Mobile Apple users, I’ve got a couple of recording solutions for you – a hardware mic for the iPod (not the touch), and a multitrack audio app for the iPhone and second-generation iPod touch. I’m sure they’ll be a godsend to some people out there. But this time, I’m not waiting for commenters to say “I’m sick of iPhone apps.” I have to offer some healthy skepticism of my own this time around – and a bit of regret that the first-generation iPod touch is getting left out in the cold. But don’t let that stop you if this happens to be just the thing you’ve been looking for.

First up, the new Mikey from Blue Microphones is a stereo condenser mic designed for the iPod (4G, 5G, 6G, iPod Nano 2G, 3G and iPod Classic). It’s not for the new iPod touch, but basically other iPod models are ready to go. You can’t set gain beyond three pre-determined levels, but it does double as a speaker and has a positionable head. I’m not sure I’d use it for really serious recording situations – Blue’s lower-end mics haven’t performed quite as well as their high-end models, as you’d expect – but it appears to be a pretty nice solution for a lot of situations, and fantastic for recording practice sessions and the like. At US$79.99 list, it’s practically an impulse buy. I’m curious to hear how it stacks up to the cheaper digital recorders out there, like those from Zoom.

Blue Microphones [A product page for Mikey was unavailable at press time]

The Mikey isn’t for the iPhone / iPod touch, but we have seen a slew of new recording apps out there, like Griffin’s iTalk (as seen on ZDNet from our friend Jason O’Grady). Most of these are pretty dead-simple – the Apple SDK includes a recording mechanism – so the primary engineering challenge is just writing a tool to get the audio from your mobile device to your computer, since (cough) Apple left that bit out.

Sonoma Wire Works’ FourTrack is a different animal. It’s a full-blown four-track recorder (well, at least you can record one track at a time and play back four). I could try to talk about it, but the talented Eliot Van Buskirk over at Wired.com’s Listening Post does a great job:

The New Hotness: FourTrack Audio Recorder for iPhone, iPod Touch

Sonoma FourTrack: Product Page, iTunes App Store

Here’s the catch with FourTrack and a lot of these apps, though: what do you do for a mic? Options are extremely limited on the iPhone and second-generation iPod touch – at least until Blue Mics releases a Mikey for iPhone. Pro options, or anything coming close to it, are out of the question.

And those of us with first-generation iPod touch models are entirely out of luck. While prior to 2.x firmware, hackers had managed to make DIY solutions for mic support on the first-generation iPod touch, that solution is still missing on the second-generation unit. Part of the fault appears to be Apple’s: they left out software support in the earlier models, and they aren’t exactly making third-party hardware makers’ job easy, either. It’s a problem with phones in general: the Google Android-based G1 from TMobile doesn’t even have a standard headphone jack, let alone mic input.

For that reason, I can’t personally comment on the FourTrack because my iPod is useless with it; I defer to Eliot for that. But here’s the feature list – US$9.99 and (with the iPod touch 2nd generation, required) a third-party mic sets you up.

  • Track Count – 4
  • Track Length – unlimited
  • Recording Quality – 16 bit, 44.1 kHz
  • Calibrated Meters – accurately monitor record and playback levels
  • Recording Clip Lights – ensure input levels do not cause distortion
  • Calibrated Faders – accurately adjust playback level of each track
  • Pan Control – move tracks from left to right
  • Time Line – seek to anywhere in your song instantly
  • Shuttle Wheel – accurately move within your song
  • Slide-to-Record – prevents over-writing your tracks
  • Latency Compensation – accurate to within 1ms
  • Compressor-Limiter – automatically fattens sound of the output mix
  • Song List – unlimited song count
  • WiFi Sync – copy recordings to a desktop computer

Part of the beauty of mobile apps is that someone will find some novel use for them. But for many, I fear that mobile recording could just be a novelty. I’m all for multi-function devices, but I don’t see iApps coming close to the array of dedicated mobile recorders out there any time soon; it appears more hassle than convenience, which would be the whole point. FourTrack is definitely the most serious app I’ve seen yet, but I still think recording may be best left to recorders, at least for now.

  • http://www.whoismrjoe.com MrjoE

    Dammmmmmmmm!!!!!!!

  • http://www.LEGENDmag.net kc!

    beautiful app design, bought it immediately.

  • richardl

    Peter,

    I don't get your skepticism. FourTrack makes a perfectly legitimate musical notepad. It may not be good enough to replace your microrecorder or for making making concert bootlegs. (But no one would ever do that. )

    The mic input on the 2nd Gen iPod Touch and iPhone has pretty decent audio characteristics.

    q.v. "How good is the iPhone's audio input?"
    http://www.faberacoustical.com/forum/index.php/to

    I've been using the Monster Cable iSoniTalk adapter with my 2nd Gen iPT. http://www.monstercable.com/productdisplay.asp?pi… (I also have a junky generic headphone mic adapter that works but isn't as good.)

    FourTrack combined with a decent mic should be satisfactory for creating simple demos wherever you are.

    I do feel your pain WRT the 1st Gen iPod Touch. (I've got one of those too.) Hopefully an audio input option using the dock connector will emerge. But I'm not holding my breath.

    I've been trying FourTrack with my 2nd Gen iPT this afternoon, and it's pretty decent. Plus it implements a clever solution for uploading your recordings to your computer.

  • http://celibacyclub.com celibacyclub

    my touch needs a good mic..

    it really needs it. :(

  • http://music.pegritz.com Derek C. F. Pegritz

    OK, I understand that the iPhone is a cool device and it's got some neat apps, but I'm sick to death of reading about it on here to the detriment of…well, just about everything else. Seriously. Enough with the damned iPhone apps already. It's a friggin' toy, not a music development tool.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @richardl – which mic are you using with it?

    @Derek – not really to the detriment of anything else; got some other stories coming very soon. Finally back in one place for a period of time, so some stories that were delayed are enroute.

    Some of my skepticism: things like the new mobile Yamaha recorder seem to me like they'd be more convenient. One device, built-in mic, looks reasonably high quality, removable memory so you can expand capacity to what you actually need, and you can take the whole thing and plug it directly into a computer. That's a lot more convenient to me than mucking around with the iPhone and some adapters and dealing with its battery life (since you use it for other things) and needing special software just to get files off the thing.

    But like I said — I can see it working out for some people.

  • Leslie

    Bought It and love It, but it would be nice to have 3 extra features:

    1. Metronome click

    2. Loop recording and playback and last but not least…

    3. F.X – Reverb, Delay and Compressor

    Perhaps version 1.1… ;)

  • Leslie

    BTW; @Peter…

    This website is SO far behind the iPhone music news (and any other for that matter)…

    Please take a closer look at "Synthtopia.com" and perhaps learn some lessons… ;)

  • jon

    derek: no, it's exactly what im looking for to record ideas onto my ipod when i dont have my full fledged DAW with me.

    If you don't like iphone/ipod articles don't read em. it's not going anywhere anytime soon.

  • RichardL

    I've just been using the Monster Cable mic cited above. I've read you can use an iPod miniplug to red-white-and-yellow RCA video cable to input a separate mono mic or line in. I might try that tomorrow.

    FourTrack turns itself into a web server and uses any web browser to upload the WAV files to your computer. It's very clever and as easy as typing in a URL like http://192.168.168.107:24601 That step might not even be necessary with Bonjour browsing in Safari. I haven't tried that yet.

    The thing with any dedicated recorder is that you need to plan ahead, charge it and carry it and any accessories. My iPod Touch is already always with me. And the Monster mic/adapter lives in the case with my headphones which is also always with me.

    I'm sure it fails in comparison to something like the Yamaha recorder or other dedicated recorders. But it's quite good compared to the recorder you left at home or forgot to charge.

  • MK

    This is a very timely article. I'd been using an old T21 laptop and a cheap computer mic to record my band in rehearsal/jam sessions. Unfortunately it died recently and I was looking into ways of recording on a more portable device. This sounds great if I can get myself a decent mic.

    BTW – anyone else having trouble getting this app via their iPod Touch 2G? I can see FourTrack in the AppStore on the iPod, but it doesn't have a price/Buy button. Had the same thing when I went to get Griffin iTalk – it's almost like Apple are saying "you can't use this".

  • Alex

    Hello, as i had commented before, why should we bother to buy iphone music apps? Its converters are nothing special for studio work…all these applications are just toys without proper high-end converters IMO. I'm supporting your conclusion Peter..

  • Leslie

    @alex – and how many of these apps have You actually bought and used to make a comment like that..?!

  • blip

    @Alex:

    Please stop. You are a studio musician only it seems. Nothing wrong with that. It's just that creativity comes to me at the most unexpected moments. Having a note pad in the form of a pocketable device is a gods end to me. I have made a lot of tunes on my old, now dead, PDA with Griff (the Goldfish 303 "clone" is quite nice). And the noise.io synth has nice sounds coming out of it as well. If I want to export/record this I'm using a headphone amp via the line-in/out of the iPod touch which gives me a very clean sound.

    I think you have to step back and think about it. I'm honestly fed up with people in their small boxes thinking that the studio is the only place to make decent music when musicians for eons have used portable tools to perform and compose alike. Whether it is the harmonica, an ukelele, a guitar, flute, mini-porta, notebook (pen and paper), laptop, pda, iPod touch *alot* of great music has been created with "simple" tools like these. To be honest I *love* being in a studio and record/fooling around/playing but that's not where I am the most creatice. It usually comes to me when I hear a song walking in the city or just some sound when commuting. Having a portable device for those moment is *great*.

    It might not be for you but please respect that we don't all are creative in the same ways. If you don't want to buy these apps/accessories don't. Most of t isn't for me, either. But then that special app/accessory comes around that is spot on for my creativity. I can respect that people have different needs.

    Blue's hype machine and PR-talk… well, if you're not somewhat immune to that yet, I guess you've bought a lot of useless stuff, since PR/sales talk is somthing we've had in this world probably since there was more than one man on earth ("my bigger stick smacks animals better than yours, you can have it for that pelt" etc). This is *expecially* true in the audio business where PR-talk seems to often be close to snake oil-ish statements.

  • rhowaldt

    yeah. what he said.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Leslie:

    The FourTrack *and* Blue mic announcements were embargoed until today. If Synthtopia had those news items any earlier, then they violated that embargo. I don't know in this case.

    Synthtopia is a great site, and they have their own approach. I've never just been about running news exclusively, and I try to make some choices about filtering some stuff out. The beauty of the Web is, you can read whatever you want and you don't even pay subscription fees. I'm sure some people will prefer one route or the other, and plenty more will read both.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Oh, and as for this mobile vs. not-mobile argument again…

    The election's over. No more need for partisan sniping. ;)

    Seriously, though, Alex, I do hear your concerns. But there's just a huge range. You'll have studio people whipping out an iPod for the occasional metronome beat. There are controller apps, and apps that output audio or MIDI files that have nothing to do with converters. There are times you want to record a practice session that's not a studio recording. And yes, this is nothing new — there's a long tradition of portable devices. What's different here is that you can reuse one multifunction device rather than having to buy (and carry around) a lot of different gadgets.

    That said, I think mobile audio recording is the one application where a dedicated device, even an inexpensive one, has some advantages. But it's good to have options.

  • Leslie

    @Peter… and while You tried to "explain" Yourself, these things happened:

    - Noise.IO version 1.1 update

    - Smule releases wind instrument

    - 400 MB (massive) free sound bank for Ableton Live released

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Leslie, at which point did you get the impression that my goal with CDM was to publish as much news as quickly as possible? This is now the third of these comments I've gotten from you by this count. Keep trolling, get comments deleted, got it?

  • http://www.twowordsrecords.com Shagrake

    @Leslie I completely disagree, Peter does a fantastic job here at CDM. The problem with Syntopia is it reads like a list of press releases.

  • Lsd25

    I use a video cable with much success I trimmed off some of the plastic on the mini plug with a pocket knife and have a couple of adapters on the RCA plugs to use my headphones and plug in a mike and have no problems. Having a mini 4- track is great fun to sketch out some ideas and with the upload feature it makes it great.

    As far as people being App negative it reminds me of showing people applications on the computer. I remember showing people Rebirth back in the day and people who were hardware centric calling it a “toy”. It was just a foreshadowing of things to come. Computers were a blank canvas that programmers created all kinds of music making tools that could have never been realized before. The iphone is a computer but it is also a new radically innovative blank canvas.

    iNoise with its nice interface and use of multi touch and axis to play the sounds is not a “toy”. I did a recent performance with it, during different pieces I used iDrum, Mini Synth, TTW, Synthpond and Bloom along with some other small gear like a Pandora and Stylephone. It worked well and sounded great. I was able to carry all my gear in my shoulder bag.

  • jon

    I can't download it from the app store either for my 2G touch. I emailed the developers, hopefully they'll fix it soon.

  • jon

    oh and i heartily second what blip said re: ideas coming when you least expect them.

    For me, one of the *worst* ways to try and create music is to sit down in front of my machine, create a new document and be like ok….uh… music… yeah…

    far better: walking down the street, noticing the strange light in the clouds, overhearing something interesting in conversation, random basslines popping into my head etc.

    i've become more serious about just capturing whatever, and sometimes listening back a month later when i've completely forgotten the snippet and it sounds almost as if someone else made it, i can look at it in a more detached light. sometimes: "wow this can go somehere" other times: "meh, delete".

    this helps a lot with the self-criticism that can often stifle things if it enters the picture too early on.

    this is a digression, but i'm always interested in discussing process. anyone know any good online resources/msg boards for this type of thing?

  • richardl

    @MK and @jon

    I was able to download the app using iTunes then transfer it to my iPod Touch 2G. But it doesn't show up as purchasable on the Mobile App Store on the iPod. This is some sort of bug with the Mobile App Store.

    Apps can be flagged as either iPhone-only or iPhone-and-iPod Touch-compatible. FourTrack is flagged as the latter. But Mobile App Store is treating it as the former.

  • jon

    richard: ah ok. I just wanted to make sure, cause I've been able to download apps on iTunes that were not compatible, and then been rejected when trying to copy them onto the ipod. didn't want to spend 10 bucks just for that…

  • http://www.machinepop.com Lindon

    OK so lets say i want to use an iPhone(can you guess I dont have one yet?) as a (very basic) field recording device, what product do I use to connect say a Sony ECM-DS70P? I'm not getting the impression I can connect using the iSoniTalk or similar(but I could eb wrong..duh!)

  • richardl

    Regarding mics.

    As I mentioned above I've successfully used headphone mics with my 2nd Gen iPod Touch. These have included a generic model and the Monster Cable iSoniTalk.

    Today I successfully tried using a couple of external mics. First you need a camcorder-style A/V mini plug cable. These have four conductors on the single mini plug and terminate with three RCA-type connectors. It should be noted that the iPod Touch wiring is different from a camcorder.

    White -> left audio out,

    Yellow -> right audio out,

    Red <- mic input.

    You will also obviously need whatever cable adapters and gender changers to get your mic connected to a two conductor (unbalanced, unpowered) RCA input.

    I successfully tested the following mics into the iPod Touch:

    – AKG C1000S (with internal 9V battery for mic power)

    – Korg CM-2M (one channel only)

    – Microphone Madness MM-HLSC1 (Sennheiser) with and without a battery box for the mic.

    The results in each case were satisfactory. I didn't do any further testing to evaluate signal quality. Note there is no level trim within FourTrack. But it seems to do some sort of level calibration on startup. So connect the mic before starting the app.

    I also haven't yet tried any line-level or high Z (guitar) signals into the iPod Touch.

  • richardl

    @Lindon That Sony mic is stereo and the iPod Touch and iPhone only take a mono mic. But it would probably work as only a mono source.

    ps I also tried a RODE VideoMic with the iPod Touch: no problem.

  • MK

    @richardl and @jon

    I too downloaded FourTrack to my machine and synced it over. I've noticed a lot of the voice recorder apps in the business section are like this (can't buy from the iPod itself). I wonder is it because apps are marked iPhone or iPhone/iPod – these sound recording apps won't work on the 1st Gen iPod Touch, so they're blocking them from all iPod Touches?

    Got my Monster mic today and it seems to do the business. Will be taking to rehearsal in a couple of days to test it out. Cheers for all the info!

  • Eric

    I've played around with this for a few days and I have to say that this is something of a breakthrough for singer/songwriter types – I'm often inspired to write words and melodies when I'm out and about, but often have a hard time remembering them or placing them in the context of a song later. I've layed down the guitar parts for a few songs and it's amazing to be able to write the words and melodies while I drive to work!

  • mollusk

    great website.

    @richardl

    thanks for the tests. any more info on line in recording. i am most interested in quick recording of ideas when i don't have my DAW running, eg i often noodle with ideas in the morning before leaving for work. right now, i use an MP3 player with record capability, but multitrack would be nice.

    i don't see the iPod as a toy, just a very small tool that could be very useful for me. YMMV.

  • MK

    Finally got to try out FourTrack at a band rehearsal session last Thursday and it was a little disappointing.

    To be fair to the developers I think the limitation is in the iPod Touch as it doesn't support adjustable input levels. We're a 4-piece band on guitar/bass/drums/keys/vocals and we were overloading it completely. When an individal instrument is playing, or a person is speaking even, the sound is clear enough, but once you get us all playing at once it becomes a bit of a mush.

    I even tried wrapping it in cloths and moving it to the far end of the rehearsal room so as to dampen the sound slightly, but it didn't help much.

    We've previously used an IBM Thinkpad T21 with a very cheap mic running into the onboard soundcard and Ableton Live with much better results.

    Of course, the Monster iSoniTalk mic may be part of the problem as mid range was better than the low and high ends.

    Other problems enocuntered though did point to the software itself. I found I had problems with responsiveness, and there were a couple of times when I hit the play button and it refused to play back what had just been recorded, instead playing the first track in my iPod music library!

    Will keep an eye out here for other opinions though.

    Cheers.

    Maurice

  • http://ryanbillingsley.com Ryan

    So if you used a video mini adapter, which I have one, are you guys saying I could run the adapter into my piece of crap beringer 4 track mixer's tape out (mono only) and record onto my phone? Would that solve the whole issue of controlling input levels? I have been recording on a super old tascam 4 track tape recorder as of late just to have rehearsal stuff but this would be infinitely more practical.

  • Pingback: Halvard Halvorsen’s tumblelog » Create Digital Music » New iPhone Multi-track Recording, iPod Mic, More, but No Love for Original iPod touch?

  • mari

    hey can some one tell me if a simple mic can be used for "fourtrack" to record my music?

  • http://N/A Chris

    Can I record to the iPhone in stereo, through the 1/8" headphone jack? l

    Let's say using a L/R RCA from the mixer to 1/8" jack to the iPhone.

    I know some MP3 players allow you to record stereo to the 1/8" headphone/mic jack. I just wasn't sure if the iPhone was down for the job.

  • http://www.sonomawireworks.com/iphone/fourtrack/ dug from sonoma wire

    mari-

    Yes, you can use any mic that you can plug into the mic jack on the iPhone. There are several that are available from Griffin, Shure, etc, that allow you to use your headphones instead of the ones that come with the phone. You can also get a special 1/8" three contact to three rca cable that you can use to connect a guitar, microphone or mixer to the input.

    Chris-

    The 1/8" jack is only mono on the iPhone. However, there are dock connector solutions that will allow you to connect a stereo input. We are working on adding support for recording stereo in 4 track. But the dock devices to work in mono for now.

    cheers,

    dug

  • roger

    Dug,

    Thanks for your comments on this. Does anyone know if there is an external mic solution for the iphone 3GS? I'm shooting video/audio for a music festival next week and will be doing interviews as well as on-site shots of concerts. So as to be as portable and unencumbered as possible, I'm going to try to do all the video and audio work on the iphone 3gs.

    If I pick up a good mic and plug it into the iphone via a coupler to the A/V 4-conductor mini-plug, will this record ok? Or will I need to put something (a line attenuator?) in between mic and iphone to modify the input signal such that it will record. problem of course is that ill be on location and so wont really have ability to have extra equipment along with me – was hoping to do this with just the iphone and an external mic.

    I went down to J&R Music World in New York this morning to test out some mic options with my iphone. I tried out the the Audio-Technica ATR50 and made an interesting discovery. The mic plugged into the iphone via the A/V four-conductor miniplug did actually record sound at a decent level, *but* the recording was accompanied by a strange regular metronomic clicking sound. This sounded like some sort of power loop. I've uploaded a copy of the recording here:

    http://www.norums.com/memo.m4a

    Does anyone have any idea what this is and/or if there is any way to get rid of it? Or do you think I am fighting a losing battle?

    Cheers in advance,

    Roger

  • robblackwell80

    can an external mic be plugged into the iPod touch 8GB? $199 now, and i can download 4-track. but will it work? seems too good to be true. help please!

  • Renard DellaFave

    roger, have you put the iPhone in airplane mode? Cellular radio could be interfering with the mic.

    I sure would love a basic 1/8" stereo input-to-dock-connector adapter. Logitec's mic has one, but it's way too expensive if you don't want the mic. Ditto the Alesis device. I have an ECM-MS957 that is plenty good enough.

  • Lindsay

    I just got a Blue Mikey (terrible, terrible name) and connected it to my 2nd gen touch. Seems to work great, records in stereo, sounds pretty clean. I got it for recording random sounds when I'm walking down the street. The advantage of this rig is I always will have it with me. I have heard that on an iPhone in airplane mode the Blue mic works well too, but haven't played with it yet.

  • Raj

    I can confirm that [my] iPhone 3G can record with an inline source, however it is not reliable.

    The wire setup is basically from this webpage:
    http://www.macusersguide.com/2009/06/iphone-voice

    …but I don't have the mixing board. I tested it by recording the audio out running from my computer into the Mini AV cable (computer -> 1/8" male to rca male -> Mini AV cable -> iPhone). I opened up Voice Recorder on the iPhone and sure enough, the meter was registering the music I was playing.

    Now the caveat: it doesn't always work. After a recording, going back to the mic screen on Voice Recorder, the meter is not picking up anything for an unknown reason. I can plug in the Mini AV cable input in and out and sometimes the phone will pick up the signal, other times not.

  • Dirk

    Great blog post, I have been waiting for that :D

    Quesadilla Recipe

  • Ronnie

    Don't forget the iRig Mic! This is made to work with any app on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.
    http://www.ikmultimedia.com/irigmic

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