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Blue Icicle Review: XLR to USB Converter/Preamp

Updated on October 20, 2010

Blue is making waves with USB microphones like the Snowball and Yeti. Either one of these mics are great solutions for podcasters starting out today. For veterans, buying yet another microphone isn’t necessary to get the advantages of USB plug-and-play functionality. Enter the Icicle; the simple, cylinder-shaped device that turns any XLR microphone into a USB mic. For audio buffs on the go, it’s an interesting alternative to lugging around an audio interface. So is it a worthy addition to your recording toolkit? Keep reading, arctic traveller.

The Icicle’s design couldn’t be more basic. On one end of the tube you have an XLR input for attaching to a XLR cable or plugging directly into the mic. On the other end is a mini USB output used to send a line to the USB port on your computer. Although you can connect a mic straight into the Icicle, Blue doesn’t recommend it. For one, it puts unnecessary stress on the XLR connector. Secondly, it’s very awkward to have a long device weighing down the bottom of the microphone. You’ll want to run an XLR cable into the Icicle and set it on a desk or raised surface so you can manipulate the gain control (and keep it off the floor). The gain knob gives you additional control of volume, beyond the mic volume settings on your computer.

No special setup is required. Merely plug in the XLR and USB cable and you are ready to go. Once the Icicle has been properly connected to your computer, the logo will glow a chilly blue colour. Windows and Mac OS X are officially supported and work flawlessly. Linux users may have to do some tweaking to get the sample rates to synch up. When tested with Ubuntu Intrepid (8.10), speech was slowed down dramatically.

Blue’s Icicle works with any mic you throw at it. According to Blue microphones that require phantom power are not only supported but preferred. Dynamic mics that require no power may introduce noise into the mix. As a rule of thumb, owners of condenser microphones will get the most out of this unit sound quality wise.

Probably the best part about this device is the sound stays true to the mic you use. The Icicle is completely transparent. On the downside, some mics were noisier than if used with an audio interface. Also as with other USB mics you are limited to 16-bit recording. That is plenty for podcasters and videographers looking to stream audio but is less ideal for musicians shooting for top end sample rates. Keep in mind that at this price it is tough to ask for much more. A decent audio interface costs much more and is far bulkier.

The Verdict

This is a perfect solution for podcasters that already own a XLR condenser microphone. Instead of fronting the cash for an entirely new mic, you can merely upgrade what you have to work with USB. There is no headphone jack which is to be expected with a product at this price. Musicians looking for zero latecy monitoring should probably look elsewhere.

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