Every few years, a product comes along that takes the industry by storm. It's difficult to predict these products in advance – the trick is to make something insanely useful that nobody else offers.
Enter Samson and their new CO1U. This is a USB condenser microphone that's based on their already acclaimed budget condenser mic, the C01. This offers almost-as-good-performance as Rode's NT1A (the budget class leader) but comes in at about a third of the price.
But never mind all that. Yes, you read correctly – the CO1U is a plug-and-play USB condenser mic. This means that no preamp, XLR cable or phantom power is required – you can plug the CO1U straight into your PC or Mac. All very convenient, but is it actually any good?
Reassuringly, the CO1U feels sturdy and well built. Condenser mics tend not to like being dropped – which is why you rarely see them at gigs – but this one feels like it would wear well. Installation is a breeze – it's no exaggeration to say that you can be up and running in two minutes flat.
Basically, you just plug the CO1U in and choose it from the list of audio devices in your recording app. A simple software application enables you to set the microphone's internal gain and apply bass cut and phase inversion.
It all ADs up
So how does it sound? Very good, actually. The CO1U is similar to its standard cousin, but because it connects over USB it requires onboard AD conversion. It would be a huge let down if things weren't up to scratch in this department, but happily they are.
One downside is that the conversion is only 16-bit (at up to 48kHz). On paper, this seems a little light, but when compared to most budget preamps, the CO1U has the edge in performance terms.
It doesn't quite match our trusty NT1A and E-MU 1616M combo – the bass response isn't as good (though it's not so poor as to bother most people) and it's a little noisier – but when you consider that the CO1U costs £400 less than these two bits of gear you can forgive such deficiencies.
We did also notice some minor inconsistencies in pick up outside the narrow sweet spot, but unless you're swinging your guitar around, the CO1U should be fine.
Freak or unique?
This mic represents one of the best ideas we've come across in ages (and it is, at the time of writing, unique). It does exactly what it says on the tin and is incredibly affordable. If you need a basic condenser mic, you'd be crazy not to consider it.
Stunning value. Good overall sound Well built. Installs in 30 seconds.
Pick up pattern can seem a little unpredictable. 24-bit conversion next time please. Still noisier than it ought to be.
A unique and useful product. At this price, Samson deserve to sell CO1Us by the truckload.