The Icicle

Structure

You’re going to see one of two pictures of this thing if you search for it on the internet.  There’s this version (and its variants):

Don't I look robust and sturdy?

And then there’s this version and (its variants):

I wish that the Icicle felt as solid and sturdy as that first photo.  I mean, damn, look at that thing.  The chassis is brushed metal with rubber along certain edges for protection.  There’s even a bit of ribbed rubber where the USB cord meets the main housing to keep the wire from kinking.  Unfortunately, the second, plastic Icicle is the true Icicle.  Plastic except for the XLR contacts.   If you were to put this in your back pocket, forget about it, and sit down, the chassis would break or crack.

To its benefit, I’ve hauled this device in a backpack along with a lot of other equipment for months and it held together.  But I fear that, someday, it will get jostled, get pinched or caught on something, and break.  Get a case for it, or put it in its own padded pocket.  It will not take a beating.

Function

Getting the Icicle to work on your computer is a snap.  No drivers necessary, just plug it in and go.  How much gain you apply via the gain knob on the side of the housing is your only option on the entire device.  That’s all you really need, and I appreciate that kind of simplicity.  But underneath that simplicity lie three major drawbacks.

First, it does not work well with dynamic microphones (a microphone that does not make use of phantom power) even though Blue insists that it works just fine in all of their promotional material:

The Icicle works with both dynamic and condenser microphones, providing high quality and hassle-free connectivity with Mac or PC.

– bluemic.com

No. No, it does not.

I tried the Icicle with my Shure SM58 and my Shure SM57 on my Dell desktop, my Gateway laptop, and my Dell laptop and I could clearly hear little blips, bloops, and whines in the background.  Electronic noise generated by the hard drive and other components in the computer was leaking onto the recording.  I consider this a functional failure; the noise is loud enough to be a dealbreaker.

Perhaps a dynamic mic that’s not an SM57 or SM58 wouldn’t cause this error, but when is the last time you used a dynamic mic that wasn’t an SM57 or SM58?  Condenser mics, or any other mic that requires phantom power, did not produce this noise.

Second, monitored input lags behind playback if you play and record at the same time.  When plugged into a PC the Icicle makes use of DirectX drivers which are not cabable of low latencies.  If you’re just recording a spoken podcast, that kind of latency might not be a problem; keep an eye on your signal to be sure you aren’t clipping and you’ll be fine.  But, if you need to record some vocals or guitar over the drum parts you’ve already recorded, the lag is going to make it impossible.  Well, not impossible. . . You could, I suppose, turn off any monitoring from your Icicle, sing/play against your pre-recorded tracks, and then sync your recorded vocal or guitar manually by dragging it around in your DAW.  That’s going to get really tedious really fast.  God help you if you need to punch in/punch out.

Some of you may be thinking “Hey, why not ditch those DX drivers and use ASIO4ALL?”  Normally, that would be an awesome idea.  But the Icicle makes use of your computer’s output instead of housing its own.  ASIO4ALL can’t use two devices (your soundcard and the Icicle) at the same time*.  You can try it, but you’ll probably get a BSOD.

NOTE: Mac users, you may not have to put up with any of this latency nonsense.  I don’t know for sure, but from what I understand, Apple Core Audio can build a single, low-latency device out of the icicle and your onboard soundcard.  If you’ve had experience with this, please comment.

Third, and this is a minor gripe, the usb connection is a ‘USB mini B’ rather than the standard ‘USB B’ connection.  Not a big deal, but if your cord goes bad or goes missing, you won’t be able to replace it with whatever you’ve got lying around.

Sound

Provided you aren’t using a dynamic microphone, the Icicle is on par with any other entry level preamp.

Features

Other than the connectivity between a usb port and your (phantom powered) microphone the only feature is the bluish glow it gives off when you plug it in.

That’s nice, I guess.

Verdict

I used this device as a workaround for recording the voice of someone I was filming.  The camera’s on-board mic/preamplifier was no good and I did not want to drag my heavier interface back and forth to the shoot.  The Icicle was perfect because I did not need to monitor or sync their delivery against a prior performance.  It would also be useful to record a podcast or something analogous.  But, if you’re trying to make music, the latency issues will be a major hindrance the first time you try play and record at the same time.  Low durability may be an issue regardless of how you use it.  And if you’re using a dynamic mic, the noise the Icicle generates is unacceptable.

I advise most to pass on this device.  The Icicle is only suitable for certain specific tasks.

*Technically, you can use two devices at the same time with ASIO, but not with the same program.  You’d need two hosts or DAWs, each using their own device.  This isn’t a workaround because your recorded audio would be in another program, and wouldn’t be synced anyway.  Applications for that kind of thing are limited.
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