It's no secret that a few of us here at Engadget HQ have an affinity for mobile recording tech. Perhaps you could blame some of our fledgling amateur music careers, but at any rate, we love to get our hands on tech that allows us to lay down tracks on-the-go. It's also no surprise that Apogee would offer up another product that would look to do just that. As a complement to the outfit's Jam guitar adapter, the Apogee MiC is the latest foray into mobile recording. Much like its guitar specific counterpart, the MiC is both iDevice and Mac compatible and its compact stature won't take up precious real estate in your travel pack. But, as you may expect, staying mobile comes at a premium. So, is the $249 price tag a deal breaker for the MiC? Is it a small price to pay for adding a solid microphone to your mobile recording setup? Journey on past the break to find out.
The first thing we noticed about the MiC is how well built this piece of kit is. We were pleasantly surprised to find a durable, all-metal housing instead of a plastic frame like we encountered a few months back with the Jam. The same three-color LED status indicator makes its home on the face of the mic, telling us when the tech was connected but not quite ready, go-to-go or that the input level was too darn high. Aside from that, there weren't any other discoveries, as the peripheral is pretty straightforward in terms of design. On the microphone's right side, lies the lone on-board control: a gain dial for monitoring input levels and a feature also present on the guitar tech. While the left side is bare of any added controls, the USB / iOS connector finds its home on the base and is the sole output.
Naturally, inside the sturdy metal exterior is the real heart of the matter. The MiC is of the studio-grade, cardioid condenser sort and features 24-bit analog-to-digital conversion at 44.1 / 48kHz. It also makes use of a PureDIGITAL connection tech to cut down on unwanted noise when capturing either vocals or acoustic instruments. This ended up being a nice touch, as we never encountered any unwanted sounds in the captured tracks (more on that later). You won't find a battery compartment either, as the device is powered by either your iPad / iPhone or via the USB of your computer. Yeah, we know. Marathon recording sessions won't happen with iDevices, since charging-while-tracking isn't an option. However, you're sure to get a solid couple of hours in which will be ample time for most tasks.
While the gain control is definitely a useful feature, we would have loved to see a built-in mute switch as well. Sure, we're aware that this is a device meant to be as lean as possible without sacrificing audio quality, but the inclusion of a small button for such said purpose wouldn't have completely thrown a wrench in things. Let's be honest, the inevitable coughing fit mid-podcast is bound to happen at some point, right?
If you're worried about toting around a microphone on top of everything else in your bag, that should be the least of your concerns here.
If you're worried about toting around a microphone on top of everything else in your bag, that should be the least of your concerns here. The Apogee MiC hits the tape at about 1.5 x 4.5 inches (38.1 x 114.3mm) and it's only about an inch and a half thick but still packs quite a punch. Not too shabby for a well-built mic capable of tracking vocals and your acoustic axe. Included in the box is a small tripod stand for desktop / tabletop use and both iOS and USB compatible cables. None of these items will take up too much space in the ol' backpack either -- honestly, the entire package could fit inside an acoustic guitar case. It rested nicely in ours, anyway.
Think you may need some extra tools to get the job done? Well, the outfit also has a MiC Stand Adapter for use with any stand that you may have lying around. If the 0.5m cables are just too short for your comfort, a duo of 3m cables are available for purchase as well for an extra $20. We made use of both the longer cables and the clip during our tests and found them quite useful in some scenarios -- like using a mic stand to record vocals while standing. And if you just have to have a dedicated carrying case for the entire kit, one will soon be available. No exact arrival date or pricing has been announced for the case or the stand adapter as of yet, though. (Update: Apogee has just told us that the clip, longer cables and case will be available as part of a "Pro Kit" for $249, MiC included).
As with the Jam, Apogee recommends that you use GarageBand when recording on your iPad or iPhone. We weren't in too much of a hurry to venture elsewhere, as the plug-and-play (er, record) type setup that we encountered with the guitar adapter was the experience here as well. Sure, GarageBand will work just fine on the desktop (or laptop for that matter) side and that's what we used for review purposes. However, Apogee promises that Logic Pro, MainStage, Pro Tools (version 9 or higher) or any other Core Audio software will play nice with the MiC. Chances are, if you're recording in your studio or office, you may already have invested in one or more of these trusty applications. This will of course make the initial investment a bit easier on your piggy bank.
General use and sound quality
Recorded using GarageBand on OS X 10.6.8, with no editing or post-processing.
Like we mentioned before, setup for this bad boy is a breeze. If you have the requisite software already installed, the MiC is ready to capture as soon as you can unbox it and connect the necessary cables. Of course, you'll have to do some fine-tuning inside the application of choice. However, connecting the microphone and getting it ready to capture those vocal chops or folky guitar licks can be done in just a few moments. For the audio sample above, we positioned the MiC about two feet away from our Washburn acoustic and carefully adjusted the on-board gain dial to insure proper input levels. This was the only adjustment we made, though, and what you hear was tracked with a flat EQ and no editing or tweaks made post-recording.
Immediately, we noticed the clarity of the MiC and picking up exactly what we intended it to. Though the A/C was running in the office we recorded in, the microphone only picked up a smidge of ambient noise that wasn't coming from our D10SCE guitar. The overall warmth of the instrument was captured nicely and string noise was welcomed while remaining super clear. Speaking of clarity, we never really had an issue with muddy sounds so long as our input level remained at a proper setting. Our only really gripe with the sound quality is the overall range of tones. While treating highs and mids like kings, we would like to hear a tad bit more bass in the raw recordings. Sure, we can adjust those things later on, but for recording instruments while traveling down the highway or minimal podcast setting, we would prefer a bit more low end. Don't get us wrong, though, the sound quality here is great but bumping up the lows a few ticks would be icing on the cake.
We captured both vocals (read: someone talking, no Chris Cornell-esque pipes here) and the aforementioned axe with both an iPad to test the Apogee microphone out. As with any recorded track, the tunes will need to be tweaked a bit post-production. But again, we thought that the sound quality was great of the raw recordings -- especially for a more mobile-worthy kit. Of course, this is our ideal use for the device but it is well-suited for studio use as well, if you don't mind the connection options. We also used the MiC for some light podcasting duties with a MacBook Pro and found it to work quite well there too. Its small size would make it useful when traveling and you're looking to pack as few extras as possible. You know, when you'd rather not pack that Yeti Pro. However, we have to mention here again the lack of a mute switch. Its absence is most noticeable in this sort of live situation where you don't really have the luxury of a second take.
Here's where we'll discuss the real cost of purchasing the Apogee MiC: how hard it'll hit the ol' wallet. Priced at $249, this is a pretty steep investment for something that you may only use while on the road. Not only the upfront cost, but if you're currently rolling without any mobile recording software, you'll have to drop some extra coin for that as well -- perhaps a decent amount if you find that GarageBand doesn't suit your needs. So let's take a look at some other options. (Update: Just after we posted this review, Apogee told us that they will sell the MiC for $199 with the desktop stand and regular cables. A $249 "Pro Kit" will come with longer cables, a mic stand adapter and carrying case in addition to the microphone.)
Not only the upfront cost, but if you're currently rolling without any mobile recording software, you'll have to drop some extra coin for that as well.
In the USB game, the first name that comes to mind is Blue Microphones. Even though sub-$100 USB mics abound, for the sake of comparison here, we're going to limit ourselves to the Yeti (note: not the Yeti Pro), Snowball and the upcoming Spark Digital. If you're mostly desktop / in-studio recording or podcasting, you could opt for the regular Yeti for $149, saving you about $100 over the Apogee MiC -- though it is much larger and a few stones heavier. The Yeti only features USB connectivity, so connecting to your Apple slate right out of the box isn't an option here, but it is both Mac and PC compatible. While the Snowball is iPad compatible, the $100 offering is definitely more suited for your weekly podcast or Skype calls; however, it can be used to capture your best Jack White impersonation should you so choose.
And then there's the recently announced Spark Digital. Sporting both USB and iPad compatibility, this Blue Mic also offers a studio caliber condenser for both voice and acoustic instrument recording. You'll find a MiC-esque gain control on the Spark's exterior as well. But, more than that, a built-in headphone out for monitoring, volume control and instant mute come standard too. This option will set you back $199 and includes a desk stand with built-in shockmount, all the requisite cables and a six month trial of SoundCloud Pro paired with Gobbler access. What's the hold up here? It's not on shelves yet and there's no definite arrival date. Bummer.
There's no doubt that the Apogee MiC is a more than capable piece of recording equipment. Its sound quality is great for such a compact tracking peripheral and the ability to connect to an iPad / iPhone or firmly planted desktops are both great features. However, it is expensive. A little too expensive? That really depends on the size of your recording budget and your level of commitment. As for us, we'd like a few more built-in options on the microphone's exterior to make the ease of use that much better. And, it wouldn't hurt to throw in some kind of software that can be fired up as soon as the cables are connected, especially after shelling out over two hundred bones. If you're not in any hurry, you may consider waiting on the Spark Digital. While we can't speak on its sound quality yet, the lower price tag and additional on-board features should draw some consideration. However, if you're looking to record while you're on that excursion this summer via your shiny new Apple slate, the Apogee MiC will serve you well -- if you don't mind parting with $250 for the mic kit alone.