Blue Microphones Tiki USB
Everything about the Tiki is interesting. It's got an interesting name - a Tiki is Polynesian wood carving, and a Māori word for the first man. It looks interesting, a little bit like some sort of high-tech snail, and most importantly it aims to liven up the dull microphones you have on your PC or laptop.
To find out if it's worth the £50 asking price, we made some Skype calls and recorded part of a podcast using it, which are the two main tasks for which we think people will buy this little microphone.
Compact packaging for a tiny device
We loved the package the Tiki came in. It's a small plastic box that Blue is proud of because it can be recycled with ease. Inside, you get the microphone and a USB extension cable. It's also worth mentioning that the black plastic portion of the box doubles as a carrying case for the microphone and USB cable -handy if you want to keep the mic safe when you're on the road.
The design of the Tiki is such that it's intended to be fitted on to the side USB port of your laptop, and used in-situ. If you're on a desktop PC, or your laptop has its USB sockets at the back, the extender will allow you to get the best sound. We noted that on our Dell XPS 13, the Tiki itself, without the extension lead, was a very tight fit into the Dell's USB socket. This is something we've seen on USB keys before, but we could get the mic in without too much effort.
Once in, it's solid and doesn't move around too much. The only worry we have, is that if you knock the microphone you could damage both it, and the USB socket on your laptop.
Installation - at least on Windows - is simple. There's no driver to download, just plug it in and let Windows do its thing. Seconds later, you should be up and running. One thing we noticed, was that Windows seems to see the Tiki as a speaker too. It is not, so selecting this will mean that you'll hear no sound in Skype calls. Also, remember to set Tiki as your microphone in Skype, because it won't do so automatically based on your Windows settings.
Two mode recording
One of Tiki's more interesting features is the two recording modes it has built in. These are toggled by a button at the end of the stick - opposite the USB socket end - that doesn't look like a switch at all.
The default mode is called "intelligent speech" and it's probably the most useful for people using the microphone to call people on Skype, Google+ or any other internet-based phone system. In this mode, the microphone is able to detect when you are, or are not, speaking and can mute itself when there's nothing interesting happening.
What this mode achieves, is to reduce the amount of ambient sound that's transmitted when you're not actually speaking. So fan noise from your laptop, or chatter in the background, will be muted while you aren't speaking. It's very good too, we have to say. The big advantage is, if you're a bit of a distance from the mic, it handles the boost quite nicely and gives you a decent loud sound.
The other mode is called "natural recording" and it's aimed at people recording any kind of musical instrument, and for podcasters. The idea here is that there's no boosting of the signal, or cutting out in quiet patches. We found it worked quite well, but you do need to be close to the mic and speaking with a decent level to get the best out of it. It's a very nice feature to have though.
Tests we conducted through Skype calling and as a podcast recording tool were all met with positive reactions from those who heard it. The intelligent speech mode is perfectly designed for regular Skype calls, as it's a sort of fire and forget mode. Leave it like this, and it should deliver the clearest audio. The only criticism we have of this mode, is that it sounded a little muffled at times.
On the flipside, "natural" recordings sounded a lot more open and clear, but didn't have the boost in volume that "intelligent" mode recordings did. So you'll need to really project your voice, or have the microphone closer to you to get a decent level of sound out of it.
The other thing we noticed was that if you get too close, it's quite easy to clip the sound - by speaking too loudly - and there's also noticeable "popping" on hard sounds like P. This is all avoidable with a bit of practice, and overall the boost in sound quality is worth the slight difficulty in recording.
Also importantly, when we used the USB extender cable to test recording in Audacity, it introduced a very noticeable hum. Removing it, and plugging the Tiki into our own extension cable removed this entirely. We suspect our cable was just a dud, but it would be worth your checking before you head out to record your first crucial interview with it!
While not totally perfect - we have no idea how noise got introduced on the USB extension - we have to say, for Skype calls, and a bit of casual voice-over stuff for videos, or podcasting, the Tiki is a lovely solution that comes in at a decent price.
If you're very serious about podcasting though, you will almost certainly want more, and perhaps chose a microphone from the Blue range that's more aimed at this task. But as a device that's smart enough to improve your casual calls, we were really impressed by the Tiki's skills.
If you make a lot of calls from your laptop, Tiki is small enough to carry everywhere you go, and that's it's idea use, helping you get much-improved sound when you're out on the road.
NOTE ON PRICE At Pocket-lint we publish the recommended retail price for products we review. We do this as a guide for people to see what products cost, and as a way of giving some context to our score. The Tiki is interesting, because it should cost about £50 but is available in PC World and Currys for just £30. We wouldn't usually point that out, but in our view the lower price makes this product even more attractive.