Even if you’ve never live streamed or recorded a single podcast, there’s a good chance you know about the Blue Yeti. Since 2009, the bullet-shaped microphone has become a staple of the gaming world. It appears on innumerable streams and let’s plays and is heard on even more podcasts. This month, we were given the opportunity to review several advanced streaming mics. Before considering any of those, we wanted to take a look at what many consider to be the gold standard for enthusiast recording. After all, this is the mic to be compared against, so what better starting place could there be?
Note: Be sure to listen to the audio sample at the end of the review to hear how the Blue Yeti Blackout compares to a cheaper condenser mic and an expensive wireless gaming headset.
It should go without saying that the Yeti is an excellent microphone. You probably knew that before clicking into this review; you simply don’t gain the kind groundswell the Yeti has without a serious measure of quality. It’s fitting, too, because Blue has been making professional-grade microphones and audio equipment for more than 20 years. So, that being understood from the get go, this review is going to establish what exactly sets the Yeti apart from some of the cheaper microphones an aspiring streamer or podcaster might be looking at.
First off, let’s talk about the type of microphone you’re actually buying. The Yeti is what’s called a condenser mic. This microphone type stands in stark contrast to standard PC mics and especially those found on wireless headsets. I won’t go over all of the technology (you can read exactly how it works here), but these microphones are industry standard for capturing vocals, which makes them a perfect fit for any kind of voiceover or podcasting, but also pushes them roundly above virtually any other “standard” mic you’re likely to find marketed toward gamers.
A quick Amazon search shows that there are many, many cheap condenser mics available; much more than five years ago, to be sure. Many of these come in under $50, look suspiciously similar, and present grand promises from unknown manufacturers. Not all of them are bad, however, and some large companies make affordable microphones for users on a budget - Blue included. When I first began podcasting right up until this year, I used this CAD U37 which now sells for under $40. If you’ve listened to the podcast in the last four years, you’ve heard it. It was clearly an improvement over my previous Plantronics headset, but after using the Blue Yeti, I’ve woken up to just how limited it actually was. Rather than looking at buying an entire new microphone in just a few short years, I wish I’d spent a little more and gotten the Yeti from the get go.
The measure of quality in the Blue Yeti Blackout is immediately apparent. It’s a larger microphone, shaped like a bullet, and is protected by a nice metal body. It’s substantially heavier than the average microphone, too, which doesn’t speak to recording quality but does help assure me that it’s made to last. It comes with a heavy metal stand, too, that’s adjustable for angle and features foam pads on the bottom to cut down on noise. The U37 and many cheaper mics will feature all plastic bodies and limited stands. They’ll sell you on arms and shock mounts because they’re usually downright necessary to avoid picking up every small movement on your desktop. These are smart purchases for any mic, mind you, but they become much more necessary with ineffective stands and lightweight materials.
When you plug it in, Windows automatically picks the Yeti up, eliminating the need for a separate driver. From there, it can act as an interface all its own. Using the headphone jack on the bottom, you can not only monitor your own latency free audio - an absolutely excellent feature for recording work - but every other sound on your computer as well. You won’t be stuck hoping you’re levels are correct, you’ll hear that they are. A volume level below the Blue logo allows you to control how much you hear, and a mute button cleanly cuts your signal without any obvious clipping.
On the backside is a gain control and your mode selector. A separate gain knob is a nice addition, saving you from having to manually adjust your volume or “boost” in Windows. It has enough throw to virtually eliminate the need to adjust the actual volume once you have it set. That said, though there is almost no white noise when the gain is turned down, you can hear it at anything above 30% or so.
The mode selector is where things really get interesting. The Yeti uses a tri-capsule design, allowing for much more versatility than what’s possible on the single condenser capsule found on cheaper mics. Cardioid mode is what most people will use, capturing just what’s in front of the mic. Omnidirectional captures everything in a radius. Stereo isolates sounds into left and right channels, allowing for some interesting musical capture. Interview mode shifts the focus to the front and back for recording across a table.
Cheaper streaming mics offer virtually none of these features. The CAD U37 includes two switches, once to emphasize the low end frequencies and a -10dB switch to compensate for it being incredibly hot in the first place.
All of that says nothing of the recording quality. It is fantastic. Out of the box, without adjusting any knob or setting, it sounds great and is ready to go. Rather than relying on a switch, the Yeti nicely allows you to leverage proximity effect for some nice bass resonance in your voice (radio voice). I appreciate the warmer quality of its recording, as well. It’s not a finicky microphone either. On the U37, I was grew used to positioning myself just so to avoid becoming too quiet or much too loud from even slight movements. Here, I can sit comfortably and not worry so much about my exact positioning and focus on what matters: what I’m trying to create. I was also impressed by the how effective the screen (mesh cage) was at filtering out plosives and sibilance. If you’re serious, you’ll still want a pop filter, but the mic itself does a nice job of preventing minor air bursts from distorting your recording.
The Blue Yeti Blackout is clearly an excellent mic. You knew that when you opened this review. The CAD U37 I had to compare it against may not be representative of every budget mic out there, but considering that it is a name brand that was once at the upper edge of “cheap” condenser microphones, it does a good job of showing the edge a nice microphone like the Yeti offers. Put simply, our Yeti Blackout sample is a better made, more consistent, reliable, and versatile microphone than even I expected it to be. Extra features like it acting as an audio interface are just icing on the cake.
To end, I recorded an example of the Yeti compared to the U37 dicussed here, as well as to the mic on an expensive wireless headset, the Steelseries Siberia 800 ($249 MSRP). Have a listen and hear the differences for yourself.