Hot Mics: Not Your Dad's Desktop Microphones

Desktop microphones
credit: David Isaac/Techwalla

Desktop microphones are just plain fun, with designs ranging from cute to outlandish. Not only will a desktop mic put your computer's built-in mic to shame, but it will make a bold statement on your desk. Here we look at six that will amaze and delight.

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Bumblebee microphone
credit: David Isaac/Techwalla

Here's the word of the day: Anthropomorphism. That's when you assign human-like characteristics to inanimate objects. And it's what I found myself doing with the Bumblebee microphone, whose articulating arm and mic resemble a head and neck. I kept waiting for it to turn around and say hello. Not in a scary skynet way, more in a charming Wall-E way.

Bumblebee is part of the Bee line of microphones from Neat, a division of Gibson, the iconic maker of electric guitars. Neat takes its bee theme the distance. Even its box is covered in a honeycomb design. The instruction manual is shaped like a honeycomb and titled "Field Guide to the Bumblebee" with pages like "Care & Feeding" that cautions about avoiding "broken appendages" and a page titled "Pollination" describing how the Bumblebee adapts to different environments thanks to its sonic signatures. The mic even comes with a little bee figurine.

Bumblebee mic
credit: David Isaac/Techwalla

All this tongue-in-cheek material might give the impression that the Bumblebee is not a serious device. Nothing could be further from the truth. This microphone is capable of recording in 24 bit/96 kHz. This is the level of quality used by sound engineers and music producers, and Neat says no special drivers are needed. Both Microsoft and Apple operating systems are compatible with it (iOS goes as high as 24 bit/ 192 kHz). You will need software that supports high-def audio, however, but most today do.

The Bumblebee features three presets, or sonic signatures: Music, Voice and Neutral. Music gives instruments a rich sound. Voice puts your speech front and center. Neutral strips away any processing so that you can add your own later.

The Bumblebee is strong on design. Its microphone sits on a boom arm attached to a swivel base so you can position it easily where you want it, and the microphone capsule is internally shock mounted to isolate the mic from physical vibration. The microphone itself is a cardioid condenser, which is favored by just about all USB microphone makers.

Bumblebee also features on-board controls, or 'stinger knobs,' to use the company's bee-themed nomenclature, which are ringed with light for working in dark spaces. The knobs include a Sonic Selector for choosing the aforementioned sonic signatures, a gain control for adjusting the mic's volume, and a headphone control knob. The last enables you to listen on a headphone in real-time with zero-latency as you're recording, freeing you from relying on the often low-quality headphone amplifier chips found in computers.

The Bumblebee is a first-rate desktop microphone, offering a more professional setup than other mics thanks to its on-board controls and presets. It can handle just about any use-case, whether its podcasting, recording music to YouTube, skyping with friends or ordering around underlings during an Internet conference call. In fact, as VoIP bandwidths are much larger than cellular ones, don't be surprised if they tell you that you sound like you're in the room with them -- a useful effect when dealing with underlings.

The only downside I see to this mic is that it's fairly large and heavy at 3.6 pounds. It's not something you can easily slide around your desk and it will take up real estate. Make sure you have the space for this mic before you buy. The articulating arm does alleviate the space issue somewhat in that it folds down.

The Bumblebee comes with a snap-on pop filter to prevent plosives, those consonant sounds that involve strong blasts of air that create thumps in recordings, usually words starting with a b or a p. The pop filter is shaped, you guessed it, like a honeycomb.

The Bumblebee retails for $199.

Widget A

The Widget A is another offering from Neat Microphones, but sports a completely different look and feel than the bee series. There are three models in the Widget series. Each looks different enough that it's worth viewing all before deciding to purchase.

Widget A mic
credit: Neat Mics

The Widget A, which is the model I tested, certainly sports an eye-catching design. It's futuristic meets retro. My niece said it looked like a giant flower and demanded I give it to her immediately, a demand softened by a testimonial about how I was her "favorite uncle ... named David." When I explained it wasn't mine to give, her disappointment was palpable -- but, hey, these millennials have to learn sometime.

The Widget A features a shock-mounted, cardioid condenser microphone that records in 24 bit/96 kHz -- as mentioned, about as good as it gets. It also includes an internal pop filter. The mic sits on an adjustable boom. You move it up and down by loosening a small thumbscrew on the back of the mic's housing. It's not too heavy, weighing 1.6 lbs. It comes with a long USB cable attached.

The Widget A is quite large. Scanning reviews of people who've purchased this product, a common note is that it's much bigger than they expected. The base is about 7 inches in diameter and it's about 14 inches tall. You'll need desk space if you want to showcase the Widget A. Also, be aware that the head doesn't swivel. You can only adjust for height. Also, there are no on-board controls or sonic presets, as with the Bumblebee.

However, the Widget A is a high-quality microphone sporting a unique design and plug-and-play simplicity. Judging from the dwindling stock at Amazon, it's popular. The Widget A retails for $99.

Shure MV51

Shure MV51
credit: David Isaac/Techwalla

If you're worried that only the cockroaches will survive a giant meteor strike, be at ease. The Shure MV51 will also survive. Its heft and all-metal construction is the first thing you notice about it. Shure tells me they put all their mics through repeated drop tests. So don't worry about dropping this on the floor. Worry about the floor.

The Shure MV51 boasts a classy look wiht a silver grille inspired by its own classic mics (The company has been around since 1925). Look at pictures of crooners from bygone days and chances are they're standing in front of a Shure mic. In fact, the Shure MV51 is marketed toward musicians. I was even tempted to do my Frank Sinatra impersonation. Then I realized I didn't have a Frank Sinatra impersonation. But for those who can sing, the Shure MV51 is perfect for recording music at home or on the road. The mic's rubber foot can be unscrewed so you can attach the MV51 to a mic stand.

Shure stand
credit: David Isaac/Techwalla

The MV51 features on-board controls in the form of a touch-screen. You can cycle through five preset modes: speech, singing, acoustic music, band and flat. There's also a mute button, volume slide and headphone volume button. You know you're adjusting the headphone volume because the colors turn from green to orange when selected.

A big advantage of the MV51 is that you can use it with your iOS devices and some, but not all, Android devices, thanks to Shure's Motiv app, which turns your smartphone into a hard drive for audio files. The software is easy to use. You can even trim and split the audio right on your phone and share it straight to social media. A one meter lightning cable is included with the MV51.

The only downside to the MV51, if there is a downside, is that it does not record in 24 bit/ 96 kHz, but tops out at 24 bit/48 kHz. Shure insists the difference is negligible and most people won't be able to distinguish between the two. Shure went with 24 bit/ 48 kHz primarily so that the mic will work well with the Apple Lossless Audio Codec which taps out at 48 kHz.

The MV51 is a stylish, incredibly well-built microphone that takes up little space. It will add class to any desktop. Never mind Skype and VoIP, this mic will put you in touch with your inner Adele. The Shure MV51 retails for $200.

Shure MV5

Shure MV5
credit: David Isaac/Techwalla

The MV5 is a desktop microphone from Shure that offers a number of features found in its big brother, the MV51, but at half the price. These include a dedicated headphone jack for zero-latency monitoring, mode presets and a mute button. Unlike the MV51, the MV5 only has three presets: voice, instrument and flat. Lights on top tell you which mode you're in. Controls are located on the back.

Shure MV5 onboard controls
credit: David Isaac/Techwalla

While the MV5's construction does not rival the MV51, (it's mostly plastic with an aluminum stand), it's still sturdy. Underneath the plastic housing, the guts of the microphone are encased in a steel frame.

The MV5 works with Shure's Motiv software so you can plug it into your iPhone and record audio. And it's also highly portable. Not only is it light, weighing 5.46 ounces with the stand, but it can be used without the stand. The microphone without stand weighs 3.17 ounces. And it will sit on a desk without rolling around. Talk about a small footprint.

If you're a college kid recording lectures, this makes for an excellent mic. Just drop it in your knapsack and go. Leave the mounting stand at home. The only thing I wish is that this mic came with a protective case as it is plastic and will probably get scratched bouncing around inside a bag.

Shure MV5 mic
credit: David Isaac/Techwalla

The stand itself has ball-headed screw to attach the microphone. It goes through a slot so you have some room to angle the mic. The microphone also rotates on the stand. It's easy to slide around, which is help when you have to make way for other things on your desk.

The MV5 comes in two colors: Silver/gray and black/red. It retails for $99.

Snowball iCE

Snowball iCE
credit: David Isaac/Techwalla

The Snowball iCE is a microphone from Blue, a company whose microphones are well-respected by podcasters. It's a great value, retailing for just $ $48.

It has an appealing futuristic appearance, a globe-shaped head atop a tripod stand. I can imagine something like it rising out of the frozen tundra of Hoth. It's available in a variety of colors, including orange, blue, black and metallic silver.

The mic has a relatively small footprint (about 6 inches between tripod legs). And while you can't really rotate the mic around on its mount, it does tilt up and down.

There are a few disadvantages to the Snowball iCE. It has a red light at the top which I found distracting. And the Snowball's stand only rests securely when the legs are fully deployed. It would have been nice if there were different height settings. Finally, there is no pop filter or shock mount, although Blue sells a shock mount separately for $60.

But again, the Snowball iCE is a good value. If you're on a budget and using the mic primarily to boost your microphone quality above that of your computer's built-in mic, which this will do by leaps and bounds, the Snowball iCE is an excellent choice.


Blue Snowflake
credit: David Isaac/Techwalla

The Snowflake is a portable mic also from Blue. Ultra-compact, it's meant for the road. If you're conducting business on the go, the Snowflake is definitely a microphone to consider. It'll fit in just about any bag or coat pocket and measures just 4 inches at its widest.

You also have a choice of how to mount it. You can rest it on its base, or you can hang it from the top of your laptop screen. Your camera will peep through a gap created between the base and the base's hinge. Good design! Also worth noting is that the included USB cable can be stowed inside the base when on the move. More good design!

Snowflake on PC
credit: David Isaac/Techwalla

The Snowflake records in 16 bit / 44.1 kHz and while I felt it picked up more ambient noise than the other mics, that's forgivable. I see this mic being used by business people to dictate notes and stream conversations, for which the Snowflake is more than adequate. It's also perfect for recording lectures

The Snowflake microphone is made mainly of plastic with a metal grille. The Snowflake retails for $55.

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