mic, whilst isolating a lot of the noise from behind it.
The omnidirection polar pattern on the other hand, picks up noise equally from all around the mic. Mics with an omnidirectional setting are popular amongst podcasters who want to get a group of people around one microphone and record.
In my opinion though, the Snowball doesn't really sound good enough to handle this setting, and if you want to get a group around one mic, you'd be better off looking at the Snowball's big brother, the Blue Yeti.
But I'm not just here to point out the negatives. The Blue Snowball is one of the best selling podcasting mics around, so it must be doing something right. Right?
What Makes it so Popular?
It's hard not to see the attraction of the Snowball from the moment you look at the box. Blue do a brilliant job of explaining their products to the layperson. Colourful drawings and diagrams combined with simple and practical explanations will put the complete novice at ease.
There's a lack of intimidating technical info and jargon on the box, which is surely deliberate. The aim of this product is that someone will look at it and think “I can set this up”, rather than “I have no idea what any of this means”.
Of course, it's of little use to the audiophile or sound engineering veteran, but that isn't the market they're aiming at.
The quality aesthetics continue as you take the Snowball out of the box. It's a very good looking mic, and in fact, it doesn't really look like a mic at all. Again, I sense that this is a deliberate design strategy.
Blue will have done their research and know their target audience here. A microphone can be an intimidating thing to someone who's hardly ever (or never) used one. I think that's part of the reason the Snowball looks more like a desk ornament than anything else.
The way it looks not only makes it attractive for the beginner to buy, but it makes it easier to start recording and talking in to.
Setting it up is as simple as plugging in a USB drive. It comes on its own little stand so there's no need for a boom arm or anything like that.
When you're a complete beginner every little hurdle – no matter how small – can lead to you putting things off and never actually hitting record. I think the Blue Snowball does everything a mic possible can to make it quick and easy to set up, plug in, and use.
So here's a sound sample of both the regular Snowball, and the iCE. Both are raw recordings with no EQ, post-processing, or restoration applied to them.
Big thanks to Pete Lutz of Pulp-Pourri Theatre for sending this sample over.
Regular Blue Snowball
Blue Snowball iCE
As I've mentioned in my clip, the Snowball's lack of any headphone port means you can't directly monitor your recordings. There are settings you can change in your computer to alter this, but the chances are you're going to end up with a slight delay whilst listening to yourself talk.
It isn't essential that you monitor your recordings, but it is good practice. Not having the option easily at hand is certainly one downside to this mic.
What Else Will I Need to Record With a Snowball?
You'll need to install and run some audio editing software to record with any USB mic. The most popular program amongst podcasters is Audacity, which is totally free. We also have a comprehensive video course on Audacity, designed to help you set up, record, edit, and mix your podcast episodes.
How Much Does It Cost?
Though I've seen a few deals on Amazon UK lately, the regular Snowball usually sits at around £60-£70, whilst the iCE is down at about £43. On Amazon.com the iCE is currently $49, whilst the regular Snowball is $69.
Summary – The Blue Snowball
The Snowball and I will never be best friends, but I have a lot more respect for it than I did previously.
It's an affordable mic, very easy to set up and use, and it sounds fine for recording spoken word content.
In terms of an entry-level mic though, I'm still firmly in the Samson Q2U camp. The Q2U has a headphone port on it, and comes with multiple accessories – including headphones and a table stand. On top of that, it costs less than the Snowball too.
That said, I can see why the Snowball would be more appealing to the absolute beginner. It looks a lot better, and the attachable stand is far superior to the Q2U's table stand. Having less options, ports, and cables might be more appealing to you if you're just starting out, too.
The Blue Snowball and Blue Snowball iCE make recording a podcast as easy as possible. Above all, the most important part of a podcast is your message and your content. Unless you actually get started, nobody is going to hear either.
The fact that these little mics go a long way towards helping you hit record for the first time make them friends of the medium in my book.