Blue has established itself in a microphone market known to be extremely competitive. They would be the first to admit that the mics they currently produce are not high-end. But some of the early professional models aimed at studios were exceptional.
Their modern range is functional and cost-effective. They also fill a place in the market that is growing fast, that of the USB mic. The Blue Snowball iCE is just such a mic. So, let’s find out all out it in our in-depth Blue Snowball iCE Review…
Blue was set up by a recording engineer from Latvia and a session musician from America. A rather unusual partnership. The name Blue isn’t accidental. It is an acronym of Baltic Latvian Universal Electronics.
They became successful quickly, and they sold their company in 2008. It eventually ended up in the hands of Logitech who are its parent company as of today.
Known for their designs
There are a lot of mics out there in all shapes and sizes by dozens of manufacturers. Very few, though, are as instantly recognizable as some of the Blue models are. The Snowball iCE is quite clearly a Blue design. The tripod stand gives it away, of course. It might look like an alien from a movie, but it is very functional as a mic and stand.
They may well be known for their distinct styling, but they have brought much more to the table than that. What they should be recognized for is that they brought good quality recording into the home.
The USB mic made things possible that weren’t possible before. And in doing so, they accelerated a whole new industry in podcasting, interviews, and narration for Youtube channels and even vocal recordings.
Recording on a budget
There will be those who will criticize the sound quality they produce. And no, they aren’t at the top of the range like Neumann, AKG, or Sennheiser.
But firstly, they don’t cost that sort of money, and secondly, they fill a growing niche. People who need to be able to get a decent recording on a budget. And with Blue mics, you can certainly do that. So what is this Blue Snowball iCE all about?
Blue Snowball iCE – Overview
The Snowball is not a new mic in its basic format. It has been with us for more than 15 years. It had an unusual development. Apple was developing a home recording software prototype for their laptops, which later became known as Garageband.
But for that to be taken seriously and be efficient and worthwhile to users, it had to have something extra. It had to have a way of recording vocals on songs. Decent recordings. If Garageband could do that, they would have a great product.
But there was a problem. Mic technology isn’t Apple’s thing.
Apple green turned Blue…
Not literally. They simply took them behind the bike sheds one day and said, look, guys… The obvious growth of other technology allowing recording, podcasting, etc., to be done at home convinced Blue.
The first Snowball was the result. Now people didn’t have to use those expensive recording studios for writing and demos. You could do it all and more at home.
An interesting upgrade
The iCE version is new but with a rather interesting difference. Upgrades usually add things. Blue has taken some things away in what appears to be an effort to make the price point more attractive.
Say goodbye to…
The gain was lacking in the original Snowball mics, so the -10dB pad included in the original was redundant. That was removed. They also replaced what was considered a rather poor omnidirectional polar pattern. It’s just a Cardioid now.
There have been one or two other little tweaks to the system. The sound is now much more mid-range. A good idea if vocal and speech are the source targets. Or is it? That subject is worth a little extra discussion later.
The Original Snowball had its admirers and plenty of users. When you issue a follow-up of anything, there will always be comparisons made. Those comparisons could blow up in your face if you start clearly downgrading the features of the mic, even if the downgrade makes complete sense. So, let’s take a closer look in our Blue Snowball iCE Review…
As we have already remarked, at first sight, it isn’t hard to work out who the manufacturer is. The new version is almost an exact copy of the original. It is still made of plastic. That might be viewed as a negative, but there are plastics and plastics. This is quite strong and feels quite substantial. There are no controls that protrude from the body. There is a USB port on the rear.
As per the previous model, that hasn’t changed either. This is an important element in the manufacture of this mic. All mics, but especially USB mics, can be a little vulnerable. They are sometimes lightweight and can be knocked over very easily. The quality of the build with some would probably not take being knocked from a desk onto the floor.
This mic has a stand that reduces the likelihood of that happening to a certain extent. The legs, when in position, form a reasonably wide base which adds some security. And measuring 10.6 by 5.5 by 9.1 inches, it is a reasonable size. The whole unit, mic, and stand weigh one pound. That will also give it some form of stability.
Just the Cardioid
This is a condenser mic that now has just a Cardioid pattern. A Cardioid pattern is the best option for recording a single voice. If you are narrating or speaking into it, it will work fine. The pattern is designed to pick up what is coming at it. It rejects sounds from the side or rear.
However, it is not so good if you are conducting an interview with someone else in the same space or with a group of people. If that is what you intend to do with, then the cardioid pattern might not be what you are looking for.
Another potential negative is that the cable running from the USB is only six feet in length. That doesn’t give you an awful lot of room to play with. Perfect if it just sits on your desk, not so good if you intend moving it around.
It has quite a strong grille at the front that gives the mic some protection. Behind that, a small filter in a position to reduce unwanted sounds from plosives, etc. You will still need to use a pop filter, though, as it won’t get rid of them, just reduce their impact.
It has a bit/sampling rate of 44.1 kHz/16 bit and a frequency response of 40-18 kHz.
The quality of the build is nothing to get too excited about. It is adequate. You couldn’t consider it the most robust you will find, but it is certainly not flimsy. Being designed for use in the home, you could argue that it doesn’t need to be built like a Shure. That would be a valid argument; it doesn’t.
There are no controls on the body of the mic. You do not get a volume, mute, or a connection for a headphone, all of which are relatively common on USB microphones. You are, therefore, reliant on what you are using it with to control everything. As we have already said, the only outlet is the USB port.
Changing the design slightly, because slightly is what it is, shouldn’t make that much of a difference to the mic. The removal of the -10dB pad was a sensible decision. We are not quite so sure about the change of pattern to just cardioid.
Cardioid is the best for narration, podcasting, and vocals for Garageband. But that isn’t all this mic is used for. In fact, the numbers of people using it with Garageband are, we would have thought, quite small. Especially when compared with the number who might use it for podcasting, interviews, etc.
For live interviews, the cardioid pattern is not the best, as we have already discussed. It will be fine for virtual interviews, of course, but in our view, this is generally a backward step.
Some things remain the same
It is not all changed with the design, though. It is still an easy-to-use plug-and-play mic. And thankfully, there are still no extra drivers to install.
But for all the considerations and whether they are good or bad, it all comes down to how the mic performs? It will give you a decent sound that sits well with its price point. It doesn’t distort unless you go crazy, and there are no harsh sounds on playback.
We talked about Blue’s assertion that they have improved the mid-range on this mic. You can’t deny they have done that. The only problem is that now it is all mids, the brightness and depth have disappeared. The curve on the EQ is not going to impress many people.
The sound has become a little woolly. You can argue that it is better for vocal or narration. Mids are a necessary requirement for a good voice or vocal sound. But have they overdone it a bit?
Now, if you are mixing a vocal track to a song, would you pile on the mid frequencies and kick out the bottom and top? Of course not. Without some lows and highs, it doesn’t sound right at all. For narration, it is not so pronounced. But you still could not call it a welcoming, warm sound.
So what is it good for?
For demos that will never see the light of day, it will be ok. For Social media communication on Skype etc., it will be ok. Ok, again, for online gaming. But in our view, that is probably about it.
However, it must be said that it comes at a price point similar to what you pay to fill a small car up with petrol. Perhaps, in this case, it is a case of you get what you pay for.
Blue Snowball iCE Review Pros and Cons
- Decent quality plastic build.
- The Cardioid pattern is good for single voice recording.
- Reasonably secure tripod stand.
- Frequency response of 40-18 kHz.
- Easy to use with no drivers required.
- Will give you a decent sound without harshness.
- A very competitive price point.
- The -10dB pad was taken away and now just a Cardioid pattern which is not good for multi-user recording.
- Lack of a volume or a mute.
- Mids are rather too prominent.
Looking for more quality audio options?
If your old headphones look like they need an upgrade, then take a look at our in-depth JLab JBuds Air Icon Review, our Bowers & Wilkins PX5 Review, our Sony WH-CH700N Review, our SteelSeries Arctis 7 Review, our Monolith M1060 Headphone Review, or our AKG K240 Studio Review for some awesome products you can buy in 2021.
Also, don’t miss our comprehensive reviews of the Best Karaoke Microphones, the Best Wireless Workout Headphones, the Best Bass Amps, the Best Waterproof Headphones for Swimming, or the Best Earbuds with Microphone currently on the market.
Blue Snowball iCE Review – The Bottom Line
Blue now calls this mic the ‘Basic Quality’ alternative to the original. If you are bringing out a new version of an existing product, is it wise to downplay it? That feels very negative to us.
There may have been some Blue Snowball users that were hoping that the new version would be a step up in performance. They are going to be disappointed. In fact, the whole idea of this mic seems a little strange. Especially when you hear Blue announce it will be better than the mic in your computer. We didn’t realize it was possible to be worse.
Was the original better?
Our view is that the original was a decent mic from a forward-thinking company. It did its job and, at the price point, was a good buy. This seems to be a backward step. They seem to have tried to make a mic that would be cheaper. The original wasn’t that expensive. So why?
Our view is that Blue is a good company producing decent quality mics for home use at a good price. But with this, they seem to have lost the plot. By all means, buy a Blue mic, don’t let this put you off. But buy the original Snowball. It is just a better mic, in our opinion.
Happy podcasting, interviewing, and recording!