Ever wished you could take any mic you wanted and plug it directly into your computer? With Apple nixing FireWire and the whole size issue, it’s not quite practical to expect an XLR jack on your computer. You could use a USB mic, but they’re useless in other situations. Blue Microphones has a new product called the Icicle, which is a small, pen-sized gadget that has XLR on one end, USB on the other end, and a preamp and a converter in the middle.

Price: US$59.99. No drivers required.

I actually have a couple of questions about this on the PC – will Blue have ASIO drivers? Is this less useful without the nice Mac feature of being able to aggregate interfaces? The primary question, of course, is how it all sounds. Recording engineer Tom McCauley has endorsed the product and is involved in the launch event, but the proof is in the product.

It certainly could fill a key gap, though, especially if Blue has nailed the quality. Specs from Blue:

    • Studio quality microphone preamp
    • 48V phantom power
    • Fully balanced low noise front end
    • Analog gain control
    • Plug and Play driverless operation
    • 44.1 kHz, 16-bit CD quality converter
    • Mac or PC operation

It’s not the first time we’ve seen something like this. IK Multimedia’s StealthPlug is a similar concept, for instance, with 1/4” guitar/bass jacks in place of XLR mic connections. And we’ve seen a few USB-XLR cables with audio interfaces, like Lightsnake’s, though I can’t think of any that have caught on. Blue is doing a huge push behind this, so this could be The One.

It’s certainly a prime stocking stuffer target. Just make sure no one tries to eat it.

Certainly, the venerable audio interface isn’t at any risk. Dedicated interfaces give you more I/O options and other functionality, not to mention output. In fact, I use dedicated interfaces so much for input and output alike, I actually can’t see myself making much use of the Icicle. Once you’ve got an interface plugged in, you probably have an XLR jack. On the other hand, somewhere there’s someone with a MacBook Air who wants to just lug in a mic and record beatboxing in a hotel room, I’m sure.

So what do you think? Would you use something like this? In what situations?

Blue Microphones

  • flip

    This might be great for grabbing sound design or VO outside the studio…but I can also imagine one quick tug of the cord busting the USB port pretty fast!

  • http://theculturalist.net Ted Pallas

    I'm right there with you, flip – as a theatrical sound designer this tool would find an instant spot in my tool bag if only for the purpose of recording stupid last minute voiceovers ("cell phones off, fire exits over there" type things.) I imagine I might also be able to make my mobile studio one M-Box sized piece of gear smaller, for when ultimate is required.

  • http://theculturalist.net Ted Pallas

    make that "ultimate portability"…though my rig could always use some more ultimate.

  • Vince

    No doubt this will be marketed to consumers giving them false hopes. I doubt that there will be an asio driver since there is no audio output. I hope there is a driver for it though on the windows side because we all know how awesomely stable Windows Class compliant driver is .

  • http://www.soundcyst.com kevin

    "Price: US$59.99

    Studio quality microphone preamp"

    yeah… right… whatever you say Blue..

    i suppose this could be useful in a bind? it probably makes a worse hammer than an sm57…

    it's obviously a prosumer type product, but i can't really see it being useful. if you're going to tote a mic, an XLR cable, and a laptop around, why not just also tote around a firebox or ultralite or an mbox mini? surely the quality will be better with the latter two (probably about the same with the presonus), but if you're harking on portability in a prosumer market, why not just use the built in laptop mic?

    i think the concept is pretty cool, it just seems like there are going to be some compromises in sound quality at that price point.

  • http://www.myspace.com/noou (noou)

    '44.1 kHz, 16-bit CD quality converter' seems pretty outdated to me…

    especially if you consider that modern 24 bit converters are cheap these days, and 16 bit converters are only able to provide true 12-14 bit data (usually). that's so 90s!

  • cebec

    holy crap! ‘44.1 kHz, 16-bit CD quality converter’ != 'studio quality'… not in 2008, anyway.

  • http://niceweatherforairstrikes.co.uk radian

    "I can also imagine one quick tug of the cord busting the USB port pretty fast!" – Thats what I thought too.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Yeah, I'm skeptical, too. But I will say, there are plenty of times when 16/44.1 is just fine for a job. And I'll reserve judgment until I try/hear the thing. But my biggest question is, how hard is it to deal with an audio interface? There are a few small interfaces that are pretty easy to carry around.

    Still, always interesting to see what vendors try. :)

  • http://www.myspace.com/turtleambulance Jimmy Hughes

    this with garageband should be enough for thousands of beginning recordists – considering that the apple store carries blue's usb mic, i wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of people start carrying these around. plus, it's cheaper than IK's…

    my only worry would be that the usb adapter on the icicle would snap off.

  • anders

    I keep a LightSnake XLR in my utility bag – as you mentioned it is a similar concept that has been around for a while. Ii works great with my mac and for PC, you can use the ASIO4all driver to get the latency down.

  • DGillespie

    I usually moan all about these sort of things, however I found myself in a situation where it would have been useful just yesterday. I was toying around with some drum parts for a friends album and just wanted to record something before I forgot it. I had a mic and stand and my laptop which had logic as well as an audio interface lying around; however I only had 10 minutes to set everything up and record before I had to leave. I ended up getting one pass done, but I could have tried a couple things and not made such a mess had I had this.

    That being said, that situation comes up fairly rarely.

  • http://www.myspace.com/noou (noou)

    @Peter: "there are plenty of times when 16/44.1 is just fine for a job."

    I agree, you're absolutely right! But, as I said above, that device cannot even provide true 16 bit data if its converters are 16 bit.

  • http://www.farmingmusic.com Erik

    MXL and CEntrance have similar offerings as well, which I think came earlier.

    MXL Mic Mate (16-Bit, 44.1/48kHz):
    http://www.mxlmics.com/condenser_mic/micMate/micM

    MXL Mic Mate Pro(16-Bit, 44.1/48kHz):
    http://www.mxlmics.com/condenser_mic/micMate/MicM

    CEntrance MicPort Pro (24-Bit, 96kHz):
    http://www.centrance.com/products/mp/

    There may be others I've missed too.

  • http://xfader.com regend

    this seems cheaper than the solution i was going to go for which is a http://www.keyboardmag.com/article/centrance-micp

    i read the review on keyboard mag last year.

  • http://www.ghmetcalfe.com Graham Metcalfe

    I recently switched over from a USB-based mic (Samson C03U) to a stadard large capsule mic plugged into my fireware interface. The biggest downsides with the USB stuff is the 16 bit resolution and the latency induced by having to use an "aggregate device" (required for anything bu GarageBand). As a cheepo way of getting sound into your computer if you don't own a usb mic already (i.e. you only own standard mics) it's probably not a bad way to go I would say that using my Zoom H2 will win out for field recording any day.

  • Nate

    Screams, "gimmick!" Also, too expensive–the lexicon alpha, with more inputs and a more reputable brand name, costs only 20 dollars more. I got my m-audio mobilepre for 70 dollars used, in great condition. Nice try!

    Also, CDM: FEWER ADS PLEASE! We read this blog to see CREATIVE, free, open-source, DIY solutions to making electronic music, not to get a daily ticker of the latest overpriced commercial junk out there. And if I want tutorials on using KORE, I'll look them up myself, thank you very much!

    DO YOUR RESEARCH! Give us thoughtful, inexpensive solutions to our technical obstacles, and we will appreciate this blog the way we used to.

    Nate

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Wait, my "ad" was me saying I didn't really want to use this?

    The tutorials on Kore and Reaktor were ones we put time into producing. I really appreciate the work Eoin and Peter Dines did for us, in particular, and I'm glad we had the resources from NI to do them because it's stuff I really wanted to do.

    Not quite sure I follow you here, Nate. But yeah, I agree, I'm not particularly interested in a generic litany of everything that's out there. I personally find some combination of the open source and DIY tools with commercial tools is optimal for my own work, so that's what I present.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    PS, I actually didn't realize the Alpha had gotten that cheap(!) But yeah, I think the major issue here is you don't get zero-latency monitoring, and I don't see why you couldn't just use an audio interface, which is what I said previously. I'm always surprised by exactly what people want to use, though, that's why I opened it up.

  • http://theculturalist.net Ted Pallas

    Still seems attractive – I don't want to carry my whole interface to a rehearsal, or through the woods, or into the subway, or to the airport, or wherever else I might be recording something, and I'm sure I'm not the only one out there who doesn't love the notion of dropping some serious dough on a field recorder. We'll see how it stacks up when we can actually order the thing…

    And I, for one, think you do a wonderful job of presenting us with a wide variety of perspectives on the music tech industry, and lord knows I've learned just as much about synthesis as I have about KORE, thanks to your tutorials.

    Keep up the awesome work!

  • Randy Washington

    How do you monitor yourself with Icicle? I know MicPort offers zero latency monitoring and is 24-bit/96kHz.

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  • JB

    great blog, very informative -1 on Nate's comments

  • Randy Washington

    Without a headphone amp on Icicle, one could probably expect latency of 10ms or more, especially on Windows – unusable in my opinion. Why don't all of these devices have a headphone amp?!

  • http://www.mxlmics.com Roy Harper

    The new MicMate Pro, from MXL, overcomes the main objection raised above, by having both headphone socket, and analog gain control.

    With regards to the lack of sound quality using 16bit converters, take a look at

    http://www.howaudio.com/vids/play.php?vid=http://

    I am not claiming the MicMate pro is an SSL or Neve, but it sure is a lot easier to carry around.

    http://www.mxlmics.com/condenser_mic/micMate/MicM

  • Pingback: Create Digital Music » XLR to USB: CEntrance MicPort Pro Reviews

  • http://DV320.com Tom Ronai

    i am strictly a video only editor. This looks like the ticket for those quick vo's for 30 sec spots, corporate work, etc. Coupled with a descent mike, I think it might just fit the bill.

  • Southren Belle

    I purchased an xlr to usb cable and finally got it working in windows but won't work in places like myspace karaoke. in windows settings for audio output/recording it only shows setting "capture". so with that being said how is this device going to work any different?

  • Daszek

    Is Blue Icicle XLR-USB pre-amp compaitable to record with ShurePG 58 to Ps3 (Sing Star)??