STRENGHTS: Extremely Portable. Sounds fantastic. Great build quality. Cardioid pickup pattern. Device-powered.
WEAKNESSES: No headphone monitoring. Records one-person at a time. Price (though a good value).
RECOMMENDATION: For portability, durability, and sound quality, it’s a great option.
You’ve probably heard that the best camera is the one you have with you. Your smart phone, even though it’s not the greatest, still takes better pictures than that expensive DSLR sitting at home on your shelf. The same can be said of microphones, too. Your iPhone or iPad will always capture better audio than the portable audio recorder or interface you don’t have with you. Now that people almost always have some sort of camera with them, photos and video have begun to take on a much different role in our lives. We document more. We capture more. We start to pay more attention to the way we take pictures and the stories our pictures tell. I’d like to be able to say the same for audio recording, but the pace of improvements in mobile phone cameras have far out-paced improvements in their microphones. So, while most of us can remember at least a few times we were lucky enough to have our phones with us, it’s much less common to have had a nice microphone handy when we really could have used it.
I’ll admit that there are some great mobile audio recording options for just about any budget. (Note: I myself am a big fan of the Sony PCM-M10 and the Zoom H6, among others.) While each of them has its limitations, the most common drawback is that there’s almost no way to edit or share the recorded audio until it can be exported to a computer or other editing device. The iPad and iPhone, if not for the low-quality on-board microphones, would be perfect devices to combine both recording and editing functions. If only the microphones weren’t so weak.
Enter the Apogee MiC. Its compact housing and rock-solid build quality make it easy for you to have a high-quality microphone with you almost all the time. You can be ready to record, edit, and share your audio, regardless of where your digital stories take you. (Note this review covers the 96K version of the MiC.)
The first thing I want to mention is Apogee’s PureDIGITAL technology. You’ll notice it’s not a common type of connection. That’s because this for this microphone, and a few of its other devices, Apogee has developed a high quality digital audio signal it calls PureDIGITAL. Basically, the MiC is able to produce a 24bit/96kHz signal which sounds fantastic. The other end of the cable is an Apple 30-pin connector for your iOS device. Apogee also includes two additional similar cables: one with a lightning connector, so that it’s compatible with the next generation of iOS devices, and another with a USB connection for use with your Mac.
One of the features that distinguishes the MiC from other USB microphones is the small LED indicator on the front of the microphone. The LED is a dim blue with the microphone disconnected. Once connected and drawing power, the light is a lighter blue. It turns a dim green when recognized by the audio software, and it turns bright green when recording a strong, usable signal. Another nice feature of the LED indicator is that is glows orange when the signal approaches a clipping volume, and it turns bright red when the signal actually clips (and wrecks your recording). Which brings me to the gain dial on the MiC’s right side, with plus and minus symbols. I can move this dial toward the plus sign in order to increase the MiC’s sensitivity, and conversely toward the minus sign to reduce it.
One concern that digital storytellers might have is that the Apogee MiC uses a condenser element to pickup sound. However, it’s commonly accepted that the best types of microphones for most voiceover, broadcast, or digital storytelling situations are dynamic mics. Because they are less sensitive than condenser microphones, they pick up less of the ambient noise inevitable in almost all non-studio environments. To combat this tendency, the MiC is designed with a cardioid pickup pattern which tends to reject sound from the sides and back of the microphone. This helps reduce unwanted ambient noise. That audio signal is then boosted by the high-quality preamps (up to 40db!) before getting processed by Apogee’s PureDIGITAL audio converters. The result is a beautiful signal with relatively little noise. And the high definition 24bit/96kHz recording signal holds up extremely well for editing and production. I’ve included a couple of sample recordings below so you can compare a few recording options.
Apogee MiC connected to the iPad (3rd generation) via 30-pin connector
Apogee MiC connected to the iPhone 4S via 30-pin connector
iPad (3rd generation) onboard microphone
iPhone 4S onboard microphone
Rode NTG-2 connected to a Zoom H6 via XLR/mini adapter
Rode NTG-2 connected to a Zoom H1 via XLR/mini adapter
Audio-Technica AT8010 connected to a Zoom H6 via XLR/mini adapter
Audio-Technica AT8010 connected to a Zoom H1 via XLR/mini adapter
Build-quality and Accessories
The MiC itself feels solid in the hand. The body protecting the onboard preamp and analog-to-digital converters is all metal, and the steel mesh enclosure protects the cardioid condenser capsule. Together, they should put to rest any doubts about the MiC’s durability.
Apogee ships the MiC with a variety of cables for different purposes. There’s one with a 30-pin connection, and one with a Lightning connection, to work with whichever generation of iOS device you’re using. But it also ships with a USB cable to connect the MiC to an iMac or a MacBook Pro. Regardless of the device you’re using, setup is easy and intuitive.
As far as accessories go, Apogee includes a small, but sturdy table top tripod, as well as an adapter for a standard mic stand. And if you’d like a protective carrying case, as well as some longer cables, Apogee offers a Pro Kit especially designed for a safe and snug fit. Additionally, if you tend to get close to the mic when recording you might want to invest in a pop-filter to protect against the plosive sounds of P’s and B’s spiking your recording. You might try either a foam cover (like the red one seen in some of the embedded pics) or an adjustable type made from some sort of mesh.
The Apogee MiC is designed to record one person at a time. Because of the MiC’s cardioid pickup pattern, only the person in front of the mic will be recorded with proper levels. If you need to record two people, you might consider the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, which has inputs for two XLR microphones and is compatible with the iPad.
There’s no onboard headphone jack for latency-free monitoring. Latency occurs when the sound playing through the headphones is slightly delayed, resulting in a sort of echo as you’re speaking. The delay happens as it takes the iPad or computer a small bit of time to process the signal before it sends it back out through the headphones. This is common to almost all USB microphones, unless they have an onboard headphone jack which sends the signal out through the headphones at the same time it sends the signal to the computer, thus eliminating latency. Because the MiC lacks this onboard headphone jack, there is a small, but acceptable amount of latency.
At $229, it’s not cheap. I will say, though, that I think it’s an excellent value, given the solid build quality, portability, and beautiful sound.
Not Windows compatible. Could be a deal-breaker for some folks.
The Apogee mic works flawlessly with GarageBand, as well as any other Core Audio app, which means you’ll likely be able to use it with whatever Mac or iOS compatible editing software you’d like.
It’s powered through the data cable, so there’s no need for external power or batteries. This is a huge plus, as most condenser microphones require either batteries or phantom power.
Blue Yeti (not the Pro). Strengths: Windows/Mac compatibility; price ($120); headphone monitoring, gain control. Weaknesses: need the camera-adapter kit to use with iOS devices, less mobile because of its weight and size; average sound quality.
Blue Spark Digital. Strengths: Windows/Mac/iOS compatibility; headphone monitoring, gain control. Weaknesses: price ($190); less mobile because of its weight and size and design; sound quality somewhere between the Blue Yeti and the Apogee MiC.
Given its great sound, portability, and durability, the MiC is an excellent value. I highly recommend adding it to your portable recording equipment bag.
I’ve included the elements below as alternative ways of experiencing the MiC, as well as making the media elements (which are all licensed with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike-4.0 license) available for download, reuse, remix, or whatever. Enjoy.