Saturday, November 16, 2013

What's Old is New Again: How the Blue Yeti Mic Re-Invents the Famous RCA 77DX

Few microphones are more famous or visually identifiable than the classic RCA 77DX.

RCA 77DX (introduced in 1937)

I happen to have a fully functional 77DX, and I love what it does for my voice. But pertinent to this blog, its claim to fame is that it can be switched to multiple pickup patterns: Uni-directional (one direction), Bi-directional (essentially a figure 8 pickup pattern with less sensitivity at the "waist" of the figure 8) and Non-directional (picking up all around the mic with no pattern.)

Ribbon mics of this type were accurate and warm sounding when reproducing the human voice, and were especially useful in radio dramas; mounted on a face-high mic stand and set to bi-directional, two actors facing each other on opposite sides of the mic were equally audible, and if one wanted to sound like he/she was walking away, all they had to do was move to one side of the mic and they sounded more distant.

OK, so what does this have to do with any modern microphone?

It matters when you know how to actually USE microphones.  In today's world, we use mics for such things as web video conferencing, web conferencing, and classroom discussions and lectures. We also need mics that connect to computers via USB, so we can easily incorporate them into recordings and conferences.

There are plenty of cheap mics out there, and also plenty of mics that sound cheap.  But occasionally I find one that's designed intelligently and sounds good, and the Yeti mic made by Blue Microphones (creator of the Snowball and other mics you may have heard of), found at, is a prime example of both.

The Yeti replicates key functions of the RCA 77DX in this respect: "The Yeti features Blue's innovative triple capsule array, allowing for recording in stereo or your choice of three unique patterns, including cardioid, omnidirectional, and bidirectional, giving you recording capabilities usually requiring multiple microphones." (Quoting from their website.)

As Garfield might say, "Big, fat, hairy deal."  Why should you care? 

Because that bi-directional pattern can be a lifesaver when your speaker is on one side of the mic, your audience or conference participants are on the other, and you don't have the chance or the room configuration to connect multiple mics.  The Yeti will fix you up, and it looks quite a bit like the classic RCA 77DX, which is very classy!

This is not a small mic - it's 11 inches tall and weighs 2.2 pounds, so it doesn't hide - it's as visible as the dummy mic on David Letterman's desk. It self-powers from its USB connection to your computer, and passes audio via USB.  Its base is threaded for a standard full size mic stand, but it comes with the removable desk stand you see in the photo.

It has more controls than most mics...

On the front:
  • Master gain control
  • Push-button mute button
On the base:
  • Threaded mic mount
  • USB cable connection
  • 1/8" headphone jack with no latency (no delay), amplifier and volume control

On the back:
  • Mic gain control
  • Pickup pattern control with four options: Stereo, Omnidirectional, Cardioid and Bi-directional
While having two controls for volume presents some danger in the hands of the unschooled, it gives anyone who knows audio or who reads the manual nice control over the audio, which is clean, crisp and pleasant.  The mic is sensitive, but will also tolerate sound levels up to 120 dB with 0.5% THD. In a 25 x 12 conference room, it picked up all voices clearly regardless of the speakers' position in the room.

All this comes in a classy looking mic that can be bought online for about $120, which is a great price for a versatile unit like this. If you have a conference room or other application that fits its qualities, it's a good one to consider.

  • Multiple pickup patterns
  • Good sensitivity for multiple voices/users
  • USB output
  • Powers via USB - no power adapters needed
  • Multiple controls including mute button
  • Big (you're not going to hide this from a camera)
  • Heavy
  • Easy to steal, so it can't be left in a room unless leashed
  • User-accessible controls may confuse
For the right application, this mic is cost-effective and a great tool.

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