by Craig Anderton
Yes, iOS devices like the iPad, iPod touch, and iPhone can record audio. But while the audio capabilities are adequate, they would hardly be considered stellar. Furthermore, mics or interfaces that plug into an iOS audio input are subject to the same bottlenecks: the preamps and converters inside the iOS device itself.
So, more interfaces and mics are bypassing the iOS on-board audio, and going directly into the digital input. At that point, the audio quality depends on the quality of the interface’s own preamps and converters . . . and this brings us to Apogee’s MiC, which is designed for iOS devices as well as functioning as a USB mic for Macintosh computers. What's more, it can also work with Windows computers, even though Apogee doesn’t support MiC on Windows (officially or unofficially).
Both USB and iOS mics work under similar constraints, and are sometimes tarred with the same “cheap digital mic” brush. This is understandable, as many USB mics were designed as inexpensive tools for podcasting and relegated to 16-bit operation. When you design a mic to hit a budget price point, it’s not going to have the world’s best preamps and converters.
However, a new generation of iOS and USB mics is willing to raise the price, increase the build quality, and improve the performance—witness MiC. Apogee has a well-deserved reputation for converters, and that’s an essential element in this kind of mic. There’s no inherent reason why a “digital mic” has to make apologies if it’s designed and built well.
The package comes with MiC itself (which uses all-metal construction and is made in the USA), tripod, and two cables (one 0.5 meters long that terminates in the 30-pin iOS dock connector, and a 1 meter cable that terminates with USB). MiC is compatible with iOS 4.3 and above, and requires no battery. It’s intended to work with GarageBand, but of course, isn’t limited to that. For the Mac, you’ll need OS X 10.6.4 or later, a USB 2.0 connection, and any Core Audio application. You’ll also find a quickstart guide that even includes some short recording hints that will likely be useful for first-time users.
Note that three accessories are available: a mic stand adapter for $9.95, and 3-meter versions of the cables for $19.95.
MiC is a condenser mic with a cardioid polar pattern. Although the sample rates are limited to 44.1 and 48kHz, the converters deliver 24-bit resolution and the preamp provides up to 40dB of gain, as determined by a thumbwheel gain control. But MiC also has an idea that I believe every manufacturer should steal (I mean, “be inspired by”)—a multi-color LED on MiC’s front whose color indicates five possible states. This LED faces the singer/narrator/instrumentalist, so you’re immediately aware of what’s going on with the audio. The five states are:
MiC doesn’t feel, look, or sound cheap. It has a substantial vibe, in large part because it’s not “plasticky,” and fits comfortably in your hand although you’ll likely want to use the tripod to avoid handling noise. Of course sound quality is hard to describe, but Apogee has audio examples on their site that get the point across. It’s very much the kind of sound you would associate with a small-diaphragm condenser mic—crisp, clean, with good transient response and smooth highs. It seems like there might be a little lift in the highs, but certainly nothing dramatic.
One slight surprise is that Apogee doesn’t offer some kind of wind screen that fits over the mic to control plosives—not everyone is going to bring a pop filter around with them, and you’ll find it’s often needed when recording voice. Finally, note that although Apogee's marketing mentions USB operation only with the Mac, MiC does in fact work with Windows using ASIO4ALL or the Low-Latency Generic Audio Driver. For information on how to do this, check out the companion article "How to Use Apogee Mic with Windows."
MiC needn’t make any excuses for build quality, sound quality, or appropriateness for iOS devices and Mac (or Windows) computers. It’s cute, functional, and even lets you know what kind of levels you’re hitting as you record. For portable recording, or even as an extra mic in your project studio, this is definitely one of the better—albeit somewhat more costly—digital mics I’ve had the pleasure to test.
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.