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Samson Meteor

USB Microphone
By Matt Houghton

Visually, Samson's latest USB microphone, the Meteor, rather puts me in mind of R2D2's chrome‑plated younger brother: you really do have to admit that they've done a classy job on the styling. There's been a proliferation of USB microphones from various manufacturers in recent years, but the quality and functionality has been rather varied, so I wanted to discover whether this one offers as much candy for the ear as it does for the eye.

This mic seems to have been reasonably well thought-out for the average podcaster, but there are one or two limitations that are likely to frustrate recording musicians. The USB conveys the mic signal digitally to your computer, the on‑board conversion being capable of outputting 16‑bit data at 44.1 or 48kHz. On a 'serious' interface the 16‑bit limitation may be a concern, but on a mic intended largely for close-miked vocal work it's really not a problem.

There's also a headphone output on the Meteor, intended for monitoring the recorded signal with no latency. It's all well and good being able to hear what the mic is sending to the computer, but there's no output from your computer over USB. Furthermore, there's no ASIO driver, as the Meteor (like many other USB mics) relies solely on the OS X Core Audio or Windows Direct Sound drivers. On the plus side, this means that there are no drivers to install: your computer will recognise straight away that this mic has been connected, and it should appear as a selectable input in any applications that use the standard OS drivers. However, if you use DAW software that requires ASIO drivers (such as Cubase or Nuendo, for example) then you'll have to create an aggregate device (Mac) or use the free third‑party ASIO4ALL driver (PC) if you want to be able to hear what the computer's playing (like a backing track!) via another audio interface while you record. It's not an insurmountable problem, but it's far from ideal. And of course, even if you do create an aggregate device, you can't use the zero‑latency monitoring on the Meteor at the same time as hearing a backing track off your PC.

For the zero‑latency monitoring, there's a headphone level control on the front, as well as a mic‑mute button, which is a sensible and useful addition. There's no mic gain control, though, so you'll have to set the recording levels digitally in your DAW. That said, while this isn't a drum mic by any means (I've seen no figures, but I don't think it would accommodate very high SPLs too well), it seemed to be set at about the right level for the sung vocals, speech and acoustic guitar that I tracked while testing the Meteor. As such, it should be broadly suitable for the typical podcaster/Skype user who probably makes up the majority of this mic's intended market.

A reasonably sturdy and versatile desktop stand is an integral part of the mic: it's essentially a tripod whose legs can be set at different angles in order to direct the mic anywhere from horizontal to about 30‑40 degrees, so that it points up from your desktop towards your mouth. The rubber bottoms on the elegant, chromed‑metal legs help to decouple the mic from the surface on which it sits, although I still wouldn't advise resting your elbows on the desk or using your computer's mouse while recording! Helpfully, Samson have thought to incorporate a standard US mic stand thread on the bottom of the mic, so you're able to mount it on a conventional mic stand. There's no European thread adaptor, but they're cheap and easy to get hold of. Also bundled are a USB cable and a soft carry pouch.

So... what about the sound itself — is it good enough for music applications? I tested the mic with three different computers — a desktop PC, a MacBook Pro and a modern iMac, and found that on two of the systems a digital 'whine' was captured alongside the audio. It was nothing too severe, and could be removed with notch EQing or a noise‑reduction plug‑in, but it was noticeable nonetheless. On one of the machines (the iMac) there was no whine at all. I have to say that Samson aren't alone here — this problem is typical of USB microphones, and tends to occur in different amounts on different machines. It's really the luck of the draw whether or not you're affected.

When a clean signal is captured, the sound is flattering without being over‑coloured. There's plenty of presence and the overall sound is slightly 'fuller' than average in the mid‑range, but it's a perfectly acceptable sound and well suited to voice recording. There were no major issues with sibilance or popping with my own voice. I also recorded a reasonable sound on an acoustic guitar. The cardioid pattern is typical of a vocal mic.

This isn't an expensive mic by any means, but the lack of mic gain control, playback signal and ASIO drivers left me frustrated. The Meteor would certainly be suitable for podcasting and similar duties, though, and (whine excepted) I'd also be happy to press it into service to track vocals and acoustic instruments for a demo.  Matt Houghton

£99.99 including VAT.$99.99.

Published July 2011