"Interesting and functional design, but with flaws"3.0 starson by techlaw
Pros: Better than built-in microphones, and has USB convenience
Cons: Sound quality not as good as professional mics, and has some design flaws
Summary: I was debating between a three-star rating and four-star rating. The discovery of a bug pushed me over to a lower rating. It is a good design, but I find myself not liking it as much as others seem. It looks cute, for sure, but is also quite obviously flawed.
(1) Convenience. No need to wear a headset.
(2) Sound quality much better than built-in microphones.
(3) Built-in soundcard (A/D converter) with quite good quality. No need to worry about the humming noises of laptop internal sound cards, and no need to mess with external sound cards.
(4) USB compatibility. Truly plug-and-play.
(5) Pretty good build quality, better than most consumer products.
(1) Bug. Whenever you put the computer in sleep and later wake it up, the USB Snowflake will not come out of the sleep. You will have to unplug the microphone and replug it to make it work. I'm not entirely sure whether this is a problem with the microphone or the computer operating system, but I am familiar with external USB devices enough to know that this shouldn't be the case. I use Vista. Other external USB devices all work fine in this respect. So I believe this is a bug. Regardless, this is quite annoying because I put my laptop in sleep frequently.
(2) Sound quality is not as good as professional microphones used with a good sound card. The sound quality is right in the middle between microphones built in laptop computers and a decent headset, a handheld or studio microphone. I say this based on testing with actual recordings, not speculation. While the Snowflake is noticeably better than a built-in microphone, it is noticeably inferior to a good handheld microphone or a quality headset (such as those used in wireless microphone sets).
(3) Noise level is higher than a good handheld microphone or good headset. Because of the distant placement in relation to the user, this microphone is clearly not as clean as the high-quality microphones I've used (and still use with my desktop system). This may not be a problem for noncritical recordings, but it is something to be remembered. Personally, I want to use it for voice recognition, which I believe is a much more challenging environment than casual recording. Based on my short experience, I am quite satisfied, but not without a bit of reservation because of the noise. I just hope the noise does not significantly impact the recognition accuracy. So far, it does not appear to be a series problem, but the higher noise level is obvious and I am concerned.
(4) Picks up too much ambient noise. This microphone is supposed to be unidirectional, but its ability to reject ambient noises is clearly not as good as handhold microphones I've used. The Snowflake is really meant to be used in a relatively quiet room. I believe this microphone was designed with conflicting goals which forced compromises. When it comes to microphones, there are two very different types of uses. The first type is the recording of a single source from a single direction (such as an individual speaker's voice), the second type is the recording of multiple sources from multiple directions (such as a conference room). These two types need very different types of microphones, namely unidirectional for the former and omnidirectional for the latter. I feel the maker of the Snowflake would like to have both type of buyers with a single design. Not a good idea. I think they should give an option of two different types to the Snowflake, either using a modular system or using a switch.
(5) The joint of the microphone head is very loose, hardly able to hold a position firm. This makes you nervous all the time, and in fact do cause frequent adjustments. This is clearly an overlook and must be improved in the next iteration of this product (if there will be one). Nothing affects the user experience like unreliability.
(6) There is no tightening nor adjustment mechanism for this thing to be clamped over the edge of the computer lid. It just loosely and barely hangs there. Not very stable, and easily falls off with any laptop movement. I eventually decided to place the microphone aside the computer. This works well (but does require a support surface), because thankfully the metal case can be flipped over to become a standing frame. Very convenient.
(7) I wish they made the microphone head (the ball part) completely detachable from the box so that one can comfortably hold it in hand if needs to (for example, if you really need a low noise level for recording). With the current design, if you want to handhold this microphone, you can only hold it with the entire metal frame, which is not only heavy but too edgy and uncomfortable to hold for very long.
(8) I feel the whole thing is a bit too heavy for its intended type of use. Is it possible to make it lighter without sacrificing the integrity? I don't know. I kind of like the feel of its metal make, but still think lighter would be better.
To be fair, however, the lower sound quality and worse noise characteristics compared to handheld or headset microphones is expected, because such characteristics are inherent to the detached type of use in which the microphone is placed at a distance from speaker. The sound quality depends greatly on the distance between the user and the microphone. I tested the Snowflake handholding it close to my mouth (about 3-4 inches away), and found the quality of the recording was quite close to that of a good handheld microphone. But of course this is not how the microphone is designed to be used. Placed over the top edge of my laptop lid (the intended way to use it), the Snowflake sounded decidedly worse. The noise floor is much higher, because at that distance, the recording level has to be raised to the maximum in order to have a decent pickup. Still much better than a built-in microphone, but if you are hoping for very high-quality recording comparable to a handheld or studio microphone, you shouldn't buy this microphone. However, if you would like to have the convenience of not having to handhold a microphone or wear a microphone over your head, I'm not aware of a better computer microphone out there at this time.
Overall, interesting and promising design that may satisfy lots of users who are not very discriminative in terms of the sound quality, but for those who don't want to compromise too much, don't hope too much. It's great for its intended use, but not to replace a high quality microphone for some other special purposes. And yes, the sleeping bug and several other flaws do bother me.