Saturday, January 23, 2010

REVIEW: Blue Ball


According to Blue, the Blue Ball is the "world's first phantom powered dynamic microphone." It's very possibly true, for whatever that statement is worth. Here's Blue says about their Balls:

"The Ball's output stage. This circuit maintains a constant pure-resistive 50-ohm load across the useable frequency spectrum yielding an exceptionally smooth and open sound previously unheard of in a dynamic microphone. Additionally, as a dynamic mic, The Ball is capable of handling extremely high sound pressure levels without distortion, making it the ideal choice for studio, stage, broadcast, film or any other applications where reliability, versatility and the utmost sound quality is required."

What I found was that this microphone appears to do none of the things they claimed. The sensitivity is not noticably greater that a typical large element dynamic; an AKG D112, an EV RE20, or a Sennheiser MD421, for example. It's list price is $279, which is incredibly high for the functionality of the Ball, but the street price is closer to $200, slightly more reasonable.

The mounting system is downright stupid, considering the microphones handling noise and size. There is minimal shock isolation built into the microphone's design and the mounting arrangement directly couples the mic body to the stand. This makes for a mic that is very sensitive to stand/cable-transmitted shock and noise. Hardly the characteristic you'd want for a microphone that appears to be intended for use in percussion or high volume applications.

Blue claims a 35-16kHz frequency response for the Ball. If the tolerance for this spec is +/-10dB, I expect they're not exaggerating. Otherwise, this is a very misleading spec. The microphone has a more band-limited sound than an SM57, not exactly known for broad band reception. I experimented with the Ball on a wide variety of acoustic sound sources; kick drum, toms, snare, electric and acoustic guitar, trumpet, sax, and vocals. Like the SM57, the Ball is tolerable on toms, especially small drums, but it's sound was thin and unusable on kick. The Ball was practically irritating on every acoustic application I tried, except muted trumpet. The bandwidth was so limited that it made several acoustic instruments sound like they'd been produced by moderate quality sample players. On vocals, the Ball is very low-fi, so it has some application for that tactic.

I didn't think of trying the Ball on a harmonica during the testing, but in retrospect I think that might be an ideal application. There is some resemblance between the sound of the Ball on electric guitar and a Shure Green Bullet on the same instrument, so there might be a similar effect on blues harmonica.

Personally, I'd rather have an SM57 for the limited value the Ball might provide.

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Wirebender Audio Rants

Over the dozen years I taught audio engineering at Musictech College and McNally Smith College of Music, I accumulated a lot of material that might be useful to all sorts of budding audio techs and musicians. This site will include comments and questions about professional audio standards, practices, and equipment. I will add occasional product reviews with as many objective and irrational opinions as possible.