iPod Mic Shootout
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Testing 1-2-3

I made identical test recordings with each mic. First I wanted to hear how they fared with basic close-vocal recording at both low and high resolutions. Then I walked to the far end of my room to hear how well they picked up a voice from a distance in a noisy room. To test each mic's fidelity, I played some guitar. I also tried recording with a mini T-shape stereo mic and a cheapo lavaliere I had hanging around. Lastly, I plugged a studio mic into my mixer and sent the output of my mixer into the iPod mics' line inputs to test how they handled a line-level source.

Belkin TuneTalk Stereo

One of the Belkin TuneTalk's handiest features isn't visible here: a little easel that lets you aim the mics. (Click to enlarge.)

Belkin TuneTalk Stereo

The TuneTalk Stereo comes with a little plastic spacer (allowing you to connect through an iPod's case), a USB cable, and a tiny plastic easel stand. Though it's flimsy and tipsy, you'll appreciate the stand if you need to aim the mics at someone across the room.

The TuneTalk Stereo has a pair of microphone elements for stereo imaging. A small button on the side puts the iPod into record-ready mode, but you must click the iPod's wheel to start and stop recording. A small slider on the bottom toggles between two level settings labeled "Auto Gain On" and "Auto Gain Off/Line In." Actually, the "Off/Line In" setting works fine for loud signals recorded with the mic. The mic is disabled when you plug in an external mic or line-level source. The TuneTalk supplies ample phantom power for small condenser mics. A wee LED acts as a clipping indicator.

The TuneTalk's USB port lets you record while connected to an external power source such as a battery pack or AC adaptor. Given the iPod's abysmal battery performance when recording, this is a great feature.

Here are some audio samples:

As you can hear, the TuneTalk's preamps add a lot of noise, though to be fair, that's true of all three devices. You can also hear the iPod's disk drive spinning up—a problem with both the TuneTalk and Griffin iTalk recorders.

Recordings made with a mini T-mic didn't sound appreciably better. Incidentally, grabbing the iPod to stop recording created loud spikes no matter which recorder I tested. I edited them out to save your ears.

With all three iPod mics, using an external mic and mixer resulted in far better recordings.

Griffin iTalk Pro

The red ring on the Griffin iTalk Pro lights up to let you know you're recording.

Griffin iTalk Pro

The iTalk Pro is simplicity itself. Unlike the others, you can initiate recording by pressing the iTalk button. A red ring lights up to confirm recording—nice!

Holding the button for a couple of seconds lets you access three gain settings: Low (for line sources or very loud signals), High, and Auto. I found the High gain setting best for most uses:

The iTalk is the only recorder with three gain settings. Apparently, Apple neglected to include any way to adjust recording levels so it's up to the manufacturer to implement that.

I next tried the iTalk on my guitar. I couldn't find an easy way to angle the mics to face my guitar, so I laid the iPod flat on my desk. Still, the results aren't half bad:

If you listen closely, you can hear the iPod's hard drive spin up. Using an external lavaliere mic or routing a mic though a mixer eliminated the hard-drive noise.

XtremeMac MicroMemo NanoXtremeMac MicroMemo

The XtremeMac MicroMemo comes in both Nano and full-size versions. The base houses miniature speakers. (Click to enlarge)

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