The Gemini iKey

[$229, ikey-audio.com]
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The Gemini iKey is an odd product. It’s not a stand-alone recorder, but rather a basic USB interface that records directly to any USB mass storage device (including USB hard disks, iPods, and memory keys). Files can be recorded as either MP3 (128, 192, or 256 kbps) or .WAV files, all at 44.1kHz/16 bit. This would allow recording 128 kbps MP3’s for days at a time onto even a modest hard drive, or a few hours of CD-quality .WAV audio onto an iPod mini. Not surprisingly, the unit has a very Apple-like look to it, being constructed of white plastic with silver buttons and a brushed-metal panel for the battery compartment (4xAA). There’s a row of seven LEDs that display information about signal level, recording resolution, and memory availability. The controls seem simple at first, with only two buttons plus a rotary dial to control the input level. All-in-all, it’s a great concept, but in reality? It’s disappointing.

The unit has several flaws that I think hamper its overall usefulness. For starters, it’s about twice the size of a standard iPod. That’s not huge, by any means, but considering that it still has to plug into an external storage device, it’s definitely not competing with all-in-one hard disk or flash card recorders for compact design (bootleggers beware!). Additionally, there’s no preamp and the only inputs are the RCA stereo pair, which presents a challenge for live recording. It does come with an adapter cable (twin RCA-to-1/8" stereo), but that doesn’t really make it any easier to use a decent mic without throwing a separate preamp into the chain (plus yet another adapter), at which point you would have three little boxes to lug around. In addition, the record button is located on the unprotected corner of the unit, so it’s very easy to accidentally start or stop recording. To top it off, there’s a several second delay between pressing the button and the actual start of the recording. All this, combined with the unwieldy four-screw battery compartment makes it pretty inconvenient for live recording.

So it would seem that the iKey is intended for recording out of a stereo or DJ mixer, but even for that it can be frustrating. For example, the clip indicator is supposed to remain unlit at proper signal level (solidly on means no signal, flashing means it’s clipping), which really doesn’t provide any decent level indication and can be very confusing when recording more dynamic material. It definitely does not make up for the total lack of any monitor output, that’s for sure. Furthermore, with all the LEDs constantly flashing to indicate different things, it is very easy to lose track of whether the unit is actually recording or not. Last, but not least, MSRP is somewhat high at $229 (although it can be found at $150, making it almost worthwhile). Given all its other problems, I wouldn’t expect the iKey to compete well with all the other compact recorders at the same price point.