Have you ever wanted a good quality hand-held mic you could plug into your iPad/iPhone or Mac? IK Multimedia in Italy now has the answer. The new digital condenser iRig Mic HD microphone plugs directly into the digital input on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Mac (or PC) via included 1.5m Lightning or USB (for Mac) cables.
The mic features a 24-bit A/D converter with a 44.1-48 kHz sampling rate, all neatly tucked away inside, and the shaft of the mic has a gain control with a multi-colour LED indicator. The HD ships with a vinyl carry bag, comes with a mic clip, an adapter so the clip can be used with either of the most common mic stands, has two cables included (Lightning and USB), and a plastic locking grommet (above, in the main picture, at left) you place on the cable near the mic end, plug the cable into the mic, slide it down and screw into place around the mount to lock the cable in place – it’s a neat solution.
A 30-pin cable available for older iPads/iPhones is available separately, by the way.
IK makes apps too — iDevice amp profiles, guitarist stompbox apps etc – there are free IK apps that go along with your purchase: iRig Recorder, VocaLive and AmpliTube in iOS and Mac (or PC) versions. You get the mic in your typical muso-black or, as an exclusive to the Apple Store, in silver.
It’s a well-built, solid-feeling microphone. It’s not particularly weighty but it doesn’t feel cheap.
There’s a circular gain control on the mic shaft itself, which is the only thing I really dislike about it, as it can be difficult to turn with its odd design unless you press your finger or thumb-tip into it. Presumably this makes it hard to knock out of position by mistake when you are holding it. An LED is on the other side of the gain control so you can’t immediately see the results of the changes in gain if you are staring at the dial, but if you have the mic, say, angled to your mouth and your thumb pressed into the gain on the underside of the shaft, you can (if clumsily) change the gain and see the result on the light, since it’s blue to show ‘on’, goes green at sound input, shades into orange when it’s peaking and red for clip.
What’s the point? Quality, first of all. The internal iPhone mic might be fine for phone calls and voice memos, but iPhones and iPads support better quality sound than that, as you will know if you use it to listen to music. Many games also push the sonic boundaries a bit. Out of the box, the Mic HD plugs straight into later iDevices via the included Lightning connector, and works with anything that would normally use the internal microphone, including Voice Memo. Even on this the iRig is noticeably better, capturing a much rounder, deeper and lower midrange and bass. I tested it with voice and with a particularly good acoustic guitar, and listened to the result through my Sennheiser HD 280 Pro headphones.
The iRig HD is the kind of mic you typically hold in the hand and talk into, but thanks to a gain control on the shaft you can crank it up for ambient sounds, say to accompany video that would go alongside some serious filming. This makes it potentially useful for field recordings.
And yes, since you wondered – the new iPhones have wonderful filming capabilities, so you can plug in the mic and film away and capture very good quality audio. I tested this by recording walking down the hall of my house to the radio, and then repeated with the iRig Mic HD plugged in. I noticed two things: the internal iPhone 6 mic picked up way more ambient noise, ‘hearing’ the radio in the room I was heading to from the outset, whereas the iRig didn’t pick up the radio till much later. You can, of course, hold the mic a lot further way to refine what it captures, since it comes with two 1.5 metre cables. The iRig virtually failed to detect my footfalls on the wooden floor as I walked whereas with the iPhone mic, they boomed: the HD is distinctly directional by comparison.
Secondly, the iRig Mic HD sound quality is considerably superior, with more detail and much better midrange and bass.
Audio — Sound goes through a built-in, high definition preamp and then a 24-bit A/D converter. Recordings of up to 48 kHz are supported.
Apps — Of course, IK Multimedia is famous for its apps (if you buy these, btw, get on the IK mailing list as there are so many specials so often, you can save a bomb buying when you’re told of them). VocaLive let’s you import songs, strip the vocals off them and sing along to replace them. I couldn’t try this as it said I needed songs in .wav format … wtf? Who has those on iDevices? So scratch that one.
I had a lot more luck with EZVoice. This is a voice recorder specifically, with effects (Reverb is free when you register, which you can do in-app by simply scanning the QR Code on the card included with the mic’s documentation) but the others will cost you $1.29 each for: Tune, Morph, Choir, EQ, Filter, Level, Chorus and Delay. However, all the Presets seem to work already with the free EZ Voice app and there are loads, so have fun with those before you splash out – they include settings like Glam, King, Shadow and Space Alien.
When you tap the Record red circle you get an on-screen 1-2-3-4 count and then you’re off. Next to the Record button you have FX (effects) and Song, which is where your saved recordings go. You can share them straight to SoundCloud, into iTunes or via email. Also, you can tap Edit at top right to delete songs, scrub through them and change the volume with the bottom 0-100 slider. It’s simple, but effective, and if you tap the Plus sign at top left, this does actually import songs from your iTunes library.
Compared to another mic — Another test I ran was versus my standard recording mic, a Beyer Dynamic M 500 N(C) (XLR connector) low impedance hypercardioid ribbon microphone in a traditional handheld form-factor, with a sensitivity (so this website says) of between 1977 (0.9 mV/Pa) and about 1984 (1.2 mV/Pa). I’ve actually had this mic since 1984; the model was first released in 1969. Ribbon mics are, apparently, known for sharp detail and warm, accurate sound reproduction. I’ve always liked the sound of my M 500, but I’ve sometimes found it frustrating that it was so quiet. I possibly like the sound as these mics are known for good bass reproduction (I used to be a bass player). These Beyers are still sought-after and can enjoy a new lease of life these days if they’ve been modded by one Stephen Sank, by the by, and that’s something that would have solved my reservations with this one over the years.
The resulting audio sounds more immediate on the iRig HD, and softer and rounder on the Beyer. Quality wise, I’d just use them for different things – I couldn’t really hear lesser quality on either, although dispute its quietness I could overload the Beyer quicker. (The Beyer was plugged into my MacBook Pro via an Alesis tw-track digital audio interface.)
Conclusion — The iRig HD does a good, if unspecialised, job. It’s definitely a huge step up from the built-in iPhone/iPad mic and its handy for quick, good quality Mac recordings too. Its primary uses would be recording interviews, voice-overs and field recordings. It may lack the finesse of a studio condenser microphone, but it’s more durable for use out and about, and it’s a very handy addition to any recordist’s repertoire; for interviewing; field recordings for video; home recordings.
What’s great —
• Handheld form factor
• Usability for both iOS and Mac is excellent
• It’s great that two cables (Lightning and USB) are supplied and that you can change it at the mic end (many Condensers come with the cable integral to the body of the mic. Once that frays, you have to replace the mic as well).
What’s not —
• The gain control isn’t exactly easy to use, and it’s in a strange position in relation to the LED.
• The free apps are interesting rather than indispensable and it’s a bit of a process, with authorisation codes etc, to download them.
IK Multimedia iRig Mic HD NZ RRP $229.95
System — The IK Multimedia iRig HD Handheld Digital Condenser Microphone for OS X and iOS has a stated frequency response of 40 to 18,000 Hz and a maximum SPL of 134 dB. From the frequency response you can see it’s more aimed at voice, guitar etc rather than high-pitched acoustic instruments, cymbals etc.