Computer audio recording technology has advanced significantly in the last 10 years or so. Even a low-powered computer can now record audio professionally with the right hardware and software tools. Sure it’s possible to make recordings using the built-in mic on your laptop, but to record vocals and instruments at high quality there’s no option but to invest in a quality microphone.
Launched at the beginning of the year at CES 2011, Blue Microphone’s Yeti Pro has been making waves in the audio market all year. It’s far from cheap, but for Windows or Mac users looking to take their audio records to the next level it can’t be beaten at this price. Let’s find out why.
Setup & features
There are thousands of microphones available, including high quality USB mics that are perfect for casual home recording and for podcasting. Microphones also vary in price, but professional quality USB mics typically cost over £150. Blue Microphone’s Yeti Pro (£220) is more expensive than most—even those from Rode and Samsom—but its sound quality is worth paying the price premium.
Beautifully packaged and sporting a retro design that resembles an old-fashioned radio microphone, the Yeti Pro is huge. Designed to reside on a desk rather than in a laptop carrying case, the Yeti Pro weighs an impressive 1.55kg and sports and eye-catching black-and-silver finish.
Whereas the end of the mic is finished in polished chrome, the stand has a more practical and rugged aluminium and black finish—it also does a good job dampening vibration thanks to its thick foam insulation on the bottom. The various dials on the mic also colour match the stand sympathetically. The Yeti Pro can be mounted in a suspension mount or a dedicated stand (thumb screws release the mic from its stand) or positioned at the desired angle with the included custom-designed desk stand.
Setting up the Yeti Pro is a little more complicated than a general purpose microphone, due to the fact that it’s the world’s first USB microphone that combines 24-bit/192kHz digital recording (four times the resolution of CD) with an analogue XLR output. To use a USB 2.0 connection (cable supplied), Mac users have to install Max OS X 10.6.4 or higher and Windows users need to download drivers from Blue Microphone’s Web site.
To perform at its best, users also need to make sure they plug the mic directly into a powered USB port and avoid connecting through USB hubs or other USB multipliers. Windows users then need to configure the Yeti Pro in “Control Panel” to adjust their computer’s internal microphone gain (volume) settings. This is actually a case of trial and error because users may find that when they want to record something that is very loud, like a drum set, they will want to turn this setting down.
On the bottom of the Yeti Pro next to the USB port is a 5-pin XLR connector. The supplied Y-cable lets users connect the Yeti Pro to any preamp that provides 48v phantom power. Alternatively, users can use their own 5-pin stereo XLR cable to connect the Yeti Pro or a stereo preamplifier. The Yeti Pro’s Y-cable outputs stereo audio via the left and right XLR connectors when the mic is in stereo mode. When the Yeti Pro is in other modes, the mono signals is cloned and output to left and right XLR connectors.
There’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom of the Yeti Pro for monitoring recording in real time, without latency delays. Interestingly, the headphone’s built-in amplifier (via the digital-to-analogue converter) can also be used to play back audio and music tracks from a computer.
The volume dial on the front of the Yeti Pro controls the headphone output, eliminating the need to juggle software menus on the computer. And as the control is a digital volume control, most operating systems should remember the volume position from previous use. However, the headphone output and volume control are not functional when using the Yeti Pro in analogue mode due to the insufficient power provided by XLR interfaces.
The Yeti Pro is designed to provide the highest possible digital quality, which is why it employs a next generation A-D converter chip allowing the flexibility to sample at a range of resolutions, from 22kHz up to 192kHz and the common sampling rates in-between. Designed with Blue’s professional audio principles, the Yeti Pro features separate circuit boards to maintain the integrity of the analogue and digital signal paths, and discrete electronic components for the highest signal quality.
Similar to its less capable sibling, the Yeti (£100), the Yeti Pro features Blue’s custom 14mm condenser capsules set in a proprietary triple array to provide the flexibility of four distinct recording patterns: cardioid, omni, stereo, bi-directional. By rotating the pattern selector knob on the rear of the mic, the choice of mode will depend on whether the user is in a studio or recording on a desktop.
For instance, cardioid is the most commonly used mode for recording vocals, a podcast, or a voiceover because sound directly in front of the microphone is picked up while the sound at the rear and sides of the microphone is not. Cardioid delivers the most direct, rich sound, but will not offer as much airiness or presence as the other recording modes.
Omnidirectional, on the other hand, picks up sound equally from all directions. This setting is better suited for recording a group of musicians all playing at the same time, recording a conversation between multiple parties around a room, a conference call, or any other situations where the user wants to capture the ambience.
The stereo mode is great for capturing a realistic stereo image, allowing the user to prioritise right and left channels by moving the sound source a little closer to the right or left side of the mic, while the bidirectional mode picks up sound at the front and rear of the microphone—sounds to the sides are “rejected”, or not picked up. The bidirectional setting is useful in achieving a nuanced, pleasant sound when recording musical instruments, and is the best choice for recording an interview with two or more guests.
An important thing to remember is that the Yeti Pro is a side address microphone, so it accepts sound from an angle perpendicular to the mic, as opposed to a front address mic where users speak into the “end” of the microphone. Users should also be aware that the Yeti Pro is very unforgiving of background noise—a pop filter is recommended—and that while 24-bit audio delivers a higher dynamic range and more accurate sound, it takes up 50 per cent more disk space than 16-bit audio. Get to grips with these considerations and the Yeti Pro captures vocals with stunning depth and warmth.
To get the best from the Yeti Pro, users will want to have some kind of software that allows for digital signal processing and non-linear editing that will accept audio from the USB port. One popular choice is Audacity, an open source (and free) application for recording and editing sounds. Those wanting more advanced controls might want to take a look at Sony’s Sound Forge or even Avid’s ProTools.
Blue Microphones has done a great job of extending its triple capsule array and four recording patterns into a digital computer microphone. Offering professional recording quality in a USB microphone with the versatility to take its distinct recording capabilities into the studio thanks to its analogue output, the Yeti Pro is one of the best USB microphones for PC and Mac users.
The depth and tone isn’t quite as good as some single-use broadcast mics, and the 24-bit audio recording and choice of four pattern settings is overkill for most podcasters and YouTubers (most users won’t ever switch from cardoid), but those serious about recording at the highest quality can’t do much better than the Yeti Pro. With an arsenal of features and flexibility not seen before in any USB microphone, the Yeti Pro is fantastic. For users not needing the analogue XLR connectivity and super-sensitive recording resolutions, the original Yeti will more than suffice.