Recording - May 2013 - 50

R E V I E W B Y M I K E M E T L AY

Blue Spark
Digital USB Microphone
Solid sound meets your laptop DAW... or your iPad
Blue’s line of USB mics, from the tiny Tiki to
the multipattern, high-def Yeti Pro (reviewed
December 2011), hits a variety of sweet
spots for the many computer users interested
in audio recording. The latest Blue USB offering is the Spark Digital, a USB version of the
well-liked Spark large-diaphragm condenser
mic (reviewed April 2011) that combines studio-quality audio recording with USB conveniences like a headphone output and on-mic
gain and level control... and it’s the first Blue
mic specifically designed to work instantly
with iOS devices as well via a single cable.
Out of the bag
The Spark Digital comes with a custom
desktop shockmount and two computer
cables, one for USB and one for iOS, in
a plush velvet-and-faux-fur carrying bag
with an internal cable pocket. There is no
software enclosed... or needed.
The mic itself resembles the original Spark
both inside and out; Blue reports that aside
from the A/D and D/A converters and USB
hardware, the condenser capsule and head
amp electronics of the Spark Digital are
identical to those on the analog version. The
resemblance on the outside is also important because it means all of the Spark’s
accessories (its mic-stand shockmount for studio use and its custom-fitted mesh pop filter)
work on the Spark Digital as well.
Blue claims a 26 Hz–20 kHz frequency
response for the Spark Digital (no dB tolerances given), as well as a 28 mV/Pa
sensitivity, maximum SPL handling of 128
dBA, a self-noise of only 10 dBA, and a
signal-to-noise ratio of 84 dB. The internal
converters work at a fixed 16-bit/44.1
kHz, both input and output. For the curious, these specs match perfectly with the
quoted specs for the original Spark, aside
from a slight difference in quoted frequency response at the very low end.
The headphone output has a 99 dB
S/N ratio and 20 Hz–22 kHz frequency
response. It automatically provides zerolatency monitoring when tracking.
One of the Spark’s more interesting
audio features has made the jump to the
50

RECORDING May 2013

Spark Digital—the Focus Control.
According to Blue, this little switch on the
back of the mic changes the input electronics of the capsule itself, specifically the voltage loading. This basically turns the Spark
or Spark Digital into two slightly different
microphones, with different transient
responses and frequency response curves.
The front of the Spark Digital sports the
Control Knob, a small backlit push-click
rotary encoder with an LED ladder meter
above it. When the mic powers on, the
Control Knob and meter LEDs light up blue,
indicating that they are controlling and displaying headphone output level. Pressing
in and holding the Control Knob for a few
seconds causes the LEDs to all turn orange,
indicating that you are now controlling mic
input gain. In both modes, a quick pressclick of the knob mutes the mic input (the
LED flashes to show Mute status). These
controls are pretty coarse: only 24 steps
from silence to full blast on the headphone
level, and only 10 steps from near-silent to
hot as heck for the mic gain. But they’re
very handy for quick adjustments without
mousing around your DAW.
The Spark Digital comes with separate
cabling for both USB and iOS use. These
are Y-cables; they plug into a Micro-B USB
connector on the bottom of the mic, and
split into a 3' cable ending in a minijack
for headphone use and a 9' cable ending
in the relevant computer connector (USB
Type A or 30-pin iOS). If you have a
newer device like an iPhone 5 or an iPad
mini, you can add an Apple Lightning
Adapter to the 30-pin cable to get going.
The Spark Digital is class-compliant for
Mac OS X 10.4.11+, Windows XP/Vista/
7/8, and pretty much every iPad, iPhone
4/4S/5, and even the latest iPod touch.
You just plug it in and it works... with one
small caveat for iOS that we’ll discuss
below. Blue completes the package with an
optional registration for six free months of
SoundCloud at the Pro level, and six free
months of 25 GB cloud file storage with
Gobbler, an audio-user-friendly online
backup and file sharing service.

In use
We liked the Spark when we reviewed it;
it was way more mic than its entry-level price
tag would indicate, and that quality for value
has carried over handily into the Spark
Digital. It’s a cardioid large-diaphragm condenser mic, the only such USB mic currently
in the Blue line (the Yeti Pro’s multiple capsules are each much smaller and have a very
different tonal quality to them). It has the
same sonic character as the Spark, with a
slightly forward lower midrange (around 1
kHz) as well as some gentle bumps and dips
around 300 Hz and an “air” blip centered
around 12 kHz.
Without the Focus control, there’s a lot
more low end, with a rising response
down to 75 Hz or so before rolling off; the
Focus Control turns that into a pretty drastic low-end rolloff (already some 20 dB
down at 60 Hz). While there’s a little more
than that going on sonically, the overall
effect is that vocals and guitars are more
“focused” simply because the low-end stuff
that adds rumble and muck is gone. Blue
can be forgiven for saying in multiple
places, “No, the Focus Control isn’t just a



Recording - May 2013

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Recording - May 2013

Recording - May 2013
Fade In
Contents
Talkback
Fast Forward
Jim Anderson Records Patricia Barber
Lewitt Authentica LCT 940
PreSonus Eris Series High-Definition Studio Monitors
How To Record Great Vocals At Home
Audio-Technica AT5040 Studio Vocal Microphone
Plug-ins To The Rescue—Real-Life Remedies For Vocal Tracks
Moon Professional 3500MP 2-Channel Microphone Preamp
DPA Microphones d:fine Series Headset Microphones
Plug-in Outlet: Toontrack EZmix Pack: Vocal Toolbox
Plug-in Outlet: iZotope Nectar Elements
Blue Spark Digital USB Microphone
Plug-in Outlet: Noveltech Vocal Enhancer (and Character)
Readers' Tapes
Recording Fundamentals. Chapter 17: Sweet Spot Conundrums—Part 4
CAD Audio Acousti-shield 32
Advertiser Index
Fade Out
Recording - May 2013 - Intro
Recording - May 2013 - Recording - May 2013
Recording - May 2013 - Cover2
Recording - May 2013 - 1
Recording - May 2013 - 2
Recording - May 2013 - 3
Recording - May 2013 - Fade In
Recording - May 2013 - 5
Recording - May 2013 - Contents
Recording - May 2013 - 7
Recording - May 2013 - Talkback
Recording - May 2013 - 9
Recording - May 2013 - Fast Forward
Recording - May 2013 - 11
Recording - May 2013 - 12
Recording - May 2013 - 13
Recording - May 2013 - Jim Anderson Records Patricia Barber
Recording - May 2013 - 15
Recording - May 2013 - 16
Recording - May 2013 - 17
Recording - May 2013 - Lewitt Authentica LCT 940
Recording - May 2013 - 19
Recording - May 2013 - PreSonus Eris Series High-Definition Studio Monitors
Recording - May 2013 - 21
Recording - May 2013 - 22
Recording - May 2013 - 23
Recording - May 2013 - How To Record Great Vocals At Home
Recording - May 2013 - 25
Recording - May 2013 - 26
Recording - May 2013 - 27
Recording - May 2013 - 28
Recording - May 2013 - 29
Recording - May 2013 - 30
Recording - May 2013 - 31
Recording - May 2013 - 32
Recording - May 2013 - 33
Recording - May 2013 - Audio-Technica AT5040 Studio Vocal Microphone
Recording - May 2013 - 35
Recording - May 2013 - 36
Recording - May 2013 - 37
Recording - May 2013 - Plug-ins To The Rescue—Real-Life Remedies For Vocal Tracks
Recording - May 2013 - 39
Recording - May 2013 - Moon Professional 3500MP 2-Channel Microphone Preamp
Recording - May 2013 - 41
Recording - May 2013 - DPA Microphones d:fine Series Headset Microphones
Recording - May 2013 - 43
Recording - May 2013 - Plug-in Outlet: Toontrack EZmix Pack: Vocal Toolbox
Recording - May 2013 - 45
Recording - May 2013 - Plug-in Outlet: iZotope Nectar Elements
Recording - May 2013 - 47
Recording - May 2013 - 48
Recording - May 2013 - 49
Recording - May 2013 - Blue Spark Digital USB Microphone
Recording - May 2013 - 51
Recording - May 2013 - Plug-in Outlet: Noveltech Vocal Enhancer (and Character)
Recording - May 2013 - 53
Recording - May 2013 - Readers' Tapes
Recording - May 2013 - 55
Recording - May 2013 - 56
Recording - May 2013 - 57
Recording - May 2013 - 58
Recording - May 2013 - 59
Recording - May 2013 - Recording Fundamentals. Chapter 17: Sweet Spot Conundrums—Part 4
Recording - May 2013 - 61
Recording - May 2013 - 62
Recording - May 2013 - 63
Recording - May 2013 - CAD Audio Acousti-shield 32
Recording - May 2013 - Advertiser Index
Recording - May 2013 - 66
Recording - May 2013 - 67
Recording - May 2013 - 68
Recording - May 2013 - 69
Recording - May 2013 - 70
Recording - May 2013 - 71
Recording - May 2013 - Fade Out
Recording - May 2013 - Cover3
Recording - May 2013 - Cover4
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