fire

Now we’re talking: FiRe turns your iPhone into a serious recorder. No, really, a serious recorder – with advanced features and actual mic support.

Your pocket is bulging with power.

Wait… okay, that sounded really wrong.

Anyway, the mobile software revolution continues. There’s so much stuff out there that it can actually be hard to track. Here’s a round-up to help you navigate everything that’s going on this week.

And even if you can’t stand another word about the iPhone, consider this: the explosion of iPhone software, more than just a fad, illustrates what happens when you give developers tools to make multimedia capabilities easier, then provide a distribution outlet. I don’t love everything about the iTunes approach, but those are lessons that could easily be learned in desktop and mobile development alike. The iPhone platform, if nothing else, is surprisingly uncompromising in the sound and visual interaction departments, especially for a mobile platform. And even desktop platforms could benefit from this kind of distribution mechanism (see also: Steam for games).

Also, we do have some of the first signs that the iPhone won’t be alone for long – new functionality on Google’s Android could take that platform in new directions. See my next story, Android/Linux/open source fans.

Disclaimer: don’t worry. I’m not giving up on desktop apps. Relax. In fact, even now as I look across these applications, while there are lots of cool ideas, it’s still clear this is a nascent area. The experience is nowhere near as rich as you get on the desktop. But it’s nonetheless worth exploring some of the ideas before we return to our (more powerful) desktop applications for music.


Field Recording, Microphones for iPhone + iPod touch

fire2

The big news this week was FiRe, which promises to be the “first professional field recorder” for the iPhone and iPod touch. The developer behind it is one of which we’re already big fans: Audiofile Engineering. AE make Wave Editor, which has rapidly become the secret weapon of choice for Mac audio producers and sound designers, as well as the batch-processing Sample Manager and adoptive parents of the excellent Rax plug-in host. Anything these guys do would get our attention, and then they go and add specs you wouldn’t expect to see on the iPhone:

  • Accurate real-time waveform display
  • Live, touch-controlled waveform navigation
  • Audio markers
  • Broadcast WAVE metadata
  • Instant downloading in multiple formats – and easy sharing via FTP, Web server, or even a SoundCloud account
  • Tag recordings with location data
  • Overdub mode
  • VU meters for input and output
  • Configurable time units
  • Mic flexibility: use Blue Mikey, Alesis ProTrack or even the internal mic

US$5.99, available now.

(Update) Hardware Requirements:
iPhone 3G
iPod Touch (second generation)
First Generation iPhone (headset ONLY)

http://www.audiofile-engineering.com/

iTunes link (which is tricky to find otherwise)

Let’s just cut straight to it: this is, bar none, the most full-featured app out there. It’s the first one that would make me seriously consider using this platform for recording.

This, of course, raises the question of which mic you might want to use.

If you’re on the iPod touch, you don’t have even a built-in mono mic. (Don’t knock it: I’ve put together entire pieces based on simple mono mic samples. Creative sampling artists will use anything.)

Even on the first-generation iPod touch, you can use some simple solutions that will let you do basic sound.

The SmartTalk mic poses for the Smule blog.

The Smule blog has a terrific round-up of recommendations for touch owners wanting to use their Ocarina app. Their technical needs are much lighter than what you might need for FiRe, but this is still worth a look if you have any interest in recording at all:

Microphones for iPod Touch Ocarina

The Griffin SmartTalk wins out for 2G owners. I have Griffin’s TuneBuds mobile, which has worked well enough for applications like RjDj. (Note that Smule have managed to get their app working with the first-gen hardware; FiRe requires the newer generation.)

At the fancier end:

mikey

Blue Microphones’ Mikey is a slim-line stereo condenser capsule that plus into the iPod accessory port. It’s hinged so you can play with placement at least a little, and there’s basic gain control (3 settings). It runs about US$80 street, which means it doesn’t have to compete with standalone recorders. Update: Audiofile Engineering say they’ve seen some issues with FiRe and Blue Mikey, and can’t officially support the combination. Readers have had some issues themselves. If you’ve already got a Mikey, this might be worth a try, but otherwise, you can await updated information as Blue and Audiofile Engineering attempt to address the problem.

Specific update: The problem sounds as though it is the combination of the production Mikey with second-generation iPod touch units running the current OS. This is expected to be fixed with the next OS release. Stay tuned for more.

protrack

Tha Alesis ProTrack is even more impressive-looking, but at US$249 list, it does start to get into the realm of “you could just go buy a dedicated recorder.” The ProTrack extends the iPhone by adding a shell with an X/Y stereo mic pair – one that looks quite a lot like the Zoom H4 mics – and even has onboard XLR jacks and phantom power. You also get LED monitoring, a limiter, additional power (four AAA’s), a mic stand mount – basically, it turns your iPhone into a real mobile recorder.

The Alesis has its own app, but the Audiofile Engineering option is looking more powerful. Naturally, that’s the advantage of software – because the iPhone is essentially a computer, you can add whatever software you like.

h4n I still think there’s a good place for a dedicated recorder. I’ve started testing the Zoom H4n, seen at right. (Not an iPhone hiding in a shell.) I’m already blown away – it corrects most of the navigation and quality issues with its predecessor, and unlike an iPod or iPhone, has fantastic battery life and onboard XLR input jacks. (Okay, the ProTrack does have XLR’s, so this is getting a little more interesting.) In other words, I’m not sure I’m giving up on dedicated recorders in favor of one of these yet. It’s still handy to have, though – and who says you can’t use both, given how essential it can be to have a backup recording in many situations?

Updated: Officially, here are the mics supported by FiRe:

Thanks to Gaëtan Gravel and everyone else who sent this in.

Paul Van Dyk’s DJ Tools

This one was a bit of a surprise: Paul Van Dyk has released a DJ app, but it’s not just a quick, attention-grabbing, “DJ on your iPhone” gimmick. It’s more like a utility belt for DJs. I’m surprised to see that as a result it’s actually gotten some criticism. To me, finding some genuinely useful stuff you might want to have on your mobile device is the whole point.

What’s in there?

  • BPM counter
  • Frequency analyzer
  • Noise level (the “NYPD Application”), with an oddly beautiful visualization
  • Seismic reader (for testing your turntable, not for telling if there’s an earthquake happening – that you’ll probably figure for yourself)

And then some silly stuff, too – glow stick, anyone?

http://www.paulvandyk.com/

Not yet available – coming late May 2009

All interesting, but you know what this means: now we need Live PA Tools. (I can think of some ironic choices for that. Nominations welcome.)

Nine Inch Nails App

ninaccess

NIN, of course, had their app become available on 4/14. There’s been quite a lot written about it – so much, in fact, that I feel like the whole thing is a bit overhyped. The basic development here is that NIN is taking all their fan data and making it location specific. On the upside, this is a lot more than many high-profile bands have done with iPhone development. But then, these guys should be doing more – they have the budget to hire real developers. I do like the idea of fans being able to interact on their mobile device; that clearly makes a lot of sense. But few artists will inspire the kind of loyalty NIN does, which means the real question is, will someone be able to build a platform for everyone else? And if you are a more obscure artist, what should you be doing?

The app is free, so just a conduit for fans, really.

iTunes link

http://www.nin.com/

Gestural Beat Sharing, Celebrate Cinco De Mayo

ZoozBeat is the application I looked at in the fall: the idea is to make musical improvisation more accessible by allowing people to use fun gestures, taps, and the like to assemble beats. The software is not only for iPhone, but the powerful Nokia N95, too.

That story is worth checking out from the perspective of gestural music in general, not just iPhone or mobile apps:

Gestures, Mobile Music, and the “Low Floor” for Novices: ZooZBeat on iPhone, Nokia

The latest news: the guys have gotten funding, for one. More importantly to end users, ZOOZ Mobile is adding a sharing component, much like what we saw with Smule’s Leaf Trombone. New upgraded software adds a Latin component with Samba and Tejano rhythms and is ready-to-go for Cinco de Mayo. Sounds great to me – and the Latin market has been oddly ignored by a lot of musicians and developers. There are also new Pop, Hip-Hop, and Techno beats.

http://www.myzoozbeat.com/

Unusual Instruments

lakepiano

You’ve got plenty of faux-808 apps for the iPhone now. Our friend Henry Lowengard is taking a very different tack, with drone-friendly creations and detuned pianos. He describes this as well as I could, so here’s what he writes to tell us about.

Imagine a piano in a summer home on a small lake, far in the north of the Northeastern United States. Imagine the piano sitting there for 60 or 70 years, untuned and unmaintained.
The naturally prepared timbres of the Lake Piano are now here for you, each missing felt, each individual nuance of the key action and character-filled tones. Briskly recorded one summer in lo-fi, these samples also contain sounds of children, cats, screen doors, and the summer breeze.

The first version of Lake Piano is relatively minimal, Henry says, played as a double row of scrolling piano keys and the ambient sounds stolen from a videotape he recorded. Henry promises more playability and more ambience in an upcoming upgrade, but you’ll get that automatically when it’s done, so you can always go play now.

And for droning on and on – literally:

Hi Droning fans:
I just sent in my new droning app Droneo to Apple for approval, so with luck, it’ll be in the store next week.
I’ll send a more widely distributed email when that happens, but I though you (pl.) might like to take a look at the Droneo "instruction site", http://www.jhhl.net/iPhone/Droneo/ and listen to this tantalizing demo:
http://www.jhhl.net/iPhone/Droneo/Audio%20Examples/Mp3/complex1.mp3
It’s basically my iPhone SrutiBox simplified to 8 oscillator voices, allowing a little more CPU time for complexity, and removing the preconceptions about Carnatic music and harmonium sounds that Sruti box engenders with its somewhat unpronounceable name.

For more on the SrutiBox, see our previous story.

Okay, I’m exhausted. Back to the desktop.

And of course, for the best source of up-to-the-minute mobile music creation news – well beyond just iPhone – be sure to read:

Palm Sounds

  • http://www.iparasite.net Christopher Jon

    I checked out the Blue Mikey and it says "Compatible with iPod nano 2G, 3G & 4G; iPod classic; iPod 5G & most cases" – are we sure it's compatible with the iPhone and iPod Touch? I guess a web search is an order, but I dig the idea of being able to use my Touch as a field recorder!

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

    I didn't think the Blue Mikey worked either, but AE calls it out specifically in their pr. would be great, of course!

  • http://jimbalaya.us Jimbalaya

    Is FiRe worth giving up the free/.99 audio recorders (ie: iTalk) for?

    I can picture in-app marker placement and wavform display being pretty useful … Any idea if the recording quality is better, or if the app loads faster?

  • Zavosh

    That FIRe app looks great, but will anyone ever make an app that can transfer recordings through syncing with iTunes? I've been using iRec with the Shure MPA-3c mic (which is surprisingly very clean, and stealth too) because the app records up to 44,1 and enables the user to send recordings via email, but the only drawback is the upload time based on connection (still on the original iPhone). I guess FTP is quickest, but how bout an alternative for us lazy f@#*ers?

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

    @Zavosh: In a word, no. Never – not unless Apple changes their philosophy on the device. Motivated apparently by some sort of obsessive-compulsive control disorder, Apple wants total power over what you sync through iTunes. Compare the Android: mount the SD card and it mounts *as a volume* on your desktop, *as it should* – no special software needed. It's a decision to restrict their devices in this way, and it's about control or DRM or keeping lockdown on the iTunes ecosystem or … who knows.

    It's really an unfortunate decision on their part, too, because these apps are generating all sorts of things you'd like to sync, and the rest of the platform is far superior to the competition in many aspects.

  • Gaëtan

    Well, I went and bought FiRe along with the recommended Blue Mikey. So far I can play the included files – sort of Quick start audio manuals- thru the Mikey but cannot recorded a thing. It looks like the mic is not recognized by the app or the iPodTouch (1st gen) I have. I hope it is not a "typo" error in their PR document and by iPod Touch they ment iPod Touch (2nd gen). Bummer..

    One neat thing of FiRe is that you can upload to your computer the audio files via Bonjour in your web browser or directly to your ftp server via WIFI or 3g.

    I'm waiting for a response from AE on that.

  • http://getheld.com Derek Neighbors

    Version 3.0 of the operating system and better support of 3rd party devices should open up a lot more opportunities.

  • Adam Smith

    Nice, I've been looking for an inexpensive field recording set up. $6 for app plus cost of mic is not too bad at all. I was looking at the Shure MPA-3C mic ($31 over at amazon.com) that Zavosh mentioned…I think I may give it a go. Thanks for the heads up Peter!

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

    @Derek: 3.0 SDK is looking a lot more interesting. I believe there are changes in terms of the audio device portion of third-party device support, but I don't know the specifics. (Anyone? Maybe another question for AE…)

    That said, it doesn't change the lack of easy file transfer, which I still thing is absurdly silly. I know folks have defended this in that you can set up a server, effectively, and do it that way. But I can *also* do that on Android (among others), and I still have the option to just mount the darned drive.

    In fact, I still prefer devices with removable storage; feels safer to me. But that's not to say this solution isn't appealing in other ways.

  • June

    Can anyone comment on whether this app works (as claimed) to record stereo audio using the Blue Mikey and an iPhone?

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

    @June:

    Audiofile Engineering have clarified their support statement to say that, officially, that support the Blue Mikey *only* with the 3G, and that at the moment I understand there are some issues with the Mikey that Blue and AE are trying to resolve. Hope to have more details once available.

    Do you have a Blue Mikey already?

  • June

    (I did confirm that it continues recording seamlessly if you lock the screen — great news for battery life. But I don't have an external mic to test and I can't find anybody online who's reporting having made a stereo recording with an external mic…)

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

    Oh, I see. Yes, I do understand that stereo recording works. Also, I know there are enhancements coming in the 3.0 SDK.

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

    By "enhancements," you can also read "things that are broken may not be broken any more." (A technology universal!)

  • June

    Very cool, thanks! I am impressed that somebody made stereo recording happen so soon (I was thinking we would have to wait til 3.0 for that).

    I have to say it is really fun to watch the waveform get drawn in realtime onscreen — was not expecting that either. :)

  • KimH

    <blockquote cite="Peter Kirn">And even if you can’t stand another word about the iPhone…

    Geez, Peter, that's getting a bit old by now. Is it you who "can't stand another word about the iPhone?"

    Speaking as an iPhone owner, I wish you could report about my device (and the device of millions of others) without feeling compelled to apologize. That's so 2007…

  • http://the-palm-sound.blogspot.com/ Palm Sounds

    Thanks for this round up Peter, I hadn't noticed the FIRe app. I'll have to give it a look.

  • formal

    So which mics work with the 1st gen iphone? This always seems to be a grey area for me. I hate the fact that it only records in 8khz lofi. … Maybe I just need to ponie up and buy the headset for it.

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

    @KimH: Well, I'm not apologizing. My point is, there's the relevance for the device itself, and then I think there's greater relevance that goes beyond this device and platform. The problem is, some people get so caught up in platform advocacy and such that they miss what can be learned.

    @formal: 1st gen iPhone – the short answer, as I understand it, is nothing – I think you need the newer-generation devices to be able to record at the higher sample resolution / bit rate. Anyone want to let me know if that's right, though?

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  • KimH

    PK: "@KimH: Well, I’m not apologizing. My point is, there’s the relevance for the device itself, and then I think there’s greater relevance that goes beyond this device and platform. The problem is, some people get so caught up in platform advocacy and such that they miss what can be learned."

    You've got so many iPhone products crammed into this one post, and I assume it's related to a point you made months ago, about it maybe being better to post iPhone info in batches, so that the volume of iPhone stuff didn't seem so large.

    I'm still puzzled about whether it's you yourself feeling so ambivalent about the iPhone, or if you're caving to vocal platform partisans who pester you about iPhone coverage while waiting for the coming avalanche of morally pure OpenMoko music apps.

    I'm tired of the apologies for covering the (currently) most prominent convergence device, and I'm starting to wonder if there are other music sources on the web I haven't seen, where commentators don't apparently feel somehow soiled to report on the iPhone. I wish you could get over this and just report the music news.

  • http://www.black-chamber.com fractured

    I think it would be a good thing to mention that Speakeasy pulls its files from the iTunes archive. It isn't a direct sync, but it is too close to ignore. It then drops the files into iTunes and tags them. I will say it does have an app on the computer to do the heavy lifting.

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

    Kim – relax. If I felt that ambivalent I wouldn't have written this thousand-word story. Putting related material together in one story makes sense to me. I said at the top of the story that there are reasons I think it doesn't make sense to go 24/7 iPhone coverage, even as a fan of the platform. I think I've kept reasonably up to date, gone into reasonable amounts of detail, and balanced iPhone news with a wide variety of topics. It's my own take and no one else's, but I can at least assure you there's no deeper meaning to my motivations.

    @fractured: cool, have to check that out!

  • http://www.klangfreund.com Klangfreund

    A more professional approach to iPhone SPL measurement than offered by PvD DJ App can be found here:
    http://studiosixdigital.com/spl.html

  • http://www.videomusik.net Video Music

    Does anybody have experiences with recording through either a mic or through line in on the 2nd generation iPod Touch. When I bought it I thought I would be able to record my livesets, through a line out from the mixer. Unfortunately it seems to be a lot more difficult than I expected, if possible at all.

    What I have been able to collect so far is that the headphone plug on the device doubles as a mono line input, but one can not expect to just chuck in a normal mini jack (mono or stereo) and get a signal.

    Can anyone confirm this?

    Has anyone been successful in recording a line signal (mono or stereo) with the device?

    If yes, how?

    Has anyone been successful in using the 2nd generation iPod Touch to record with a mic. If yes, which one?

    J

  • http://myspace.com/ilovethebeep Beep

    no word on intua here?

    just got an iphone and got intua beatmaker for 15 bucks. DAMN thats cool! it's like a tiny mpc in my pocket, only 1x 16pads bank and limited effects and no, but it sounds great and i can transfer my recycle-chopped samples over with a small tool included! im missing a line-in on my iphone…

    perfect addition to my mpc2000 at home i gotta say.

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

    @Klangfreund: That looks great. Have you used it? I can definitely see some real uses to some of these add-on hardware applications. My guess with the Paul van Dyk thing was, well, maybe you get something science-y looking to show to the club owner / police to say "But, honestly, looks like my SPLs are all fine!"

    @Beep: Intua is great; I want to revisit some of the apps that have come out over the past months soon. Believe it or not, this is just what's happened in the past couple of weeks.

    @Video Music: Yes, indeed… I need to get some more hardware to test or to check with some of these mic makers, so stay tuned. It sounds as though all of this will be easier whenever 3.0 comes out.

  • http://www.dartanyan.com Dartanyan

    These upcoming products look great but I've been using Bias Inc's iProRecorder for months now and it works very well using the onboard iPhone mic. From Cuban All-Stars at Legion of Honor to Cypress Hill at the Fillmore. If you're careful with overloading it does great for music and excellent for interviews and quieter stuff. .wav files into DP..sweet!

    (btw am I confused? Alesis' Protrack product screens above show Bias' iProRecorder. What gives?)

  • Downpressor

    Peter Kirn: "Android: mount the SD card and it mounts *as a volume* on your desktop, *as it should*"

    Actually I dont want to see devices work the same way as storage cards except for my camera at the GUI level. Even if they are logically storage devices, psychologically they are not. If I plug in an iPod and see it show up as a removable memory device, its like the bad old days of managing playlists manually, making sure your file names had the right numbers to be played in sequence, etc.

    Just my 2 Yen.

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

    @Downpressor:

    Well, wait a minute.

    The metadata embedded in the files is the same whether or not the drive is mountable.

    And having manual access means if you *do* want to manually drop a file, you can. I don't think *not* being able to do that counts as a feature.

    Also, if the drive is mountable in that way, it means you can choose any player you want to manage your files automatically. So you can do that with iTunes or Winamp or Banshee (open source Mac/Linux – with its own auto Android plugin) or Songbird or Rhythmbox or MediaMonkey…

    Or you can go the Apple way, and do it with … iTunes. And nothing else. And you can't access files you put there. And you have to pay just to sync some of your own your own data.

    I really do believe the iPhone is superior in a whole lot of ways, but I can't find any rationalization that says that's one of them.

    It's an especially big deal because we're talking *all* the files you now use on a multi-purpose device, not just music.

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  • http://www.klangfreund.com Klangfreund

    @ Peter Kirn

    Yes, I have used it for like 2 month now, it was the first app I bought for my iPhone. I have only tried it with the internal mic of the iPhone, and it operates quite reasonable (depends on frequency and angle, it's of course not an omnidirectional measurment microphone), would say on average +-3dB SPL, but I havn't compared it with a measurment tool for a long period of time and in mixed environment, so please don't take this for granted. Still, quite nice for the price.

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  • June

    Audiofile still doesn't seem to have any info on its website about FiRe except screenshots (all they have is an iTunes store link). No product support page for it, unlike their other products. But on their iTunes store page, they list the Blue Mikey as a supported hardware. Does this mean they have fixed the issues they were having with the Blue Mikey and they support it again?

  • http://www.audiofile-engineering.com Matthew Foust

    The Mikey will work with the iPhone 3G. Unfortunately, it does not work with the 2nd gen iPod touch which is a function of the iPhone OS, not the app (rumor has it that iPhone OS 3 will resolve this limitation). We do have a KB section on our site for FiRe support. Everything you need to know is here:

    http://www.audiofile-engineering.com/support/help

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  • http://www.supraterranean.com Nick

    The iTunes link for FiRe tells me that the app isn't available in my area. What does that mean? In the U.S.? Please help. I'd rather use FiRe than iTalk

  • http://www.audiofile-engineering.com Matthew Foust

    We've been in Apple limbo for more than a month waiting for approval for 1.1.0.

    - iPhone OS 3 support

    - reorganized Settings tab

    - reorganized Share tab

    - SoundCloud uploads can be set to public or private

    - Auto-naming options in iPhone system settings (Settings.app)

    - Ability to name & rename markers

    - Varispeed

    - Waveform color styles

    - VU meter styles including K-System scales

    - Broadcast WAVE Metadata OriginatorReference Chunk preference in iPhone system settings

    - Input gain boost

    - Info > Add Picture

    - Web server authentication

    - You can now set web server port number in iPhone system settings

    - Localizations coming in 1.1.1: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian

  • http://www.sflgroup.co.uk Audio

    The Paul Van Dyke app is pretty awesome…the itinery manager may of been added as a "yep add that too it" feature however there is alot of mileage ;) in an application specifically for international DJ's travelling to and from gigs. So many niches in iphone development – the sky is the limit.

  • http://www.quadrupedmedia.com Dale Sophiea

    Any resolution for using Mikey with a 1G iPod Touch 8GB using 3.1.3? Is there an app that will make it work? The blue light comes on when I plug it in.

  • http://www.reelifeproductions.com tom

    i think i'm going to go with the following setup:

    blue fire app

    mikey

    fourtrack

    ..This setup has received some very good reviews and this little "digital studio" really records amazing quality audio. only thing i don't like is the fact that the "mikey" is anchored to the phone and allows for minimal separation of sound. I see the newest model (soon to be released) will have a line-in – which will allow external soundboard input, etc.

    anyway…anyone have any other suggestions/comments…maybe other attachments that would allow for microphone separation and inputs. probably would cost a lot more but would be good to know about.

    Regards,

    Tom Adams

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Videographer, Director, Editor: http://www.ReelifeProductions.com
    Photography Prints & Products: http://www.FolktographybyTom.com
    Portal: web.me.com/ReelifeProductions