IK Multimedia iRig Mic Studio Review

IK-Multimedia-Rig-Mic-StudioBest known for excellent music production software like Amplitube and SampleTank, IK Multimedia has been building their line-up of affordable audio hardware similar to Apogee’s entry-level offerings.

Like the Apogee MiC 96k, iRig Mic Studio may be small in stature but it’s a serious tool aimed at musicians on the go and podcasters.

It can’t reach sample rates of 96kHz like the Apogee, however it’s priced lower and can record 24-bit up to 48kHz. Many professional recording studios don’t use sample rates any higher than 48kHz, so this is plenty for the budding musician or podcaster recording at home. At one time 24-bit was only available in the priciest USB mics to it’s encouraging to see technology advanced to the point IK Multimedia can offer it at such a low price point.

IK Multimedia is emphasing it’s 133dB SPL rating. This means you can record anything from a whispering voice to cranked guitar amps and snare drums.

Frequency response is rated at 20Hz to 20kHz. Sound quality is good with clear slightly exaggerated top-end, which makes it good for recording vocals.

The mic’s design is simple and sleek. On the front there are two knobs: one for recording gain and the other for headphone monitoring volume. There is a 3.5mm/1/8” jack on the back for connecting headphones.

I was skeptical about the claims of it having a “large-diaphragm capsule” inside due to the size of the mic. It turns out capsules classified as large-diaphragm range from about 32mm to 34mm (1.26” to 1.34”). The capsule inside the iRig Mic Studio is 1”. So yes, the claim is slightly exaggerated. Still, it’s amazing they are able to fit a decent sized capsule like this in such a small housing.

It can be connected to a huge array of devices: iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, PC and Android. The cables needed to do so are included too: Lightning, Micro-USB OTG and USB cables (30-pin cable is not included).

To sweeten the deal a variety of IK Multimedia apps are included:

  • VocaLive for effects and mult-track recording (Apple iOS only)
  • EZ Voice for vocal practice along with backing tracks (iOS, Android)
  • iRig Recorder for field recording, podcasting, notes and more (iOS, Android)

Verdict

The iRig Mic Studio is a phenomenal bargain. For $50 more than the Yeti you get the ability to make 24-bit studio grade recordings and with a huge amount of connective options for use with iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, PC and Android.

Bidirectional and omnidirectional recording modes are not present which can be useful for interviews or group recordings. However for most applications this feature won’t be missed much.

Rode NT-USB Condenser Mic Review

Rode-NT-USBThe Rode NT1-A has long been a stable condenser microphone in home project studios. Since they’ve built a reputation for good entry-level gear it makes sense that Rode has introduced a USB mic as these are generally geared towards the same audience that seeks bang for the buck.

A pop filter doesn’t usually seduce me, but this is an exception. It’s the standard to toss in a micro stand with a USB mic, and now Rode has sweetened the deal by adding a super sleek pop filter. It’s perfectly proportioned to the NT-USB’s dimensions and sans the often unwieldy and pointlessly versatile gooseneck.

The Rode records at a maximum resolution of 16-bit at 48kHz. This can still be considered the norm for USB mics. Close competition such as the Blue Yeti Pro and Apogee MiC 96k can do 24-bit and for not much more money. If your content is YouTube-bound the NT-USB’s specs are just right but for more serious music applications especially jumping up to 24-bit is well worth it.

The casing is very solid and the capsule inside is no different from Rode’s studio-grade condenser mics. The NT-USB looks and feels like a professional piece of kit worthy of sitting along side

There are two knobs nicely placed at the side of the mic that control monitoring. One knob controls the minijack headphone output level and the other sets the balance between the dry sound at source and the signal coming back from your computer. The blend feature is pretty unique and useful if you’re particular about latency or adding effects such as reverb while you track.

No extra drivers are needed to make these functions work; the NT-USB is a class compliant device. This is a huge plus as it’s frustrating to invest in a USB mic or audio interface only to find the driver is no longer supported by a new OS years down the line. It works with an iPad but you’ll need Apple's Camera Connection Kit or similar.

The NT-USB is a cardioid pattern mic with no extra fancy features such as a pad or low frequency roll-off switch.

Frequency response goes from 20Hz to 20kHz, equal to the Blue Yeti and better than the Blue Snowball. There is an upper mid-range boost for a more flattering sound. Giving you a pretty polished result without a lot of EQ.

Rode NT-USB USB Condenser Microphone Rode NT-USB USB Condenser Microphone
List Price: $169.00
Sale Price: $164.00

Verdict

This is a well-constructed mic with some great extras: pop filter, micro stand, and generous 20-foot USB cable. It would have been nice to have 24-bit recording capability but considering the extras and pro-standard capsule the price seems about right. Built-in monitoring features that go beyond the norm is another aspect that make this mic shine. The Rode NT-USB may be a Yeti killer for podcasters wanting a bit more without stepping up to the Yeti Pro.

Apogee ClipMic Digital and MKE 2 Digital Review/Comparison

Sennheiser-ClipMic-digitalApogee’s innovation in the realm of mobile audio recording has been tireless. They seem to be betting that many podcasters, YouTubers and even self-recording musicians are coming to view even a rig comprising of a laptop, small audio interface and USB mic as burdensome.

Being able to record pro quality audio on an iPhone or iPad is great, but without a tiny, true pro quality mic it didn’t make as much sense to transition into a micro-sized recording setup.

Of course for the film/TV production crowd that has relied on lavaliers for years, this fully digital route is simply more convenient as a separate audio interface is no longer needed.

Enter Apogee’s ClipMic digital and MKE 2: an entry level and high-end lavalier respectively. This is essentially Sennheiser’s lavaliers with a 24-bit/96 kHz converter by Apogee and lightning connector at the end.

Both models have identical specs in many respects. They work with a large range of iOS devices such as iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad Air 2, iPad Air, iPad mini. You can record at up to a 24-bit/96 kHz sampling rate with any iOS app that allows it.

The difference is the mic capsule. The ClipMic uses a Sennheiser ME 2 capsule while the MKE 2 uses, you guessed it, a MKE 2 capsule.

The price gap is substantial, with the ClipMic currently retailing for $199 and the MKE 2 for over double that cost at $499.

For film/TV production professionals or journalists that may set up in possibly harsh environmental conditions, the MKE 2 is the right choice due to its superior membrane. For a larger proportion comprising of podcasters, YouTubers, etc., the ClipMic will hold up just fine for general use.

Now we come to the comparison you’ve likely been wondering about all along. How does the sound quality differ between the two?

Make no mistake, the MKE 2 isn’t just tougher, it does indeed sound better. The ClipMic’s sound has been described as hype
d in the highs or bright, while satisfactory for the low price point. The MKE 2 is no compromises mic, with richer, fuller sound and the ability to create better dimension in the sound due to better omnidirectional technology.

Sennheiser MKE2 Digital Sennheiser MKE2 Digital
Sale Price: $499.00

The Verdict

All but the pickiest interviewers, podcasters and YouTubers should be happy with the great value and above average abilities of the ClipMic.

The MKE is tough and sound-wise the omnidirectional performance takes you into its world with more detail and dimension. However in applications other than film/TV or music production those advantages wouldn’t give you as great a return and won’t be worth the price leap for many.

Samson Meteor Mic Review

meteor-micI’m often amazed that manufacturers can price certain USB mics so low. A decade ago even on a shoestring budget you’d be looking at a few hundred for a mic and audio interface. And that is what a USB mic really is: a one-channel audio USB interface and mic built into one device.

The Blue Snowball has garnered much attention due to its quirky design, versatility and incredible value. The Meteor Mic seems to be Samson’s answer to it, as it’s similarly priced and has vintage look all it’s own.

Standing only 6 inches high with the legs extended, this is a good mic for your portable laptop or iPad rig.

The super reflective chrome body includes a fold-back leg design; I really this appreciated for portability since you don’t have to fold and pack a stand separately.

A killer feature absent from its competition is the threaded stand attachment. You’ll be able to mount it to any standard mic stand making positioning for acoustic instruments, guitar amps and percussion far more precise. Nice to see Samson thought of the needs of musicians rather than putting all focus on podcasters.

Most noticeable at the front is a large headphone volume dial with a mute switch in its center. Just above is the intelligent LED light: when connected it glows blue and when muted it’s amber. The mini-USB port and 1/8” headphone jack are positioned at the rear.

Most companies have remained pretty hush-hush about the size of condenser diagraph inside the casing.  As a rule of thumb, the bigger the diagraph, the bigger the soundstage it can capture. Samson claims the Meteor Mic has one of the largest condenser diaphragms (25mm) of any USB mic available.

Sound quality is crisp, articulate and quite full bodied when recording male voiceovers. This is rare as many USB mics are lacking in bottom-end that can be picked up.

The most common pickup pattern is possible: cardioid. This means it captures sound from in front of the mic and rejects noise coming from the back. In this regard the Snowball has a leg up on the Meteor as it gives you a choice of three patterns for around the same price.

Samson Meteor Mic USB Studio Microphone (Chrome) Samson Meteor Mic USB Studio Microphone (Chrome)
List Price: $69.99
Sale Price: $55.00

The Verdict

Those that want something highly portable but not too tiny when set up, this is a nice compromise between a desktop mic like the Blue Yeti and the super compact Samson Go Mic.

The sound has a rich character considering it’s low price tag. The retro chrome body is a little quaint and not as rugged as something like the pricier Apogee MiC, but for under $70 few could find much reason to complain.

Blue Nessie USB Mic Review

blue-nessieThe designers at Blue are experts at injecting cool-factor into their mics. And they’ve really topped themselves with the future-retro styled Nessie. Like the fabled sea beast of Loch Ness, it has an intriguing angled neck worth admiring.

It’s not done this way just for the sake of aesthetics. It’s a very practical design.

The “head” of the mic can be tilted for a myriad of applications such as instrument micing and capturing overhead ambience. Like other Blue products it has

Blue calls it’s headphone output “zero-latency” and I found it too indeed to be very responsive and without noticeable delay. The headphone input is hidden away at the back, directly above the mini-USB port.

The base of the Nessie is a giant headphone volume dial. Just above that is a large mute button. While handy and absent from many competing mics, due to the position and size it may be prone to accidental activation.

To eliminate extra time setting up, the pop filter and shockmount is built right into the mic. This is a huge plus for recording on location and helpful to beginners as there are two less items of concern to think about.

Unique Audio Processing Settings

Nessie’s three recording modes are different from the standard polar pattern switching you might expect. It sticks with the cardioid pattern and tunes the sound for the application. One position is optimized for rich vocals, another for detailed instruments, and a raw audio option is there for experienced producers who prefer to make adjustments in post-production.

This is an interesting step toward allowing the hardware to get the right sound, rather than expecting users to find the right EQ curve via software. If you’re a beginner when it comes to recording, this is welcome, but experienced individuals may prefer the more advanced setup the Yeti provides, with it’s three polar patterns.

The Sound

The sound may not rival vintage tube mics but it’s definitely more than good enough for podcasting and recording demo music tracks. In the right hands you could make a hit record with the Nessie. Onboard audio processing does help achieve a serviceable voiceover sound but I prefer the Yeti for this. The real strength of the Nessie is capturing instruments and female vocals because of the character of the small capsule condenser inside.

Blue Nessie Adaptive USB Condenser  Microphone, Cardioid Blue Nessie Adaptive USB Condenser Microphone, Cardioid
List Price: $109.99
Sale Price: $99.00

The Verdict

This is a great choice for budding musicians but it didn’t quite cut it for a deep male radio voice. The Nessie makes it difficult to capitalize on the proximity effect, which is speaking very close to the mic for a bass-rich sound.

The swivelling head allows for some creative positioning options, which the Yeti and Snowball cannot do, so beside the uber-cool design this is what makes the Nessie stand out.

Best USB Mic for Mac

MiC-macbookI’m often asked “what is the best USB mic for Macs?” In some way it’s a misguided question since nearly any USB mic will work with Macbook Pros, Macbook Airs and iMacs alike.

There is some legitimacy to this inquiry.

Sure the “Audio MIDI Setup” in OS X will allow you make use a massive array of mics without the clunky drivers of ages past. However, there is one company that tailors their equipment to work with Mac devices. That company is Apogee.

For years Apogee was focused on the Mac. Now that the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch are powerful enough to be used as professional audio production devices Apogee has adapted their hardware and software to play nice in the iOS realm. So when you get an Apogee product (excluding their super high-end stuff like Symphony), it’s guaranteed to work with your newish Mac plus any additional Apple device.

The Apogee MiC and now MiC 96k are the most Apple-friendly USB microphones out there. While you can’t take advantage of the power of their Maestro 2 software, you don’t need it, as there is only one channel of audio and the MiC has a hardware dial allowing you to change gain levels on the fly.

With a clunky 30-pin or Lightning to USB adapter mics such as the Blue Yeti will also work in iOS. The MiC offers a much slicker solution as you are given a 30-pin and Lightning cable that connect to your device out of the box.

This may not be a huge deal with an iPad but the adapter looks pretty absurd when plugged into a tiny iPhone 5s.

Since the MiC and MiC 96k are the most plug-and-play mics that work with Apple iOS devices, they are easy to recommend to people that prefer creating music and podcasting within the Apple ecosystem.

Technically the MiC isn’t just a USB mic. It’s a 30-pin/Lightning/USB hybrid mic and if you like to keep your possibilities open, that’s pretty cool.

Apogee MiC 96k Review

apogee-micA common complaint about USB microphones is that most only do 16-bit/44.1 KHz recording. This is CD quality and ample for streamed content. However, when working with the Blue Yeti I often found myself eyeballing cases containing XLR mics and my Apogee Duet, lusting for 24-bit goodness.

Blue addressed this urge for high-definition audio by releasing the Yeti Pro. And Apogee has stepped up with the MiC 96k, a revision to the original MiC.

The MiC 96k and MiC look identical on the outside. The differences are of course internal and on the spec sheet. Both allow you to record on your Mac, iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. Like the name implies the Mic 96k allows you to set sample rates all the way up to 24-bit/96kHz.

Some may be irritated that Apogee excludes Windows users but I see it as an advantage. This means their software people can focus all their attention on iOS and Mac OS X, rather than spreading themselves too thin and falling behind as new OS updates come out.

Mini MiC

I was surprised how tiny this microphone is. It measures 4.56” (115.8mm) tall x 1.52” (38.60mm) wide. It is dwarfed by the Blue Yeti, which measures almost 12” tall.

Despite it’s stature this is a USB mic worth taking seriously. It features a road-worthy all metal construction.

The Sound

Beyond the pro level sample rates it is also equipped with Apogee’s highly regarded preamp and converter technology. Sound quality is excellent and may even surprise gear snob producers that trash talk about cheap USB mics. Experienced ears should hear a clear boost in depth when switching from 16 to 24-bit. The small size does have some tradeoffs in the sound department as expected. Due to the form factor Apogee had to use a small capsule; it sounds good but the impressively huge sound of a large diaphragm condenser mic will defiantly not be replaced by it.

Features

Functionality is simple and stripped down although if offers more hardware-based control than the basic Audio-Technica offerings. Those that prefer hardware controls will like this gain control dial on the side. This gives you up to 40 dB of gain.

The indicator light is unique and a pretty nifty detail. This lets you know if the device is ready to record or if the gain is set too high and the signal is clipping. For podcasters and musicians that record themselves, the red status light to denote clipping is useful indeed. And thanks to the dial you can quickly make adjustments without having to touch your Apple device.

One disadvantage to this mic is the lack of different polar patterns. It is configured to record directly in front of the mic (cardioid) only. While this is fine for the vast majority of applications it’s fun to experiment with omnidirectional and bi-directional settings. Blue products give you the ability to do this, even with the modest Snowball.

Review Verdict

This could be the perfect mic for doing high-quality field recordings with an iPhone.

If you need an extremely portable mic that does 24-bit the choice at this point is a no-brainer. This is the only microphone out there that checks these two boxes.

Top 5 USB Mics for iPad and iPhone

Apple’s iPad and iPhone are now recognized as serious audio production tools. Now that iOS devices have able, multicore processors the trend is only expected to gain momentum.

Top microphone manufacturers such as Blue, Apogee and Samson have jumped onboard; and quick changes from Apple have made it hard to keep up. At present you need a Lightening adapter to use an iPhone 5 or 4th generation iPad with any of the mics listed. While not perfect, it sure beats lugging a laptop around.

Apogee MiC

Like all Apogee products, MiC is exclusively made for Mac and iOS devices. This specialization has so far meant drivers and software work seamlessly with Apple’s gear.

The big advantage this has over the others is 44.1/48kHz 24-bit analog to digital converters. This means studio quality sample rates rather than just CD quality sound. Nearly all other USB mics are presently 16-bit. While this is fine for YouTube videos and streaming, it makes sense to archive in hi-res and sample down if the content will be relevant in the future.

Blue Spark Digital

While Apogee is known for great audio converters and software, Blue is known for their great XLR and USB microphones.

SOS praised the Spark for its “no‑nonsense, not overly‑coloured sound, robust low-end and capable vocal handling.” As expected the Spark Digital takes these qualities and adds direct compatibility with hi-tech devices.

Some have complained about how USB mics tend to have a cheaper feel then their traditional, XLR counterparts. This definitely isn’t the case with the Spark Digital as its brother is analog, and components were added to bring it into the digital realm.

Samson Meteor Mic

Not only does the Meteor Mic have vintage cool factor but it’s also a very good value. If you’re doing rough recordings, or doing podcasting rather than music, this may be enough for your needs. It’s a good desktop PC mic to boot.

The Meteor records 16-bit audio at 44.1/48kHz resolution, which is currently the standard. While the sound quality doesn’t match that of the the MiC or Spark Digital, its a fraction of the price.

If you’re just getting started and aren’t sure if you’re going to stick to making audio recordings the Meteor provides a starting point.

Apogee ONE

This is more than a mic; it’s also an audio interface. If you’re a musician that could use an all-in-one device for travel or recording on location the ONE is definitely worth considering.

It’s amazing that they’ve managed to pack so much functionality into such a small package. Although I was skeptical about the built-in mic due to the size, it turned out to be as good as a full-size, inexpensive microphone such as the MXL 2001.

The downside is ONE has a reputation for being fragile. This is a concern if you travel and it’s recommended that you ensure there is plenty of padding around it in your bag.

Blue Mikey

Mikey stands out from the rest because it connects directly to the iPad/iPhone connector. This is an advantage and disadvantage depending on how you look at it. If you’re a reporter type that needs to move around this solution beats all others. The downside is you need a Lightening adapter and this makes it tough on the Lightening or 30-pin port.

It won’t replace a condenser mic in terms of quality but Mikey is good to have in your audio toolkit for certain applications.

FiRe 2 software is great and features automatic compression so it balances very loud and quiet sounds on the fly. This can make the Mikey very handy for recording loud band rehearsals or concerts.

Overall it’s a cool solution that turns and iPad/iPhone into a field recorder.

Blue Snowball vs Snowball ICE USB Mic

The Snowball ICE is a stripped down version of the earlier released Snowball.

Although the Snowball is very affordable it includes features many solo podcasters and gamers will rarely if ever use. Blue recognized this and released ICE to shave down the MSRP.

If you’re a musician the choice is easy. The Snowball has an omnidirectional cardioid setting that allows you to pick up everything surrounding the mic, not just sounds in front of it. This can be used creatively to record room ambiance or to capture several instruments at once. Additionally it has a cardioid with -10dB pad setting so you can record loud guitars, drums, etc. These features are absent from the ICE.

For podcasters who want to do interviews or record commentary with more than one person speaking, the original Snowball is still the way to go since it has omnidirectional capability.

Gamers opting to ditch their headset are the only audience I recommend the Snowball ICE to. The original Snowball’s switching features are useless in this application.

Even if you hardly use omnidirectional mode or the -10dB pad, it’s well worth the small premium. Plus it will give you room to grow, as you never know if a friend might want to join in or if you’ll become interested in new recording methods as you gain experience.

Snowball and Snowball ICE sound the same and record at the same bit rate, 16-bit, 44.1kHz. For more detail on sound quality and features common to both USB microphones, read my review of the Snowball.

Oddly, Amazon.com is doing its own thing and has priced the ICE above the Snowball, at least at the moment. Unless the ICE is at least $10 cheaper, there’s no reason even those with the most basic needs should choose it over the Snowball.

Blue Snowball iCE Condenser Microphone, Cardioid - White Blue Snowball iCE Condenser Microphone, Cardioid - White
List Price: $59.99
Sale Price: $45.00

Blue Tiki Review

For such a small, inexpensive USB mic Blue makes lofty claims about the Tiki. In Intelligent Speech Mode it minimizes background noise. In Natural Recording Mode it balances levels from various sources such as vocals and acoustic guitar.

While this seems like godsend on paper, anyone who‘s applied noise gates and various filters to accentuate sounds is better tuned to the reality. When you gain one advantage via heavy tinkering you usually do it at the cost of another.

I found the audio quality in Intelligent Speech Mode to be below average due to internal DSP processing which rendered it dull and muffled. While this mode is designed for use with Dragon NaturallySpeaking or Skype, it ironically crippled speech recognition capabilities.

Natural Recording Mode faired better however the processing to make various instruments equal in volume wasn’t pronounced enough to place this above solutions such as Samson’s excellent Go Mic, which I reviewed here. Besides, most people are picking this up for its Intelligent Speech Mode.

One reason it can’t see serious podcasters or musicians using this is due to the awkward mic placement. Granted condenser microphones are adept at picking up distant noises but it’s awfully low to be speaking or singing into. This lowers proximity effect so the deeper frequencies in the voice won’t be as pronounced.

Another fatal flaw is the way the Tiki plugs into the USB input. The USB connection is oversized, putting unnecessary stress on the input of Apple laptops particularly. The convenience of doing away with cables that run to the device is clever on paper but again real-world application isn’t so hot. If you value your hardware you’ll be using a USB extension cable and that defeats the purpose of the design.

Despite the gripes if you want to record rough music AND use Skype and don’t have much money to spend the Tiki is a decent solution as it’s a jack-of-all-trades. Still, the gimmick-free Go Mic is a better bet.

Blue TIKI Condenser Microphone, Cardioid Blue TIKI Condenser Microphone, Cardioid
List Price: $59.99
Sale Price: $40.00