I spent a few days with the Senal UB-440 USB large diaphragm condenser microphone. Usually I say that USB mics are a terrific bang for the buck because you don't need a recording interface (mic preamp and converter). So you spend much less for a decent improvement in audio quality from, say, a laptop's built-in mic or a $15 plastic computer mic. But in this case, I'm not convinced the quality is worth the hundred-dollar price tag.
Surely there must be something good about this microphone, right? Well yes. Let's take them one by one:
- There is a recording input level control slider right on the mic itself. This is not typical for mics at or under $100. It allows you to control how loud you record.
- There is a headphone jack on the mic. Though this is getting more common, it's still handy for latency-free recording (no delay).
- There is a headphone volume control right on the mic. That is definitely not standard for a USB mic.
- It's a nice looking, very sturdy mic that comes with a very sturdy desk stand. Usually, USB mics come with pretty flimsy desk mini-tripod stands that are unstable and fall over easily.
- It does sound better than recording directly into a laptop's built-in mic.
- It sounds better than a $15 plastic computer mic that you'd plug into a computer sound card.
This is a condenser microphone. For what that means, see my article - Condenser vs Dynamic Microphone: What Is The Difference?. I always recommend using a condenser mic for studio recording, as they tend to produce more detailed sound than dynamic mics.
It records at 16-bit/48KHz resolution. That is pretty standard.
Cardioid polar pattern (pickup pattern). That means it picks up sound best from directly in front of it, and rejects sound from behind it. This is also pretty standard.
This mic has the most unpredictable noise I've ever heard in any microphone. When plugged into my studio computer, a less-than-one-year-old Windows 10, the noise was horrendous.
Usually, when USB mic produces noise, it's a steady consistent hiss. And that kind of noise is relatively easy to remove with standard noise reduction effects in any recording software. But this was NOT that kind of consistent noise. It was a high-pitched squealing with occasional squelching noises.
Usually this kind of noise is caused by some sort of interference from somewhere - an old computer tube monitor, and LED light, electrical cords or outlets, etc. So I tried turning off the screens, the monitor speakers, the LED light, and none of that helped. That noise remained.
I could not believe that a mic that produced that much noise could cost $100. So I went downstairs and tested it in my MacBook Air laptop. The noise was MUCH less, even though there was still some high-pitched intermittent beeping.
So I quite for the weekend and came back to the testing on Monday. The noise from the studio computer was still there. But on the Mac, the noise was almost non-existent! I even brought it into the studio and placed it in the same space as the Windows computer. Still no noise to speak of at all from the Mac laptop! Not even that beeping I heard last time.
I don't usually like to check any other reviews of a product while I'm doing my own review, because I don't want to be swayed by someone else's opinion. But in this case I did a quick glance at some other reviews, and it turns out that the UB-440 is extremely sensitive to interference. I still don't know what caused the bad noise on the main computer though. And if that were my only computer, I would not be able to use this mic.
So that was the first strike against it. The chance of having unacceptable levels and types of noise is unpredictable.
Apart from noise, the most important thing about any microphone is how it sounds. I didn't think the Senal UB-440 sounded anywhere near as good as the Samson C01U Pro, which is $10 LESS than the Senal. I reviewed the Samson recently, which you can find here: Samson C01U Pro Review - USB Studio Condenser Microphone.
The Samson captured more detail and a richer, fuller sound. The Senal sounded too thin - a little too much like the sound from a telephone.
Then I wanted to compare it to a couple of other mics, a $15 dollar plastic headset computer mic (similar to the Logitech Stereo Headset H111), and the built-in mic in the MacBook Air (so no external mic at all).
You can hear for yourself below those comparisons. But I can say with confidence that the Senal was at least much better sounding than those.
The main stated reason for a headphone jack on a USB mic is the ability to do "latency-free" recording. That means you can hear yourself in the mic as you record. But for some reason, I could NOT hear anything in the headphones while recording. I COULD hear playback though. So I know it was working.
And speaking of playback, it sounded terrible - almost exactly like it was coming over a telephone. It wasn't the fault of the headphones themselves, either. I tested those on my main interface and they sounded fine. So there were three things wrong with the headphone jack.
- You cannot do latency-free monitoring while recording because you cannot HEAR yourself while recording.
- Audio quality from the headphone jack was terrible.
- I could not insert the 3.5 mm plug from my normal headphones (Audio-Technica ATH-50). The USB plug blocked access. I WAS able to plug in another pair of headphones, the Senal SMH-1000s. It makes sense those would fit, since they are also from Senal. But your headphone plug may or may not fit.
Let's Hear It!
I made several recordings so you can hear for yourself and not take my word for all of this.
First is the noise I talked about. Keep in mind that this noise did NOT occur on the MacBook Air laptop in the same room. This was on the main studio computer (Windows 10):
Next is the noise from the Senal plugged into the MacBook Air laptop in the same room (the studio), in the same space. all that noise is gone except for the standard low-level consistent hiss:
Now for the audio tests. All of the examples below were normalized to the same average loudness (LUFS) so that the volume would not be a factor. Also, I used noise reduction on all samples to get rid of the noise, which you'd definitely have to do on the Senal if you want usable audio.
Now for comparison with much cheaper (or built-in) mics, I recorded the same paragraph. First is an old headset style plastic computer mic I bought for $5 in 2008. The same kind of mic now is $15 (the Logitech Stereo Headset H111 I mentioned above). It is plugged into the built-in computer sound card. Listen to the very loud noise on that first.
Now hear is the voice recording on the Logitech with noise reduction applied. Amazingly, the audio quality is not too bad!
I also wanted to try recording without any external mic at all. So I used the MacBook Air for that, using just the built-in mic. There really was no noise at all to speak of doing it this way. So here is what the voice sounded like.
I think you'll agree that the last example was clearly inferior to the Senal mic. But the $15 plastic PC mic (after noise reduction) is actually fairly decent by comparison.
Next is the Samson C01U Pro USB mic on the same studio computer. First is the noise only.
Now here is how the Samson C01U sounds on my voice. To my ears it sounds much better than the Senal. And the Samson is $10 less expensive at $89.
Finally, I wanted you to hear the audio quality of my normal studio mic, a Rode NT2-A large diaphragm condenser mic plugged into a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface. This is kind of an unfair comparison, as this setup costs roughly $560 ($399 for the Rode mic and $160 for the interface).
The standard mic + interface setup will almost always yield the best quality results. Even the highest-end commercial studios use this type of setup. I have yet to hear a USB mic that can produce this kind of quality.
First is the incredibly low noise from the Rode/Focusrite.
And here is the voice recording with the Rode/Focusrite.
I do not recommend this mic. For roughly the same price, you can buy the Samson C01U Pro and have better quality without worrying about noise. The noise from the Senal UB-440 was fine on the MacBook Air. But on my studio PC, it was horrendous. This kind of unpredictability is not good. Who knows if your computer will cause the noise or not?
If you would like to try it, or find out more details, CLICK HERE to see it on B&H.