The Samson CO1U and CO3U pick up where the previously-reviewed C1U leaves off; with the ability to record vocals, acoustic instruments, strings, drums, and whatever else requires good quality sound reproduction, the Samson USB mics are a fast, easy, and high-quality way to step up your recording quality without the need for expensive and trouble-ridden external preamps or audio interfaces.
USB microphones are a brilliant all-in-one solution for recording simple projects, and while they're not perfect, they certainly get excellent results with very little effort.
USB Microphones - Really, that easy?
Plug it in, start recording -- yes, it's really that easy!
The Samson USB microphones offer two ways to get easily recording. First, you can simply plug and go -- the USB mics are recognized by both Windows and Mac as an audio interface, and it's as easy as selecting them as your preferred input. Second, you can use Samson's SoftPre drivers to control other aspects of the microphone you'd normally need a preamp to adjust: level control, level metering, phase control, and high-pass filtering are all easily adjustable, while simultaneously recording. It works great with all stand-alone recording software packages; I tested in with Pro Tools 9, Logic, and Garageband on both my Macbook and iMac, and it works flawlessly. I also tried it with Peak and DSP-Quattro, without problems.
One warning, since you're using an onboard preamp and a-to-d converter, you'll notice some noise if you're pushing the gain pretty hard. Reasonably, though, you won't need to do so. Also, keep in mind that your monitoring setup -- which may be just your on-board headphone out -- may produce some amount of latency with these microphones. This is a normal side effect of many USB interfaces.
CO1U and CO3U - What's the difference?
The CO1U and CO3U are both large-diaphragm condenser microphones, making use of Samson's low-cost, high-performance capsule design. The difference between the two models is in the polar pattern; the CO1U is fixed on a cardioid pattern (which rejects sound towards the rear), whereas you've got the choice of figure-8 (bidirectional), omni directional (360 degree sound pickup), and cardioid with the CO3U. If you're going to be recording many different instruments you'll find the CO3U is a better choice, simply because the range of options suits your needs better (a good omnidirectional mic in a good room on acoustic guitar sounds fantastic!), but if you're mainly recording guitar and vocals at home, the CO1U will work great for you.
The Million Dollar Question - Sound Quality
Sound quality on both the CO1U and CO3U is fantastic; it certainly doesn't sound like it costs $80 ($130 for the CO3U). On acoustic guitar, these microphones sound very good; excellent reproduction of high-end and mids, great reproduction of low-end without a lot of bass buildup. For vocals, they've got a really good, silky sound. There's not much to fault these mics for in the way of sound quality. As mentioned before, there's a lot of noise from the built-in preamp chip if you're pushing the gain really high. But for most situations, you won't need to push these mics anywhere near that point to get a really good sounding recording.
The bottom line? Phenomenal value and quality in a really good package -- you can't go wrong. Of course, if you want to get into multitrack recording and record more than just a single channel at a time, you'll probably find yourself quickly outgrowing these great mics; there's nothing wrong with that.