Blue Microphone Spark Digital

The Dual-Connection Spark Digital Microphone, from Blue.

From obscurity to saturation, USB “studio” microphones have broken the sound (pun intended) barrier in their rise to the market …and their plateau, within several years.

Often dismissed due to their price points and all-in-one package, USB microphones afford amateurs a low-price/high-quality entry while providing a secondary or emergency portable solution for professionals. USB is good, but digital opens the door to even more possibilities.

Blue is a true microphone innovator, known for their theatrical styling along with solid performance. The Blue Spark digital offers USB performance but also provides a 30-pin universal connection. Now, we can plug in a large diaphragm condenser anywhere an “i” device is available. I had a blast trying the Spark digital on an iPhone*, iPad* and even an iPod Touch*. True; the sun may be setting on the famous universal connector. However, there are (and will remain) tens of millions of compatible devices donning “the universal”.

As a microphone, the Blue Spark digital is simply a good large diaphragm performer, much like its predecessor, the Spark. I was reminded that the Spark does proximity effect quite well and is susceptible to plosives. Don’t forget a blast filter if you intent on getting up close.

Fit and finish is excellent. Besides the microphone, you’ll find a small desk stand/shock mount, two cable sets and an attractive carrying pouch.

Blue calls it a “focus” switch. Focus simply bleeds off bass and adds detail, lending an extra personality to the mic at the flick of a switch. The small front mounted knob allows three levels of audio for zero latency microphone monitoring and overall mic gain. Tap or twist to mute. On the bottom, a mini USB connector receives either of the two included Y-cables. One cable is mated with a USB connector while the other terminates with a universal 30-pin. Both cables include a standard 3.5mm female connector for headphones.

The Blue Spark digital offers great performance and value for the price. A complaint I have is that the headphone and mic levels could be hotter. This is a typical issue for USB powered devices due to voltage and current constraints of the USB standard.

While the microphone itself is a solid performer, the proprietary stand falls short (quite literally). I had to prop the mic up considerably for comfortable height. The stand allows tilting, but that’s all. It would be nice to have a threaded boom mount.

Always unique, electrically competent and attractive too. USB and universal connections adhere recording duality and quality to above par value. The Blue Spark digital might just resonate for you too.

*iPhone, iPad and iPod are registered trademarks of Apple Incorporated.

mark [at] newmediagear [dot] com

@markjensen

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Wheatstone L-8 Digital Control Surface

One of Many Excellent Wheatstone Products at NAB.

It was great fun being behind the camera this time at NAB 2013. Several product videos are posted, but many more are on the way. It’s likely not a surprise that most of my time was spent shooting pro-audio and radio products. Check out the BSW facebook page for great gear coming your way.

Post-NAB; I am truly excited about getting in front of the camera back at Studio1A. As always, we are working on major studio changes. The one, never-changing constant is great gear.

mark [at] newmediagear [dot] com

@markjensen

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Video from NAB

At Studio1A, we’re “gearing up” for the 2013 National Association of Broadcasters convention. The worlds biggest broadcast buffet, NAB is the place to spot new trends, check out emerging products …and catch up with colleagues from every corner of the planet.

Thanks to our friends at BSW, I’ll be panning the camera on what’s hot in broadcasting. The first syllable of broadcasting is amazingly appropriate this year. Media content consumption is everywhere. From smartphones, IP based TV, streaming/casting and OTA in all it’s forms – broadcasting has never had a …well, broader and wide spectrum audience.

I’ll be catching the highlights for BSW and cross-posting right here on NewMediaGear. Follow me on twitter. If you’re at the show, stop by and ask for me! BSW “base camp” is Central Hall, C1556.

Stay tuned!

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Marantz PMD661MKII Digital Audio Recorder

The mid-size, XLR capable Professional Audio Performer from Marantz Professional. The PMD661MKII

Not too big, not too small, but just right. For decades, Marantz Professional has delivered the goods when it comes to pro audio recorders of all sizes. As the world keeps getting smaller, Marantz Professional continues to fill the gap between pocket and studio bound rack recorders. A modest recorder that delivers satisfying performance. PMD661MkII; enter stage left.

Included with the recorder is a 3.5mm – RCA stereo cable for hi-z in or out, a USB cable, AC power supply, carry strap, 4GB SD card and CD. The DMP Editor CD manages file markers and file encryption features for Windows users.

The heart of a 661MkII can beat up to 96kHz for linear PCM/WAV (16/24 bit). MP3s encode from 64 to 320kbps. Generous amounts of standard recorder features can be garnered from the (downloadable) 661MkII manual.

Let’s talk about the stand-out features of a 661MkII. Physically, the recorder is solid and makes a professional impression. With a stealthy black finish, the high contrast OLED display and separate LED level meters keep you informed.

Dual XLR inputs let you decide – line or mic level. A 48 volt phantom switch can feed full sized condensers. A (optional) remote connector is flanked by two internal electret microphones. DC power, digital (S/PDIF) and USB I/O are followed by an SD card bay and confidence speaker. Power, key lock, RCA/hi-z outputs and a 3.5mm 2nd line-in join the opposing side confidence speaker.

I saved the best for last. At the front of the 661MkII are (what look like) two mini rack pulls. They actually protect the physical concentric record level adjustment. A full size 1/4″ headphone jack is next to the recessed headphone/speaker level roller. On top, ten mini LEDs indicate levels. The oversized record button is inside a concentric lighted radius. While small, these are the features I found most helpful. Has anyone “recorded” an interview to find the pause button still on? …not me

Marantz Professional recorders should impress with quality recording and playback. I wasn’t disappointed with audio quality, adjustable to your mission. MP3 encoding saves helpless bytes at the price of accuracy. 24-bit linear WAV/BWF pulls out all the (quality) stops when transparency is key. Onboard file encryption keeps prying ears from your recordings. Decrypt files using a “pin” number.

A broadcast icon, Marantz Professional recorders are also versatile in a sea of vertical markets. Law enforcement, court reporting, education, houses of worship, legal and medical are just a few uses where the 661MkII would be at home.

Pocket audio recorders abound …perfect for their intended use. Features and form factor lend an all-business presence to the 661MkII. Pro video also deserves pro audio. Mate the 661MkII with a pair of nail driver broadcast dynamics or discretely lavaliere it.

Your listeners, clients, co-workers, students or colleagues will know you’re audio-serious when a 661MkII is on-scene.

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Marantz Professional PMD-620MkII Audio Recorder

Sponsored by BSW. Voiceover, Broadcast, Podcasting, Pro-Audio and New Media Gear is here…

Portable, Professional Audio Performer from Marantz Professional. The PMD620MkII

Most recognizable in broadcast and journalism, portable audio recorders are also industry workhorses found in education, law enforcement, medicine, transcription, research and much more. With the ease of SD card storage and small, quality electret microphones, the foundation for pocket sized pro audio recording emerged years ago. The Marantz Professional PMD cassette line of recorders is legendary, but now a mere memory. Let’s fast-forward and check out the PMD-620MkII. For the sake of brevity, I’ll refer to this model as the 620MkII.

Inside the box, you’ll find both USB and line level cables. Also included is a carry strap, 4GB SD card, belt/tripod holster and AC power supply. The CD contains PC editing software and the keys to unlocking encrypted files.

Shallow as it sounds, the discrete, almost stealthy appearance exudes professional. Dressed in black, the 620MkII easily slips in and out of a pocket without protruding parts or edges, lending a solid unibody-type feel. Stereo electret microphones are safely mesh-protected topside, visually mated to the body. The high contrast, energy efficient OLED matrix display is bright and sharp. Handy LEDs above the main display indicate audio presence and clipping at a glance.

Shaped as a jog/shuttle wheel, menu navigation is handled by a rocker switch. A large edge-lit record button stands out, ready for action. All audio connections are 3.5mm. On top, inputs include mic or line level. Side accessible line out, phones and (optional) remote control input are above the DC power feed. The right side of the recorder includes record level adjustment, key lock and power switches. USB 2.0 and SDHC card portals are bottom facing. Two alkaline or NiMH batteries are accessed from the back where you’ll also find a small confidence speaker. There is no wasted real estate on this little recorder!

We could talk for hours about the menu structure alone, but when the record button is pressed and peak reading meters start bouncing, there are a few key things that can make or break your recording.

Select WAV files for quality or MP3 to reserve maximum space on your SD card. MP3 specs max out at 48kHz/192kbps. Linear PCM WAV can be bumped up to 48kHz/2304kbps. MP3 or WAV formats allow mono/stereo recording with an ample matrix of sample and bit rates. ALC keeps the audio pumped, if needed. It’s no secret that the ALC should be off in all but the most extreme dynamic emergencies.

Remember VOX? Maybe not. If inclined, use “Silent Skip” to only record sound above a user-defined threshold. I hate blank tape …or bytes.

James-Bond-like encryption will keep your files private, but there is a dark side. Currently, Marantz PC software (included) is needed to unlock file encryption. Without emulation, my Mac Air couldn’t join in on the stealthy fun. Don’t confuse encryption with compatibility. Unencrypted files are fully compatible with Mac or PC via SD card or USB mounting.

The “retake” feature is a quick way to overdub, but file editing is much easier on the big screen. Interval recording is great. Instead of one 32GB WAV file, tell (you really need to push buttons) the 620MkII to automatically create a new file every few minutes or hours.

I almost forgot to tell you how the 620MkII sounds! A lot of portable audio recorders have passed through my studio. The truth is that most all brands sound very good given the limitation of micro-electret sonics and preamps-on-a-chip. Plug in a professional dynamic microphone (using an optional 1/8” to XLR pigtail) and you’ll be amazed at what the 620MkII can do.

My experience with portable audio recorders usually comes down to ergonomics, quality, fit and finish. That may sound strange, but the world is a fast place. The last thing I want to do is fumble through menus or clunky buttons when seconds count.

PROS:
Is your recorder small and slim enough to always ride along? Can you quickly find and tap “record” in the dark? Do the buttons wobble noisily? Can you see the display in various lighting conditions?

The Marantz Professional PMD-620MkII continues the PMD tradition of quality and attention to detail.

CONS:
The 620MkII offers a useful file encryption feature that leaves Mac users hanging. I’m hoping a Mac utility is in the works. Price; the good stuff is expensive. Visually, the 620MkII had me at OLED, but a larger display would be nice.

Finally, include the cost of a small wind sock to your portable recorder budget. Regardless of model, those mini electrets love the wisp of a brisk breeze.

Is the 620MkII right for you? For my use (mostly on-the-go interviews and sound bites), the 620MkII gets high marks for its small size and big performance.

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Vorsis M-1 Microphone Processor

Sponsored by BSW. Voiceover, Broadcast, Podcasting, Pro-Audio and New Media Gear is here…

DSP Performance by Wheatstone. The Vorsis M-1 Mic Processor.

The Vorsis M-1 from Wheatstone is voice tailored as a front end microphone pre-amp and comprehensive processor. We expect good things from Wheatstone, a leader in professional audio consoles. The Vorsis line of processing builds on that leadership, offering a gateway tool to their flagship products.

What sets a Vorsis processor apart from the pack? A DSP device from the ground up, the M-1 delivers outstanding range, features and flexibility not possible in legacy hardware. The front panel is busy, but the real power lies in the included remote control software. I never even touched (well, maybe once) the front panel. Let’s jump into the M-1 out-of-box experience.

Via front panel or remote network control, the benefits of a digital processing engine come to light immediately. It is very easy to over-control the M-1. Pre-amp, compressor and expander sections are logical and respond perfectly. I found the de-esser to be a bit harsh. Either too aggressive or not noticeable, that de-sibilized sweet spot was elusive. Fortunately, any logical section of the M-1 can simply be toggled on or off from the software.

With so much DSP latitude, it became apparent that the M-1 could take on (almost) any sound you may want. Nudge the passband a bit, create, bump and move the emphasis, narrow the Q –and so it goes. From transparent to warm, tame to aggressive, the M-1 offers endless personalities – its strongest attribute. Create multiple templates for different clients or personalities. Take time to tweak an M-1 personality for the job and it will become not just an acquaintance, but a friend.

Listen in and let me know what you think?

Drop me an email with your own MP3 file and we’ll do our best to put you ‘on-the-air’.
mark [at] newmediagear [dot] com

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