(May 2003 - March 2007.) Tama's thoughts on the blogosphere, podcasting, popular culture, digital media and citizen journalism posted from a laptop computer somewhere in Perth's isolated, miniature, urban jungle ...

XTremeMac MicroMemo 5G Video iPod Microphone Evaluation

Monday, September 11, 2006
XtremeMac MicroMemo Microphone Plugin for iPod VideoWay back in November last year I got excited about the prospect of the increased recording quality allowed by the software in the (then) new 5G Video iPods. With three different microphone plugins fairly quickly announced, but more than half a year later, Belkin's page for the TuneTalk Stereo has been up for months, but still displays the disclaimer "Coming soon. Please check back for updates on availability", while Griffin Technology haven't even got an official page yet for their upcoming iTalkPro. Thankfully, the first microphone plugin to hit the market, the XtremeMac MicroMemo has arrived!

At first glance this is actually a pretty impressive little device. The MicroMemo plugs straight into the iPod Video (5G) with no fuss, and instantly the record menu pops up. There are two quality settings (16-bit audio at 22 kHz and 44 kHz) which can easily be toggled between and recording starts at the press of a button. Unlike past iPod mics, the MicroMemo has a microphone on a flexible lead, so it can be positioned easily for recording either one person or two in an interview setting (although, it should be noted, the recordings are not in stereo). The MicroMemo also has a switch to allow you to record line-in from any mini-jack (the bundled microphone can be unplugged, unlike the design of the iTalkPro or the TuneTalk). There is also an embedded speaker that's by no means loud, but is adequate to check that your recordings are working properly (this can be toggled on or off by holding how the single button on the front of the device). Even though it records in uncompressed WAV, with a 30Gb iPod as the lowest usable size, you can record more than the average interview (and far longer in low quality). The only major drawback is that the while recording the iPod's harddrive continuously spins, so the battery life is only a few hours for continuous recording (and, annoyingly, you can't charge while using the MicroMemo). That said, in usability terms, it's pretty smoothly designed and straight-forward to use.

In order to check the quality of the recordings, I conducted four tests of the MicroMemo with the microphone very close to my face (about 10 -15cm away) and also with the mic about 50cm away (which is the more likely distance if it was on a desk during an interview or similar circumstances). I recorded for roughly thirty seconds at both distances on the High Quality setting and the Low Quality. You can judge with your own ears, as I've posted these four tests, completely unedited (in their original recorded WAV formats) here:

[1] MicroMemo Audio Quality Test - Low Quality - Close to Face (1.5Mb)

[2] MicroMemo Audio Quality Test - Low Quality - Mic 50cm from Face (1.4 MB)

[3] MicroMemo Audio Quality Test - High Quality - Mic Close to Face (6.1 MB)

[4] MicroMemo Audio Quality Test - High Quality - Mic 50cm from Face (5.9 MB)

While there was a notable difference in the volume moving the MicroMemo away even to 50cm, a quick tweak with Audacity or any other audio editor to increase the volume finds pretty decent sound quality. The low quality is a lot smaller in size, but more than adequate for playback and for most podcasting recording (unless working to professional production values). For more detailed tests of the MicroMemo, check out reviews at both iLoungeand The iPod Observer.

In a nutshell, I wanted to know if the MicroMemo would be a useful device for student podcasts, recording interviews and other audio production citizen media rather than professional media in nature. I think the MicroMemo is more than up the the task and I hope with all the iPod projects going on in universities across the world, this little plugin will make student podcasts (not just lecture recordings or coursecasts!) a more sizable part of university curricula.

My only major gripe is that the MicroMemo can't record directly to a compressed format like mp3 - that functionality would really make this device ideal!

[Cross-posted from my eLearning blog.]

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At 10/09/2006 06:13:00 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It has been said that this is an attempt to discourage copyright circumvention (on the principle that the old mic quality on an iPod was Really Low for this reason) by making it Possible but Difficult. It's also been said, and this is more likely, that the people programming the iPod chipset would have had to do much more Actual Work to do on-iPod encoding, which wouldn't be trivial. Straight-through to WAV needs far less work, because it presumably won't have to do any of the work in figuring out which of the sounds can be dropped in lossy compression. If it's less actual work, and it will even be a better feature (leading to sales to professional musicians and picky audiophiles), and they can save money by using a less fancy chipset, it seems obvious to drop the 'record to mp3/aac/compressed' idea.

iPod owners *de facto* have access to a computer. Stereo recording is a nice extra that gobbles battery and drive as it is. Compression would ease up on the drive space while sucking harder at the juice and still hammering the hard drive from the point of view of constant access, I should think.

It's a relatively sensible decision to say, 'do the post-processing on your computer, where you have the fine control anyway'.

At 10/29/2006 02:44:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So one question is, can you adjust the volume of the recording while recording? Say you're in a lecture theatre and you want to record the droning voice of an 90 year old professor. Is it possible to amp up the volume sufficiently, and then drop it when you want to make a comment. Just curious and thanks for any help

At 10/29/2006 03:11:00 pm, Blogger Tama said...

It's not possible to change the volume during the recording, but you can edit the sound file afterwards very easily (with Audacity or a similar audio editor) and increase/decrease specific parts of your recording as needs be.


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