REVIEW: Blue Microphones Spark Digital
Name: Blue Microphones Spark Digital
Type: Microphone for PC, Mac, iPad and iPhone
Specifications: Click here for full specs
Price: From £149.99
Blue Microphones’ first desktop mic to support iOS devices out of the box, the Spark Digital is an ace bit of recording kit. Read our review for the full low-down.
Blue Microphones continue their move away from the studio space to the consumer arena with the Spark Digital microphone. Hooking up to 30-pin iPad and iPhone devices as easily as to a PC over USB, it’s a great bit of kit for the on-the-go musician or podcaster.
Making use of a condenser transducer, it’s powered over USB or 30-pin Apple connection for computer or iOS device recording respectively rather than requiring a discrete power supply. It’s slightly more portable than Blue Microphone’s previous offerings too. Though still chunky (and very much a tabletop mic) it’s a fair sight smaller than the Blue Yeti which preceded it – handy considering it’s being billed as an iPad accessory as much as a desktop recording device.
An attractive bit of kit with metallic blue and chrome highlights, the mic sits on an adjustable tilt stand which features a little vibration and shock absorbing padding on the bottom, which may come in useful in wilder recording locations or during louder, room-shaking sessions. The mic itself is suspended between the arms of the stand on elastic cabling, further removing the prospect of unwanted sounds seeping into your recordings.
A control knob that serves a dual function of swapping between microphone gain and headphone/monitor volume as well as adjusting levels sits on the front. Four LEDs glow orange and blue to show output and gain levels. On the back is a Focus Control switch, which we’ll get onto a little later.
Two cables come with the mic, with a USB cable for hooking up to a PC or Mac, and the 30-pin cable for connecting an iPad or iPhone. Each also splits off at the end to offer a separate headphone jack. Those rocking a fourth-gen iPad, iPhone 5 or iPad Mini will need to invest in a separate Lightning connector to use the Spark Digital though – Blue have a Lightning version planned, but we expect it’ll be some time until there’s enough Lightning devices out there for Blue to bother putting one out there on sale. Lightning adaptors are relatively inexpensive anyway, so this shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
It’s worth noting though that there’s no XLR output this time around, which may limit those looking to send analogue audio to a mixing desk or sound card.
At the top of the cylindrical mic unit sits the capsule, covered in a metal grilling that prevents popping from plosive sounds. It does this job well, but not flawlessly, so you may still need to invest in a pop guard for important recordings.
Even when compared to the audio recorded by the excellent Blue Yeti microphone, the Spark Digital is a superb performer. Hooking it up to my Mac for a few Garageband jams, the mic was able to pick up sound with clarity and supreme definition, with a full-bodied sound that was both warm and as close to natural as I believe you’ll get from a mic not aimed at a professional studio. Lone voices in particular came across with astounding clarity, with my voice picked up with a balanced range that didn’t lean so heavily on bass tones as other mics I’ve used.
The Focus Control switch is a bit of a let down though. Intended to offer two separate sound signatures from the microphone, the difference between the two settings is minimal. There’s a barely perceptible increase in the presence of mid-range tones, which may make it the go-to setting for podcasts or interviews. But on the whole the default setting is finely balanced enough for you to not need ever switch it on.
When it came to recording on the iPad, the benefits of the Spark Digital became instantly clear. Recording through the iPad’s built-in microphone, the tablet picked up an inordinate amount of hiss and noise that was truly distracting – fine for a FaceTime video call, not so cool for a podcast or musical recording. Hook up the Spark Digital and that hiss was, to my ears, completely eliminated, as well as offering a far more natural, well rounded tone than was possible with just the iPad’s built-in microphone. Anyone who is considering using the iPad as a semi-pro music recording facility would truly benefit from picking up the Spark Digital, particularly if recording acoustic instruments live (we weren’t able to test the mic in a situation with a fully amped-up band however, so can’t pass judgement on how well it handles extreme volume input).
The package is completed by a six-month account for both SoundCloud Pro and Gobbler, giving you a couple of months of premium access to the music distribution platforms.
A flexible and detailed microphone, the Spark Digital from Blue Microphones is easy to recommend for anyone looking to improve the quality of their podcasts or iPad recordings..