Blue Microphones Nessie review
Finding a good microphone can be a lot more tricky than you think, and a lot more important than you might assume. Here at Pocket-lint we use microphones for video, Skype calls and podcasting.
So the Nessie has been a welcome addition to our tech arsenal, and we've been testing it for a long period of time. Since we've had it, it's been used to record all those audio antics we need it for at work, as well as a spot of impromptu singing along to Ellie Goulding and Katy Perry.
But it's not a "normal" mic as it uses USB to connect. Even so this keeps the cost down with little impact to practical use. Is the Blue Microphones Nessie as monstorously good a microphone as it sounds?
The monster from the deep
Nessie is aptly named. As soon as you look at it you can see that it's a logical name for a microphone that looks like the mythical beast from one of Scotland's most famous lochs. And, to some extent, the look is a bit of a gimmick. But there's also some clever mechanical stuff going on here to help you get the best sound.
The ball-shaped microphone is ideal for most vocal use. Blue Microphones, the company behind Nessie, tells us that you can sing into it, as well as speak, but honestly we'd rather die than record ourselves singing, so we'll just have to take their word on that.
The head can be angled on the provided small bracket. This means you can get it into position easily, which is handy if you're sitting or standing and want to get the microphone in front of your mouth.
On the base of the device is a dial that controls the volume of the sound output to the headphone jack on the rear, but has no affect on the recording level of the microphone. Also on the back is a switch to adjust sound processing and the SUB port to connect up to a computer.
On the front, there's a red button for muting sound, as shown by a light which glows when the mic is live, and pulses when it's muted. The button is a really sensitive control, and is touch sensitive, so it's easy to press when you pick the mic up to move it. We assume that's why the pulsing mute light is so obvious.
Because the Nessie is a USB microphone, it can act as a soundcard too. This is very cool, and the quality is very impressive indeed.
But there is another very real advantage too: when your headphones are connected directly to the microphone, you can hear the microphone's pickup through them. This makes it fantastic to use with noise-isolating headphones, because you can hear what the microphone "hears".
This is essential if you're going to produce sound recordings that have an even level throughout, because it means you can moderate your own speech volume, and move yourself closer or farther away from the microphone depending on how you want the final recording to sound. Without this feedback, it's really hard to produce good sound. If you're recording, we urge you to use it, because it's great.
Also, the headphone jack gives you something that you don't get for Skype, and that's the ability to hear your voice in the conversation. When you use Skype normally, this feedback is missing, and it makes talking for a long time quite draining. We've always argued that Skype should feedback some of the speaker's voice, but it never has done. Here, it's much more like using a real phone - where you do get your own voice.
Monstrously good sound
The audio we got out of the Nessie was really excellent. Calls via Skype were reported by the other end as sounding exceptional. During the time we've been using it, we've done a live interview with BBC World via Skype using it, and the feedback was that it sounded great.
We've also recorded video soundtracks using it, such as our hands-on with the PS4 next-gen console and the LG G2 smartphone. We do this because onboard sounds from camcorders is generally quite weak, and the Nessie stepped up to the mark. Of course, we had to use it with a laptop because it's not a "normal" microphone thanks to its USB connectivity. But this worked out fine.
READ: LG G2 review
The video below had its audio recorded using the Nessie hooked up to a laptop off-camera. The microphone is on the floor by the table, and you can hear that it does a great job of picking up voice at this distance. There is some echo here, because of the room, but other than that it sounds fantastic.
On the back of the microphone is a switch that enables you to enable or disable the internal optimisation, or switch the microphone into "music" mode, designed to give you the cleanest signal when you're using it for singing. We messed about with it quite a bit and couldn't decide what we most liked. We suspect that everyone will have a different preference.
For us, the Blue Nessie has been perfect. If you're a videomaker, singer or podcaster, then we think it's going to be an elegant and sensibly-priced solution for you too.
At £99, we think it offers a massive amount of functionality. If your PC has a rubbish soundcard then it could be useful as a replacement for that, but as a microphone it's ideal for people who want a well-designed solution that would cost a lot more if you bought a "traditional" microphone, and probably wouldn't have such a great range of features.
The sound quality is a winner too, with captured audio sounding crisp, clean and with plenty of frequency range. It's ideal for podcasters and people who make videos with voice-over tracks.
We didn't sing into it much, but it has the potential to be a decent sounding mic for musicians, although we don't think it's flexible enough to be much use for serious singing as it can't be mounted on an adjustable arm for when standing up and belting out those pop classics.
Really, though, there's nothing bad we can say about this funky microphone. Well played Blue, well played.