Audio recording, like a lot of tech-y stuff, can sometimes have an intimidating barrier to entry. If you want to make sure you're doing it right and buying decent equipment, there's a lot of Googling you have to do, a lot of trial and error that's more frustrating than it is fun or interesting. Whether you want to start a podcast, stream some games on Twitch, or even just have better audio for Skype calls, you want something that works with minimal setup and fuss.
Recording audio isn't just for nerds – it's for people with things to do, places to be, who want rock solid equipment they don't need to babysit. They don't want bells and whistles, they just want results. And that's what the Snowball Ice is – it's a bare-bones USB microphone that gives you nice sound quality for $50. You plug it in, it works. Period.
Ice Ice Baby
Setting up the Ice is a snap. There's literally only one hole the stand can go in, and a solitary USB connection. While nerds can obviously figure this out without consulting a manual, I appreciate that there's a mic out there my dad could use for Skype that I wouldn't have to explain how to hook up over the phone for twenty minutes (seriously, he doesn't even know where the Start button is.)
I had no trouble getting it to work on my desktop or my laptop – there's no software to install, no drivers, not even an external power supply – you just plug in the USB cable and go.
The stand leaves something to be desired, though. It's made of plastic, and it’s a little flimsy. I could see this breaking after a couple of years, especially if you're constantly carrying it around from place to place. And the fact that you can't adjust the height really annoys me. I'm six foot five and this mic just can't be level to my mouth when recording, unless I physically pick it up or record on my knees. I get that the Snowball is meant for group recording sessions, but the lack of an adjustable stand means I can't use the Snowball when I'm recording by myself. Show some love to tall people next time, please!
And if I'm talking gripes, when the Snowball's plugged in, there's a really bright red light that I found obnoxious – I could see this thing from across my apartment. I get it, it's on! And there's no switch to turn it off, either – you either unplug the Snowball every time you're done using it (which is a little annoying) or you deal with the bright red glow from hell. It's absolutely insane that I was wishing for for a dimmer switch on a USB microphone.
When it comes to features on this mic, the Snowball goes with the philosophy “less is more” - or in this case, a lot less is more. There's no low cut filter, adjustable gain, or any other feature you'd see on a high end mic to tweak your sound – this is strictly plug and play. And that's all well and good when you're trying to be a beginner, all-purpose microphone, but audiophiles are gonna miss these pro-sumer features.
But what you lack in features you gain in ease of use. I had no trouble getting it to work on my desktop or my laptop – there's no software to install, no drivers, not even an external power supply – you just plug in the USB cable and go. I asked my girlfriend, who can't be bothered at all with anything more technical than an external hard drive (even those bug her), and she had absolutely zero trouble getting it to work with her MacBook. I had helped her set up a podcast in the past, and with the Snowball, I think she feels confident to record on her own.
In terms of sound quality, this is leaps and bounds above any laptop microphone. If you're thinking about recording a podcast or getting into Youtube or Twitch streaming, you really can't go with anything less than what the Snowball gives you. Again, while it doesn't compare to more expensive broadcast quality microphones, it more than does its job.
The Ice Man Goeth
I'm not sure if this was an intended feature, but one thing I absolutely love about the Snowball is the portability. The Snowball is small and compact, and could easily fit in a backpack or a small bag. Taking the Snowball to a friend's house and recording a podcast together is a breeze. For me personally, there's been times where it would have been easier to record my podcast at a buddy's place, but I couldn't be bothered to haul my big ass mixing board and microphones. With the Snowball, I'd just grab it and go. I could even see the Snowball working as a hand held mic replacement – just fold up the stand.
At fifty bucks, I don't think there's a better microphone at this price range – at least, not that I've heard. If you're into tinkering and playing around with your microphone to increase that ever-elusive sound quality, look elsewhere. But if you're looking for something that just works and don't want to spend a lot of money, get the Snowball.