I have to admit I'm really not one of those people that lusts after recording equipment. I'm sure one reason is that I have a well-equipped studio with a lot of gear that I've amassed over the years, and at this point, there is very little I need, and I've taught myself to not want anything very often. But as I was thumbing through the previous issue of Tape Op [#93], one gear ad caught my eye - the RØDE iXY microphone. Some products just look solidly built and you can guess their functionality right out of the gate, and this is one. It consists of two cardioid condenser capsules, with 1/2'' diaphragms, in a 90 degree X/Y configuration, mounted in a cleanly-designed, cast-metal body with a 30-pin iOS connector on the bottom. One glance, and you know what this is - plug it into your iPhone (or iPad or iPod Touch), and record in stereo. No cables. No external power supply. Plus, excellent quality mic capsules, and it even has its own built-in A/D converter! Simple, easy, and useful. I wanted one just from seeing this ad and imagining all the problems the iXY could solve for me.
One of the smartest things RØDE did was to design an iOS app to use with the iXY (the app will also record from the iPhone's built-in mic). The free RØDE Rec LE app can track in stereo at 24-bit, 96 kHz resolution, but the $5.99 non-LE version adds editing, extended sharing options, EQ, and compression (courtesy of the folks at iZotope [Tape Op #89, #82, #76, #65]). The metering during recording is fantastic, with a stereo bar graph across the top and a waveform image that scrolls, just like in a DAW. Tap on the mic icon to the left of the file time, and you can adjust the analog input level while watching the meters. After tracking, rotate the iPhone sideways and you enter edit mode, where you can chop up files and add fades. This could be handy while travelling or under time- crunches. How do you get the audio out of your device? It's easy, with one-touch publishing to SoundCloud, Dropbox, email (if the file's small enough), FTP, and iTunes File Sharing.
So what sorts of uses do I have for the iXY? Interviews? Yes - finally an easy way to get clean audio for easy transcription off an iPhone, with software I trust as well; plus the audio quality would do well for broadcast or podcast. Sound effects and ambience recordings for album projects? Heck yeah - RØDE includes a foam windscreen and you can even monitor off the headphone jack as you record. Band rehearsal recordings and live show tracking? Of course - and it sounds great. I took it out to the Landmark Saloon, right down the street from Jackpot! Recording Studio in Portland, and recorded a set of songs with my friend Erin Sutherland sitting in with the Portland Playboys. Upright bass, which was aided by a pickup and small amp, came through with low frequencies perfectly intact. Erin's vocals were over a modest PA, and they came through as clear as how I was hearing them in the room. The drums, electric guitar, and steel guitar were captured nicely, and the stereo spread really gave the right sense of space to the band as well as to the bar ambiance. When summed to mono, all the elements still held up well, and the lows stayed perfectly intact. Nice. I can imagine the concert taping crowd digging this mic. I can also imagine band rehearsals and songwriting sessions benefitting from this mic.
Unfortunately, the iXY debuted around the same time that Apple revealed the iPhone 5 and the new Lightning connector for iOS. RØDE has designed an iXY for this new port. I'm still using an iPhone 4s and an iPad 2, so all is well here. The only other challenge I came across is that it would be nice to be able to record a show and charge the iPhone at the same time. One solution might be CableJive's dockStubz Plus, which allows you to "inject" power via a micro USB port; I'll have to try that out.
It's pretty awesome to have a quality company like RØDE design and build a mic/converter like this for use with Apple iOS devices. In the past, we've had to suffer through tech companies creating accessories like this that were always lacking in build and sound quality. Before now, I never considered using my iPhone to record a show or anything beyond a simple voice memo or a roughed-out musical idea. Now I will be carrying the iXY (in the included protective zip case) with me everywhere I go.