Published on April 5th, 2013 | by Greg0
Blue Microphones Spark Digital: Studio-Ready USB Microphone
If you’ve ever tried to record using an iPad or iPhone, you know that the built-in microphones are far from ideal. The same is true for many microphones using USB- if you try to use a laptop and a basic headset, you’ll get terrible sound. That’s not an issue- until you want to use your tablet or mobile device as your pocket recording studio. With so many great apps out there, and the increasing demand for on-the-go, laptop-centered audio production, we need a new generation of microphone.
Blue Microphones offers a wide range of highly-regarded mics, including the Mikey, one of the best ultra-portable iPhone solutions that we reviewed last year. Their studio roots continue- they sell mics ranging up to $1000 or more- but since that’s probably a little out of your budget, we though we’d stick with the smaller and more portable Spark Digital. Granted, it’s not tiny, and you can’t just throw it in a bag- but it does come with a shock mount, one sign of a serious mic, and it includes the same studio-grade condenser capsule as some of their more expensive options.
It’s a truly digital microphone though, and built from the ground up for use with computers, large and small. Setup is super-simple, it’s plug ‘n play for iPad, Mac and PC, with no drivers needed. If you have an older or legacy iPad or iPhone 4 or 4S, a 30-pin adapter is included in the box. If you have an iPhone 5 or newer, or a 4th generation iPad or iPad mini, you’ll need to use Apple’s Lightning Adapter. We hauled out our iPad 2 and opened GarageBand, as well as a few other music apps, to test out how well this mic could work on the road.
There’s a few tricks up the Spark’s sleeve. For starters, there is an unusual Focus Control switch that made us open up the manual- it’s not a standard high- or low-pass filter, but alters the frequency response curve to accentuate clarity and detail. Basically, it adds some sharpness, and we left it on for most use cases. There’s another cute feature that deserves attention- the LED meter that provides visual feedback, a nice touch even if they are pretty small. It’s worth pointing out that the large knob on the front doesn’t function the way you might assume- by default, turning the knob adjusts headphone volume. The built-in headphone jack allows for zero-latency monitoring, which isn’t possible with the typical iPad output. To adjust the gain, which you’ll probably want to do immediately since most people won’t use the mic from inches away, you need to press the knob until the LEDs change to orange, and then rotate. Once set, though, we didn’t have to fool with it much.
Results are clean, crisp, and deep- a larger mic means a wider range of sounds captured. That can often include every little bump and shake, but that’s where the shock mount comes into play. There are some trade-offs- versus the Yeti or Yeti Pro, the Spark Digital is more sensitive but as they say, a bit less versatile. It sounds as good as analog- and that’s high praise indeed. The results feel rich and… well, expensive. Plus, the unit looks lovely. Altogether, it’s clear why the Spark Digital has won a lot of awards- and you can have one too, for podcasting or just about any other use, for right around $200.