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BLUE MICROPHONES

September 1, 2005
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Blue Microphones recently introduced another member of the company's innovative and colorful Ball family, which includes the original dynamic Ball (blue) and the condenser 8-Ball (black). Painted red and designed to excel in low-frequency applications, the Kickball ($149) shares with its predecessors a unique spherical shape. Like the original Ball, the Kickball is a dynamic microphone; the Kickball, however, requires 48V phantom power. As such, Blue claims, the Kickball gives you a consistent frequency response and acoustic balance while safely handling the high sound-pressure levels associated with kick drums, toms, bass cabinets, and the like.

Blue''s spherically shaped Kickball dynamic mic features a phantom-powered low-end boost.

Game Ball

The Kickball is about the size of a grapefruit. The striking Blue logo is molded into the mic's hard plastic shell, where it is broken by black mesh covering the capsule on the address side of the sphere. The phantom-power indicator above the grille is a welcome feature. The small pyramid-shaped indicator glows brightly — a helpful aide, because the Kickball will pass signal without phantom power engaged.

On the other side of the globe, a series of slotted openings arc over the mic's male XLR jack and bass-frequency slider switch. At the bottom of the ball is a mic-stand receptacle that allows the Kickball to swivel forward or backward to angle the address side down or up. (For more flexibility, Blue makes the Ringer, a substantial shockmount and adapter that works with all of Blue's spherical mics or with any mic that has a standard thread mount and fits within the ring.)

The bass frequency slider switch has three settings: “0,” “+,” or “-”. At the “0” setting, the mic exhibits an elevated bass response of about 6 dB at 80 Hz. The “+” setting further elevates the curve to about 10 dB in the same range. The “-” setting creates a steep rolloff at about 110 Hz that reaches -20 dB at 40 Hz. Frequency response is listed as 35 Hz to 16 kHz.

Playing Field

After years of examining Blue's eye-catching designs, I still find myself marveling at the company's approach. Upon opening the first Kickball's box (I examined two Kickballs for this review), I enjoyed the little art deco touches: the typeface of the Blue logo, the gold trim, and the slotted ports that make the mic look like a miniature radio built in the 1940s.

The Kickball case is rugged, and the mic sits still on a desktop if placed directly on the mic-stand receptacle. It is, however, a ball, and when I picked up an adjacent item, the Kickball tipped slightly and then rolled off the desktop onto the carpeted floor. The ball survived the fall with nary an effect on the mic's sound. Blue points out in its amusing manual that the Kickball “doesn't bounce well,” and so harried engineers should remember that a spherical mic should be palm-gripped instead of handheld.

In the areas that really counted, the Kickball sounded fine. I was able to listen to the mic in my small (and dead) “live” room through the XDR preamps on a Mackie Onyx 1620. After checking both mics for sonic consistency and finding no apparent differences, I listened to the mics capturing a standard 15-inch Yamaha kick drum, the same kit's chrome snare, and a vintage Fender Bassman cabinet. I was also able to listen to recordings made by the Kickball side by side with recordings of the same instruments made by two other dynamic mics: a similarly priced Shure SM57 and an AKG D 112 “egg,” which lists for twice the Kickball's price.

The Kickball quickly stood apart from those well-traveled transducers. Recording primarily jazzy R&B and country when using a live kit in recent years, I've grown accustomed to the D 112's 4 kHz bump, which gives a nice “point” that I've preferred for balancing low kick frequencies with other LF content from funk or synth bass. Expecting a relative excess of boom from Blue's mic, I was glad to find that the Kickball, nestled comfortably in the middle of the kick-drum pillow, provided heft at the “-” and the “0” filter settings, rather than a muddy spread of low-frequency energy. The “+” setting was too much for this kick, but the tracks recorded with the Kickball's other settings were the preferred ones for the funk-rock project.

On snare drum, I got another pleasant surprise when the Kickball's “0” setting fattened up the strident bite that the session drummer had trouble taming. Using the handy Ringer, I was able to position the Kickball over the snare and avoid what I thought would be an increase in bleed from the hi-hat. (Those slots in the back of the Kickball didn't seem to diminish the mic's cardioid performance.) I couldn't hear any loss of detail in stick attack or buzz from the snares.

On the bass cabinet, which I recorded with the intention of blending its miked sound with a direct feed, I gave the nod to the Shure for the purposes of the demo project. As the bassist was going for a deeper hip-hop-style bass sound, however, I didn't need the Kickball's LF boost on settings “0” and “+”. The “-” setting came across as slightly muddy compared with the SM57.

Field Goal

The Kickball was a solid performer on specific, traditional dynamic-mic applications in need of bass enhancement. The boost provided by Blue's design enhanced the sound sources that I selected for it. The spherical mic and its large shockmount are too bulky for tight spaces, but they are generally worth making room for. Although it's natural to wonder if function is following form on a mic like this, the Kickball is solid enough to be a good recording role player on the right studio team. And at a street price of around $119, it could be a kick out of the park.


Overall Rating (1 through 5): 3.5
Blue Microphones
www.bluemic.com

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