Samson C01U USB Microphone
By hcadmin |
USB Mics Are for Real, and the C01U Does the Basics
By Craig Anderton
At first, I thought the idea of a USB mic was a joke. Then when I actually saw the C01U I thought that it couldn't be any good, given the price (list is $234.99, but that seems pretty fictional—average street price hovers around $80). However, after using it for a while, I've gotten to the point where I don't want take my laptop on the road without it.
The C01U is a USB version of the C01, but replaces the XLR out with a USB out (it would be nice to have both options, though I'm not sure where you'd put the extra jack). There are a lot of surprises: It feels more substantial than expected and has a real manual; it also comes with a mic holder, pouch, and 10' USB cable. Although it will install into Windows XP and Mac OS X without any extra software, if you go to www.samsontech.com, you can download a nifty driver applet (Mac OS X, Windows XP SP2) for extra functionality. (Note: Support in Windows 98 is limited; it works, but the gain range is restricted).
The site also has detailed instructions on installing, deinstalling, and updating drivers. However, the installation instructions are needed only if you want to get an idea of what to expect, as the installation procedure itself takes you through the process in detail.
Installation was simple: I plugged the mic in to a USB port. With either USB 1.1 or 2.0 Windows installs the drivers automatically, and once I set the volume properly using Windows' Sound and Audio Devices applet (very important—just because it's plug and play doesn't mean gain-staging doesn't matter), I was set. I tested the C01U with Windows XP in Cakewalk Sonar, Ableton Live, and also with Windows' built-in sound recorder, all using standard Windows sound drivers (MME, DirectX, DirectSound); everything worked perfectly.
Suitably impressed, I installed the applet. It too was painless to install. Having the low cut filter was helpful, as was the ability to set gain more precisely…and a flashing clip indicator never hurts, either.
Note that the C01U doesn't work with ASIO; also, the WDM drivers don't work with Sonar's ultra-low latency kernel streaming version of WDM. However, the C01U works fine with Sonar's MME drivers, and with "standard" WDM-compatible programs. As to the Mac, all is well as long as you're not using ASIO and you do proper gain-staging.
Bottom line is that you shouldn't expect to plug the C01U into your favorite multitrack ASIO host. Otherwise the mic works fine, but of course, overall performance depends on how well the host itself works with compatible drivers. Note that the C01U also supports all common sample rates between 8 and 48kHz, with 16-bit resolution.
But the sound was perhaps the biggest surprise: It's far better than I expected. This is no little "here's a mic for your laptop to take dictation," but a serious hypercardioid mic with a 19 mm diaphragm that gives a good account of itself with whatever you throw at it. You need to be a little careful about noise, but this relates to the usual mic issues—get a good level, set gain for the highest possible short of distortion, and noise won't be a significant factor. If I caught the sample of a lifetime on my laptop using this mic, I wouldn't think twice about transferring it over to my desktop and using it.
The applet allows for some degree of computer control.
THE BOTTOM LINE
ASIO issues aside, this mic performs well for mobile audio applications. It's easy to understand intellectually that you don't need an audio interface, but that doesn't really hit home until the first time you plug a USB mic into your laptop, and lay down a scratch vocal in a moment of inspiration without missing a beat. What's more, although you're limited in the cable length you can use, you don't have to worry about balanced lines, low level signals, or other mic-centric issues. And for plug-and-play Podcasting, it's ideal.
In a desktop situation, it's likely that if you're doing serious musical work you already have an audio interface with at least a mic preamp or two. Yet the C01U does add another mic to your arsenal, and when you're in a hurry, I can't emphasize enough how easy it is to just plug into a USB port and start recording.
If you've been limping by with the (shudder) teeny little mic built into your laptop, or some $30 mic designed to grab sound rather than record it, the C01U will be a major step up.
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.