Rode i-XY Microphone Review

Want to turn your iPhone or iPad into a stereo recorder? The i-XY promises ‘broadcast quality audio in your pocket’. Review by Marcus Leadley

Details

Specs: Stereo cardioid condenser microphones in fixed XY configuration (switchable to mono mode) for iPhone and iPad. Built-in A/D conversion. Ships with alternative mounts for iPhone 5, 5s, 6 and 6 Plus. Includes carry case and foam windshield. Works with Rode Rec LE (free) or Rode Rec (£3.99)
RRP: £149

Contact: Source Distribution – 0208 962 5080 – www.rodemic.com
An iPhone, of course, can already record, but without a device like the i-XY, you are limited to mono; with a i-XY, you can record 24bit/96kHz stereo audio. The i-XY features a pair of 1/2″ cardioid condenser capsules in a fixed X/Y configuration, a high-quality onboard analogue-digital converter and a Lightning connector. It comes with mounts that allow the use of the iPhone 5, 5s, 6 and 6 Plus.

Out of the box the i-XY feels solid. It ships with a foam windshield and a carry case. This fits both the i-XY and the shield, and has a belt clip; it’s not a pocket-sized accessory. As well as the alternative rubber mounts, there’s a little tool for changing them. Once you’ve fitted the one that suits your device you simply push the i-XY into the Lightning connector port. The mount holds the unit securely and covers the Home button, but there’s a flexible rubber nub that allows it to continue functioning. A little green LED lights up when the unit’s connected properly.
The i-XY is designed to work with the Rode Rec app. There’s a free LE version and a professional upgrade that will cost you £3.99. The LE has all the basic recording functions, while the upgrade allows you to edit and normalise files and gives you EQ and dynamic controls and more file output options, including MP3. The app recognises the mic connection as soon as it’s made.

While the basics of recording are very simple, there are quite a few menus you’ll need to get to grips with. You’ll need to specify the sample rate, from 8kHz-96kHz; higher rates yield higher quality recordings, but they require more memory. This may be an issue if you’re someone who keeps a lot of music and data on your phone.

As well as stereo you can also configure the microphones to record in mono, which makes the i-XY a lot more flexible. There are plenty of occasions when you might want to record in mono, especially if you intend to incorporate the finished recording in a multi-track mix at a later stage.

The dual mono option is also useful if you want to create separation between two musicians playing a duet, or record an interview. Once you have your recordings, the Rode Rec app lets you upload them directly to Dropbox or SoundCloud. It also allows the necessary file sharing with your computer.

Sounds
I tested the i-XY with a number of sources, electric guitar, acoustic guitar and voice in the studio, and also took it on a tour of my neighbourhood recording buskers, churches and traffic.

Much to my surprise I could definitely hear a difference between recording at 48kHz and 96kHz, with the latter sounding richer, more transparent and more lifelike. Some minor preamp noise was detectable when recording very quiet signals but the live instrument recordings were essentially noise-free.

The XY coincident pair has become something of a standard for hand-held recorders as it generally yields good results. There are limitations – the narrowness of the stereo field, for example – but there really isn’t enough room for this to develop unless your about 6-10 feet from the source, which is ideal for recording concerts or practice sessions. Using the mono options for close mic’ing might not seem sexy, but that’s the way to get detail, clarity and pro-sounding results.

Verdict
The Rode i-XY is an excellent product. If you already have an iPhone or iPad it’s a quick way to add a lot of audio fidelity. As an accessory there are compromises to consider: you can’t record and use the phone at the same time; you may have issues with available memory; you can’t use headphones to monitor as you record for any sample rates over 88.2 kHz; and at lower levels there seems to be a degree of latency to contend with.
There are also plenty of dedicated high-quality portable recorders on the market at, or below, the cost of the i-XY. These take memory cards and can be connected to a range of different mics. However, in my opinion, the i-XY outperforms the built-in mics of standalone units in this price bracket, as all the money has been spent on the capsules and the A/D conversion.