Our verdict of the Samson Satellite:
The Samson Satellite doesn’t bring anything new to the desktop USB microphone. That said, it provides useful features at a lower price than its competitors.
When you think of portable USB microphones, a few names probably come to mind. Rode and Blue are both popular options, while Samson may not ring a bell. But it turns out that Samson has been manufacturing audio products since the 1980s.
The Samson Satellite is the company’s latest portable USB microphone, aimed at streamers, podcasters, and other digital broadcasters. It has a lot in common with some of its competitors’ offerings, but it also packs a few of their tricks up its sleeve at a lower price. These may just make it your new go-to choice for recording on the run.
What’s in the Box?
Opening up the Samson Satellite, you’re not going to find much you wouldn’t expect. The microphone itself occupies the majority of the box, but it’s not the only thing inside. You also get a small manual as well as a few accessories.
The Satellite includes not one but two cables. One is a standard micro USB cable with a standard-sized USB connector on the other end for plugging into a computer. The other cable has the micro USB on one end and a Lightning connector on the other for connecting to an iPhone or iPad.
- Element Type: Electret condenser
- Polar Patterns: Cardioid, Bidirectional (Figure-8), Omnidirectional
- Frequency Range: 20Hz–20kHz
- Max. SPL: 135dB SPL at 200Hz
- Bit Depth/Sample Rate: 24-bit/up to 96kHz
- Digital Output: USB
- Headphone Output/Impedance: 1/8″ (3.5mm)/32?
- Headphone Power Output: Minimum 38mW @ 32?
- Controls: Polar Pattern, Mute, Headphone Volume, Monitor On/Off
- LED: 3-color Power/Clip/Mute
- Dimensions: 8.6″ (218mm) x 4.3″ (108mm) x 1.7″ diameter (45mm diameter)
- Weight: 0.75lb (0.34kg)
One of the main features that the Samson Satellite boasts that you’ll normally only find in more expensive microphones is multiple polar pickup patterns. The microphone has a standard directional mode, known as cardioid, that works as most microphones do: it picks up what is directly in front of it. The two other modes are where things get more interesting.
One of the Satellite’s other two modes is the figure-8 or bidirectional pattern. If you’re directly in front of the mic, it will pick your voice up the same way, but it will also pick up sound in the opposite direction. This is great for a two-person recording with each of you sitting on the opposite sides of a table, for example.
The final pickup pattern is omnidirectional. As the name implies, this picks up sound all around the microphone. If you’re recording more than two people, this is the ideal way to make sure everyone is heard.
No matter which pickup pattern you’re using, you can monitor the input using the built-in headphone jack. This is important because it enables zero-latency monitoring. You could monitor through your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) or however you’re recording, but this often adds latency, which can make listening difficult. The only other button is a touch-based mute control, letting you easily cut the audio.
Finally, as you may have guessed from the inclusion of a Lightning cable, the Satellite supports iOS devices. The microphone is fully USB Class Compliant, so it will work with any recording software or DAW on your iPad or iPhone.
Who is the Samson Satellite For?
Despite its multiple pickup patterns, the Samson Satellite isn’t a microphone aimed at musicians. The lack of a traditional XLR connector for interfacing with audio gear like mixers and mic preamps is your first clue. Can you use it for recording vocals and instruments? Sure, but you might not get the results you expect.
As Samson indicates on its website, the Satellite is meant more for the spoken word. If you’re looking for a microphone to record a podcast
, this is the ideal mic for you. While Samson also mentions streamers, you might find you need a longer cable than the included model if you’re looking to attach the microphone to a desk-mounted boom arm as many streamers use.
The multiple pickup patterns make this ideal for multi-person podcasts with just one mic. We’ll look at the quality later, but it’s nice to have this as an option for recording a group with just one mic.
Build Quality and Design
Cheaper microphones usually mean cheaper materials and as a result, cheaper look and feel. That isn’t the case for the Samson Satellite. Constructed out of solid metal, the Samson feels like it can easily stand up to the rigors of regular use. The metal build also means it’s heavier, which makes it far less likely to fall over.
Of course, using the built-in stand, the mic wouldn’t be that likely to fall over in the first place. Three legs fold into the body when not in use, allowing you to attach the microphone to a proper mic stand. Once extended, these legs feel quite sturdy. I can’t speak to how they’ll hold up over time, but they never started to slip during my testing.
This sturdy feel extends to the knob and switch as well. Again, I can’t speak to how well they’ll work in five years, but I’ve felt far flimsier switches and knobs on microphones that cost twice the price. You certainly don’t have to worry about accidentally switching polar patterns when reaching for the volume knob.
While everything I’ve talked about so far has been about how the mic functions, it actually looks quite nice as well. It looks like a professional piece of equipment, which is something I can’t say about some of this mic’s closest competitors.
Using the Samson Satellite
Most people will likely use the Samson Satellite with a computer, so it’s fortunate that this is an easy process. Whether you’re using a Windows PC or a Mac, all you need to do is plug it in. There are no drivers or other software to install.
In your DAW or audio app of choice, select the Samson Satellite as your desired input device. If your audio app doesn’t support this (though the vast majority of them do), you’ll need to set it as the default microphone in your computer settings.
Using the Samson Satellite with iOS is even easier. For my testing, I used the microphone plugged into a Lightning-equipped iPad Pro and used the Ferrite app for test recording. I didn’t even have to select the microphone, as the app recognized the microphone and defaulted to using it.
No matter what you’re using the microphone with, the headphone jack for zero-latency monitoring is useful. If you’re not getting a signal in an app, you can use this to make sure that the microphone itself is picking up the audio. You can also use it to make sure it’s picking up everyone’s voice before you hit record.
The Samson Satellite uses 16mm condenser capsules. In cardioid mode, only one of these is enabled, while the microphone engages both in the bidirectional and omnidirectional modes. To get the sound into your computer or iOS device, the microphone has a built-in 24bit/96kHz audio interface.
In cardioid mode, the Samson Satellite sounds roughly as good as most other condenser microphones in its price range. This means that it covers bass and midrange fairly well, while the high-end is somewhat prone toward emphasizing sibilance in some situations. Compared to dynamic microphones, there is less of a tendency toward proximity effect–an increase in low end as you get closer to the mic.
Speaking of which, no matter which mode you’re using, you won’t want to get too close to the mic. Unless you’re using a windscreen or pop filter between you and the mic, you’re likely to get audible pops from P and B consonants. A small pop filter included in the box would have been nice, but these are relatively cheap, so buying your own won’t be a problem.
Because of the need for a pop filter, this isn’t the best microphone for video. It will work in a pinch, but you’ll need a longer cable because the built-in stand is less than ideal. For most video purposes, you might be better off looking at a wireless lavalier mic
The bidirectional mode sounds similar to cardioid mode, while omnidirectional sounds less focused. This is true even if you’re using it alone, as the mic picks up significantly more room tone in omni mode than it does in cardioid mode.
Is the Samson Satellite Worth the Price?
The Samson Satellite packs more features into a USB microphone than most of its competitors’ reserve for higher-priced models. The question is whether or not these features are important to you. If you frequently do interviews or field recordings, having multiple pickup patterns in a mic you can fit in your bag or (in a pinch) even your pocket is key. If your only computer on the road is an iPhone or iPad, then the Satellite is perfect for you.
It would have been nice to see a pop filter or windscreen included, but this will likely be a minor issue for most people. Other handy features like the built-in stand and ability to mount on a traditional mic stand or boom arm are nice to have. If you’re buying this as your first or only microphone, the multitude of options means it can grow with you, and you’ll likely always find a use for it.