IPods have provided lots of entertainment since their debut in 2001. Soon, they may help with the sterner stuff of office chores, too.
Manufacturers are offering a handful of microphone systems that plug snugly into the current crop of video iPods and Nanos, turning them into devices that not only play audio, but record it, too—in stereo. Place one of these iPods and its small attachment on a table, and it can capture the words of meetings, interviews and all those other audio events that in the old days were preserved on analogue cassette tape.
These new lightweight microphone systems cost about $50-70. Their hi-fi recordings are stored on the iPod and can be easily transferred to a computer for editing or emailing.
Anyone who needs a small digital audio recorder could just as well buy a stand-alone model for roughly the price of these iPod attachments. But in this age of convergence, manufacturers are betting that people who are already carrying an iPod may prefer to snap a quality recorder onto it, rather than tote along a separate device.
Apple, the iPod’s maker, does not make the new recording attachments. That job is done by some of the companies that have built a vast secondary business in iPod accessories, estimated at well over $1 billion in sales in 2006, and about the same this year, said Steve Baker, an analyst at the NPD Group, a research firm.
XtremeMac, Belkin and Griffin Technology are three companies that have been licensed by Apple to introduce stereo audio recorders for video iPods and second-generation Nanos. I tried out three of their devices, all released during 2006, with my video iPod.
Each of the three recorders has its strong points.
The MicroMemo ($59.95), from XtremeMac, has a built-in speaker to preview recordings without using a headset. It comes in two sizes: a small version that fits the Nano, and a slightly larger version that fits neatly at the bottom of the video iPod.
The TuneTalk Stereo ($69.95), from Belkin, comes in only one size and has no built-in speaker—you’ll have to use headphones if you want to check the sound. But it does have highly useful accessories: a USB cable that can be plugged into a computer to charge it while it is recording, and a plastic stand to hold the TuneTalk while recording.
Like Belkin’s product, the Griffin iTalk Pro ($49.95) has two internal mikes for stereo recording, although it does not have the USB cord for recharging or the collapsible stand.
No matter which recorder you choose, you need to keep an eye on storage space and battery capacity, depending on the type of iPod you are using. Space is less likely to be a concern with video iPods, because they store recordings in a commodious hard drive of 30, 60 or 80 gigabytes. But power may be an issue.
Recording stereo sound in a stream draws heavily on the battery, just as working with a video stream does, said Chris J. Doran, US retail merchandizing manager at XtremeMac in Weston, Florida.
“You’re spinning the hard drive all the time on high-quality setting,” he said, making it likely that users will deplete the battery long before they reach the end of the storage space.
Nanos don’t have this problem because they record to flash-memory drive, a more accommodating medium. “You get between 10 and 12 hours of high-quality recording on the Nano,” Doran said, in contrast to 3.5-5 hours on the MicroMemo for the video iPod. But storage capacity for a Nano that has, for example, 8 gigabytes of memory, most of it already filled with tunes, is more likely to be a worry.
“If you are concerned about storage space, record at lower quality and get about four times as much recording on the same space,” Doran said.
All the recording devices let users toggle between high-quality stereo recording and lower-quality, space-saving monaural settings.
The hard drive on the video iPod creates a recording issue, too. It makes audible clicks as it goes about its business and some of these sounds are occasionally picked up by the internal mikes used in some recording devices.
If these clicks are bothersome, all the units have a port so that an external mike with a 3.5mm plug can be used instead, reducing hard-drive noise.
”We have sold more than 100 million iPods,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s vice-president for worldwide marketing for iPod and iPhone. “Any percentage of the 100 million adds up to a lot of customers.”