For those who have been around music and recording for more years than we wish to remember, things have changed. They have changed beyond what we could ever have imagined.
Now, we have computers with mics that directly plugin for recording at a decent quality. One of those mics is made by a company called Blue. They call it the Snowball. And it plugs straight into a computer.
Can we get a good sound from it?
Before I go through what might be considered the Optimal Blue Snowball Mic Settings, but first, it is worth taking a look back and asking how did we get here?
Once Upon A Time
If we wanted to record, then we had no choice. It was a recording studio or nothing. There were good ones, bad ones, and then there were the pros.
Many of us could only afford the bad ones, which made us sound worse than we were, if that were possible. We were not going to go very far like that and get any sort of worthwhile product at all.
And Then One Day…
Computer power was increasing, and more things were becoming possible. Music took up the challenge. By the early 80s, the Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW, was on the drawing board. The early ones were clumsy and experimental and pretty awful. But they were getting better.
In 1992, there was forward movement when Steinberg released Cubase for the Mac. Basic it might have been, but it proved it could be done. Now the race was on.
Still, There Was a Problem
It was synthesizer and MIDI only. To be a fully functioning portable studio sitting on your desk, it had to be better than that. There had to be a way to plug in guitars and microphones.
It was in 1938 that British engineers developed PCM or Pulse Code Modulation. A way of converting analog data to digital. It is still the basis for all digital recording today. Over the years, it was refined. Enter the Audio Interface.
Now we had it all. A way of plugging guitars and microphones into our computers and using our Digital Workstations to produce music.
Fast forward to today, and there are plenty of choices. Buy a Mac, and you get Garageband pre-installed. Not the apex of quality, I would agree. But, enough built-in that you can add stuff on to do some good work. And, of course, it will link up with Logic Pro, which is a pro standard.
Technology has developed and has taken us even further. Now, you don’t need an audio interface to plug a microphone into a computer. There are USB mics. Mics that go straight into your laptop or recording device. A system that has become easily transportable, opened more doors, and created jobs and activities where before there were none.
Let’s Not Pretend
But let us not kid ourselves thinking that a USB mic is going to give you a stunning performance. It will give you a good performance and will satisfy many requirements. But don’t think that they are a Neumann U87 or an AKG C414. They aren’t.
But, they do serve a particular market, and they do it very well. And they are getting better, as you would expect. Right at the forefront of the best USB mics is the company, Blue, and their Snowball model. We are going to look at setting it up to get a great sound.
The USB Mic
Do you need a mic that is ready to use instantly? Are you having a difficult time with computer connections? The USB mic might be the way to go. USB mics have come a long way since their first appearance.
It is fair to say they can now compete with some of the lower-level XLR mics. The Snowball is one of those mics. It is easy to use as it is purely a plug-and-play microphone.
Furthermore, USB mics don’t need an audio interface. It is quick and convenient and gives a decent reproduction. And importantly, they are not going to break the bank. For certain recording requirements, they can be a great solution. I will come back to those options a bit later.
Setting It Up
As we have already said, this is a plug-and-play mic, so initially, the setup is… plug it in. In the most basic format, that is it. So even if you’ve never touched a mic before, its use is immediate. There are no drivers or extra software to download. So away you go.
However, this mic, while being easy and convenient, has some useful features. To get the best out of a Blue Snowball USB microphone, it will be worth spending some time to learn how the settings work.
Here We Go
Make sure that the cable into the Snowball is connected properly with a good firm fit. Then plug the USB cord into the USB socket on your computer. As you plug into your computer, a red light will glow on the top of the Mic.
This light is to tell you that power is going to the mic and that it has connected to your computer. If you look at the back of the mic, you will see a switch covering three settings. You need to look at those next and understand what they do.
The Settings for Recording
Before you can use the mic, you will need to select one of the settings. These are part of the process of making sure you get optimum performance from the Blue Snowball mic. Each setting is related to an activity you may undertake with the mic.
Making your choice just involves sliding the switch to one of the choices, which are labeled, one, two, or three. But, what do they mean?
This utilizes a Cardioid Polar Pattern for the sound collection process. This is the pattern that most of the top mics have, and it is good for anything to do with the voice. Whether a vocal, or a voiceover, or just speech at an interview.
This pattern is focused on collecting sound from the front of the mic. It is designed to reject sound coming from the sides or rear, so ambient noise rejection is good. Not only good for voice-based applications, but it also works well when recording instruments.
This setting also has a Cardioid pattern but is fitted with a -10dB pad. That makes it suitable to record sounds that may be louder. Live performances and other loud sound sources are recorded clearly. This is because the sensitivity of the mic is reduced slightly by the pad. In turn, this reduces potential overload and distortion.
This has an Omnidirectional polar pattern instead of a Cardioid. The omnidirectional pattern means you can record different sources within a full 360-degree field instead of the target being right in front of the mic. That makes it ideal for interviews, where more than one target source is involved.
Whereas a Cardioid pattern will record the voice in front of the mic, the omnidirectional will record other voices around the mic. That makes the pickup less concentrated but allows equal sound collection from all sides. It is also ideal for meetings and conferences, singing duets at the same time, and recordings where you want to capture the sound of the room as well as the instrument.
Using the Optimal Blue Snowball Mic Settings
Setting it up a mic is one thing, but there are also some practical applications to consider when recording. They vary depending on what you are recording. Let’s return to look at where and how the Blue Snowball microphone is best used.
For Vocals and Speech
- Set the mic about four to five inches from the target source or sources if more than one user.
- Angle the mic slightly up towards the target’s forehead.
- Even though there is a built-in filter, still use an external pop filter to remove the possibility of plosives. I recommend the excellent Rok-It Single Layer Microphone Pop Filter with C-Clamp.
- Use position one, or if the singer or speaker has a powerful voice that may vary in volume, position two.
- Set the volume control on the computer to ensure the peaks are not too high.
For An Acoustic Instrument, like a Guitar or Violin
The Snowball has a naturally neutral tone. That will help you capture the true sound of the instrument with no extra boosts applied anywhere. Any tonal adjustments you can make after the recording. That said, here are the optimal Blue Snowball mic settings for recording acoustic instruments.
- Place the mic to face the instrument where the neck meets the body.
- Tilt the direction of the mic slightly from that position towards the soundhole.
- The more towards the soundhole you go, the better it picks up lower frequencies.
- Likewise, angle the mic away from the soundhole if you need higher frequencies.
- Keep the instrument at a regular distance from the mic.
Electric Guitar and Bass Through an Amp
Normally, you might record a guitar or bass straight into your DAW using an Audio Interface. But there are some advantages in sound to using a mic in front of an amp and cabinet.
You certainly get a choice of the sound generated from guitar and amp. And that will be closer to the sound you prefer rather than relying on the sound created from the software. That applies especially in the case of overdriven or distorted guitars.
- Again the neutral response of the mic will help in recording.
- Place the mic about twelve inches from the speaker cabinet, directly in front.
- Angle the mic towards the center of the speaker for higher frequencies.
- Angle it towards the edge of the speaker cone for lower frequencies.
- The outer edge of the cone is also better for recording distorted sounds.
Now, I am not going to say that the Snowball is a great mic for recording drums. It isn’t made for that, and mics that work well for drums are designed especially for that job.
Having said that, the mic has a good transient response. I am not going to go into the technicalities of that. But, the better the response rate, the better it will handle sudden changes in volume.
Varying Sound Loads
The beats between strikes on a snare or bass drum might be a good way of describing the varying sound loads. One second very loud, the next quiet.
- Positioning the mic about four to five inches from the rim or the skin of the drum should allow you a reasonable capture.
- Moving the mic closer will give you a little more low-end focus.
- Moving it away will react more with the surrounding environment giving you an “airier” sound.
Other Help For The Mic
The ambiance of the room and the environment is going to affect the quality of the recording. I haven’t got the space here to go into detail about what you can do to affect this. But there is a list of things to consider when recording.
- Use a Noise Gate Filter on your software.
- Add on to that a Noise Suppression Filter if you have one to reduce any external noise the mic cannot dissipate.
- Use the above with sympathy to where you are; in a room, you will need less, outside more.
- Use the microphones own menu using the Filters Box option to add extra noise suppression.
The Microphone Stand
The mic comes with its own swivel tripod stand, which is reasonably stable. But adding a shock mount will give it just that extra bit of security and stability. And if you want to reduce the potential for low-end rumble, you can use a Blue Ringer Universal Shockmount.
If you are thinking of buying a USB mic, here is the Blue Snowball USB Microphone we have been looking at. For vocal work, take a look at this Blue Snowball Pop Filter. And as we mentioned, the Blue Ringer Universal Shockmount.
Looking for more great Microphone options?
Then check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Live Vocal Mics, the Best Vintage Microphones, the Best USB Microphones, the Best Dynamic Microphones, the Best Snare Mic, the Best Kick Drum Mic, the Best XLR Microphones, and the Best Microphones For Recording Vocals you can buy in 2023.
Also, as you probably know, Blue makes a range of awesome mics. So, take a look at our detailed Blue Yeticaster Review, our Blue Yeti Nano Review, our Blue Snowball USB Microphone Review, our Blue Snowball iCE Review, our Blue Yeti X Review, and our Blue Yeti USB Mic Review for incredible microphones currently on the market.
Optimal Blue Snowball Mic Settings – Final Thoughts
The good thing about USB mics is that they make the process of recording to a computer that much easier. They plug straight in. No need for extra equipment. And they have come a very long way since the very first fifteen or so years ago.
They can’t compete with the XLR mics yet, and they may never do that at the highest level. But, they do serve an important purpose in some home recording, podcasting, and interviewing environments. For those that use mics in that way, they are a huge plus and well worth considering.
Until next time, make yourself heard.