Blue Microphones Spark Digital Lightning Review
By Bruce Normann
Full Disclosure: The product sample used in this article has been provided by Blue Microphones.
If you want to give your podcasts a professional appearance, you need a good quality microphone. Forget about the tiny hole on your portable smart-whatever device, there’s a world of difference between consumer and professional-grade microphones, and the signal processing circuits that go along with them. Once you have a good microphone and preamp, you then need to digitize the signal using an Analog-to-Digital (A/D) convertor, and get that digital signal into your PC. The Spark Digital from Blue Microphones is an all-in-one solution for high quality digital audio production. All the signal processing is done inside the body of the microphone, and the interface to your computer is through one of several available serial connections. The Spark Digital supports USB 1.1/2.0, the relatively new Lightning connection, or the older Apple 30-pin interface, through the use of separate cables for each connection type. Benchmark Reviews has an audio side to it, but we’ve mostly concentrated on the output side of the equation – headphones and speakers. Some of our readers are content creators though, so it’s high time we paid some attention to the beginning of the signal chain.
If you’ve done any recording, you know how important it is to have the ability to monitor the signals that you’re generating. A recording level meter can only tell you so much; in order to really assess what’s happening you need to be able to hear the audio feed yourself, in real time. The Spark Digital has a headphone jack integrated into the standard cable assembly that provides real-tome monitoring, direct from the microphone’s internal electronics. That way, there’s no latency (delay) to deal with, which is a key factor in getting the sound right. You might not think so, but it’s really hard to concentrate on a delayed audio signal. The brain just keeps saying “Yeah, but…” a hundred times a second, using up all your internal processing power and preventing you from focusing on the sound. It’s hugely annoying if you’re doing a podcast or voiceover for a video, but it’s a killer-destroyer if you are trying to play music. It’s a common issue with many digital setups, and Blue Microphones has tackled it head on. If you have access to some of the more sophisticated recording software that’s readily available and want to do multi-track recording, a zero-latency monitoring setup is absolutely essential.
At Benchmark Reviews, sometimes we have to switch gears a bit when testing new equipment. Sometimes standards change, like DirectX or Ethernet, and sometimes we are testing a new type of product, like the Blue Spark Digital Microphone. There are lots of ways to measure sound quality, but even a $50k audio test lab is going to miss things that your ears will tell you, straight up. One of the most revealing tests for any audio equipment is reproducing the human voice. Since the Spark Digital is ideal for podcasting and voice over duty, that’s the way I tested it, with my own voice and that of another volunteer. I compared it to the performance I got with several condenser microphones from my own collection, all of which use a more traditional, analog signal path. For the comparison mics, the signal from the microphone preamp was sent to the line in connection on a discrete soundcard, where the A/D conversion finally occurred.
Features & Specifications
The technical specs for the Blue Spark Digital are pretty straightforward. You can see here that the digital format is exactly the same as CD Audio – 16 bits @ 44.1 kHz. This ensures maximum compatibility with the other software and hardware that the Spark Digital is likely to be used with. System requirements are typical, i.e. low, and the only major platform that is missing is Android. Considering how well Apple’s portable products are represented in the musical world and in media outlets, this doesn’t represent a real problem, but some people are bound to be disappointed.
Let’s take a look at what the innovative folks at Blue Microphones has delivered with the Digital Spark. The next section is an ooverview of the product and its features.