Field Report: IK Multimedia iRig Mic
Jun 1, 2011 1:00 AM, By Barry Thomas, CPBE CBNT
The Apple iPhone, Android-based and other mobile devices have become ubiquitous tools for field production and on-the-spot radio. Software manufacturers have responded by providing all sorts of production and ingest apps to leverage and improve the tool. Face it: Since almost everybody carries a cellphone now, it makes sense to use it to gather remote audio. These devices present some unique challenges for using a device not specifically designed for the application. One area of improvement is the microphone, for both quality and ergonomic reasons.
A number of adapters are available that allow you to connect some professional microphones to mobile devices. The limitation with adapters is that some mics and headphones work better than others. Only through trial and error do you really know how the device will work. The iRig Mic incorporates the iPhone-compatible mic/headphone adapter with a high-quality cardioid microphone that's proven to work with the iPhone.
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Before I received the iRig Mic, I did what many of us do: searched the Web. I found it interesting that most of the reviews and comments about this device were actually about the iPhone App called Vocal Live, not the mic itself. I thought this was curious but, considering the environment of most consumers, not surprising. The hardware itself is fairly simple and straightforward. Most consumers will be interested in the application.
The iRig Mic is a unidirectional electret-condenser mic with the look of the Shure Beta microphones. It has a permanently attached 6' cord with a special 1/8" plug that holds the mic cable and a 1/8" headphone jack. As you might expect the headphone jack extends the regular headphone jack but it allows for real-time monitoring using typical ear buds or high-impedance headphones with a 1/8" plug. It has a three-position mic sensitivity switch on the side. This is one of two accessories of this type made by IK Multimedia. The other is a similar device but it's designed for guitars. Both devices work with the iPhone, current version iPod Touch and iPad.
Thomas acquired a jack extender to put the 1/8" iRig adapter farther away from the iPhone.
I found the mic sound to be fairly good, especially considering this price range. It's an electret condenser, like the iPhone on-board mic, but it has better high frequency response and it's unidirectional. The cardioid pattern isn't extremely tight but it's enough to help isolate excessive room noise in normal environments. It performed pretty well in interview and recording tests using a variety of applications. The iRig seemed to have an acceptable amount of gain as well. All of the apps I worked with accepted the mic audio and controlled the headphone level and mix well.
There are a few quirks. The attached cord actually makes things a little complicated. It's designed apparently to connect to an iPhone that's sitting on a desk or music stand (or an iPad using the company's iKlip, iPad stand adapter). The cable is a bit long for a handheld interview mic. One of two things tends to happen in that case: The user trips over the cable or, more likely, the cable gets wrapped up in a little ball and hangs awkwardly. Also, since it's a fixed-length cable it's not possible to add cable so the mic can be left on a podium (or near the morning show stunt) leaving the iPhone and app at a safe distance.
One feature is the level switch on the side of the mic. It sits where the on-off switch would normally sit and has three positions: (, ((, and (((. The switch works actually in reverse as you think it might because the icons denote mic sensitivity as opposed to mic gain. What would seem to be the lowest setting is actually the opposite - the most sensitive. I noticed in one Web review the author assumed his unit had a manufacturing defect. It takes getting used to.
Performance at a glanceQuality condenser-electret unidirectional capsule
Rugged, durable metal housing
Simple and easy to use
Dual mini-connector allows real-time monitoring on headphones, speakers, mixers, PAs
Includes free recording app
Can be used with other apps
One final quirk was the 1/8" adapter. It's an integrated iPhone plug and headphone splitter/jack. This ends up being a fragile-looking lump of plastic and wires plugged right into the phone. In radio remote and interview applications, I can see this causing a ruined iPhone headphone jack within days. I immediately acquired a jack extender (see photo), which put the rigid adapter a few inches away from the iPhone and made it seem a little less risky. The iRig Guitar adapter incorporates this sort of extender so it's interesting that IK Multimedia didn't use the same technique. I suspect that, again, IK envisions the use of the iRig mic in desktop situations where the phone sits flat on a surface, not the hustle of radio remote broadcasting.
Quirks notwithstanding, the iRig Mic is a useful tool for getting good quality audio into the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. The attached cable design actually makes for a simple experience with fewer components to carry. A reporter could easily have this in a portfolio or briefcase and quickly attach/detach without a much hassle. The quality, directional pattern, and simple operation make this a very good way to improve field production using IOS devices. The price makes it so it's possible to have one or two spares on the shelf for the inevitable catastrophe. It's certainly worth your own evaluation and consideration.
Thomas is vice president of engineering for Lincoln Financial Media, Atlanta.
Editor's note: Field Reports are an exclusive Radio magazine feature for radio broadcasters. Each report is prepared by well-qualified staff at a radio station, production facility or consulting company.
These reports are performed by the industry, for the industry. Manufacturer support is limited to providing loan equipment and to aiding the author if requested.
It is the responsibility of Radio magazine to publish the results of any device tested, positive or negative. No report should be considered an endorsement or disapproval by Radio magazine.
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