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Microphone accessories for the Apple iPod come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from miniature mono microphones to full-fledged mobile recording rigs. If your needs are somewhere between voice memos and professional audio, the Blue Microphones Mikey ($80) fills the gap nicely by offering a surprising level of recording quality at an affordable price.
There's a retro radio-era design philosophy that runs through all of Blue's products, and the Mikey is no exception. The microphone measures 2.5 inches wide, 1.75 inch tall, and half an inch deep, and looks right at home connected to the bottom of an "="" rel="follow">iPod Classic. Mikey's design looks a bit like the lopped-off top of a 1950s broadcaster microphone, weaving together a black metal mic grille and chromed plastic trim, into an unapologetically square design.
The bottom edge of the Mikey features a standard 30-pin iPod dock connector that swivels independently of the microphone, allowing the mic to be positioned up or down with 180 degrees of rotation. Just above the iPod connector are three LED indicators marked with squiggly lines that represent the microphone's three gain settings (loud, medium, quiet). A ridiculously small switch on the opposite side is used to set the microphone gain into one of the three modes.
Overall, the Mikey feels solid and reliable, and its rotating design offers a distinct advantage over products such as the Belkin TuneTalk or the Griffin iTalk.. The tiny gain switch on the back is frustrating to use without a pen or a long fingernail to nudge it along; however, the lack of accessibility prevents the setting from changing accidentally.
The Mikey is designed to do just one thing: record stereo audio to your iPod using an integrated microphone. You're not going to find an optional line input jack, USB passthrough, or an independent headphone output, as you would on something like the Belkin GoStudio. We do appreciate that there's a small mono speaker on the back of the Mikey, which, despite its tinny sound, allows you to review recordings without plugging in your headphones.
Like any iPod microphone accessory, the Mikey's recording features are tied to the limitations of the iPod it's connected to. The iPod records to only two formats: 44kHz/16 bit WAV or 22kHz/16 bit WAV. Some iPods, such as the fourth-generation iPod Nano, display a volume meter during recordings that can help you gauge which gain setting to use in a given situation. Our old fifth-generation iPod, however, offers no such metering and has a habit of polluting recordings with intermittent hum from its hard drive (a problem we've found on all iPod recorders we've tested).
An iPod like the second-generation Touch isn't technically supported by the Mikey, but we were able to capture some recordings using the BIAS iProRecorder App. Support for the iPhone and iPod Touch may come to the Mikey in the wake of Apple's OS 3.0 launch (due in summer 2009), but until then, using Mikey with the Touch and iPhone is unreliable, at best.
The features that distinguish the Mikey from the competition are mostly behind the scenes. For instance, the microphone capsules Blue uses on the Mikey (the parts that actually transform air vibrations into sound) are gigantic compared with what we find on consumer microphones, each measuring approximately half an inch in diameter. Bigger capsules don't necessarily translate into improved recording quality, but the choice of components is unique among Blue's competitors and offers some evidence that Blue actually gave some serious thought to designing its lowest-priced microphone.
Another one of Mikey's undercover features is quite literally, under the cover. To avoid the kind of low-end rumble and distortion people typically get when recording outdoors, Blue shielded its mic capsules with a built-in windscreen, using a material similar to that on the Zoom H2. There's no low-pass filter feature built in to the Mikey, so if the integrated screen doesn't cut it for you, investing in a separate windscreen may be necessary.
If there's one feature we wish the Mikey had, it's direct monitoring. Without a way to hear what you're recording in real time, you simply have to cross your fingers and hope the results come out all right. With the iPod's own headphone jack either obscured by Mikey's design (Touch, Nano) or disabled during recording (Classic), an additional headphone jack for direct monitoring would be handy. Granted, none of Mikey's similarly priced competitors include a direct headphone monitor feature, but higher-priced options such as the Alesis ProTrack and Belkin GoStudio have shown us how valuable the feature can be.
It's safe to say that the recordings we made using Mikey sound better than any other iPod microphone in its price range. In fact, even higher-priced iPod recorders, such as the Belkin GoStudio, couldn't match the realism and detail we heard from Mikey.
One of the most noteworthy characteristics of the Mikey's sound is the minimal amount of background noise introduced into the recording (aka, the noise floor). As usual, recordings made with hard-drive-based iPods (fifth-generation, Classic) weren't as clean as those from the flash-based Nano, but aspects such as stereo realism and frequency range were still quite good.
Using the Mikey with a fourth-generation iPod Nano offered the best audio results, since its flash memory uses no moving parts, and it's long, lightweight design is easy to hold and transfers a minimal amount of handling noise to the mics. Aside from the usual assortment of music recording tests (guitar, piano, music box), the most surprising recording we made was an afternoon rain on the front porch, which came though with an almost unnerving amount of clarity and realism.
If your recording needs are humble (voice memos and lectures), you could probably get away with a lower-priced iPod microphone. Spending a bit extra on Mikey should provide more flattering results for recorded voices (you want your memoirs to sound good, don't you?), and its natural sound should lead to less ear fatigue when listening back to lectures.
Blue rates the total recording time of the Mikey at around 1.5 hours, which is slightly better than average, but not as long as you'll get with a standalone audio recorder.