In years past, if someone said 'low-priced microphone' to a recording engineer, he'd immediately flash to the tinny built-in mics in portable recorders, or those cheap plastic table-top dictation mics that sounded like a voice over the telephone. Well, that stereotype is long dead, and if any vestige of it remains, the Samson C01U Pro is the final nail in that coffin!
The Samson C01U Pro USB Microphone.
The C01U Pro is a high-quality USB condenser mic, and despite its budget price, it delivers the goods'"and not only for voice recordings. While it may not be a replacement for your favorite Neumann, it provides excellent sound, and a high degree of convenience, to boot.
The C01U Pro is an upgraded version of Samson's original C01U USB mic, retaining the original's specs, while adding additional functionality. The Pro is a large-diaphragm condenser, with a super-cardioid pickup pattern, and a smooth response.
The C01U Pro's Frequency Response & Polar Pattern.
As you can see from the graph, the on-axis response is commendably flat, with a gentle rise of around 3'"4 dB at 10 kHz'"this gives the mic a nice sense of detail on voices and instruments (like acoustic guitar), and is inline with the response of most vocal condensers. Directionality is as advertised, and the mic did a good job of rejecting room noise.
The USB connection
Connectivity is strictly via USB, with a port at the bottom of the mic, where an XLR connection normally would be. There is no other audio output, and the supplied USB cable provides not only the audio connection to the computer, but also power for the mic. Here's where the C01U Pro exceeds its predecessor. To enable the mic to function as a one-stop solution for simple recording needs (like podcasts), this version is also a full USB interface. Not only does the USB connection bring in the mic's audio signal, but it offers playback as well, via an 1/8th-inch stereo headphone jack on the front of the mic. This provides low-latency monitoring of the mic signal, along with audio from the DAW, and makes simple recording tasks a breeze'"just plug it in and go. Of course, the mic can also be used for input alone, monitoring normally through the DAW interface's outs'"both approaches worked fine for me when I tested it out. And while I tested only with a computer DAW, Samson points out that the mic can also be used with iPads and iPhones (4S & later) via the appropriate adaptor.
The USB connection is compatible with both Windows and Mac without the need for external drivers'"I tested it on a Mac. As soon as it's plugged in, the mic shows up in the System Preferences Sound panel where you can choose it as either System Input or Output (or both) and set the recording and playback levels.
The C01U Pro in OS X Sound Preferences.
Even once you close this panel, you can keep an eye on signal levels via a two-color LED on the front of the mic itself, which lights up green for power, and red to indicate clipping.
As expected, the C01U Pro also showed up in Logic as an option for Input and Output, and it worked perfectly whether I monitored through its own headphone amp, or via my regular interface.
The C01U Pro in Logic's Audio Preferences.
The only wrinkle was a somewhat finicky headphone jack on the mic'"the plug on one set of phones wouldn't insert properly, leaving me with only one ear working, though another headphone plugged in and worked without problems (finicky connections are often the case with 1/8th-inch jacks). Other than that, operation was seamless.
Once again, to make the mic a one-stop solution, Samson has thoughtfully included everything you'll need to get going.
The C01U Pro with accessories.
The mic comes with a 10' USB cable, a swivel mount, a table top tripod stand, and even a standard thread for connection to a mic stand. These goodies are heavy, well-made pieces, and provide solid support for the mic, which itself has a nice heft. The only things not included were a separate pop filter (naturally the mic has a built-in windscreen) or an external shock mount, but in use I didn't feel the need for either'"the mic didn't pick up undue thumping even on its desk stand, and with the mic just a hair off-axis, I had no issues with p-pops.
The Samson more than held its own against the higher-end mic, with a warm, yet clear sound quality.
I tested the C01U Pro with Logic, first recording my own voice, and then comparing it to an AKG 535 (a vocal condenser mic about 4 times the price of the Samson). As the audio file shows (Audio Example 1), the Samson more than held its own against the higher-end mic, with a warm, yet clear sound quality.
The Samson C01U Pro vs. the AKG 535.
Audio Example 1 The Samson C01U Pro vs. the AKG 535:
Each phrase is repeated, first with the C01U Pro, then with the AKG.
I also tried it on acoustic guitar (Audio Example 2), where it again did a nice job of capturing detail, with very little coloration.
Audio Example 2 The Samson C01U Pro on acoustic guitar:
If you have a need for a high-quality, simple-to-use condenser mic for podcasts or basic DAW recording tasks, you can't go wrong with the Samson C01U Pro. The only thing it could benefit from is a catchier name, but the C01U Pro definitely delivers the goods, and at its price, it's a real bargain.
Price: $79.99 USD (Street)
Pros: Excellent sound & convenience. Included extras.
Cons: Dodgy headphone jack. No regular audio output.