Yeti Blue USB microphone

A PC hardware review by Bobulous

About the Blue Yeti

photo: The Blue Yeti microphone seen from the front, a matt black cylinder with a MUTE button and a VOLUME knob, capped with a shiny metallic microphone head, all sat in a grey steel stand.
The Blue Yeti seen from the front.

The Yeti is a USB microphone made by Blue. It is intended for professional recording on a desktop or laptop computer running Microsoft Windows or Apple OS X, and claims to be suited to recording of vocals, instrumental music, interviews, podcasts, and even situations which would normally require more than one microphone. The Blue Yeti captures audio with a 16-bit resolution (48kHz).

To make it easy to monitor the audio capture, the Yeti has a headphone socket (3.5mm) on its underside, and a headphone volume knob on the front. This allows you to listen in real-time to exactly what the Yeti is capturing, allowing you to hear problems and correct your setup accordingly.

A mute button on the front of the Yeti allows you to stop the microphone capturing audio.

The Yeti connects to a PC using a USB cable, which is provided, and neither Windows nor OS X will require a driver CD or download before you can start using the microphone. A heavy, sturdy, steel base is included, allowing the Yeti to stand firm on your desk, or an optional Radius II shockmount can be purchased to isolate the microphone from vibration and bumps.

To provide flexibility the Yeti offers four recording modes:

Mode Recording type Uses suggested by Blue
Stereo Captures both left and right channels. Recording choir or acoustic guitar performance.
Cardioid Focuses on audio directly in front of the microphone. Vocal, voice-over, instrument performance, and podcast recording.
Omnidirectional Captures sound equally from all directions around the microphone. Capturing ambience in live performances, group podcasts, and conference calls.
Bidirectional Focuses on audio in front of and behind the microphone. Recording a duet, or a two-person interview.

Using the Blue Yeti

Capturing audio with the Yeti is as easy as placing its heavy steel base on your desk somewhere convenient, then plugging in the USB cable. If you're using Microsoft Windows it will detect the new USB audio device and install and configure the new microphone within a few seconds. Then any software application capable of capturing audio should be able to see your Yeti as an input device.

photo: The Blue Yeti microphone seen from the back, the matt black cylinder punctuated with two grey plastic knobs, one marked GAIN the other marked with four mode icons.
The gain and mode selector on the back of the Yeti.
screenshot: An audio wave viewed with Audacity, showing one section of audio which fits within the channel, and a second section of audio which has filled the entire width of the channel.
A stereo audio stream viewed in Audacity: the audio at 3.0 seconds is too loud and has filled the width of the channel, leading to distortion.

Depending on how close the microphone is to the audio source, and how loud that audio source is, you may want to adjust the "GAIN" knob on the back of the microphone. Gain affects how much amplification is applied to the captured audio: increasing gain will allow more sound to be captured but will also increase the amount of background noise. Also, if you have the gain too high you risk the audio being clipped: the digital format of the audio cannot represent fragments of sound louder than its digital maximum, so excessive gain will lead to detail being lost in loud moments which gives the loud sounds a clipped or distorted sound. Set the Yeti at a comfortable distance and then experiment with the gain until the important audio can be heard clearly in playback without loud sounds being clipped and with as little background noise as possible.

It's easy to keep an ear on the captured audio because you can just plug headphones directly into the Yeti and listen to exactly what it's capturing in real time. If you plugged your headphones into your PC's audio output you might find there's a processing lag which would lead to a slight but confusing delay between the time you make a sound and the time you hear it in the headphones. The live headphone monitoring offered by the Yeti avoids this problem altogether, and you hear the sound exactly the moment the sound is made. Plus if you configure Windows (or Mac OS X, or Linux) to treat the Yeti as an audio output device, you will be able to use the Yeti's headphone socket to hear the audio from your PC. The Yeti will not capture the audio coming from your PC so you can, for example, listen to music from your PC through the Yeti's headphone port and hear yourself singing along to it in real time, while recording just your vocal performance without the music.

On the front of the Yeti is a mute button with a red LED which remains lit while the microphone is capturing audio. Press the mute button and the LED blinks to indicate that the microphone is not capturing audio. I find this mute button very unreliable, having to be pressed three or four times from different angles before I can get mute to toggle on or off. This doesn't really bother me because I currently have no need for the mute feature, but this would be a real pain if I was frequently involved in conference calls or internet telephone calls and had a need to stop audio capture during the call. I have sent an email to Blue to ask whether this is a known problem with the Yeti.

Even though Blue make no mention of Linux on their website or on the Yeti product box, I've had no trouble capturing audio in Kubuntu 15.04 using the Yeti. As with Windows, after plugging in the USB cable Linux recognises the Yeti as an audio input device. You might have to find the audio settings for your capture software or for your Linux desktop and then configure them to use the Yeti for audio recording (and, if you want to hear PC audio through the Yeti, also for audio playback).

Performance of the Blue Yeti

To my ear the Yeti captures very pleasing, rich sound. With a high gain setting the microphone captures clear audio even at a distance of half-a-metre. However, my PC is not fanless and even though it doesn't make a loud noise it does emit a constant whine and hum and with a high gain setting this PC noise is clearly picked up too. Even though it's not at all loud enough to stop vocal audio being heard perfectly clearly, this background noise will irritate audio purists who are trying to capture a clean, crisp recording.

To reduce this background noise you have several options. The easiest is to use a "noise reduction" filter in audio processing software (such as the excellent, free, open source software Audacity which is available for Windows, Linux, and OS X). More effective would be to switch to using a low-power, fanless PC which emits zero noise. Bear in mind neither of these solutions will do anything to stop other background noise (such as cars going past outside your house, people talking in other rooms, aircraft flying overhead).

An alternative is to reduce the gain (thus reducing the recorded amplitude of any background noise) and place the microphone close to your mouth to bring the recorded vocal amplitude back up to the desired level. This leads to a different problem: an unpleasant popping noise is captured when you speak certain sounds (the letter 'p' being the main offender). The Yeti is as prone to this popping as any other microphone, so you might consider purchasing a pop screen which simply sits a little in front of the microphone head and stops the troublesome shock waves hitting it.

Another source of unwanted noise is vibration carried into the microphone where it makes contact with your desk. Every tap or bump on the desk will be heard loudly in the captured audio, as the vibration is carried very effectively into the microphone through the sturdy steel base. If you need to make contact with your desk while recording (such as typing on a keyboard) and you don't want booming thuds captured in your audio then you might have to consider purchasing a microphone stand and a Radius II shockmount which uses flexible cords to hold the microphone, so that unwanted structural vibrations don't easily travel into it. I don't currently have a need for this, so I've not yet tried a shockmount myself.

Something which is worth noting is that of the Yeti's four capture modes only the "Stereo" mode actually creates distinct left and right audio channels for a true stereo recording. All of the modes are capable of creating a two-channel audio stream in your recording software, but the "Cardioid", "Omnidirectional" and "Bidirectional" modes all produce a recording whose left and right channels are identical. So when using any mode other than "Stereo" you can halve the size of the audio file (without losing any audio detail) by telling your recording software to produce a one-channel (mono) stream, or let it produce a two-channel (stereo) stream and then convert it to a single-channel (mono) stream afterwards.

Comparing the Blue Yeti with a webcam microphone

Most webcams have a tiny, built-in microphone which allows you to take part in video conferencing or internet video calls with audio capture. To find out how the Blue Yeti compares to my Logitech C270 webcam I recorded brief audio samples in Audacity with each microphone placed at the same distance (of about forty centimetres). To make the amplitudes comparable each audio file was normalised using Audacity, and because the Yeti's "Cardiod" capture mode was used each capture was converted to a single-channel (mono) file (you can do this in Audacity in the "Tracks" menu with the "Stereo Track to Mono" option). No noise reduction was applied.

The audio samples are offered below. (They should play directly in your web browser if you're using an up-to-date version of Firefox, Chrome, Safari, or Opera, otherwise you should be able to download the file if you want to listen to it using other audio software.)

Yeti Blue audio sample
Logitech C270 audio sample

These samples are clearly very different (in blind ABX testing of the two samples I was able to identify the Yeti sample sixteen times out of sixteen). The Yeti sample sounds warm and detailed, with a natural tone of voice. The sample captured by the Logitech C270 webcam sounds robotic and unnatural, like the sound is echoing along a length of plastic pipe.

However, notice that the webcam has almost no background noise. Looking at a graphical representation of the audio wave shows that moments without vocal sound are completely flat: background noise is being removed by the webcam. On the other hand the Yeti sample makes the machine noise of the PC clearly audible. As described above, there are ways to ameliorate the background noise issues when using the Yeti if you need a cleaner recording. But it's unlikely that you'll be able to do anything to improve the sound of the audio recorded by the Logitech C270 webcam.

Opinion of the Blue Yeti USB microphone

I'm a big fan of the Blue Yeti. It is large, does take up a chunk of space on your desk, and does require some experimentation to get it configured to suit your needs, but it captures audio of a high enough quality that the limiting factor will be your work environment rather than the hardware. The unreliable mute button is disappointing, but I have no way of knowing whether this is a common problem in Blue Yeti microphones or an unfortunate fluke in just my copy.

If you're in the habit of creating podcasts or capturing vocal performances and you're looking for something better than a webcam microphone or cheap headset then I suspect you'll be pleased with the quality that the Yeti can offer, but I recommend you seek recorded samples created by people with more audio experience than I have.

Blue Yeti Pro

If you like the sound of the Yeti but need an even higher capture quality then Blue also make a model called Yeti Pro. The Yeti Pro captures audio with a 24bit resolution (192kHz) and also offers a stereo XLR output to allow the microphone to be connected to professional recording equipment.


Shortly after contacting Blue to ask about the temperamental mute button they responded to say that this is not a known problem and might be a defective unit, and they suggested that I contact the vendor or Blue's technical support team. I personally can't see that I'll ever need the mute button enough to justify returning the otherwise satisfactory Yeti. But in the UK you are legally entitled to return faulty goods to the vendor in exchange for a replacement or a full refund (including shipping costs) so make sure to contact the vendor from whom you purchased hardware if you find it's not up to the job.