FIG. 1: The face of the 8-Ball is elegant and stark, with an LED that indicates phantom power is on.
The latest addition to the Blue Microphone line is the 8-Ball ($279), a large-diaphragm cardioid condenser that resembles its dynamic cousin, the Ball, in shape and size (see Fig. 1). With its spherical black body and shiny logo, the 8-Ball pays tribute to the beloved Magic 8 Ball toy, but casts a striking — if not ominous — impression in the studio (prompting one client to refer to it as “that Death Star mic”).
Above the logo sits an LED that glows red when the microphone receives the required 48V of phantom power (a feature I'd like to see in more microphones). The 8-Ball's rugged plastic housing seems nearly indestructible, and a sturdy female XLR connector sits slightly below the equator of the sphere, 180 degrees behind the address side of the mic. On the bottom is an integrated standmount, with standard threading and roughly 45 degrees of tilt from front to back. Although it's nice not to have to worry about misplacing your mic clip, that tight angle, coupled with mic's size and lack of sideways tilt, makes for limited positioning capabilities. (Blue offers the Ringer ($69), a shockmount that enhances the isolation and the positionability of its spherical mics.)
Behind the 8-Ball
Using full-frequency program material, I tested the two mics I received for consistency, positioning them on a stereo bar in front of a Genelec 1030A and carefully matching the distance between each mic and the drivers on the monitor. A quick polarity flip on one channel told me I was very close, because the mono-summed signal disappeared almost completely. Running a few reference CDs through the Genelecs and recording the output of the mics through a Focusrite Green Dual Mic Pre into Digidesign Pro Tools LE, I was able to compare the mics with each other to check for any differences they might exhibit in frequency response or output level. I could discern no difference between the pair, which speaks well for Blue's quality control.
I immediately noticed a robust low end; a healthy, almost hyped-sounding high end; and a somewhat scooped-sounding low mid response. The recorded kick drum had plenty of whomp but not much definition, and the snare and hi-hats were crisp — far more present than on the original recordings. Nonetheless, I was impressed with how close the 8-Ball recordings sounded to the originals.
Live, in Stereo
I put the mics up as a stereo pair in the live room of the studio where a seven-piece jazz band was practicing. To get a sense of how the 8-Ball sounds, I compared it with two mics I know well — Blue's Dragonfly Deluxe and Bluebird, an admittedly unfair comparison because both models are more expensive than the 8-Ball.
The first thing I noticed was that the 8-Ball needed about 10 dB more gain to get the same output level. The other Blue mics have hot outputs, so that wasn't much of a surprise, but the extra gain boost did bring up the noise floor a bit on the 8-Ball output. Compared with the other mics, the 8-Ball sounded a little hollow, with a lot less beefy low end. The high mids sounded nasal, the horns sounded equalized, and the hi-hat was crunchy. Overall, that wasn't a flattering application for the 8-Ball, even if I hadn't been comparing it with more expensive mics.
One on One
On electric-guitar cabinets and organ speakers, the 8-Ball relayed the sound of the speaker with clarity and bottom, but without sounding too harsh like some condenser mics can. I had mixed results using the 8-Ball to record vocals, upright bass, and saxophone. I also had mixed results using the mics as drum overheads. Although I could have used these tracks in a pinch, in general, I found the sound to be somewhat equalized, with a little too much scooped out of the low mids and a little too much hype in the upper midrange for my taste. Again, the 8-Ball needed much more gain (about 8 dB) than some other similarly priced mics I compared it to, and the added gain increased the noise floor considerably.
The two applications on which the 8-Ball worked best were kick drum and bass guitar. The 8-Ball really shines when used as a secondary kick mic positioned a few inches from the front head (with another mic on the beater). The low mid scoop was perfect for getting the boxiness out of the kick drum without using EQ. When I miked an amplified electric bass, the 8-Ball had a similar frequency curve to the EQ I tend to put on bass, accentuating the extreme lows, cutting the low mids, and boosting the high end to make the bass stand out in the mix.
One attractive characteristic of the 8-Ball is its off-axis rejection. In a live recording setting, the 8-Ball did a splendid job of ignoring the rest of the band when positioned on the kick drum (pointed at the front head, which did not have a hole) and a bass amp. When used on a saxophonist, however, the mic's tight cardioid pattern highlighted any side-to-side movements the musician made with dramatic changes in tone.
My biggest complaint about the 8-Ball is that, when coupled with certain preamps through my patch bay, I heard radio frequency interference (RFI) in the signal. Plugging the mic directly into the preamp and bypassing the patch bay eliminated the RFI. I have used dozens of mics through my patch panels, but the 8-Ball was the first to pick up a local station. Of course, the extra gain the mic requires didn't help the situation.
My Sources Say Yes
Overall, the 8-Ball is a good value for the money, and I would recommend it to anyone building a mic cabinet on a budget. With a street price of $200, the mic is affordable for the average project-studio owner. And its striking appearance and durable construction ensures it will impress clients for years to come.
Eli Crews often consults his Magic 8-Ball while working at his Oakland, California, studio (www.newimprovedrecording.com).
Diaphragm 0.55" Polar Pattern cardioid Frequency Response 35 Hz-20 kHz Sensitivity 10 mV/Pa (1 kHz into 1 kΩ) Power +48V phantom power (±4V) Output Impedance 50Ω Noise Level 22 dB A-weighted Maximum SPL 150 dB SPL (THD 0.5%) Dynamic Range 128 dB Maximum Output Level +14 dBu (2 kΩ load) Weight 1.10 lbs. Diameter 4" (spherical)
OVERALL RATING [1 THROUGH 5]: 3.5
PROS: Eye-catching design. LED indicates phantom power. Extended high frequencies help achieve greater definition with certain instruments. Price. Sturdy housing.
CONS: Scooped sound in the low mids. Accentuated high end can sound harsh. Limited positioning with built-in mount. Low output. Prone to RFI in certain cases.