As smartphones have gotten smarter over the years, the things we do with them have evolved too. I’ve used my iPhone in the past as a field recorder to conduct impromptu interviews at media events I’ve had access at. While it’s been a little while since I’ve had to do that, I recall one major thing about those participating in those scrums: The end audio quality is terrible. I remember interviewing K1 Kickboxer Ray Sefo one time and we had a fantastic few minutes discussing business and fighting. When I got home, I couldn’t understand half of what he was saying on the playback and it wasn’t even due to his thick kiwi accent.
Since those days, I’ve often wondered about whether I should start carrying a pocket field recorder again. I may not have to anymore. Zoom, my new favourite portable audio company has unleashed a line of high quality, professional add-ons. The iQ6 for the iPhone is just one of those brilliant little gadgets, plugging straight into the Lightning port and turning that phone or iPad into makeshift field recorder.
The ease of amazing stereo sound
I recently looked at the Zoom H1 Pocket Recorder. It featured a great little cardioid criss-crossing microphone setup, however, the mics were fixed into place. The iQ6 allows you to rotate and manipulate the mics a little bit to enhance your field of pickup. The mics themselves don’t move and swing around, but you can rotate their inputs directly from the base to go from 90 to 120 degrees of pickup on each side.
The mic is literally plug and play. Once you’ve downloaded the Zoom Handy Recorder app, all you have to do is literally plug the iQ6 into the Lightning Port and it will automatically configure. While you can plug the console facing either side, I’d recommend having the volume dial and power light on the same side as your screen. It’s just easier to manage things that way.
This does mean that you’ll have to take it out of most protective cases though. I tested this on a couple of Otterboxes for iPhone 6 and 7 and had to remove the phone from its case every time. That said, there is a little black plastic spacer piece that pops on and off to help fit and accommodate some cell phone cases. You just won’t have much like if you buy really rigid phone cases like I do.
This microphone comes with a windscreen! Inside the fort knox of a box (it’s shaped a bit funny since the mic is inside a little plastic clamshell-style display on the outside) is a foam windscreen that goes over your microphones. This will definitely take the sting out of having to go to the store to find something small enough to fit these mics over. It’s a pretty thick sponge too so it can withstand a little bit of wear and tear.
The iQ6 isn’t a particularly fancy microphone in itself. Besides the rotating mic heads and the volume knob on the front, there isn’t much more to it outside of a headphone jack. This headphone jack is a bit crucial to the operation if you want immediate playback. When you have the microphone plugged into the Lightning jack, it disables playback of your audio. You will either have to unplug the mic to hear playback or you will have to plug in a set of earbuds or headphones.
As for Handy Recorder, it is a fairly simple and straight ahead app. There aren’t really a lot of fancy design bells or whistles. You can definitely tinker with your sound itself really well within the app though. For a free app, Handy Recorder is jam packed with recording and cleanup features. You can even select different audio formats in which to record in order to conserve (or not conserve) hard drive space if need be. I’ve probably downloaded and used around a dozen different free and paid “recording” apps over time and Handy Recorder is actually the most impressive of the bunch. You don’t even need to buy this mic to use it if it interests you. It can also just channel into the phone’s microphone and you can play with it to your heart’s content.
Note to self
The things you can use your iQ6 for are pretty endless. I really think about it from the journalist and field recording side, but you can use it to record meetings, class lectures and even more. You can even use it to make reminder notes for yourself as you walk down the street. Before you start questioning that idea, think about all the good ideas you think of and then leave behind because you don’t write them down in time. I remember hearing a story many years ago that eventual 90s one hit wonder Donna Lewis (of “I love you always forever” fame) used to carry a pocket recorder nonstop in her early career. It led to her being able to record little lyrical and music ideas to herself whenever she needed which eventually led to her Atlantic Records deal.
You won’t really even need to worry about storage space. Since you’re using the internal storage on your phone, the amount of space you have is directly relative to how much you have left on that drive.
Should you ever need to share your notes to self or recordings with the rest of the world, Handy Recorder makes it pretty easy for you. Just select the share option and with the push of a button, you can either export to Soundcloud or email it to somebody else.
How good can the audio quality possibly be?
With two mics about the size of a jellybean and a device so small that it fits into the palm of your hand, you must be thinking about how the quality of this can possibly be, right? For you musicians, I’m going to put your fears to rest. Here’s Zoom’s shared Soundcloud recording of an acoustic guitar. You’ve got to dig it.
I think that this is a great microphone for anybody that needs it. The audio quality is crystal clear and it’s just so easy to turn your phone from a mediocre recording device to a powerhouse. All it takes is a little device that fits in the palm of your hand. The windscreen itself adds some girth to the whole setup but I never disagree with having one of those things. If you’re doing interviews out in the field or even doing your own voiceover practice, having this windscreen neutralizing the your popping sounds and hard pronunciations is amazing.
At the end of the day, what is my personal preference? I admit that I’m still a little old school in my ways and I still like having an old fashioned voice recorder out in the field, but it might just be because I grew up with them. If this is your way (and a good one too,) you might also want to invest in a battery pack or two. Inevitably, you’re going to zap the juice on your battery pretty quickly with an always-on app that is constantly recording, especially if you’re doing lectures or meetings.
It’s almost like carrying a recording studio starter kit in your pocket. It’s the sleek Zoom iQ6 microphone and it’s available now at Best Buy.