We've seen plenty of iPod-recording accessories come along over the years, but only a handful of them are capable of making high-quality, stereo recordings. If your recording needs go beyond basic voice memos, and you prefer the convenience of using an iPod over a standalone recorder, the £180 Alesis ProTrack is one of the better iPod-recording accessories we've tested.
The ProTrack isn't small. In fact, its dimensions (76 by 184 by 44mm) are best described as 'brick-like'. In defence of Alesis, the ProTrack's design needs to accommodate space-hogging features such as an iPod dock, battery compartment (4x AAA), stereo-condenser microphones and XLR/instrument combination inputs for external microphones. That said, a product like the Belkin GoStudio is able to tackle the same design challenge with a more stylish and ergonomic result.
The ProTrack isn't the prettiest iPod recorder we've seen, but it certainly packs in the most features. Like any iPod accessory, however, the ProTrack's capabilities are hampered by the recording limitations of the iPod. The maximum recording resolution, as dictated by the iPod, is 16-bit/44KHz. A lower-quality 16-bit/22KHz option is available using the iPod's settings, but you won't find any options for recording directly to MP3.
Fortunately, you can convert recordings to MP3, AAC and other formats, after you've imported recordings to your computer using Apple's iTunes software. Recordings import automatically as time-stamped iPod voice memos, once you've connected your iPod to a computer over USB. Some will find the iTunes-importing feature convenient, but the required iPod USB cable and the inherent difficulties in syncing an iPod between different computers (by default iTunes will prompt you to erase your iPod when syncing to an unfamiliar computer) offer some practical limitations compared with a standalone USB recorder like the Zoom H2.
Something you won't find on comparably priced recorders, however, is the ProTrack's phantom-powered microphone inputs, which are ideal for high-quality broadcast microphones. The only other recorder we've tested in this price range with phantom-powered XLR inputs is the Zoom H4n, which costs around £330.
The second most impressive feature on the ProTrack is the pair of stereo-condenser microphones poking out from the top. These mics are permanently arranged in an X-Y recording position, and protected by a metal wire brace.
Other features on the ProTrack include a switch for charging your iPod, a power adaptor input (the adaptor is included), mini-jack headphone output, switchable audio limiter, Kensington lock slot, tripod mount, and a switch for recording to stereo or mono files. Alesis also throws in a foam windscreen for the built-in stereo-condenser microphones, which is handy in outdoor recording environments. Be sure not to lose that windscreen though, since the ProTrack lacks any low-cut filter capabilities that would otherwise reduce wind distortion.
Generally impressive recordings
We tested the ProTrack with a variety of iPods (including the second-generation iPod touch, running the iProRecorder app from BIAS), and subjected it to a variety of recording situations, with and without the on-board limiter. Using the built-in stereo microphones, we recorded everything from backyard wind chimes and acoustic piano to electric guitar.
In general, recordings from the built-in microphones offered impressive stereo realism and clarity. Unfortunately, we noticed that recordings from the ProTrack's internal mics featured more background noise than similar recordings made with the Zoom H2. We also found the ProTrack's independent gain-setting dials for the left and right channels slightly touchy, producing off-balance stereo recordings if the dials weren't precisely aligned.