Samson C01U

USB Condenser Microphone

Published in SOS June 2006
Bookmark and Share

Reviews : Microphone

Samson C01UPhoto: Mark Ewing

If you want the simplest possible computer recording setup, it doesn't come much more straightforward than this: a mic that plugs straight into your Mac or PC's USB ports.

Paul White

Samson's C01U USB condenser microphone is a 'digital' version of their entry-level C01 back-electret, medium-diaphragm studio microphone. The 'digital' tag refers to the fact that it has a built-in analogue-to-digital converter and interface, enabling it to connect to a computer workstation via USB rather than the more usual analogue, balanced XLR cable. It outputs at 16-bit resolution and supports sample rates of 8, 11.025, 22.05, 44.1 and 48kHz. The convenience aspect of a USB microphone is undeniable for those working entirely on computers as it enables recordings to be made without buying any additional soundcard or audio interface, although the computer does need an audio output of some kind in order for you to be able to hear your recordings. The direct USB output also allows the microphone to be used without a separate mic preamplifier or the source of phantom power that condenser mics normally require, as everything is powered from the USB port.

Judging by the specifications and the price, Samson have targetted this microphone at the entry-level home-studio user and multimedia market, as more demanding applications would probably require 24-bit output resolution, although Samson have gone to great lengths to make the best of the 16 bits available. The main limitation of most basic 'digital' microphones of this type is that the internal preamp has a fixed gain prior to the analogue-to-digital conversion stage, so you only get full resolution when the microphone is hearing the maximum signal level it can accept without clipping, but Samson have been quite clever in their design. Singing at an average level, a couple of inches from the C01U, resulted in a peak level of around -20dB, which with a fixed gain structure would knock at least three 'bits' off the available 16-bit resolution. This would be most undesirable, so Samson's engineers have added a two-stage variable analogue gain cell inside the microphone prior to the converter. If you just use the mic as it comes, the computer's own system gain control actually governs the mic's internal gain cell (in the Audio MIDI Setup controls, in the case of Mac OS). However, as documented in the manual, you can also download a control panel applet, called Soft Pre, from the Samson web site, and this can be used to control the internal gain of the mic. Up to +48dB of additional gain is available, and the applet also provides metering, variable-frequency low-cut filtering and a phase invert switch.

The downloadable Soft Pre applet allows software control over the C01U's gain cell and other attributes.The downloadable Soft Pre applet allows software control over the C01U's gain cell and other attributes.Photo: Mark EwingThe Mac OS X Soft Pre applet is currently available as a free download from the Samson web site, although the Windows version was still under development at the time of this review. Mac users running OS 10.4 need to create an Aggregate Audio Device in the Audio MIDI Setup utility so that the Samson's input stream will be added to that of any existing audio interfaces. Those running older versions of Mac OS X can choose the mic as their default audio input. Once I'd installed the applet from the Samson web site and created an Aggregate audio driver, I put the applet control panel in the Dock so I could open it whenever necessary, although the mic was recognised by my system prior to the software installation. Samson tell me they have succeeded in running multiple C01Us via a USB hub, which opens up some interesting possibilities for the future.

Mechanically, the microphone is finished to a very high standard and feels reassuringly solid. It uses a 19mm cardioid back-electret capsule with a three-micron diaphragm, suspended on an internal shockmount. The design follows that of a typical 'classic' side-entry vocal mic and the frequency response is quoted as being flat within 1dB over the audio range. Its maximum SPL is quoted as a perfectly adequate 136dB, but there are no noise specs and, as I recall, one of my concerns with the original C01 was that it was a little noisy by comparison with more costly studio mics unless used for close-miking fairly loud sounds. There are no pad or low-cut switches on the mic, although the applet does provide a very effective low-cut filter with variable cutoff frequency. A green LED on the mic confirms that USB power is being received.

In Use

Once I'd connected the mic, I found there was a slightly higher latency than I expected for the chosen buffer size, and at 44.1kHz, I could still perceive a hint of delay when Logic 's Audio Devices and Drivers page was set to 128 samples, although I think most singers would find this within acceptable limits. This may well have beeen an attribute of the Aggregate driver, but as long as you can work with buffer sizes of 128 samples or under, the latency is fine.

The Samson C01U requires a common USB-B type plug.The Samson C01U requires a common USB-B type plug.Photo: Mark EwingLike the original C01, this mic does produce a low background hiss from its integral circuitry, although not enough to worry about when close-miking loud instruments or strong vocals. The noise is more evident on quieter instruments or voiceover work, but for typical studio applications the C01U can give good, clean results. Far more worrying, however, was a significant level of digital background clutter riding above the hiss when I tested the mic on a dual-processor Mac G5. I asked Samson's UK distributors, Sound Technology, about this and they found they could replicate the problem on some (but not all) tower G5s, whereas all other Macs seemed quite happy. Switching to my G4 iBook confirmed that the digital noise was gone.

Tonally, the mic is fairly neutral, translating transient details rather better than a similarly priced dynamic mic would. It could certainly be used to record a very respectable vocal track, albeit without the transparency and shimmer of a top-class microphone.

Universal Appeal?

Although unashamedly entry-level, the C01U is quiet and clean enough to record vocals and instruments to a very acceptable standard, provided that they are close-miked, and its performance is well above that of any multimedia mics I've tested. As far as I can tell, the subjective performance of this mic is essentially the same as that of its wired counterpart, and that model has sold well for Samson. The digital noise issue will be a concern if you have a G5 tower-based studio system, but it could be argued that anyone with such a deluxe computer should be looking for a more sophisticated mic anyway!

I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more USB mics in the future, but in my view, if they're going to approach the performance of a wired mic, they need to follow Samson's lead in providing some form of gain control or at least a choice of switchable gain settings prior to conversion. More serious models will also need a 24-bit output to provide adequate resolution at typical operating levels while still leaving some safety headroom. As it stands, the C01U is a very practical solution for entry-level users who don't have an audio interface and, if used carefully, it can produce commendable results in a wide range of applications provided that the source being recorded isn't too quiet or distant. 


Currently, there are only a couple of other USB-equipped condenser microphones, although this may well prove to be a growth area. SE Electronics' D01 and Blue's Snowball are both rather more expensive than the C01U, but they also offer additional features such as the D01's headphone socket.

Samson C01U £69
Needs no audio interface or mic preamp.
Connects via a conventional USB cable.
The downloadable Soft Pre applet installs a pre-conversion gain control that maintains the output resolution at normal operating levels.
Included standmount (not a shockmount), USB cable and nylon storage pouch.
Basic mic is slightly noisy, though this shouldn't cause problems in normal studio applications.
Digital noise does appear to be a significant problem in some Mac G5 systems.
The C01U is a neat concept. Although it is based on a budget model that doesn't have the same technical specifications as more sophisticated (and more expensive) studio microphones, it can produce impressive results for close-miked vocals and instrument use. Laptop users who record on the move will particularly appreciate the fact that no other audio interface or mic preamp is required.
£69 including VAT.
Sound Technology +44 (0)1462 480000.
+44 (0)1462 480800.

SOS Readers Ads


of Second-User Gear for sale now — don't miss out!

Audio-Technica AT4047 MP

Multi-pattern Condenser Microphone

Thumbnail for article: Audio-Technica AT4047 MP

Audio-Technica have added multiple polar patterns to one of their already successful designs, bringing increased versatility in the studio.

Audio-Technica AT4047 MP | Media

Multi-pattern Condenser Microphone

Audio files to accompany the article.

Audio-Technica AT4050 ST

Stereo Condenser Microphone

Thumbnail for article: Audio-Technica AT4050 ST

There's more to this variation on Audio-Technica's flagship microphone than the simple addition of a second capsule...

Peavey Studio Pro M2

Condenser Microphone

Thumbnail for article: Peavey Studio Pro M2

Paul White explores the capabilities of the understated-yet-powerful Studio Pro M2.

Schoeps VSR5

Microphone Preamp

Thumbnail for article: Schoeps VSR5

Schoeps make some of the most revered mics on the planet, so when they release a commercial version of the mic preamp they use for testing, you have to take it seriously...

Schoeps VSR5 Mic Preamp

Test Measurements

Thumbnail for article: Schoeps VSR5 Mic Preamp

The following charts, made using an Audio Precision Analyser, accompany our review of the Schoeps VSR5 microphone preamplifier.

Blue Encore 300

Handheld Condenser Microphone

Thumbnail for article: Blue Encore 300

Designed as a hand-held live vocal mic, this mic has a cardioid pickup pattern, and seems very robustly engineered.

Cartec EQP1A

Mono Valve Equaliser

Thumbnail for article: Cartec EQP1A

British 'boutique' outboard manufacturers seem to be rather thin on the ground these days, but if this Pultec clone is anything to go by, newcomers Cartec look set to make a big impression.

Prodipe TT1

Dynamic Microphone

Thumbnail for article: Prodipe TT1

Prodipe say they wanted to offer a high-quality, live-sound, cardioid-pattern dynamic mic at a very affordable price.

Sontronics Saturn

Multi-pattern Condenser Microphone

Thumbnail for article: Sontronics Saturn

Sontronics mics usually sound as distinctive as they look - and this one looks more distinctive than most!

MXL Revelation

Multi-pattern Valve Microphone

Thumbnail for article: MXL Revelation

Hot on the heels of the impressive Genesis cardioid valve mic, MXL have unveiled their flagship multi-pattern model, the Revelation. Does it live up to its name?

MXL Revelation | Audio Examples

Multi-pattern Valve Microphone

These audio files accompany the SOS September 2010 review of the MXL Revelation microphone.

Samson Go Mic

USB Microphone

Thumbnail for article: Samson Go Mic

USB mics are nothing new, but the Samson Go Mic is probably the smallest and cutest I've seen to date. This metal-bodied mic,...

AKG Perception 820

Valve Microphone

Thumbnail for article: AKG Perception 820

Does AKGs Chinese-made Perception 820 maintain the Austrian companys impressive reputation?

AKG Perception 820 | Audio

Audio Examples

Hear for yourself how this mic performed during the SOS tests.

Audio-Technica AT4080 & AT4081

Ribbon Microphones

Thumbnail for article: Audio-Technica AT4080 & AT4081

A-Ts brand-new transducer technology has produced a robust design intended to deliver high signal levels as well as that prized ribbon character...

Earthworks DP25C & DP30C

Snare & Tom Condenser Microphones

Thumbnail for article: Earthworks DP25C & DP30C

Despite the ubiquity of the SM57 for use on snare, there are other options — and Earthworks aim to help you capture a more natural sound.

MXL Genesis

Cardioid Valve Microphone

Thumbnail for article: MXL Genesis

We put MXLs Genesis through its paces alongside a much pricier model, to find out just how good a tube mic can be at this price.

MXL Genesis Mic | Audio Files

Hear For Yourself

To accompany our July 2010 Genesis review, we recorded a series of standard tests with the review mic alongside a more established mic (in this case, the AKG C12 VR).

WIN Great Prizes in SOS Competitions!


Home | Search | News | Current Issue | Tablet Mag | Articles | Forum | Blog | Subscribe | Shop | Readers Ads

Advertise | Information | Privacy Policy | Support | Login Help


Email: Contact SOS

Telephone: +44 (0)1954 789888

Fax: +44 (0)1954 789895

Registered Office: Media House, Trafalgar Way, Bar Hill, Cambridge, CB23 8SQ, United Kingdom.

Sound On Sound Ltd is registered in England and Wales.

Company number: 3015516 VAT number: GB 638 5307 26


We accept the following payment methods in our web Shop:

Pay by PayPal - fast and secure  VISA  MasterCard  Solo  Electron  Maestro (used to be Switch)  

All contents copyright © SOS Publications Group and/or its licensors, 1985-2016. All rights reserved.
The contents of this article are subject to worldwide copyright protection and reproduction in whole or part, whether mechanical or electronic, is expressly forbidden without the prior written consent of the Publishers. Great care has been taken to ensure accuracy in the preparation of this article but neither Sound On Sound Limited nor the publishers can be held responsible for its contents.
The views expressed are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the publishers.

Web site designed & maintained by PB Associates | SOS | Relative Media