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Blue Spark Digital Microphone Review

blue spark digital review

TL;DR:

Blue Microphones Spark Digital Review. The Spark Digital is a desktop USB condenser microphone that works with your Mac or iOS devices. With quick functions and an easy mix sound, this microphone will suit developing producers.


Review Preface:

Seemingly modelling numerous microphone designs on various inanimate objects, Blue Microphones is one fantastical 90’s born manufacturer that heralds from the West Coast of America. Producing some of the finest microphones that you could ever imagine (e.g. [Blue] ‘The Bottle’; as used by Infected Mushroom), Blue Microphones have become leaders in the industry in very little time. Obviously owing their dues to the fine handcrafted microphones that have been lovingly used in all of the top record production facilities around the globe, it is actually only within recent years that Blue have turned their heads to cater for the ‘consumer’, smartphone, phablet, and tablet in a four-track sort of revolution… But this is digital, and at our fingertips we have possibilities aplenty.


Claiming to have produced a versatile portable microphone that can inject beautifully sweet professional studio quality recordings right into your iOS, PC, or Mac device, seems like some kind of wizardry. But, my friends, Blue Microphones have waved their wands, cast their spells, and, without ruffling many feathers, they have created [the] Blue ‘Spark Digital’.


Features, and Requirements:

Fantastic in appearance, the ‘Spark Digital’ is an interesting sort of condenser microphone as it contains a pre-amp and phantom power drawn from the device, captures your vocals and then takes care of the analogue to digital conversion for you, funnels it down a USB lead, into your device, and all without the need for an portable or stationary audio interface. Actually, this microphone has two discreet circuits so you can have a true Class A analogue circuit for the signal coming from the cardioid microphone capsule, and then a dedicated digital circuit to handle the digital signal processing.


Weighing in at just shy of £150.00, the Spark Digital certainly is not in the ‘affordable’ price range for most experimental or aspiring producers. In fact it is more expensive than some ‘go to’ professional studio condenser microphones, but this microphone, on first glance, has simplicity and beauty on its side. The ‘Spark Digital’ does allow the diversity and sensitivity of a condenser microphone in a self-contained simple plug-and-play format to eliminate set-up ‘faff’ or cable snakes, but we have some reservations first.


For the current retail price it would have been nice to see a dual capsule design so that the user can select between cardiod, omni, and figure of eight possibilities. This would work great alongside the ‘Focus’ switch; which really is a sub-bass roll off below 125Hz. We feel that, with the inclusion of these items, the product would become more versatile and exploratory for aspiring producers. For this to best work we have all agreed that the ‘Focus’ switch should be labelled as what it is; a High Pass Filter (HPF) to avoid confusion.


With Blue Microphones targeting the ‘iDevice’ record production market, it is quite frustrating to know that the ‘Spark Digital’ does not come with Lightning cable and, with the remission of this simple connective, the latest and most powerful Apple devices won’t have access to one of the arguably most powerful ‘iDevice’ microphone out on the market without the need for a converter. However, we should make it clear that it does come with a 30-Pin connector, and an USB cable for Windows (XP, Vista, and 7) or Mac OSX (10.6.4 or higher) devices and this won’t stop you experimenting.


Please beware that when using the ‘Spark Digital’ with battery operated devices, such as iPhones and iPads, you will need to make sure that you are all topped up prior to designated studio time’. As the ‘Spark Digital’ is a condenser microphone, it will solely rely on drawing 3.3v of power from your devices to generate 48v of phantom power whilst it performs all of the analogue to digital conversion on top of generating a ‘zero latency’ headphone output. What this means is that if you are using the ‘Spark Digital’ with an ‘iDevice’ then we can guarantee that your battery will drain very quickly. As there is no way of charging your device at the same time as using this microphone, you will have to compensate by taking very regular breaks to charge it up to a useable level. It really would have been nice if it could have an internal power supply from a lithium-ion battery for a constant and consistent output without draining users device battery, or providing an inadequate amount of gain.


Build Quality:

In terms of build quality with the ‘Spark Digital’ this product holds together well and has a nice solid finish. The included heavyweight shockmount come desk stand functions well in what it intends to do; to be of a solid weight so the microphone is adequately stationary and can move 360° bilaterally. It works well for menial tasks, such as podcasting or recording acoustic guitar, but to capture great vocal recordings you will need your musician to be comfortably standing, and you just can’t easily do this unless you purchase a ‘standard’ Blue Microphones shockmount (and pop filter). In comparison to a desk stand, a stand mountable shockmount provides endless possibilities; including those shown in the manual. If these items came in the package the Plug-In and Play capabilities would be universal and, dare I say it, more competitive than some entry-level interface and microphone packages. If this seems doubtful then you might not be so quick to judge because the ‘Spark Digital’ has an independent in-line zero-latency headphone output.


As an overall analysis of the ‘Spark Digital’s tiny housing, it all appears tidy. During testing there appeared to be no capsule, or housing, rattles, that could be distinguishable, and no obvious microphonics issues. Even if it does look like a toy, purely for aesthetic reasons, the paint job looks superb, and all four (VU) LED’s and ‘Mute’/’Engage’ switches light up in all the right ways.


Ease of Use, Sound Quality, and Continuity:

Unlike some of our practical conclusions seen above, we have to make it known here that the Spark Digital is, at heart, a brilliant microphone when used with the right equipment. Being a condenser microphone you can expect a much more broad frequency range, to allow much more sensitive detailed recordings, and the possibility of capturing increasingly dynamic performance. As mentioned previously there is some extra cost for using this microphone to its full potential, and for the purposes of this review, we have managed to ‘doctor’ the Spark Digital with high-quality clamping spider cradles to achieve a litany of positions.


After setting up the Spark Digital in the correct position and plugging the Digital output into our device, it was as simple to plug in our headphones, open a chosen recording application, wait for the application to sync with the microphone, then adjust the gain to suit. If you want to judge the output from the application and on the microphone then this is perfectly possible by monitoring at the VU LED’s on the ‘Spark Digital’s capsule, and then modifying the gain to a suitable level with the blue lit gain dial. For a quick voice or guitar recording, you will be up and away within a minute or so.


Presenting itself as a truly diverse microphone that can beautifully handle a wide variety of instrumentation, the Spark Digital has a reported 20Hz – 20kHz frequency range that clearly works magic with vocals. Providing a monitored performance through the zero-latency in-line headphone output, the ‘Spark Digital’ has a habit of making both female, and male, vocals sound engaging and actually quite flattering. This is because there is a clear frequency response that is accented in all the right areas for this application. During use we found that enabling the ‘Focus’ switch helped to remove unwanted low frequencies, and tidied up the sonic spectrum. It did not appear to notably increase the noise-floor, and is a setting that we would use for most applications; except for bass instruments, or full-bodied sounds.


We do believe that when an experienced musician approaches the microphone, if mounted on a shockmount, they can interact with the microphone in the same way that they would be used to in a professional recording studio. Likewise, when a microphone is manufactured for the convince of post-modern portable recording, yet blurs the boundaries between what a bedroom musician and a professional producer can achieve, you; A) have a microphone that is brilliant and becomes a game changer, or B) the [Blue] ‘Spark Digital’ (when used with the right equipment). However, during this review we found that it worked best when connected to a laptop computer as the stable electricity supply allowed the microphone to perform at its best. The ‘Spark Digital’ is also perfectly useful for iPad, or iPhone, recording, but you might experience that the microphone begins to struggle as the battery charge diminishes.


Where it features a nice clean and clear sound, during use we found the ‘Spark Digital’ to interact well with the large majority of instruments that we threw at it. We tested ‘Spark Digital’ with the ‘Focus’ on for: vocals, mid-range stringed instruments, and lighter wind instruments, and all came across with sophistication under the right level of gain and positioning. For some commentary tasks, or for recording bass, we recommend that you leave the focus off to capture the smoothness and deep attack of the bass. For vocals you will need to make sure that you have a pop shield, otherwise plosive sounds will sound accented in the lower frequencies, and the upper trebles. We do like that the ‘Spark Digital’ is such a simple microphone to set up, and can offer so much quick and easy experimenting, but without the ‘standard’ shockmount you do have a harder, more risky, task.


Review Conclusion:

Overall we really do like the [Blue] ‘Spark Digital’, but the package feels restrictive without including the ‘must have’ accessories. It has a great sound quality, and build quality, but without being able to use this product of the box with the latest iDevices you cannot make use of the full potential. Furthermore we would have liked to have seen a separate power cable or battery supply, paid or not, for when you cannot accept draining battery life from whatever you are using it with. In some ways this has been a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde review. For this reason this products capabilities would vary from person-to-person, and having to buy extras might not be financially feasible.


Once again, we do want to reassure you that the sound quality, and build quality, of this microphone is great and it can work so well with a huge number of instruments, but we would have liked to have seen a slightly better package with more flexibility. Once we have been informed that a Lightning cable will come as standard in the package, we will award a four star rating. However, for the meantime, The Pro Audio Web Blog reluctantly awards the Blue ‘Spark Digital’ microphone with a three-and-a-half out of five.


Edd Harris

Edd Harris - 2nd November 2013

US RRP: $199.99 | UK RRP: £149.99

Editors Rating:

Three and a Half Star Award
Blue Microphones Spark Digital
3.5/5 stars
Blue Microphones Spark Digital Review. The Spark Digital is a desktop USB condenser microphone that works with your Mac or iOS devices. With quick functions and an easy mix sound, this microphone will suit developing producers.