Microphone accessories for Apple's iPods come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from miniature mono microphones to fully-fledged mobile-recording rigs. If your needs are somewhere between voice memos and professional audio, the Blue Microphones Mikey, available for around £60, fills the gap well, offering a surprising level of recording quality at an affordable price.
There's a retro, radio-era design philosophy that runs through all of Blue Microphones' products, and the Mikey is no exception. The microphone measures 64 by 44 by 13mm, and looks right at home connected to the bottom of an iPod classic. The Mikey looks rather like the lopped-off top of a 1950s broadcaster microphone, weaving together a black metal mic grille and chromed plastic trim into an unapologetically square design.
The bottom edge of the Mikey features a standard 30-pin iPod dock connector that swivels independently of the microphone, allowing the mic to be positioned 90° upwards or downwards. Just above the iPod connector are three LED indicators marked with squiggly lines that represent the microphone's three gain settings (loud, medium and quiet). A ridiculously small switch on the opposite side is used to set the microphone gain into one of the three modes.
Overall, the Mikey feels solid and reliable, and its rotating design offers a distinct advantage over products such as the Belkin TuneTalk or the Griffin iTalkPro. The tiny gain switch on the back is frustrating to use without a pen or a long fingernail to nudge it along, but, on the other hand, the lack of accessibility prevents the setting from changing accidentally.
The Mikey is designed to do just one thing: record stereo audio to your iPod using an integrated microphone. You're not going to find an optional line input jack, USB pass-through or an independent headphone output, as you would on something like the Belkin GoStudio. We do appreciate, however, that there's a small mono speaker on the back of the Mikey, which, despite its tinny sound, allows you to review recordings without plugging in your headphones.
Like any iPod microphone accessory, the Mikey's recording features are tied to the limitations of the iPod it's connected to. The iPod records to only two formats: 44kHz/16-bit WAV or 22kHz/16-bit WAV. Some iPods, such as the fourth-generation iPod nano, display a volume meter during recordings that can help you gauge which gain setting to use in a given situation. Our old fifth-generation iPod, however, offers no such metering and has a habit of polluting recordings with intermittent hum from its hard drive (a problem we've found on all iPod recorders we've tested).
An iPod like the second-generation touch isn't technically supported by the Mikey, but we were able to capture some recordings using the BIAS iProRecorder App. Support for the iPhone and touch may come later, but, for now, using the Mikey with the touch and iPhone is unreliable, at best.
The features that distinguish the Mikey from the competition are mostly behind the scenes. For instance, the microphone capsules used on the Mikey (the parts that actually transform air vibrations into sound) are gigantic compared with those found on consumer microphones, each measuring approximately 13mm in diameter. Bigger capsules don't necessarily translate into improved recording quality, but the choice of components is unique among Blue Microphones' competitors and offers some evidence that Blue Microphones actually put some serious thought into designing its lowest-priced microphone.
Another one of the Mikey's undercover features is, quite literally, under the cover. To avoid the kind of low-end rumble and distortion people typically get when recording outdoors, Blue Microphones has shielded its mic capsules with a built-in windscreen, using a material similar to that on the Zoom H2. There's no low-pass filter feature built in to the Mikey, so, if the integrated screen doesn't cut it for you, investing in a separate windscreen may be necessary.
If there's one feature we wish the Mikey had, it's direct monitoring. Without a way to hear what you're recording in real-time, you simply have to cross your fingers and hope the results come out all right. With the iPod's own headphone jack either obscured by the Mikey's design (touch, nano) or disabled during recording (classic), an additional headphone jack for direct monitoring would be handy. Granted, none of the Mikey's similarly priced competitors include a direct headphone monitor feature, but higher-priced options such as the Alesis ProTrack and Belkin GoStudio have shown us how valuable the feature can be.
It's safe to say that the recordings we made using the Mikey sound better than those of any other iPod microphone in its price range. In fact, even higher-priced iPod recorders, such as the GoStudio, couldn't match the realism and detail we heard from the Mikey.
One of the most noteworthy characteristics of the Mikey's sound is the minimal amount of background noise introduced into the recording. As usual, recordings made with hard-drive-based iPods (fifth-generation, classic) weren't as clean as those from the flash-based nano, but stereo realism and frequency range were still quite good.
Using the Mikey with a fourth-generation nano offered the best audio results, since its flash memory uses no moving parts, and it's long, lightweight design is easy to hold and transfers a minimal amount of handling noise to the mics. Aside from the usual assortment of music recording tests (guitar, piano and others), the most surprising recording we made was afternoon rain on the front porch, which came through with an almost unnerving amount of clarity and realism.
If your recording needs are humble (voice memos and lectures), you could probably get away with a lower-priced iPod microphone. Spending some more on the Mikey should provide more flattering results for recorded voices (you want your memoirs to sound good, don't you?), and its natural sound should lead to less ear fatigue when listening back to lectures.
Blue Microphones rates the total recording time of the Mikey at around 1.5 hours, which is slightly better than average, but not as long as you'd get with a standalone audio recorder.
In its price range, the Blue Microphones Mikey offers the best value for money, recording realistic and detailed audio. It's retro design is also pleasing, although a few more features wouldn't go amiss.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet