Impressive performance at this price.
In the world of streaming mics, there may be no more well-known company than Blue Microphones. If you’ve watched more than a handful of Twitch streams, you’ve likely seen their wildly popular and bullet-shaped Blue Yeti or the more recent Blue Yeti Nano. I’m reviewing the Blue Ember (See it at Amazon), which is a microphone also intended for streamers and gamers, but one that’s quite a departure in several ways. It’s small, thin, and purpose-driven with only a single recording pattern, but, most importantly, it drops USB support in favor of a more sophisticated XLR connection. At $99, is it worth becoming your next mic?
Blue Ember Condenser Mic – Design and Features
The Ember is a condenser microphone, which is popular among streamers and podcasters, but also within the recording industry. Condensers, including the Ember, are known for offering clear, natural recordings with a high level of sensitivity.
Unlike a mic like the Yeti or the recent HyperX QuadCast, it features a single cardioid polar pattern. Polar patterns are the regions that the microphone will “listen to,” and “cardioid” indicates unidirectional, so it only captures sound from one spot; your mouth right in front of it, which is where you’ll be sitting during a stream. This not only makes the microphone more useful for streamers, but also helps drive the price down since streamers aren’t likely to use more than a Cardioid pattern anyway.
The Ember is a side-address condenser. That means you talk into the side rather than the top. It also uses an XLR connection, so it can’t connect directly to your computer and will instead require an audio interface. The plus side to this is that as your stream grows and you upgrade your equipment, your Ember will be able to grow with you, plugging into any mixer or interface you might decide to try. The downside is that you’ll have to buy an interface. Thankfully, there are some great affordable options like this one from Behringer.
The Blue Ember has a simple design with a slim, pencil-like body that’s meant to be unobtrusive, visible on your stream but not distracting or covering half of your face.
There are no controls whatsoever and no headphone jack to break up its vintage finish. Compared to the Yeti, which is shorter but more than double the diameter, it definitely takes up less space on your face cam. Because of it’s smaller size, the mic weighs just 380g, a full 170g less than the Yeti, though is still much heavier than the waif-like 254g HyperX QuadCast.
The Ember is solidly built and dense. It’s entirely metal, so it has a satisfying feel for a mic at this price point, and the smaller diameter makes it feel almost indestructible in the hand. I really like the slate grey, almost blue color of the main cylinder combined with the darker burnished nickel of the ends. The grill surrounding the mic capsule is also heavy duty and didn’t flex when I tried to push it in.
What’s included in the package is a bit sparse, though, especially for entry-level streamers who might need a bit more than what’s delivered. Inside the box you’ll find the mic itself, a mic stand adapter, and some documentation, and that’s it.
I would really like to at least see a stand included.
It’s affordable at $99, but I would really like to at least see a stand included, or a cable, to make the mic usable out of the box. The lack of a stand leads me to believe that you’re supposed to use this with a boom arm instead of a desktop stand.
A small tabletop stand is usually included with USB mics and they don’t have to be fancy to get the job done – just ask the Audio-Technica AT2020USB+. That said, a boom arm is a large and expensive accessory, so I can understand why Blue would leave this out of the package. A mic stand adapter (below) is included, however.
The Ember is a great mic but you shouldn’t consider $99 the total price if you’re just starting out. After picking up an affordable arm, cable, and interface, you’ll easily be spending another $50 or more. If you want to pick up a shock mount and pop filter to protect your stream from any bumps or puffs of air, that will be another $30 or so (though you don’t exactly need either).
The point is, since the microphone is XLR and made to grow with you, you should really only look at the Ember if you are prepared to upgrade your setup in the future. If growth is something you’re interested in, you’ll pay a little more up front but save money down the road by not having to buy a whole new mic in the future.
Blue Ember Condenser Mic – Performance
Since the Ember connects to an interface, the bitrate and frequency it will transmit depends on what you’re connecting it to. This is another benefit of using an XLR connection. In my testing, I used the Behringer U-PHORIA UMC202HD and transmitted at 24-bit/192kHz while receiving audiophile-grade sound back at the same time.
A USB microphone, on the other hand, will use a built in soundcard to encode its recordings, as well as transmit your PC sound back to you. Frequently, this will be capped at a lower level, like 16-bit/48kHz as with the Audio-Technica AT2020USB+.
A good interface will simply outperform most USB mics hands-down.
Realistically, even dedicated audio enthusiasts would be hard pressed to hear a difference between the two types of microphones, but on a technical level, a good interface will simply outperform most USB mics hands-down.
To test the mic, I did a number of sample recordings and comparisons in Audacity. This isolates the mic from compression when being sent over the web and allows for a highly detailed recording.
The first thing that struck me is how quiet this mic is. Many mics, particularly headset mics, suffer from hiss or even electrical noise generated by improper shielding or the motherboard itself. The Ember is dead silent, which is particularly good for any kind of voice over if you’re a content creator.
The other thing I noticed is how good the proximity effect was. Proximity effect is the natural bass boost that occurs when you speak very close to the mic, which you might know as “radio voice.” It’s also one of the best ways to hear the unique characteristics a microphone brings to the table. Here, the proximity effect enhanced the natural warm tone of the microphone without stomping on the mid-tones that give my voice its natural crispness.
To get a better feel for its character, I compared it directly against the Blue Yeti, the HyperX QuadCast, the Samson G-Track Pro, the original Razer Seiren, and the Audio-Technica AT2020USB+. A few things really struck me in listening back to this comparison.
First, with the exception of the notably bass-light Razer Seiren, all of these microphones sounded good, which should dispel the myth that XLR offers better sound on connection-type alone. Second, and more importantly, the Blue Ember sounded better to my ear than all but the HyperX QuadCast, which is closer to a tie, all while being tied for cheapest of the bunch.
Compared against these mics, the Blue Ember offers excellent bass resonance while also maintaining fidelity in the middle and upper frequencies. When listening to the Blue Yeti, you can hear how its EQ curve rounds out the edge in my voice ever so slightly, making it sound very subtly like it’s underwater. Compared against the Razer Seiren, the Ember has much more presence. The G-Track Pro and AT2020USB+ are great mics in their own right, but the Samson fell into the same boat as the Yeti and the Audio-Technica over-emphasized the highs, sounding almost sharp. It was only the HyperX QuadCast that made me ponder which was better. There, I would I have to give the edge to HyperX for sounding slightly larger and more airy.
The Blue Ember has an MSRP of $99.99, but its popularity has made it scarce at the time of this writing, and sometimes the price is higher than list to reflect an imbalance of supply and demand.