Podcasting? You've three options.

Option one: record with your laptop's built-in microphone. It will sound, frankly, cock.

Option two: mortgage your house, buy a mixer, a few microphones, mic stands, cables, preamps and a fancy new sound card. Top quality it may be, but this solution will leave you entirely destitute.

The Blue Snowball is option 3: a one-stop USB mic.

It's a proper fancypants condenser mic, but entirely plug and play. It shows up as its own sound card: just choose it in your preferred recording software and you're good to go.

A switch on the back lets you select one of three operating modes, where the twin capsules within can be set to receive sound in a standard cardioid pattern (for close-up vocals), cardioid with a -10dB pad (for louder sources like live music) or omnidirectional (ideal if you've got a room full of people to record).

Honestly, we're astonished by the quality of the Snowball. The standard cardioid sound is both bright and bassy, with an absolute minimum of background noise: it's much cleaner than a cheap condenser mic hooked up to a cheap mixer would be, for example.

In omnidirectional mode, it certainly reaches a long way into the room, although don't expect distant subjects to be properly balanced; a certain amount of post-processing is inevitable if you're attempting to record with only one microphone.

And that's the downside in this case; it's all but impossible to record from more than one sound card at a time. Plug in the Snowball and you'll need another PC if you want to add an extra mic.

A fantastic little mic; probably too expensive for casual users, but an ideal upgrade from built-in recording.

Follow TechRadar Reviews on Twitter: http://twitter.com/techradarreview