Here’s a sad fact of modern life: most smartphone mics aren’t very good. It’s true. Some are fine when you’re actually using the device as a phone (yeah, some people still do that) but don’t do so well when you’re recording video on a windy day or when you’re trying to make a voice memo or doing the speakerphone thing. And the few mics that are good, still can’t record a podcast-quality interview on the go. If you don’t have the money for a high-end pocket digital recorder, what are your options?
IK Multimedia is a company making a name for itself in the professional recording equipment market for the iPhone and iPad (yes, that is a market). Their bid to up phone audio quality without breaking the budget is the iRig Mic Cast. This portable mic works with iOS and Android devices and has a few apps to back it up. It costs $40 retail (often found online for less) and even comes with a phone stand. We went hands on to see if the low cost should give you low expectations.
The iRig Mic Cast is a simple device that doesn’t require any setup or special equipment to use. It plugs into the headphone jack on iPhones/iPods and Android devices and then acts as the external mic. You can use it to record voice, when taking video, even on speakerphone calls. Just plug it in and start talking.
There are two advanced features that will be of particular interest to people who want to record for semi-professional purposes. The Mic has a Lo/Hi switch to control the mic’s sensitivity. When recording a few feet away the low setting is meant to eliminate background noise and only concentrate on what it hears in the immediate vicinity. To record voices or music farther away, switch to high. A headphone jack on the side allows you to listen to audio as it’s being recording. This works on all iOS devices and only some Android devices.
IK Multimedia does make apps for iOS and Android that support the Mic Cast, though they aren’t necessary. Any audio or video recording app can utilize the mic.
Seems pretty simple, right? Still, the real proof of how good the Mic Cast is comes when you use it to record something.
We started by testing voice recording since the Mic Cast’s primary purpose is for recording for podcasts. Our test phone: the Galaxy Note 2. Using both the iRig Recorder Free app and Tape-a-talk from the Google Play store, we recorded voice in medium-sized rooms with no sound-dampening methods. Background noise consisted of a window fan or a central air unit.
Sitting 2 – 3 feet away with the mic on the low setting and minimal or no background noise, voices recorded accurately and clearly, though the acoustic flaws of the rooms are evident. With some background noise we detected a slight whine/artifact around voices. This appears to be caused by the mic attempting to erase the background hum. When we put the mic on high and sat 10 feet away the background noise was more evident and the artifact more pronounced. It’s not there in recordings where the fan is turned off. That artifact is easily eliminated with audio editing software; you’ll probably need to run recordings through one regardless to add a warmer tone.
Next we tested the Mic Cast in a more chaotic setting: a public park. For this test we used the mic while recording video of accordion players in New York City’s Bryant Park. On the low setting we were able to hear them clearly from 3 – 5 feet away and most of the background noise (cars, people talking, etc.) didn’t end up in the recording. The mic focused in on the sound in front of it really well up close and far away.
Standing 15 – 20 feet away with the mic on high the background noise is more evident yet doesn’t overwhelm. You can still hear the accordion clearly despite the distance and other noises. In some of the videos we shot the sound is quieter than we’d like because we left the settings alone. Via the iRig Recorder app, it’s possible to up the input volume if necessary.
For $40 portable mic, the iRig Mic Cast does it’s job well. It won’t replace a serious set up or even a top of the line digital voice recorder (partly because of the limitations of smartphone internals). However, it’s great to have for spontaneous recording, voice memos, and upping the quality of your videos with better audio.