A neat little digital condenser microphone with built-in damping and leads for 30-pin iPad and USB, plus headphone monitoring and some smart controls. Shame there isn't a Lightning lead as you need a special lead to be able to monitor using headphones so you can't swap it out easily, but overall a winner for podcasting or any studio-grade recording, especially on the move.
Blue Microphones Spark Digital Review: Whether it’s for recording your voice as part of a DJ podcast (an increasingly smart way for DJs to stand out from the crowd in these times of high saturation), or to record vocals or other instruments as part of your own productions (ditto), a studio-quality microphone like the Blue Microphones Spark Digital is a good thing for ambitious DJs to have in their gear.
Of course, being a digital-led site, we love small, and we love convenient. Coming with its own soft carry case, a built-in shock mount, and some clever leads meaning direct connection to both computers and iDevices, the Blue Microphones Spark Digital microphone naturally ticks our boxes – on paper, at least. Time to see how it performs in practice.
First impressions & setting up
The box is reassuringly heavy, and inside you’ll find the microphone itself (a blue metal tube with the actual mic mounted on the top of it), already connected to a metal stand. The only cheap-feeling part is the mount itself which is silver plastic. The shock absorption is done by elastic cord, threaded rather as a trampoline is threaded to its frame. Looks weird, but works.
Also in the bag are a couple of leads. One is to connect to 30-pin iOS devices, and one to USB. Both leads have an extra socket (1/8″ TRS) so you can plug a set of headphones in for real-time monitoring of what you’re recording (good if there is latency introduced by your recording app, as this bypasses all of that). However, as the mic is a 16-bit/44.1kHz audio interface too, it’s perfectly possible to monitor your device’s audio output at the same time.
Connection-wise, you simply plug and play – there are no drivers necessary for any of the operating systems it is designed to work with.
To set the microphone up, physically, you screw it into its base, then you can adjust the angle so the front of the microphone capsule points at the sound source – in this case, my mouth. Connection-wise, you simply plug and play – there are no drivers necessary for any of the operating systems it is designed to work with.
However, it’s worth spending a few minutes with the manual to work out what the multi-function control on the front does, in order that you can set the gain (input volume) and headphones monitoring levels correctly. Basically, the blue four-bar VU on the front is your headphones monitoring volume and can be adjusted with the small knob; holding the knob in for three seconds switches the LEDs to orange, which is there microphone gain adjustment. Holding it in briefly mutes and unmutes the mic.
So we do an increasing amount of podcasting here at Digital DJ Tips, and decided to give the microphone a test in one of our episodes. The room here is ridiculously “bright”, so we liked the idea of having a microphone that would cope with us speaking closely into it (the company recommends 1 to 12 inches’ distance from it). We plugged it in and positioned it right in front of me on the desk, angled up at my mouth.
There is a small switch called “focus” at the back of the unit, and setting that to “on” rolls off the very low bass a little and is meant to be best for vocals and speech. We found that to be the case; the recording was very lifelike, intimate sounding (especially at that distance from the mic) and faithfully reproduced every nuance of my voice. Still a bit boomy. Really need to work on that room dampening…
Of course, it also successfully captured everything else too – birds singing outside came into sharp focus in the headphones, and my only recommendation if you’re doing mission-critical recordings is, as ever, to do them in a well-insulated room or at a quiet time of day. This is a serious studio mic, not a “noise-cancelling” headset type thing, and will reward you for using it in an acoustically sympathetic environment.
The desktop stand is a good thing to have, especially if you’re putting it on an isolated surface (for instance to play an instrument in front of), but it wasn’t so clever at stopping noise from anything done around the mic, which is only to be expected; it’s meant to help counteract low freqency rumbles primarily. A boom or scissor-style mic stand would be preferable if using in a podcasting environment to minimise this kind of noise the best.
In order to test it on iOS, I fired up GarageBand on an iPad, monitoring on a decent pair of headphones (Ultrasone Signature DJ). Audio performance was again excellent, and indeed, coupled with an iPad, the size, portability and versatility of this little mic really come into their own – you can see it being used in hotel rooms in-betweeen gigs or speaking engagements to file reports, record impromptu vocals and so on.
USB studio quality condenser microphones are a modern and practical idea. If you’re using a computer or iPad to record your voice, vocals or instruments, having the audio interface built in to your mic to save you having to rely on your device’s built-in audio circuitry seems a good idea. I imagine it’s also easier on your device’s resources too.
The Apogee MiC does this too, albeit for a higher price, but lacks the mount, so that model isn’t as “complete” a package as this. For that reason, the Blue Microphones Spark Digital is an obvious choice for those wanting a studio-quality condenser microphone in a truly portable form factor, that will work seamlessly with iPad or devices with USB sockets, right out of the box.
The shock mount is a bit of a compromise, and if you’re recording vocals very close to it a pop filter would be advisable, but overall we were staggered at the quality achieved using this little microphone. Listen to the the rather inexpertly recorded video below in our terrible-sounding office to get at least an idea of what it can do.
What do you think? Do you have a “portable studio” and if so, what do you use? Please share your tips, preferences and thoughts in the comments.
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