Given that plenty of the USB microphones we test cost $100 or more, the Snowball Ice from Blue stands out. At $49.99, it's a very affordable option from a company known for its high-quality pro-level mics. The standard Snowball costs about $20 more, and features multiple mic pickup patterns to record with, while the Snowball Ice is a cardioid-only option. Seeing as that's one of the most popular styles of mic pattern for recording vocals, plenty of users will see the value in saving a little money by choosing this fixed-pattern condenser. In the hands of an experienced engineer or a musician with solid mic technique, the Blue Snowball Ice is suitable for a wide range of projects, and earns our Editors' Choice for budget USB mics.
Available in black or white, and measuring 12.7 inches in circumference (a roughly 4.2-inch diameter), the orb-shaped Snowball Ice ($39.99 at Amazon)(Opens in a new window) has a plastic cover that exposes metallic grille at the front of the mic, where the Blue logo is, and also on the opposite end. A status LED is located at the top front face—it lights up when the included USB cable is connected to both the mic and a recording source. Internally, the Snowball Ice employs a pressure gradient-style condenser with a cardioid pattern.
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The mic screws into the tripod mount, and once it's securely in place, it can be angled upward or downward. That said, we found the angle to be slightly less extreme than we'd prefer in order for the mic's diaphragm to properly line up with the speaker's mouth. If the desktop stand were a little taller, this wouldn't really be an issue. As is, the mic is pointed more at the upper torso/neck area. While this can actually be useful for controlling plosives with an unruly vocalist, those that do have solid mic technique will need to crouch down, most likely, to line their mouths up with the diaphragm. The farther the speaker is from the mic, the less of an issue this is, but if you're looking for a relatively close sound, this is a minor annoyance. That said, you can simply opt to use your own mic stand, and the pivot action (which is built into to the mic itself, not the stand) will still be available.
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Blue claims it doesn't use DSP (digital signal processing) in its mics, and our tests support this assertion—the Snowball Ice can be driven to distortion more easily than some others we've tested. That may sound link a negative, but this is the way professional mics are—they distort if your pump the gain too high or yell into them up close, and in the pro recording world, the concept of a mic with built-in DSP would send shudders down an engineer's spine. Better to record a pure signal and apply your own EQ and dynamic processing later (if needed).
That said, one way the Snowball Ice feels slightly budget is its 44.1kHz/16-bit specs. Many of the mics we test have notably higher sampling rates and can record 24-bit signals. But again, those mics all typically cost at least $100, some of them $200 or more.
The Snowball Ice is compatible with Windows 7, 8, and 10, and Mac OS 10.4.11 and higher, and requires USB 1.1/2.0 (or newer) and 64MB of RAM (or better). It's a plug-and-play style option that will be immediately recognized by many recording programs, such as GarageBand. Some pro-level software, like Pro Tools, will require a workaround if you wish to use the Snowball Ice (or any USB mic)—Google search "aggregate device USB mic ProTools" to find explanations on how to set this up.
In GarageBand, the mic shows up immediately, and this is where you can adjust your recording levels, as the mic itself lacks gain knobs, as well as headphone jacks, which is typical of an XLR mic but somewhat less typical for USB mics. Once you've set a solid level, the Snowball Ice delivers clean, crisp audio.
Addressed dead-on, from about a foot away, the mic tends to pick up plenty of room sound, and if the room you're in isn't acoustically treated, this could be problematic. We tested the mic in an acoustically treated room, and found a foot to be too far away for a clear recording. Moving in to about six to eight inches offered a clearer recording, with far less room sound, and crisp highs. However, the mic seemed to sound best when addressed even more closely. This could be a problem for the inexperienced vocalist, but if you have solid mic technique, the closer proximity adds some low and low-mid richness to the recording without things getting muddy.
The mic also delivers solid audio from a distance of about five to six inches, but with the vocalist slightly off-axis and the gain adjusted accordingly. In this scenario, you still get crisp highs, not much (if any) room sound, and you will get fewer plosives from inexperienced vocalists. Of course, you can also opt to use a pop filter to absorb the plosives that even those vocalists with solid mic technique sometimes introduce into a recording, but if you're not interested in buying another accessory or making one yourself (it's possible with coat hanger wire and nylon), the off-axis trick is a solid bet here.
This said, the Snowball Ice does a relatively solid job of avoiding plosives thanks to its design—the grille has is own screen built-in behind its surface. This is true of plenty of mics that still benefit from a pop filter, but the Blue Snowball Ice's forgiving design seems built with the podcaster or burgeoning vocalist in mind.
Is the Snowball Ice the best-sounding mic on the market? No. Only being 44.1kHz/16 bit does limit its sonic capabilities somewhat. And some users might miss the more or less standard (for USB mics) gain knob and headphone jack. But for $50 we're willing to let a lot slide, and for most vocal applications, it's more than suitable. It's simple, and the lack of DSP means a leaner, more pure signal than you'll get from some gaming-oriented USB mics.
If multiple mic patterns appeals to you, of course, the Snowball is only a little more money and has many of the same basic features. If your budget allows, we're also fans of the Blue Raspberry and the Beyerdynamic Fox, and if a DSP-applying gamer's USB mic is more what you're after, consider the Turtle Beach Stream Mic or the Razer Seiren Elite. But for $50, the Snowball Ice is a capable entry-level USB mic that does a great job and earns our Editors' Choice.
Blue Snowball Ice
(Opens in a new window)See It$39.99 at Amazon(Opens in a new window)
Affordable.(Video) Blue Snowball USB Mic Review / Test (vs. Seiren Mini, Yeti Nano, NT-USB Mini)
Delivers crisp audio in a cardioid recording pattern.
No DSP means pure signal.
Only 44.1kHz/16 bit.
Mic stand doesn't angle high enough for proper mouth alignment.
The Bottom Line
The Snowball Ice from Blue is a USB microphone that delivers excellent quality audio for just $50.
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