Tag Archives: IK Multimedia

Review ~ iRig Nano Amp


nano

This new product from IK Multimedia is a little 3 watt amplifier by IK Multimedia of Italy. It’s designed as both a standalone practice amp, as a battery-powered pre-amp for larger systems or as a compliment to the Amplitube series of iOS guitar amp profile apps and other goodies.
Considering most people wouldn’t consider taking the stage with anything under say 70 watts of power (and that’s modest) you get an idea of how loud a 3 watt amp can go, which can be characterised as ‘not very’. Also, anything this little is going to be severely limited by physical speaker size (7.62cm or 3 inches, in this case), as it’s very difficult to get anything like bass tones from little speaker cones – you may have noticed the ‘tweeter’ (high tone) speakers in cabinets are the little ones of any array.
You can run the Nano into headphones, of course, which typically do reproduce better lower-mid and low tones, but this is only an option when you use it as an interface with an iOS device and not as a standalone amp. It’s possible to run the Nano straight into an external cabinet of up to four 12-inch speakers – although I imagine this would suck the power out of those 3 AA batteries pretty fast.

irignanoamp_scheme

Physically — The all-black Nano (there’s a white version available with a black highlights that looks pretty cool, plus one with a red frame) has a speaker face as you’d expect on a bigger combo guitar amp, two large rotary knobs on the top for Volume and Gain with a stereo minipin Device out jack in between, and on the opposite end 1/4-inch jacks for guitar in and speaker cab-out in, plus a stereo mini-pin for headphones/earbuds; the side under the iRig logo is blank (this is the bottom) and on the face opposite to this there are two switches: amp/device, and normal/bright.
irignanoamp_black_kickstandOn the back is the battery compartment, and the little rubberised feet mean you can pop out a little stand so you can set it at tilt. Notice no on-off button: plugging an instrument in turns it on, like some effects pedals.

Amp Mode and Device Mode — Amp Mode is pretty self explanatory: plug in a guitar, play. Device mode is a little less obvious. Plug the guitar into the jack as you’d expect, but the Device connector is at the opposite end, between the Volume and Gain knobs. The device (an iPhone or iPad running an app like Amplitube) takes over all the volume, gain and tone functions.

Soundwise — Tinny, in a word. But this would be as you’d expect, as it’s still so far technically impossible to get good lower tones out of little speakers. But you’ll find that if you’re playing the higher register of a guitar or keyboard it’s surprisingly clear, and certainly better than trying to practice without any amplification at all. The combo of volume and gain means you can up one against the other for traditional effects: high-gain low-volume gives you a kind of overdrive or fuzz, which is pretty scratchy, while the reverse gives you a clear tone, just as on a big guitar amp.
Via my iPhone, admittedly with a bass rather than a guitar, but via a bass head in Amplitube (IK Multimedia’s own product) I had more tone control sure (since the Nano has none apart from the switches Bright or Normal, which could really be labelled Bright and Brighter), and also effects, but I could never get the sort of volume to comfortably belt something out.
As an interface into your Mac to record into, say, GarageBand, it’s fine, you can get a clean sound with a bit of helpful signal boost, but it’s also perfectly fine to plug your guitar straight into your Mac’s audio-in port for GarageBand and use the collection of amp profiles and cabs in there – in either case, you need to have the appropriate adapters.

Conclusion — The iRig Nano Amp is little and suffers accordingly: what makes it compact and portable is what makes it sound slight. If I could just plug a guitar into this and play the Nano as a headphone booster, it would be pretty good, but that’s not the case. The headphones only work when it’s a conduit for an app on an iDevice, although I may have been hampered in my case in needing a minipin to Lightning adapter to use it with an iPhone 7.
As a little amp on speaker, sometimes you can get good tones out of it – surprisingly good – especially if you hit just the right combination of Volume/Gain and you’re playing in the upper register, and it’s certainly better than playing an electric without any kind of amplification. But not very much better, I’m afraid.

What’s great — Well, you can actually hear your guitar.

What’s not — Insufficient volume and definitely insufficient bass, but I’ve never heard of anything this small that can do bass any justice, which leads to: limited use as I couldn’t plug my headphones in directly and use it as a headphone amp, which would have sounded better.

Needs — Guitarist who doesn’t mind buying powerful or rechargeable AA batteries in threes, and who desperately needs a little sound out of their electric guitars.

iRig Nano Amp, RRP€49 (NZ price TBA)
System — iPhone, iPad, iPod touch & Mac plus Android smartphones and tablets (for Android compatibility, the device must support CTIA/AHJ wiring standard; works best with Samsung Pro Audio devices).
More information — IK Multimedia

Review ~ Lurssen Mastering Console


MainView

Audio mastering is a dark and difficult art, but it makes a huge difference to a musical project and makes a track shine. If you’re a Garageband user, you can now just export your song and run it through the Lurssen Mastering Console by IK Multimedia and you’ll get all the benefits without the pain. It comes with a list of proven profiles for you to deploy and tweak on Mac, or even iPad.
The look of this software is skeuomorphic – it’s so well done, you can almost smell the stale tobacco, tiredness and disappointment of a traditional recording studio. But hey, we’re in the digital world now, and everything is possible.
The interface — It takes a while to master the mastering interface because, well, it’s a bit confusing. I mean, maybe not for those who have come through the studios, but I haven’t been inside one since the early 1990s. At top left it says Song, and above that is a folder symbol, but the folder symbol is where you load in songs you’ve already saved in Lurssen, mid-project, I guess.
To actually add a song to master, you have to click in the little panel to the right of ‘Song’ and add it in there. In the middle top you have Style, and this drop-down list holds 25 presets, and perhaps these could have been more clearly labelled. I guess I’m just not in the in-crowd any more (logically enough, at my age) but realistically, while ‘Americana’ I think I understand (I’m guessing, Alt-Country-ish with folk overtones?), quite what Americana Loose (More Glue)’ means … pass. And EDM – I had to look that up, although I probably should have known, and ‘Electronic Dance Music’ I concede would be hard to fit across the column. Then there’s HipHop with its glue and brighter/warmer shades, plus Pop Rock with its shades. I would like ‘Alternative’, too, actually, Mr Lurssen/IK Multimedia, and that would be some sort of post-punk English style with warm bass ends and rich midtones, thanks. Think the perfect sound for Gang of Four’s Anthrax and you’ve got me right where I love music.
At top right there’s Preset, where you can add in your own blends of EQ and boost/cut once you’ve played with the knobs a bit (see below).
Underneath this is a rather unnecessary, but not unattractive, picture of a recording studio (see main picture, above). At least no pretend tape animates across some spools when you press play. But you can change this to a wave-form interface by clicking the waveform icon to the right of the centre-top Lurssen logo.

waveform

In this way you can see where you are in a song – does the breakout have enough oomph? Etc. The next button might suit the mavens even more – arrow-boxes-arrow: this shows what software elements are actually being used in the mastering pathway, of Tube Equalizer, Solid State Equalizer, Tube Limiter 2, Solid State De-Esser, Solid State Compressor, and under those, on the right, Threshold sliders you can slide left/right. These chain is based on the hardware chain the Lurssen studio actually uses.

Chain
This video by the two Lurssen studio principals (one is Gary Lurssen) is a pretty good description of the way it all works.

Controls — Of course, this is a knob-twiddlers delight – you have knobs – large, knurled – you can twiddle: on the left, Input Drive (the volume your track loads in at), and on the right Push (the volume the tracks leave Lurssen at). Under that left to right, it’s an EQ: 60Hz, 120Hz, 3kHz, 6kHz and 10kHz – I think I’d prefer a band readout with an analyser but hey, you should have sorted all that out in GarageBand or Logic long before this finishing stage anyway, and nice to have them if this is the point you perceive something needs a boost or cut. The large Push dial lifts all these 5 EQ knobs (which are actually the controls of the Tube Equalizer) together when you turn them to the right, and drop them all together to the left. This control boosts and cuts while maintaining the ratios between the settings for those frequencies.
You have more controls, too: a slot-headed screw at lower left that you click to turn, to link the right and left channels for stereo balance tweaks; a switch for the meters to view input or, in the up position, output; In and Bypass in the middle (before this mastering chain, or after); and on the right Stereo or Mono.

PresetsWhat’s it like? Well, even a little good mastering can be a very good thing, and although this is a little daunting to look at and has perhaps bewildering presets, it does a great job. It certainly steps your Garageband – and even Logic – projects up a notch. But to really test it, I needed some music of the sort I was used to, that I could compare after running every preset over it, and then that I could further tweak to see if I could come up with my own usable benchmark. Also, I must admit, this was so I could hopefully start to understand the difference between EDM and Americana, and ‘warm’ and ‘glue’.
So I notched up a track in Garageband: two bass tracks (actually played my real bass via my valve preamp into the Mac), a drum track (Garageband Drummer) and some electric guitar loops from the Garageband loop library plus some voices from the legacy Garageband Voices pack, both male and female. I mixed it roughly, took out a representative strip, panned it to balance, put in a couple of fades and then ran it through Lurssen and saved a copy in every single preset. I used the format AIFF, 48000 sample rate, 24-bit.
Actually, when you change a preset, the sliders which change throb a couple of times so you can see, for example, that from Americana Loose to Americana Loose (More Glue) the threshold goes from 9.6dB to 10.1dB and the Makeup Gain changes from 4.3dB to 4.8dB, which helps get a handle on what it’s actually doing to the sound. Under Americana, Brighter changed the two upper EQ’s higher, and Warmer pushed the 120Hz band and 6kHz and so on.
Even here, the interface is a little quirky. For example, it wants to call everything you try and export ‘Lurssen Master’ and you have to click Browse in the Export (rather than Save or Save As, which just saves the Lurssen mastering projects) to stop it putting files anywhere but the default and to rename them at the same time.
Anyway, after a few minutes effort, I had the 25 mastered tracks and the unmastered Garageband output (Share>Export Song to Disc) to compare.
Oh boy. Lots of tiny shades of difference. The one thing I could be sure of: they all sound a lot better than the track I sent them, with extra definition, warmth to the bassline and clarity.
After several hours of listening, and getting confused, and watching what knobs and sliders did on different presets to help clarify my perceptions, I decided for my own music that Americana Tight (Warmer) was best for me, but I could probably tweak it to be that little bit better, although it was already very good, and actually, out of the box, sufficient actually. That’s because my close second favourite sound, HipHop (Warmer) didn’t invoke the Tube Limiter, since it’s both a limiter and a compressor which sounds nice with my bass.

Automation

Automation — Want to push a part of the song in the mastering process? Can do. In the Waveform view (selected at top right), you can drag pointers from left and right to set up a loop/replay area, to pick out an area you think is descriptive of the whole or to pick out certain detail to work on. Turn on Read at bottom right (default is Off) and in the waveform view, click the little Plus sign at the right along the bottom to get controls that let you draw the usual Automation handles over the wave forms, as with Garageband, Logic etc (the Pencil tool). Now you can push or drop settings up and down on different parts of the track. This is quite a useful way to set song-wide dynamics – quieten and intro, boost a break and so on. You can grab the rectangular Range control, swipe over the area and tap the Trash can to delete that automation.
The Input Drive and the Push Control can be automated now, just click the one you want. (Automation cannon be done in the Logic plugin version, but is for the standalone Mac/PC app and for the iPad version.

Conclusion — You can get a whole raft of plugins that will do what this does, and they can cost US$1500 each, so it’s worth learning just this one console which combines them all, along with expertise, into one well-priced package. Even on one of the straight presets, your track is guaranteed to sound better, so from amateur right up to the very experienced, this software will be a boon. (If you want to see how you go about mastering purely in Logic, without expensive plugins, that’s possible too, even with no Lurssen, check this video out. I’ve learnt all this in the past, and now I’m very glad to be able to throw finished tracks into Lurssen, tweak a little and go.)

What’s great — It’s actually very well priced considering it combines so much and does everything well through one interface.
What’s not — Pretty studio-centric layout and nomenclature. But you’ll get used to it.
Needs — Anyone wanting to take their tracks, of any type, to the next level.

Lurssen Mastering Console €239.99 (about NZ$386/US$269) but currently on introductory special for €199.99 (about NZ$322/US$224)
System — Intel Core 2 Duo minimum, 4GB of RAM (8GB suggested), Mac OS X 10.7 or later. (Also available for Windows – see the site, below,for requirements.)
Supported Plug-in formats are 64-bit Audio Units, VST 2, VST 3, AAX.
Available — online only from IK Multimedia.

Review IK Multimedia iRig Mic Studio


IK Multimedia has just launched an excellent studio mic
IK Multimedia has just launched an excellent studio mic

A handsome, old-style microphone made from metal, the iRig Mic Studio has a nice little metal tripod mount included in the kit. The  Studio is designed to stand on a desk for professional-sounding voice and other acoustic recordings. Instantly, I’m seeing this as a cost-effective solution for creating podcasts or even just if you just want a better, and relocatable, microphone for adding voice-overs to iMovie and Final Cut projects. Those Facetime and Skype calls you have to make suddenly get a new clarity, too, at least sound-wise.
The barrel of the microphone has a gain control on it, under which is a direct volume control should you wish to monitor the sound as you record; this is opposite a stereo minipin earbud/headphone jack on the other side of the barrel, which you can plug something into for direct monitoring.

The controls might be hard to turn, but that means they're also hard to change inadvertently
The controls might be hard to turn, but that means they’re also hard to change inadvertently

The dials are, in true IK fashion, hard and fiddly to turn as they’re both quite stiff and smooth to the touch. I imagine this is to cut down the chance of knocking them off-setting while in use. It takes a bit of effort to actually change the dial positions but the sensitivity is adjustable over a 40dB range.
The light between them glows blue for on, and turns green when it’s detecting sound, orange when it nears peak and red when it’s over peak – a handy visual clue in many situations.
The included stand is sturdy and allows you to tilt, then lock, the microphone position. You could still conceivably use the iRig Mic Studio for field work, but its heavy construction and associated stand clearly have desktop and studio applications in mind (iRig has another product, the iRig Mic HD, that’s better for fieldwork; I reviewed this in October last year). But while it may be solid-feeling, it fits easily in the hand.
As a fully workable solution out of the box, the Studio comes with the three cables to cover all contingencies. At one end all the micro-USB style and the other ends offer Lightning for iDevices, standard USB for Mac and a dual micro-USB, presumably for Android phones. An older-style 30-pin connector is available as an extra. So this is a high-definition, quality mic for recording straight to mobile devices, as are a mic stand adaptor and a travel case, although a handy little soft bag comes with. Device power comes from your Mac or iDevice, so be prepared you might need to charge them to keep working.

Specs — The Studio is a portable, large-diaphragm digital condenser microphone. It has a one-inch back electret condenser capsule for picking up more sensitive, subtle sounds than lesser condensers, and internally houses a 24-bit analogue-to-digital converter with 44.1/48Khz sampling rate. The SPL rating is 133dB. Its built-in preamp means you can use it to detect quiet and subtle sounds, or dial it back for louder stuff. It has a multicolour LED status and level indicator above the onboard gain control (you judge by the change in colour) and it’s available in black or silver.

Apps — Because this is IK Multimedia, it teams to various IK apps like the new Mic Room, which lets you use mic profiles in a manner not too dissimilar to amp profiles for guitars, which of course IK makes too, so your iPad/iPhone/iPod touch can sound like a Fender Twin Reverb or whatever. Mic Room offers the sonic characteristics of some of history’s more famous microphones. This offers up to 9 models, but you get a free one on software registration and 2 more after registering an IK hardware mic. The rest are available as in-app purchases.
Other apps that work with it include VocaLive, a powerful effects processor and multi-track recording app that features a selection of 12 real-time vocal effects; EZ Voice for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch and EZ Voice for Android (sing-along apps for vocalists to practice with songs in their music libraries); iRig Recorder for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch and for Android are straightforward apps for field recording, podcasting, note taking and more.

Sounds like — I ran some tests in GarageBand on my Mac, using the New Project>Voice template and recorded voice into the tracks Narration Vocal, Bright Vocal, Classic, Dance and then one I set myself: raw unprocessed (no effects at all). I recorded three segments for each: a segment with my MacBook Pro’s built-in mic, a section with my trusty old Bayer Dynamic M500 through an Alesis io2 audio interface, and finally directly via USB with the iRig Mic Studio.
It was interesting checking out the dynamic range thanks to the Channel EQ in GarageBand having that handy Analyser button. The Bayer Dynamic M500 pretty much clipped everything off above 10K but had a more filled-out lower mid-range and bass end. The internal MacBook Pro mic really wasn’t that bad, although it did record quite a lot into the upper 10-20K range (the higher frequencies). The iRig Studio didn’t record voice frequencies (in my case) after 10K, but had more filled-out mid and lower frequencies and not only that, it was recording frequencies well below 50Hz – impressive, and into sub-bass territory where even the Bayer started to roll off anything under about 90Hz.
SpanGatRecording an acoustic, Spanish-style guitar into GarageBand showed a couple of interesting things. One is that the built-in iPhone 6 mic really is pretty good. The iRig sure had more bass and lower mid tones, but the definition and clarity of the iPhone 6 mic is impressive, although it only found frequencies between 90Hz and just over 15KHz, but did a pretty defined job of it. The iRig, though, recorded frequencies down to under 20Hz but very little above 10KHz; I assume the iPhone 6 mic went into these higher frequencies for clarity – in other words, this might have been an artificial capture range in pursuit of telephonic voice clarity.
A few things to note: the iRig Studio liked to be directly plugged into my laptop rather than into either of the two hubs I have. This may not be the case for all Macs – I’m running a beta of El Capitan (OS 10.11) so it may or may not be normal behaviour. Plugged into either hub (a Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock and a Digitus 4-porter) it sometimes appeared as an option in GarageBand’s audio interface (in Preferences) and sometimes didn’t. Even when it did, it disappeared as soon as it was selected.

With iDevices — I’m also running the public Beta of iOS 9 (ie, that’s not a shipping OS yet) and some of the troubles I’ve been having may be put down to that. It was difficult to get the iPhone 6 to recognise the device plugged into it. Several times I had to plug the mic into the iPhone 6 several times to make it recognise it, and/or restart the app (which includes Amplitube) and  I even had to restart the iPhone once to make it ‘listen’. Also, AudioBus simply refused to recognise Mic Room, iRig’s multi-profile microphone emulation app, in iOS 9. I installed and reinstalled both Mic Room and AudioBus. When I hit the Plus sign on AudioBus to add in Mic Room, it always failed to see it and directed me instead to the App Store, where it listed Mic Room (which I’d already downloaded twice) as a compatible app. So, no go there.
GarageBand on the iPhone 6, however, did recognise the Mic and also let me record via Mic Room, once I’d gone through the unplugging, plugging-in and reboot routine a few times anyway.
And my experiences were almost certainly due to the iOS 9 Beta, as on an iPad running 8.4, everything worked perfectly and in fact this proved a pretty able and pretty portable recording platform. I do hope and expect these issues will be sorted by the time iOS 9 becomes an official release.

Conclusion — Not a cheap unit in either price nor feel, but cheaper than many competitor mics with similar specs. This is a very handy addition for anyone office or studio-bound needing to make a serious step-up in sound quality.

What’s great — Quality, definition, depth, clarity plus excellent tripod and three cables.

What’s not — Not fully compatible with iOS 9, but that’s hardly a criticism before the system’s official release.

Mac NZ’s buying advice — An excellent all-round mic with a very solid build quality and useful form factor.

iRig Mic Studio, NZRRP is expected to be NZ$399, with stock expected to arrive end August/early September.
System — dimensions 117x 45mm, weight 218g. Includes cables for Mac/PC, iDevices and Android. Includes small metal tripod mount.
Further information — IK Multimedia. Most likely available from outlets like The Rock Shop very soon.

Review iRig 2


iRig2

IK Multimedia, once known primarily for Mac, then iOS apps that act as amp profiles and stomp boxes, keeps releasing hardware to fill out the experience. The latest, the iRig 2, is a little dongle that lets you plug a mic or guitar into an iPad or iPhone, with the potential to offer more than a direct connection with a straight jack to stereo-minipin adapter cable.

iRig 2 is smaller, lighter and more pocketable than the Pro, which needs two AA batteries
iRig 2 is smaller, lighter and more pocketable than the Pro, which needs two AA batteries

This is smaller than an iRig Pro, which is square and chunky. iRig 2 is sleeker with rounded-off edges. It has nice, direct jack connectors – the iRig Pro’s connector has a smart, dual jack and mic connector at one end, but the other was an old-fashioned serial-port-styled port into which you could add a supplied Lightning or line cable. There’s nothing wrong with a serial cable connector as far as connectivity goes, but it’s difficult to get that plug aligned properly into the lug when you’re working in the gloom – and that’s petty much a stage state-of-being for most musicians.
iRig 2 has a fixed cable coming out with the stereo-minipin, and that’s next to a standard 6.3mm (1/4-inch) guitar jack output which you can send to a computer or an actual amp. On the other end another standard guitar jack sits next to a stereo-minipin out for headphones/earbuds.
Basically, adapting your guitar or bass straight into a Mac or iDevice with a line cable works, but there’s a distinct lack of volume and power. iRig 2 adds a little flexibility to that with a  gain control, signal path selection and its variety of inputs and  outputs. Your iDevice can add the pre-amplification.
Also supplied with the 2 is a clip you can choose to install, meaning you can attach the 2 to a slim-profile guitar strap directly, or perhaps your lapel. But a supplied velcro strap can be threaded through this so you can attach the iRig 2 to a mic stand.

On one side is the gain dial and a switch for ‘Thru’ or FX. This switch lets you select between a processed signal (FX) or the clean ‘Thru’ input signal, which does let you use your mobile device as a tuner, recorder or other tool while preserving the purity of a 100% analogue signal path. FX lets you use your AmpliTube or whatever.
This is already pretty versatile straight out of the box, but IK expects you use it with its AmpliTube multi-effects processor app, which comes in free and paid versions to offer various amp and stompbox profiles. These apps are more and more cross-platform, with software that includes free versions of AmpliTube for iOS, Android and Mac or PC.
Unlike iRig Pro, there’s no battery as iRig 2 has no onboard electronics – essentially it’s a patch cable with options, letting you connect your guitar to your iDevice. Your smart device has all the electronics you need, and can clean up and process your signal while adding effects and the amp profile sound you like, but the gain control adds a something missing from the original iRig line unit.
Check out a video of iRig 2 in action here.

Mac NZ’s buying advice — iRig HD (NZ$169) offers a cleaner sound with more power since it has onboard battery-powered electronics, but it costs more. iRig 2 is a very handy, and very pocketable, useful device for what it does.

iRig 2, NZ$99.95, available from music and guitar shops.
System — Instrument input connection, 6.3mm jack, amplifier output connection 6.3mm jack, device output connection 3.5mm TRRS jack (guitar and mic combined), headphone output connection: 3.5mm jack (stereo minipin).
Input Impedance 380kOhms, frequency response 20Hz to 20kHz (±0.2 dB).
Most Mac computers starting from late 2008 are compatible with the exception of the Mac Pro line. To check if your Mac is compatible, from the Apple Menu select About This Mac>More Info>System Report>Audio and check that External Microphone/iPhone headset appears in the list of included features.

More information — IK International.

Review — IK Multimedia iRig Mic HD


IK Multimedia's new HD mic comes with everything you need for better quality recordings
IK Multimedia’s new HD mic comes with everything you need for better quality recordings

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.

The changing LED means you can spot peaks even across the room and away from your recording app
The changing LED means you can spot peaks even across the room and away from your recording app

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.)

The Apple Store has an exclusive silver model
The Apple Store has an exclusive silver model

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.

More info — IK Multimedia (Italy), available in New Zealand (physically) at RockShop, and online at Mighty Ape, Rubber Monkey and the Apple Store.