For podcasters, reporters and others who want to capture sound on the go with their iOS devices, there's been a lack of options for the newer models of iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. Why? Well, those models sport the new Lightning adapter. Zoom, the company that makes those amazing digital recorders like the H1 through H6 line, is now shipping the Zoom iQ5, a tiny Lightning-equipped stereo microphone to help you capture high-quality stereo sound.
Suggested Retail Price: US$99.99
Dimensions: 58.6 x 62.45 x 38.5 mm
Weight: 30.5 grams
Audio quality: 44.1 kHz/16 bit
Connectors: Lightning connector, USB Mini-B connector (for recharging your iOS device), stereo mini jack for combined headphone/line level output
Microphone: Mid-side (M-S) stereo mic (90°/120°/M-S)
The first thing that jumps out at you about the Zoom iQ5 is just how small it is. The microphone is in a spherical ball that's held by two small arms. The ball can be rotated 90 degrees around two different axes, allowing users to set up proper stereo L-R orientation regardless of how their iOS device is held.
A switch on the left-front side of the iQ5 provides a way to set the pickup for either directional or more omnidirectional stereo. According to Zoom, the iQ5 uses two microphone elements -- a directional "mid" mic that grabs sound coming in from the front and a bidirectional "side" mic that picks up ambient sound. Mid-side recording captures the mid and side mic signals as RAW data, which is then post-processed to adjust the stereo width or collapse the signal into mono.
The mid-side post-processing can be done with Zoom's free HandyRecorder app, which I found to be surprisingly useful. For additional information on the mic design and the app, I'll defer to this video from Zoom.
There's also a switch for gain control, which can be turned off, set with a limiter to avoid overpowering the mic or set to auto gain presets for concerts, solos and meetings. Once again, the presets require Zoom's HandyRecorder app. A mic gain wheel on the right side of the iQ5 makes it simple to manually adjust gain as well.
One note to potential users of the iQ5 -- you'd better use it with a case that allows full access to the bottom of your device, since I found that I could not install it on my iPhone 5s without removing the case. Once the case was removed, plugging in the iQ5 immediately rewarded me with a glowing red LED indicating that the device was powered up.
Having used some of Zoom's digital recorders for podcasting, I was dubious that the iQ5 would be able to capture audio with the same clarity and depth of sound as those dedicated devices. I'm glad to say that I was wrong. Monitoring the recording in progress was helpful, and there was no noticeable lag.
I won't go into too many details about the HandyRecorder app, only to say that it works well and is simple to figure out. One issue I have is that the only way to share your recordings is through SoundCloud. For podcasters, having the ability to send files through FTP is often a requirement. There's no way to do that; you can't email the files; nor can they be saved to your song library. However, that's a problem with the app, not the microphone. You can always choose to use a different application like GarageBand or BossJock Studio.
One possible issue -- twice during my testing I heard what appeared to be interference from the iPhone's cellular radio through the Apple headset I was using to monitor. That doesn't happen when I use the headset normally, and the sound did not appear on the recording I was making. I'm wondering if it was feedback from the Apple headset's built-in microphone interfering with the iQ5, so I'd warn users to use headsets without a mic for monitoring purposes.
The Zoom iQ5 is perfect for anyone who wants to do high-quality digital stereo recording, whether it's for interviewing, music or nature sounds. This compact and lightweight mic can slip into a pocket for immediate availability, and it's less expensive than most of the dedicated digital recorders.
Rating: 3-1/2 possible out of 4 stars possible
One lucky TUAW reader is going to get his or her hands on a Zoom iQ5. Here are the rules for the giveaway:
Open to legal US residents of the 50 United States, the District of Columbia and Canada (excluding Quebec) who are 18 and older.
To enter, fill out the form below completely and click or tap the Submit button.
The entry must be made before January 27, 2014 11:59PM Eastern Standard Time.
You may enter only once.
One winner will be selected and will receive a Zoom iQ5 Professional Stereo Microphone with Lightning Connector valued at $99.99.