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Gemini iKey review: Gemini iKey

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The two-pound device measures 5.4 inches by 1.1 inches by 3.3 inches. It's likely larger and heavier than whatever storage device you're going to connect it to, but given that quality sound processing requires room, we think its size is about right. (Maybe it should have been bigger--see the Performance section.) The iKey's sturdy, well-built chassis houses no screen and only a few controls--two large buttons, a volume wheel, and a recessed Reset button--which makes sense, considering the device's simple purpose. Instead, there's just a series of LEDs on the front of the case. Once you've used the device for a little while, you won't need to consult the menu to figure out what the LEDs are trying to tell you.

5.3

Gemini iKey

The Good

The Gemini iKey turns any MP3 player or flash drive into a line-in recording device, saving the recordings to WAV or MP3 files on that device's storage.

The Bad

A slight clicking sound in the background interferes with the Gemini iKey's recording capability. The Gemini doesn't time-stamp recordings.

The Bottom Line

The concept behind the Gemini iKey is brilliant, but a sound issue keeps us from recommending it. However, the upcoming Gemini iKeyPlus looks mighty promising--save your money for that.
Gemini iKey
Most MP3 players lack the ability to record high-quality audio, including uncompressed WAV files. Considering that the MiniDisc and DAT formats are well on their way out, DJs and other people who need to record on the go have been in need of a good portable solution. Gemini, which focuses on the DJ market, has released a device that adds high-quality recording to just about any MP3 player or portable storage device on the market. The Gemini iKey ($229 retail price; available online for much less) records WAVs or MP3s directly onto any USB device with free storage space; when you get back home, you can copy the recorded files directly to your computer--try doing that with a MiniDisc player. The idea holds a great deal of promise, but you should think twice before using this device for pro or semipro applications, due to a performance issue we uncovered. Picture a stereo system with a separate CD player, amp, record player, and so on, as opposed to an integrated bookshelf system; now think of the Gemini iKey as a portable recording component. As with a component stereo, the main advantage here is that you can mix and match your setup as needed, swapping in new gear on the go. If you have an MP3 or MiniDisc player with an integrated recording function, on the other hand, your upgrade options are limited, and repairs and replacements more expensive. The only downside to this modular design is that you must carry another piece of gear.

A standard USB port for connecting MP3 players or flash-memory keychains rounds out the equation; the keychain proposition is nice for mobile recording because it means one fewer battery to worry about, but it also limits how much you can record.

Since the Gemini iKey is designed to do only one thing and lacks a screen, there aren't many features to cover. Connect the iKey to your MP3 player, your flash-memory keychain, or any other portable USB device with disk space; wait for the iKey to recognize it; set your recording quality using the Sel button and LED indicators (uncompressed WAV or MP3 at 128Kbps, 192Kbps, or 256Kbps); and hit the record button--you're up and running.

The sound file is saved in the root directory of flash keychains and most MP3 players or in an iPod's Music folder. The first time you get recording off an iPod, you'll need to follow the instructions in the manual carefully since Apple tries to hide the folder to discourage piracy. Once you've set up a shortcut as recommended by the manual, you'll be able to link directly to your iKey recordings folder seconds after connecting the iPod to your computer.

The LEDs on the front might look like a volume meter, but they're not. Instead, you can establish a good recording level by paying attention to the Level Clip LED, which lights up if the volume level is too high or low, and adjusting the volume wheel accordingly. The LEDs also alert you to how much disk space your storage medium has left; 100 percent means the device is empty, while 0 percent means you're out of space.

Recorded files are titled iKEY_mp3_0, iKEY_mp3_1, iKEY_wav_0, and so on. This means you can start and stop recording a bunch of times without overwriting your previous recordings. However, the iKey doesn't time-stamp the files, so you can't sort them by date.

Gemini offers firmware updates for the iKey so that the company can fix bugs and improve performance. However, the instructions on Gemini's site are flawed and won't work unless you rename the firmware file to iKEY_update before installing it; otherwise, the device won't recognize it.

Soundwise, the Gemini iKey has a serious issue. When we recorded pure silence with the device and listened to it on good headphones, we were able to detect some background noise. Sure enough, amplifying the "silent" recording by 50dB revealed a distinct clicking sound (listen here) that renders the device unsuitable for pro or semipro recording. The sound is fairly unnoticeable when obscured by music, but since this product is being marketed to people who possess good headphones and ears, the clicking is a definite factor. It occurred when we used a flash drive as the recording medium too, so the clicking was not caused by some sort of interference from our iPod's hard drive.

Gemini spokespeople acknowledged the problem, saying, "There is processor noise that occurs around -70dBFS, but the issue is only detectable when the audio signal being fed to the iKey is too low. During all musical programs recorded at an appropriate level, this clicking is virtually undetectable." We were glad to hear that the issue has been rectified in the next version of the product, the Gemini iKeyPlus, due for release this spring. iKeyPlus "will also feature a fully functional VU meter, a MIC input, and a phono preamp, for the direct connection of a turntable," and it sounds like a real powerhouse. We can't wait to check it out.

The Gemini iKey does not come with batteries included but can recharge four AAs internally when powered by the included AC adapter. The company claims four to five hours of battery life, but mileage will vary based on the batteries you use.

The device comes with a one-year warranty.

5.3

Gemini iKey

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 3