Aside from just looking cool on your desk, the Snowball has a number of big and small features worth mentioning. Compared with the competition, the Snowball's greatest asset is the sonic flexibility offered by its two microphone capsules. In a product like the , Blue uses two similar capsules to achieve stereo recording. The Snowball, however, sticks to monophonic recording and dedicates the use of one capsule to an omnidirectional cardioid recording pattern (well-suited for a single voice or instrument), and lets the other capsule take in sound from all directions in an omni pattern. Users can switch between the two capsules to suit their recording needs, using the mode switch on the back of the microphone.
For those who aren't interested in all the technical details of the microphone, the Snowball's most appealing feature is its plug-and-play simplicity. No software drivers are required for use with either Mac or PC. The included desktop tripod stand and 6-foot, clear-coated USB cable couldn't be easier to set up. Once connected, Mac and PC users should be able to immediately spot the Snowball on their list of available sound input sources.
We feel that the Snowball offers a well-rounded set of features considering its $99 price tag, but there are a few extras we'd like to put on our wish list. Our first request on the list would be an option for direct monitoring and line-input. Since the Snowball already acts as an external USB audio device, why not slap a headphone jack and a line-input on the back to truly realize its potential as a portable, all-in-one recording tool?
We also wouldn't mind if Blue included some basic software tools for making recordings. The Snowflake does an excellent job solving the problem of how to get quality recording into your computer, but it leaves novices in the dark when it comes to capturing and sharing their recording.
When you boil it all down, the true test of any microphone is how good it sounds. Over the four years the Snowball has been on the market, users have shared both praise and disappointment on the microphone's recording quality--but mostly praise. To our ears, the Snowball's audio (in cardioid mode) is an indistinguishable alternative to outfitting a computer with a basic pro-audio USB sound card and a Shure SM58. For the majority of applications, this type of full, close-range sound is just what the doctor ordered, providing accurate sound with a wide dynamic range and a minimal amount of hiss.
The majority of complaints revolving around the Snowball tend to involve a misconception over what it promises to sound like. To save potential users any heartbreak, let's be clear that the Snowball is not a one-stop solution for creating a podcast or recording music. While the outside of the Snowball's packaging advertises the microphone as "great for podcasting," it is not a podcast studio in a box. The Snowball may solve the problem of the microphone and computer audio input, but all of the in-studio elements necessary for any kind of professional recording (mixing, audio compression, EQ) are still left to the user to figure out.
Let's also be clear that the Snowball is a monophonic microphone. It excels at recording single audio sources such as a voice or instrument, but in no way should it be your first choice for capturing realistic nature recordings or multiperson interviews that demand several microphones. For stereo recording, there are several affordable portable audio recorders better-suited to the task.
Blue Microphone's Snowball USB mic is a swanky-looking and sonically competent microphone that deserves the attention of every budding podcaster and amateur musician. There are a few extras it lacks, such as external inputs, direct monitoring, and recording software, but for $99, you're getting a whole lot of microphone for the price.