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Thread: RODE IXY stereo mic for iPhone Review by Lynn Fuston

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    Default RODE IXY stereo mic for iPhone Review by Lynn Fuston

    Rode IXY Review by Lynn Fuston

    On a recent recording assignment, as I roamed around the island of Kauai, the primitive “garden isle” of the Hawaiian island chain, I was overwhelmed not only by the beauty but also by the unique sounds of this very isolated island located 2500 miles away from Los Angeles in one direction and Samoa in the other. There are sounds and sights here that exist few other places on the globe. Knowing what I would encounter, I had arranged to audition the new iDevice mic in the Rode lineup, the stereo iXY. A crossed-pair of condensers in XY configuration connected to the Apple 30-pin adapter that will plug directly into an iPhone 4/4S or iPad 3 (or earlier) with built-in ADC that is capable of 24-bit/96 kHz recording. What an ingenious and convenient idea. I determined to use it to document my whole Hawaii trip.

    Rode did a brilliant job in packaging the iXY. The boxed clear case holds the mic, a firm-shell case and a foam wind filter. Given the susceptibility of condenser mics to wind noise, I would strongly recommend adding Rode’s “Dead Kitten” wind muff if any outdoor recording is ever anticipated. During my trip, the iXY lived in the wind muff.

    Let’s start with the basics. First and foremost, I love that this mic is 2” x 2.25” x 1.5” small: small enough that there’s little excuse for not carrying it everywhere. I kept it in the wind muff in my cargo-pocketed shorts all the time, unless I was going rafting or hiking in the rain, when I sealed it and my phone in a ziplock bag. I own a collection of other i-mics with cables, adapters and mounting hardware that are great for certain tasks, but the advantage of having something so compact and convenient is huge. The best thing is that it sounds drastically better than the pencil-lead-sized mic in the iPhone.

    As much as I hate to admit it, there are times when I just need to record something and the importance of getting the recording supersedes concerns about ultimate fidelity. It may be an interview or a quick music demo, performance on a whim or just a unique sound I encounter. This mic was made for times like that. It sounds very good, drastically better than the iPhone mic, and is also stereo and records at up to 96 kHz. There were several occasions (like the biggest fireworks display of the year on the night that I happened to be in Waikiki, staged from three boats about a mile out to sea) when I was able to record the sound in stereo and also shoot video with my phone. It excels for occasions like that. Another unique sound is the blowhole, or Spouting Horn, which is found on volcanic islands. A tunnel in the rock surface of a cliff connects to a cave where the waves crash in, forming a spout that erupts with a blast of water and foam with each wave surge. It makes a very unique and unexpected sound: it sounds like a dragon breathing. I knew I wanted to record that and the iXY did an excellent job. (Spouting Horn.)

    Practically, the iXY is the simplest mic to use. Plug it into the 30-pin connector on the end of the phone, pick your recording app and hit record. It could NOT be simpler. However, there is one caveat of using i-mics that I learned. For absolute simplicity of operation and configuration, Apple’s iOS recognizes the last device that was plugged in as the mic of choice. So if I plug in the iXY and then next plug in a set of Apple earbuds (with the included mic for telephony) to monitor the recording, iOS will use the earbud mic for the recording instead of the iXY. Just so you know. So plug in the earbuds first.

    The only limitation I found when using the iXY is that I had to be very careful about handling noise (thumps), as with any condenser mic, and that can be heard on these recorded samples. Holding the mic perfectly still is possible, but challenging. Setting the iPhone on a desktop is the best option by far, but position it so first reflections from the hard surface don’t cause comb filtering. I positioned it so that the mic was on the edge, hanging out over the desktop. I was able to achieve excellent field recordings with it under very challenging conditions, including on a mountainside on the rugged Napali coast of Kauai, with winds blowing in excess of 20 MPH. I was shocked at how well the dead kitten worked, blocking wind noise that would otherwise have rendered the recording unusable. (Wind muff test.)

    Optional:
    The wind muff is also a great conversation starter. I had one hiker think it was a pet rat when he saw it, while another commented that it looks just like a “tribble.” (1960s Star Trek reference “The Trouble with Tribbles.”) Several conversations ensued as I used it, with couples from around the globe. If I were a single man who was traveling and wanted to meet women and couldn’t carry a cute pet, this would definitely be the next best thing.
    End optional.

    I only encountered one problem with the mic and that was a digital noise in the left channel on a few recordings. While I was never able to reliably pinpoint the cause, it only happened a few times and I suspect it might have to do with the connector not seating properly, i.e. pilot error. Doing a preliminary test recording (always advised) will make sure this doesn’t ruin an important recording. The challenge of an on-phone mic is the amount of technology and RF from the phone electronics in such close proximity to the sensitive low-level mic circuit. Most of the time, the iXY sounded excellent, though lacking in real low end (as can be heard on the fireworks recording) and I did have the iOS hi-pass filter switched off. Are these recordings as good as a dedicated stereo pair of $1000 mics on a shockmount/ boom arm recording into a Sound Devices 702? Likely not, but this iXY/iPhone setup didn’t cost me $4000+ either. For $199, I would strongly recommend it if, like me, you ever need to record something and don’t typically carry around a recorder and mics. If, like many people I encountered while I was in Hawaii (from studio owner to professional videographer to layperson doing casual recordings), you have an iPhone and need a convenient economical quality recording solution, you need one of these.

    http://www.ixymic.com/

    Sound samples at 16-bit/48 kHz

    Link: www.3daudioinc.com/rodeixy_samples_fromhawaii

    Fireworks off Waikiki bay in Honolulu
    Spouting Horn (blowhole) in Poipu
    Crystal Harmonics Sound Art Studio in Koloa
    Surf at 3 AM near Waimea
    Windswept Kalalau trail on Napali coast of Kauai (wind muff test)
    Showoff bird at 4000’ above sea level at Kalalau lookout


    Rode Rec recording app

    Rode makes a companion recording app for iPhone/iPad 3 (or earlier), called Rode Rec ($5.99 at the App Store) or the free version, Rode Rec LE. The Rode Rec app is very full featured and allows for recording at sampling frequencies from 8 kHz up to 96 kHz, track naming, markers during recording, embedding of metadata, compression/expansion/EQ/hi and lo pass, and varispeed playback. While it is the most comprehensive stereo recording app I’ve encountered, I had one occasion when I recorded an 18-minute interview, stopped the recording and when I went to the soundfile library, the file memo showed, “Nothing recorded.” This happened on two other occasions as well, so three lost recordings out of about 30. To me, even one lost recording is unacceptable so, for critical purposes, I would recommend using another app, such as Voice Record, which is free and works reliably, even with fewer features.
    Lynn Fuston
    3D Audio

    Making beautiful music SEEM easy since 1979.

  2. #2
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    Lynn,

    It's interesting that you would say that about the Rode Rec app. We bought a couple of the Rode SmartLav mics for quick location dialog capture. Noisy little critters. Will be replacing with their newer version that is a lot quieter. Anyways, my video guy has come back from a shoot and very frustrated with exactly that same thing of recording something, coming back and it stating that nothing was recorded. I always wondered if he wasn't dotting his i and crossing his t, like pulling the mic before hitting stop on the recording or something similar. Anyways, it makes you wary of using it in mission critical things, which means you end up pulling out our Tascam DR-680 and a shotgun or a wired lav. I may have to have him try the Voice Record app you mentioned. Any limitations with that app?
    Henry Grimmius
    Fresno, CA

  3. #3
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    I had it happen to at least 3 or 4 recordings over a one-week period. Enough to convince me that it was A) not user error and B) not acceptable for critical applications, where you get one shot and if the audio disappears, you're sunk. I did a whole one hour interview (thankfully I was also taking notes) during which I confirmed it was recording and watched the meters bounce. When I went back to listen to the interview, it was gone. Not a trace.

    Voice Record Pro (current version is VRP7, which I just DL'd and opened up but haven't used yet. I've used previous iterations for the past two years) is very reliable for me. But it is limited to 16/44.1 MP4 (AAC) quality recordings max. 128K bit rate. That's nice because I can frequently record things (voice only) and email the file.

    Quote Originally Posted by Henry Grimmius View Post
    Lynn,

    It's interesting that you would say that about the Rode Rec app. We bought a couple of the Rode SmartLav mics for quick location dialog capture. Noisy little critters. Will be replacing with their newer version that is a lot quieter. Anyways, my video guy has come back from a shoot and very frustrated with exactly that same thing of recording something, coming back and it stating that nothing was recorded. I always wondered if he wasn't dotting his i and crossing his t, like pulling the mic before hitting stop on the recording or something similar. Anyways, it makes you wary of using it in mission critical things, which means you end up pulling out our Tascam DR-680 and a shotgun or a wired lav. I may have to have him try the Voice Record app you mentioned. Any limitations with that app?
    Lynn Fuston
    3D Audio

    Making beautiful music SEEM easy since 1979.

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    What'd you think of the conversion quality on the voice? Maybe that would be a reasonable compromise for capturing dialog for on camera dialog.

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    I didn't do any A/B-ing but with the use of an external mic and highest rez settings, I thought it was very usable. But I primarily use it for non-critical apps, like recording interviews for transcription. Or recording phone interviews. 16/44.1 AAC is perfectly fine for recording cell phone conversations.

    Quote Originally Posted by Henry Grimmius View Post
    What'd you think of the conversion quality on the voice? Maybe that would be a reasonable compromise for capturing dialog for on camera dialog.

  6. #6
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    Hmm, maybe I can have the talent hold the phone up like they're carrying on a conversation. Would look interesting on camera ;-)

    I'd prefer a higher rez (48/24) capture to make it easy on our video guys. That said, I would take stability over absolute quality. I can't believe I just said that. Yikes! I'm dumbing myself down. More coffee please.
    Henry Grimmius
    Fresno, CA

  7. #7
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    I just looked under the ADVANCED tab in VRP7. Guess what?

    32-bit, 48K, stereo is the max resolution. There you go.

    On my 16G phone that is not a good option. Also you can export directly to Dropbox.

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