Review: Blue's new Nessie mic has limitations, but will appeal to beginners

At a Glance
  • Blue Microphones Nessie

    Macworld Rating

    Despite its flaws, Nessie is a microphone worth considering if you are budget conscious or don't like mucking around with audio settings.

Nessie is a new $100 microphone from Blue, purveyors of fine USB audio devices for the masses. True to Blue’s form, Nessie is a slick-looking mic with a design that makes you want to use it. It includes clever features like a built-in pop filter and internal shockmount, and digital audio processing to make capturing great audio easier. That said, I’ve used many Blue microphones, though, and while Nessie is the coolest in theory, it ranks as my last favorite in practice.

The good

Let’s start with Nessie’s design, because that’s the fun part. The 1.4-pound microphone stands 10 inches tall, and its round base is 3.75 inches in diameter. The base features a steadily glowing LED light, which pulses when the microphone is muted. You can twist the black grooved rim surrounding the base to adjust the volume of headphones you optionally plug in.

From that base rises the long, slender, immoveable neck of Nessie, at the top of which sits the 14mm condenser capsule. The condenser is positioned on a red metal arm that protrudes from Nessie’s neck, offering a substantial degree of vertical and angled movement. At its highest position, the condenser increases Nessie’s height to 11.25 inches tall.

Because the head pivots vertically on the arm, you can achieve a variety of positions with the microphone; again, though, there’s no lateral movement unless you physically pick up and move Nessie. The movement does mean that you can point the microphone up at your face if you’re seated, or down at your guitar.

There’s a touch-sensitive button at the base of the neck; swipe across it to mute the microphone. This is one case where such a capacitive button makes total sense: It’s possible to mute the microphone silently, without capturing the mechanical sounds of button motion. On the back of Nessie is a three-position switch for toggling the mic’s mode, along with the headphone jack and the Micro-USB port.

The not-so-good

The three recording modes offered by Nessie are Voice, Music, and Raw. Blue says that Voice mode enables a variety of voiceover processing techniques, and should reduce sibilance. Music mode, the company says, gives more “sparkle” and “up-front detail,” especially for acoustic guitars, pianos, or wind instruments. And Raw mode disables all of the Nessie’s processing. Here’s a quick example of the three different modes using only speaking—though obviously, that’s not quite what the Music mode is for:

Both Voice and Music modes are meant to adapt to what you’re recording on the fly, automatically adjusting gain and other settings in real time. Only the microphone’s software can adjust those settings on Nessie’s side; you can’t. And that’s a problem.

In both Voice and Music mode, I found that Nessie couldn’t capture my voice with the volume I wanted unless I shouted. It’s capable of generating loud audio, but I wanted to get bigger audio out of more normal-volume voiceover work, and Nessie wouldn’t oblige. The audio it captured was usable, but required cranking levels way up in my audio editing software. In Raw mode, the lack of ongoing EQ software magic seems to alleviate the gain problem a smidgen—but of course then you miss out on a large portion of Nessie’s appeal, all of its automated audio massaging.

Nessie’s built-in pop filter is problematic, too: It doesn’t work. Pop filters should block that unpleasant sound you hear on too many podcasts, and p-sounds and other plosives cause a burst of air to hit the microphone—and then, painfully, your ears. Give a listen:

Blue recommends you position Nessie 12 inches from your face. At that distance, I found the audio it captured was way too tinny—sounding precisely as if I were a foot away from the microphone. Any closer, though, and the built-in pop filter couldn’t handle my plosives at all. If I put a separate pop filter between me and the mic, without changing my distance, it worked beautifully. The integrated pop filter just isn’t good enough to market as a feature.

The shockmount, on the other hand, really does seem fairly effective. Sure, if you’re bumping into the table Nessie is seated upon, the mic will pick up the noise involved. But the built-in shockmount means you won’t capture that bassy thump commonly heard when a mic is simply resting on a table that gets bumped.

There’s no way to attach Nessie to a mic stand.

Bottom line

To its credit, Nessie’s automatic EQ and other settings do work. Normally, when I record using the Blue Yeti, I need to post-process my audio with various filters to get the sound I’m after, particularly for voiceovers and podcasting. Nessie’s captured audio can get to that level with minimal processing, and it’s pretty good with none. But I still need to rely on a pop filter, which is disappointing, and the volume I can coax from the mic just isn’t quite loud enough when using the Voice and Music modes.

That said, despite its flaws, Nessie is worth considering in two scenarios: If you are budget conscious, the $100 price tag could be appealing. (Keep in mind, though, that the Blue Yeti, which captures better audio and works with mic stands, is often sold for barely more than that by some sellers now.) But if you just don’t feel comfortable mucking about with EQ and other settings in your audio editor, and want to capture better quality sound, Nessie makes some sense. You may need to boost the volume, and the pop filter will almost certainly disappoint you, but Nessie certainly takes some of the hard work out of creating nice-quality audio.

Editor’s note: This review was updated at 2:01 p.m. ET to change the headline to better reflect the review's content. The original headline ("Review: Blue’s new Nessie mic is disappointing unless you really need it’s help”) inaccurately emphasized disappointment, when in fact the microphone will likely appeal to a decent subset of customers. The review remains unchanged.

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At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Despite its flaws, Nessie is a microphone worth considering if you are budget conscious or don't like mucking around with audio settings.

    Pros

    • Pre-processing makes it easier to record decent quality spoken word audio
    • Sports a stylish look

    Cons

    • Audio is captured too quietly, with a lack of onboard gain controls
    • Built-in pop filter really doesn't work.
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