Blue SPARK Digital USB Condenser Microphone Review

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IMG_0018 copyBlue came to the attention of YouTubers and podcast producers with their Snowball and Yeti USB microphones.  Renowned for quality and ease of connectivity, they spawned Blue’s more recent professional digital condenser microphone designed to make professional quality recordings possible in any creative environment – on either iDevices or PC.  How did I sound – pretty awful probably, but read on to confirm your suspicions.

 

DESIGN & HARDWARE

IMG_0003 copyWith their previous microphones, Blue set out to make an imprint on the home recording market in style, and they certainly did that – particularly with their most famous microphone – the Yeti.

The SPARK digital carries on this tradition of unique design with blue and silver metallic colour scheme, and a retro chromed microphone guard.  It’s around the same size as your standard vocal mic such as the Shure SM58 and has a reasonable amount of weight to it lending to the quality feel.

Up front theirs a dial for volume, gain and instant mute whilst on the rear of the mic there’s a switch which allows you to enable focus control.  This gives the microphone capsule a little more power and so ups the dynamic frequency response.

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Whether you’ll prefer using the microphone with this feature on will largely depend on your recording environment, so I’d recommend you have a play.  Though I couldn’t necessarily tell you why in great detail, I preferred the sound using the microphone with it on.

It all sits comfortably on a silver suspended stand that reduces the chance of any vibrations being transferred to the mic during recordings. On the bottom there’s a small port to which you can connect either the provided USB connector to connect to your laptop or desktop PC or an Apple 30-pin connector, both of have an in-line 3.5mm headphone monitor output.

It’s worth mentioning that even though the stand feels like a solid compliment to the SPARK, the bungee chords that hold the microphone in place don’t always feel particularly stable thanks to the weight of the microphone. Because of this, I didn’t really experiment with the microphone at unusual angles, choosing to keep it upright instead.

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IMG_0019 copyTHE TECH

Behind the cardoid, solid-state microphone lies some impressive specs.  A wider Frequency Response and a higher SPL handling range than Shure’s SM58 stalemate you’re definitely dealing with a quality piece of vocal equipment – don’t let that USB port fool you. Here’s some specifications, some of which you may be able to fully understand better than I:

tech specs

 

SETUP

If you’re already equipped with a adequate recording software on PC or Mac then you’ll find the microphone incredibly simple to use – it’s plug and play, working without any other necessary drivers.  All you’ll have to do is select the SPARK as you’re preferred input source.  If you’re not yet equipped with any form of recording software, then do as I did, and get hold of Audacity – a piece of free and open-source audio recording software that’s surprisingly powerful.

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After mere minutes I was recording and revelling in some excellent (and slightly frightening) recordings of vocal chords that hadn’t been properly warmed in at least 6 or 7 years.  The only slight issue I found on the second time of using the microphone was that because I had inadvertently partly unscrewed the bottom of the microphone, it was not earthing properly and causing a background hum in my recordings.  I found a couple of other people with a similar problem when I searched for a reason behind this interference, so make sure you always ensure the bottom portion is screwed on securely.

 

SAMPLES

Not being a purveyor of  a suitable Apple device to test with, all my recordings were done on a Windows PC, though I did manage to grab some time on a friend’s iPad, which equipped with Garage Band instantly found the SPARK and performed exactly as well as you’d expect from a fully-fledged computer.


First, some clean acoustic guitar ramblings


An excerpt from a partially successful live recording of The Beatles – Blackbird


A recorded and processed recording of Paul Simon – Something So Right

 

IMG_0041 copyCONCLUSION

I’m no microphone expert, in fact my musical expertise is more limited than I’d like it to be, largely down to the fact of spending too many years bashing drums and having other people setup microphones around me.  Using the Blue SPARK digital gave me a purpose to explore music again and be creative – and this is testament in part to the SPARK’s simplicity in setup and excellent recording quality.

Connectivity to PC, iPad or iPhone couldn’t be simpler, and the onboard volume control, mute and in-line headphone monitor are all really handy features.  Everything is presented nicely and feels solidly made – with the plush bag provided to carry it in being something you’ll want to line your entire house in once you’ve had a fondle.

In short, this is an excellent condenser mic for vocalists, muscians or those looking to record a podcast in their room.  At £150 it comes in around the same price as some similar alternatives, but none of them look quite as unique, and feel quite so well made as this effort from Blue.

 

Positives

+ Elegant retro design.

+ Solid build quality.

+ Incredibly easy setup.

+ Flexibility with iOS connectivity.

 

Negatives

– Be careful not to unscrew the bottom.
– Support for other mobile OS would be appreciated.

9

 

Price: £149.99
More InfoBlue
Audio Specs: 26Hz – 20kHz Frequency Response, 65-128dba SPL Handling Range, 84db S/N ratio, 28 mV/Pa Sensitivity.
Accessories: Soft lined Carry pouch, USB PC cable, 30-Pin Apple connector – both with 3.5mm headphone monitor socket.

 

 

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