Product Name: Blue Blackout Spark SL XLR
Offer price: 169.99
Build Quality - 95%
Performance - 90%
Price - 80%
For consumers wanting to up their game from a USB based system to the professional XLR based connection, Blue has released the Spark SL which is priced at £169.99 on Amazon. This may sound like a lot of money but it is the cheapest XLR microphone Blue do, and it is primarily aimed at streaming, voice over, podcasts and Youtube.
The model I was sent is the Blackout Spark SL which is essentially the same as the normal Spark SL but it an attractive matte black design.
The main product features of the Spark SL include:
- XLR connection integrates perfectly with USB audio interfaces and mixers
- Custom, large-diaphragm cardioid condenser capsule for superbly detailed, focused sound
- Blue’s Class-A JFET electronics deliver rich harmonic audio
- 100Hz low cut filter increases clarity, reducing rumble from your room or desk
- -20dB pad keeps your stream free of distortion when things get intense
With it being an XLR connection you will need both an XLR cable and an audio interface, during my testing I used the Focusrite Scarlett Solo which is £79.99 on Amazon, but Blue has their own interface they recommend, the Blue Icicle, the sells for £59.99 on Amazon.
Even though it is the cheapest XLR microphone they do, the Blackout Spark SL comes with some ultra-premium packaging with the microphone kept secure in a wooden box.
The impressive looking microphone doesn’t have too many settings to play with itself; you get two switches on the body of the mic, a 100Hz high pass filter and -20dB pad.
The -20dB pad helps keep your voice clear in la ouder situation, and the 100Hz high-pass filter eliminates rumble or other low noises from desktops or noisy environments.
The overall build is exceptional, and there is a good weight to it (327g).
The design of the microphone means you will need some form of arm to mount it, the XLR connection goes in at the base, and the microphone is mounted via a screw connection on the bundled shock mount. This will be obvious for many users, but if you are coming from a USB microphone it is another thing you will need to buy.
Using the Focusrite Scarlett Solo the Spark SL worked straight away and depending on your setup you will likely have to tweak the gain settings on the interface, and then also experiment with the switches on the microphone to achieve the ideal recording levels.
I did some recordings compared to a well-reviewed but cheap condenser microphone that plugs into your soundcard. Hardly a like for like comparison but I wanted to see what sort of improvement the Blue would provide.
The below clips show the difference between the two microphones. You will have to forgive my common northern accent.
Blue Blackout Spark SL XLR
To be honest, the cheap microphone performed much better than I was expecting, but there is a clear difference between the Blue and the cheaper mic.
The cheaper mic sounded somewhat echoey and the and my voice sounded a bit harsh, whereas the Blue Spark SL was much clearer, it sounded like I was speaking directly into the mic even though it was arm’s length away to the right of me. Overall, I felt it sounded much more natural like I was hearing someone speaking in real life, rather than a recording of someone.
For a more professional attempt at testing the Spark SL, Blue has set up a SoundCLoud page with 50+ recordings using the microphone in multiple scenarios with different settings.
I think it is undeniable that the Blue Blackout Spark SL outperforms the cheaper option, it is a very capable microphone and will no doubt excel for any vocal recording such as streaming or podcasts.
£169 is expensive; when you factor in the USB interface, mount, and cable, the end price will be in excess of £250. Some people will be happy with the performance of my £15 microphone, but with the massive growth of streaming and YouTube channels in recent years, the quality of the audio can make or break a channel. With some streamers making over $100k per month on subscriptions alone, it is no wonder gamers are desperately trying to become successful in the streaming scene.
So, if you want to up your game, it is not just the quality of the video you need to improve but the audio too, and this is where the Blue Blackout Spark SL will help you.