Turn your iPod into a digital recorder!
By Don Reynolds
iKEY-AUDIO, a division of Gemini Sound Products, has produced an unassuming little box that looks like a sleeper hit--an iPod-compatible, portable USB audio recorder. As a musician who performs live, I've always had my eye out for a portable recorder to document shows, but nothing quite fit the bill. If you want to make high quality, inexpensive, hassle-free digital recordings, consider the iKey. By keeping it simple and making it work with the iPod, iKEY-AUDIO has just made mobile digital recording accessible to everybody.
Laptop computers do a lot of things well out of the box, but recording live music isn't necessarily one of them. First you have to buy an audio interface and recording software. Once you get to the gig, you have to boot up your hardware, start the recording software, set levels, and pray the thing doesn't crash or otherwise hang up. And on a live gig, where Murphy's Law often rules, that's asking for trouble. For studio recording, computers are great, but for live use, they complicate things needlessly. The iKey, by contrast, is plug-and-play. All you have to remember is to press the record button.
I've used other portable devices to record gigs. Cassette recorders are easy to use, but the sound quality, for me, doesn't cut it. DAT and Minidisc recorders work well but are pricey and require the extra step of converting the audio files before you can store them on a computer. The iKEY lets you skip this tedious step, recording your audio into digital MP3 or WAV files in real time. The sound quality, especially when you're using the higher quality formats, has the edge and clarity that only digital sound delivers - and it takes all of about 10 seconds to set up.
Step one: Connect any line level output to the iKEY's stereo RCA inputs. Step two: Connect your iPod or another USB compatible storage device to the iKey's USB port. Step three: Select the desired digital audio format from MP3 or WAV. Step four: Adjust the input levels, and hit record. Hit record again when the performance is over and you're done. That's all there is to it.
The iKEY simplifies recording by doing away with unneeded bells and whistles and delivering just what you need. Progress LED indicators let you know how much disk space is being used on your target drive, so you'll know when to switch to another storage device if necessary. Another dual-function error LED lights up solid if there is a data transfer problem and blinks if your batteries are running low. A level clip LED monitor lights up when volume input is excessive. A reset button re-initializes the unit in case there are any problems with your storage device.
The MP3 audio compression standard allows music fans to store vast quantities of music files easily and quickly, but to the ears of some audiophiles, the default 128 kilobytes per second MP3 format doesn't quite make the grade. Fortunately, the iKey offers four different resolutions to choose from when recording your audio. These include three levels of MP3: the standard 128kbps, 192kbps, and high quality 256 kbps MP3 bit rates, which offer incrementally higher levels of recording quality. The 256kbps bit rate is nearly CD quality, and will be the preferred format for many musicians and others who insist on above-average sound quality.
The iKEY's highest selectable level of quality is the lossless WAV format, so if you're aiming for professional, album-quality audio, this is the format you'll use. Using the WAV resolution means generating large files--it takes about 10MB of memory to record one minute of WAV audio. One gig of storage gives more than an hour and a half of high quality WAV sound. The cost of USB-compatible memory devices has been on a downward spiral of late, meaning that on a simple live-recording gig, using the iKEY is inexpensive and easily expandable.
If you have an iPod, you've already got enough storage to record hours of music. USB-compatible flash RAM drives also work great with the iKey. If you record a ton of material, you may want to consider getting something with larger capacity. A 400GB hard drive can be purchased for just a little over $300, which gives you enough space to record about 275 days worth of high quality MP3 or over 2 solid weeks of WAV audio using the iKEY! That's probably enough to capture every set of your band's next tour. I anticipate that the iKEY's availability will result in an explosion of live recording. It's the greatest thing for do-it-yourself recording artists since the Internet!
Contemplating the variety of possible uses for this unit boggles the mind. I plan to run the output from my band's mixing board to the iKEY at practically every gig. It'll be great to listen to the gig on my computer or on the ride home through my iPod. We could even burn CDs right at the gig and sell them off the stage!
I'm a fanatic collector of vinyl LP records and I've been looking for an inexpensive way to convert my collection to digital--the iKey will be ideal for this. It'll also be great for sampling phrases from records and other sources to use in my own original tunes. Karaoke singers could use it to capture their performances. I can also see a lot of DJs and techno aficionados picking up on the iKEY, and it would seem to be tailor-made for podcasting.
With the addition of a small and inexpensive mic preamp, you can easily plug a microphone into the iKEY. This opens up many other possibilities, such as recording speeches, seminars, and award banquets. Students can now use their iPods to record class lectures or music lessons. The iKEY unlocks the door to easy, on-the-go USB recording--what you do with it when you walk through the door is your call.
iKEY-AUDIO's iKey is your key to easy high-end recording.
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