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Stereo Microphone with Lightning Connection for iPhone and iPad

By Phil O'Keefe

 

I don't know about you, but Apple iOS devices are a near-constant companion for me. I always have either my iPhone 5 or one of my iPads on me, or close by, and I use them for all kinds of things. Not only does my iPhone serve as a telephone, but I also rarely wear a watch anymore, and I don't need a separate alarm clock, GPS, compass, answering machine or MP3 player because the phone handles all of those things… if I could get it to do my laundry and make coffee, it would be nearly perfect. Another thing that it has largely done away with is the need to carry a personal recording device. There are tons of cool recording apps that can handle anything from voice memos to full-blown multitrack recording, but unfortunately, the built-in mic on iOS devices really isn't up to handling high levels (like you might encounter when trying to record a live gig or concert, or when rehearsing with your band), and it's mono-only, which also limits its usefulness for capturing live music. Blue's solution to these problems is the Mikey Digital, an add-on stereo microphone with built in 16 bit / 44.1kHz analog to digital conversion for iOS devices that can work with the majority of audio and video apps either in plug-and-play standalone mode, or be directly controlled by your iOS software, if the software supports it. 




What You Need To Know

  • The Blue Mikey Digital attaches to your iPad or iPhone via the Lightning port. (An earlier version offered 30-pin connectivity for older iOS models.) A Lightning connector is located at the base near the Blue logo, and the main body of the microphone housing is attached to that base with a 230 degree swivel mount.
  • While it isn't fully-adjustable, there are seven different positions on the swivel mount that allow you to aim the microphones at various angles relative to the iOS device. This is very convenient and makes it much easier to optimize mic positioning in real-world situations, such as when setting your iPhone on your desk to record a lecture or acoustic guitar part, or placing your iPhone in a shirt pocket with the Mikey Digital sticking out when recording a concert.
  • Since the Lightning port is reversible, you can even aim the mic at you (towards the screen) for narration while using the front side camera to record video.
  • Mikey Digital is designed to be used with Apple iOS devices. Currently the iPhone 5, 5s and 5c, as well as 4th generation iPads, both iPad Mini models, and the 5th-generation iPod Touch are supported, as is iOS 7.
  • The front side of Mikey is indicated by a silver Blue logo. Internally there are two condenser capsules, and unlike the onboard microphone built into your iOS device, Mikey Digital records in stereo.
  • Mikey Digital has three different level (or "sensitivity") settings - High-Gain (quiet sounds), Low-Gain (louder sound sources) and Auto Level. A small silver slider switch on the back allows you to select between them, and one of the three front side LEDs illuminates green when Mikey is connected to your iOS device to show which position is selected. The switch can be a touch fiddly to set while Mikey is attached to your iOS device, and I found it easier to unplug it, change the switch setting, then reattach it to the iPad. Maybe with more time the switch will loosen up a bit, but the upside of it being a bit snug is that you're unlikely to accidentally change the setting while recording.





  • The three frontside LEDs also are used to indicate when you're overloading (all three LEDs flash red).   Blue recommends the loud switch setting (indicated by a ")))" graphic below the corresponding LED) for sources in the 100-130dB SPL range, and the low setting (indicated by a single ")" graphic) for quieter sources in the 45-65dB range. Auto mode ( "))" - the middle switch setting) is intended for moderate levels in between those two extremes, such as violin and acoustic guitars, or for when recording lectures, interviews and meetings. It uses an automatic gain control circuit to raise the sensitivity when the source is quiet, and lower it to reduce the possibility of overloads when it gets louder. It's fine (and reasonably effective) for spoken word recordings, but I prefer (and Blue recommends) using one of the other settings if you know your sound source is going to remain within one of those level ranges.
  • One big advantage of Mikey Digital is that it's quite small (about 2.5" wide and half an inch thick), so it's much more likely you'll have it with you when you need it. Blue even includes a nice velvet-lined bag to store it in when you're not using it. The bag is slightly oversized, so it's possible to put a pair of earbuds in there with it too.





  • Mikey Digital has a mini USB port built in on the side of the unit. This allows you to power your iOS device via USB while Mikey is connected, whether you're actively using it to record or not. You can even recharge your device through this USB connection, although you can not use it for data transfers or syncing your iOS device to iTunes. No cable is included, so you'll need to provide your own, but this feature allows you to record for long periods without draining your device's battery if a suitable USB power source, such as a laptop or power brick, is available.
  • Another really thoughtful feature is the 1/8" stereo input jack. Located at the top of the unit, this jack allows you to record a variety of different stereo or mono sources, such as line outputs from external preamps and MP3 players, wired lapel microphones, and instrument level sources. A 1/4" to 1/8" adapter is even included to make it easy to plug your guitar or bass in. Connecting to the line input jack disables Mikey Digital's onboard microphones, and connecting a mono source results in the audio being fed to both channels.





  • When recording with the stereo input jack, Blue recommends using the Auto level setting on the sensitivity selector switch, although you can still use the other two settings as needed. The quiet (high-gain) setting may be best when using low-output devices such as wired lapel microphones. 
  • Your headphone jack on your iOS device remains active even when Mikey Digital is connected, although it isn't possible to use your headphone's built-in mic at the same time. The iOS device's internal speaker will also continue to work for audio playback with Mikey Digital connected.


Limitations

  • You can not use the line input and microphone simultaneously.
  • Because of the width of the base where the Lightning connecter is located, Mikey Digital may not work with many iPad and iPhone cases. For example, I had to remove my Otter Box Defender series cases from both my iPad Mini and iPhone 5 in order to use them with Mikey Digital. If you're in a hurry and don't have time to remove the case, you may be able to use a Lightning Dock extender adapter or cable, although an extender cable would bring with it mounting and positioning concerns that are non-issues with a more direct connection to your iOS device.


Conclusions

I really like Mikey Digital. It's small and easy to take with you, and definitely improves upon the stock audio quality of the built-in microphones on iOS devices. The line input further expands its flexibility, and the USB port makes using it for extended length recordings possible without worrying about running out of battery power. Importantly, it can also handle significantly hotter levels (such as when recording a live concert or band rehearsal) than the stock microphone on your iOS can without overloading.

Blue recommends Mikey for lecture recording, recording live concerts, dictation and voice memos, field recording and sample gathering, videos, interviews and travel journals - basically just about any mobile recording task. I feel it's well-suited to these sorts of tasks, and also for use on demo recordings; to be frank, it wouldn't normally be the first (or even second) thing I'd reach for when waxing album-quality tracks, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear that tracks recorded with it ended up being used on a commercial release either. It is certainly a substantial improvement over the microphones built into iOS devices, and it's small enough that you can easily make taking it with you a matter of habit. That way, you'll always be prepared and have all the tools you need to record CD quality audio in mono or stereo at any time - and there's a lot to be said for that.  


Resources

Musician's Friend Blue Mikey Digital (30-pin version) online catalog page ($99.00 "street")


Blue's Mikey Digital product web page


Specifications

    •    Microphone Type: Stereo pressure gradient condenser
    •    Sampling: 44.1kHz/16-bit
    •    Polar Pattern: Cardioid
    •    Weight: .18lbs
    •    Frequency Response: 35Hz – 20kHz
    •    Dimensions: 2.5” (L) x 2.5” (W) x .5” (D)


Demonstration video







Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines. 



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