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Belkin GoStudio review: Belkin GoStudio

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The GoStudio's impressive array of audio input connections make it adaptable for a range of recording situations. Podcasters and musicians will appreciate the capability to connect professional quality passive microphones (such as the venerable Shure SM58) over the GoStudio's XLR inputs. The GoStudio's XLR inputs also double as 1/4-inch instrument jacks for connecting guitars or desktop mixers, and a 3.5mm stereo input located beneath the GoStudio's XLR combo jacks lets you record directly from an MP3 player or other line-level audio player.

No matter how many cables you hook into the Belkin GoStudio, the end product of your recording will be a 44kHz or 22kHz, 16-bit stereo WAV file recorded directly to your iPod. Even with only two channels of audio at your disposal and a single gain control knob, the GoStudio gives you some degree of recording flexibility. For example, it's possible to record a guitar and a microphone into the GoStudio simultaneously, with independent gain settings (high, low, automatic) for each channel--it's not pretty, but it's possible. You can also use the Belkin GoStudio's settings to create mono recordings, engage an audio limiter to prevent clipping distortion (in theory), or filter out unwanted low-frequency rumble.

When Belkin develops version 2 of the GoStudio, we have a few features we hope they'll add. For starters, it seems like such a shame that Belkin placed professional XLR jacks on the GoStudio, but didn't include phantom power for all the great microphones out there that need a little juice. The GoStudio could also use the option of recording to SD cards, in case an iPod isn't handy or Apple drops support with a future iPod update. It would also be cool if there was a way to blend the GoStudio's audio inputs together to achieve a mix of both built-in and external microphones.

Despite the Belkin GoStudio's affordable price tag and coveted XLR recording inputs, the product failed to impress us when it came to recording quality. The GoStudio's built-in microphones sound cheap and brittle at any setting, and it picks up a staggering amount of noise from being handled. We could justify using the GoStudio's built-in microphones for recording lectures or interviews that needn't hold up to any scrutiny, otherwise, they should be considered an option of last resort.

Recordings over the GoStudio's XLR or instrument inputs fared better, but often suffered from clipping distortion despite our best efforts to use conservative gain settings and the built-in audio limiter. After some time spent fine-tuning the master input level and monitoring the signal over headphones, we were eventually able to dial in a decent, distortion-free recording. We eventually found the GoStudio's sweet spot for distortion-free recording after fine-tuning the master input level and monitoring the sound over headphones--but it requires some effort. Along the way, we learned that the GoStudio's LED level meter is an unreliable indication of volume peaks, the built-in limiter isn't foolproof, and the low cut filter does more than cut--it decapitates.

As far as battery life is concerned, the Belkin GoStudio is limited by both the internal battery life of your connected iPod, and the two AAA batteries found on the back of the device. Belkin rates the GoStudio's AAA battery life at around four hours of recording. Using an optional DC power adapter allows the GoStation to charge your docked iPod and record for longer stretches.

The Belkin GoStudio's audio quality has many flaws, but if you're strapped for cash and have the patience to monitor recording levels and forgive some shortcomings, the product isn't a bad deal for the price. In fact, for special situations that demand an XLR-connected recorder, the Belkin GoStudio is the only way to go for less than $200. If you can live without iPod support and XLR inputs, there are several superior stereo recorders we recommend over the GoStudio.

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