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This article was originally published in issue #30
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Perhaps we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to portable audio recording in this second decade of the 21st century: I can carry a well specified 2, 4 or 6 track digital recorder in my jacket pocket and use it to make very respectable quality recordings (with a few mics, leads and stands for the higher track counts, but you get the idea). Sometimes though, even that’s not convenient enough.
The Rode i-XY offers an even greater level of convenience and portability by adding a stereo-pair of good quality condenser mics and A/D converters to your iPhone or iPad, upgrading all of the components that affect audio quality and leaving the iDevice to provide processing, power and storage.
The ½ inch cardioid mic capsules are arranged in a fixed 90 degree, near coincident arrangement and the attractive deep grey coloured metal chassis has a flexible “grip” area protecting the connector (I tested the Lightning connector version, there is a different model for the older 30 pin devices). A/D conversion is up to 24/96 (with the Rode Rec app) and there is a low-cut filter to reduce rumble and handling noise. Now, I’m not an iDevice user, so the i-XY sat on my desk for a few days until someone left an unguarded iPhone 5 lying around. After I prised the ‘phone out of its protective case the i-XY clipped into place with a positive click, a green LED told me that I was properly connected and a notification popped up on-screen with a link to the Rode Rec app in the App Store. I had to do a quick iOS update, after which, oddly, I didn’t get the link any more, but a quick search of the App Store soon had me sorted.
You don’t need the Rec app to use the i-XY (and you don’t need the i-XY to use the app) but they are clearly designed to work together. There are two versions of the app, the free LE and the paid for “full”. So far so simple, but this is where I thought it got a bit frustrating.
Broadly speaking, Rec LE allows you to configure the mic, update firmware, set sample rate/word length and record, edit and upload your recordings; the paid-for full version has more complete editing and publishing options, which seems perfectly reasonable. What doesn’t seem quite so reasonable is that not all sample rate options are available with the LE version. Rode positions the i-XY as being useful for video work - it’s listed under the video/on-camera section on their website - but the LE version of Rec doesn’t allow you to set the video standard 48KHz sample rate. I know the full version of the app doesn’t cost a lot of money, but the i-XY isn’t exactly priced at the low-budget end of the market, and I think it’s pretty poor to sell the unit then restrict its performance unless you buy an additional app. Come on folks, put all the config in the free version and then by all means charge for the additional editing/publishing options.
As I’m not a “native” iPhone user I passed the i-XY to Richard, one of the Guitar Interactive video-camera guys, and he fitted it onto his iPhone 6 (used in the video with this review). I think the “6” is a little slimmer than the “5” with a different edge profile but it slotted-in and connected just fine. We did notice that the ‘phone got really quite hot and the battery drained very quickly with Rec LE running, even without the microphone installed, but the i-XY itself recorded beautifully; it’s quiet and clear with sound quality that subjectively is as good as a stand-alone recorder.
I’m a bit conflicted about the i-XY/Rec package. I thought the i-XY itself was very impressive, but of course, most of the experience of actually using it will be defined by your app. Neither Richard nor myself found Rec LE to be particularly slick, and on the iPhone 6 we used for testing it drained the battery at an alarming rate and made the phone noticeably warm. This could be a classic case of “Your Mileage May Vary” and a simple app update could remove all of my concerns overnight. You can use the i-XY with any recording app that suits you, but do remember that it is configured using Rode Rec. I’d happily recommend the hardware, but advise that you test the current version of the app on your device to decide if the overall package is right for you. In summary, it's a very convenient and fine sounding alternative to a dedicated stereo recorder for use with a supported iOS device, let down a bit by the current version of the supporting app. It also comes at a very high price.
A final thought: Bear in mind that any device that depends on a specific configuration of ‘phone or tablet will last only as long as you have a compatible device, and the next upgrade could render it obsolete. The i-XY is designed for iOS based devices, and as these update so regularly I suggest taking a look at the Rode website (http://www.rodemic.com/microphones/ixy) for the latest compatibility information.