Media has changed a lot in the last seven years. This show wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t. While we’re familiar with the video podcast, audio podcasts are also thriving. What’s more, video panel podcasts have erupted since the advent of the Google hangout. While you can get a reasonably good HD webcam either with your computer, tablet, or smartphone, audio hasn’t evolved as quickly. Well, Blue Microphones has a solution for audio. It’s called the Nessie and it’s exactly what I hoped it would be.
You know the old tagline “I’m not just the president, I’m a member” from the Hair Club for Men commercials? That describes me and the Nessie. I’ve done audio podcasting on a pretty regular basis during the last couple years. I’ve appeared on several tech podcasts and am a pretty regular panelist on The Unofficial Apple Weblog’a Talkcast. For some unknown reason, they seem to keep inviting me back. I’ve also been roped into hosting a weekly hangout with members of the Geek Beat IRC chat. My microphone of choice has been either my computer/webcam mic or the inline in my earphones. Results have been less than stellar, but it’s what I had. When I heard of a USB microphone at CES with multi-in processing for only $99 I started to wonder if this could be the solution to my, and your, audio woes.
The first thing you notice about the Nessie is how well it’s made. That’s not silver plastic you see, its aluminum. The shaft is thin and unbelievably light, but there’s no give to it. The plastic parts of it are not of the flimsy cheap variety by any means. The base is heavy and has a non-skid coating on the bottom. This isn’t going to be falling apart anytime soon and you have to knock it with some force to make it move anywhere. The casing is very attractive and the serpentine neck is where it gets its name, the Loch Ness Monster. This was made by a company that obviously understands audio and cares about what they put their name on, no matter the price point. However, I didn’t get the Nessie to be a desk ornament – the microphone and how it sounds is the important part.
Specs and Features
At the Nessie’s core is a unidirectional mic with with cardioid pattern in a single 14mm condenser capsule. The condenser is custom tuned for this mic. Unlike bi-directional or omnidirectional mics, cardioid mics basically only pick up what’s in front of them. This makes them ideal for speech, vocals, and instrumental applications. The bit depth is 16-bit and it has a sample rate of 48 khz. These days you can see a bit depth of 24-bit and a sample rate of up to 96 or 192 khz, but those tend to be far more expensive. Also, note CD quality is 16/44. This is not a low quality mic by any means.
The Nessie is connected and powered by USB. Full type A into your computer, micro-type B into the mic. If you want XLR, this isn’t the mic. It’s head is fully adjustable and features a pop filter and shockmount. These will help you prevent unwanted pops and noise. For sound monitoring, it has a zero latency 3.5mm jack. It works as advertised. Volume is provided via large black dial with a red indicator. The good news, it won’t move on you once set. The bad news, you have to grip the base to turn it. Right above the dial is the mute button and it works…almost too well. I was able to activate and deactivate mute by rubbing my headphone cord up against the button. This will lead to unintended muting if you’re not careful. Fortunately though, there’s a large LED indicator on the bottom of the mic. Its solid if the mic is hot, it pulsates if it’s muted.
What makes this really interesting are the modes and on-board processing. It does EQ and level control automatically. For somebody who isn’t an audio engineer, like somebody moving up from an onboard mic, this should allow you to get better sound, much easier. This also allows a couple of different modes via a 3-way selector switch. There’s a vocal mode for talking or singing, and there’s also a instrumental mode for micing an instrument. Wait, I said three modes didn’t I? The third is a raw audio mode if you want to manually tune the sound.
If you’re expecting a cheap karaoke mic type of sound, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I’m no audiophile to be sure, but the Nessie seemed to have a full, rich sound. Don’t take my word for it, take a listen for yourself. A little note, keep in mind that Apple’s Garageband includes quite a bit of echo and reverb as default. With the Nessie, it might be a little bit boomy unless you go to a no-effects setting.
The one thing I have noticed is that the three modes are more like suggestions. Every person’s (or instrument’s) voicing is different. Whether you’re talking for a podcast, for a video call, singing, or laying down some acoustic tracks, try all three modes. You might mesh better with instrumental mode or without the onboard effects. The cancellation of background noises is very impressive. My desk shares a wall with the dryer at my residence, and it was turned on while I was recording the above clip. While it drove me nuts, it wasn’t picked up by the Nessie.
The Blue Nessie is a mic that fills a need and does it well. For $99, you get high sound and build quality, lots of flexibility, and features like zero latency monitoring and an albeit far-too-sensitive mute button. There are corners cut to get the price down, like the 16/48 bit depth and sample rate and the lack of XLR. If you’re upgrading from a pinhole mic, or a USB mic of lesser quality, this will be a fairly substantial improvement. If you’re an audiophile, I would suggest the Yeti Pro instead. Overall, I think it lives up to the post-CES hype. It allows you to get excellent sound without being a sound engineer. The Blue Nessie is an excellent product from Blue, a company that gets audio inside and out.
High Build Quality
Great sound quality
Mute button extremely sensitive
16-bit bit depth and 48khz sample rate may not do it for audiophiles