REALLY COOL TOOLS FOR AUDIO-TO-GO
From mics to monitoring to multitrack recording, we’ve unearthed some great goodies for mobile audio.
Shure X2u XLR-to-USB Adapter($130 MSRP, $99 street; www.shure.com )
Got XLR mic? Got USB on your Windows Vista/XP/7 or Mac OS X laptop? Then plug the mic into the X2u, and the X2u into a powered USB port— instant USB mic. The X2u sports three controls: mic gain, headphone volume (there’s an 1/8" jack), and monitor, which blends output from the computer with the mic audio. There’s also a +48V switch, peak LED indicator, and USB activity indicator.
So how does it stack up to Blue’s Icicle ($60 street) or CEntrance’s Mic- Port Pro ($149 street)? The X2u has better build quality than the Icicle, which also lacks monitoring (there’s only a gain control), has no phantom power, and is about an inch longer. The Icicle also uses a mini-USB jack, whereas the X2u uses any standard USB cable. For the extra bucks, the MicPort Pro gives 24-bit/96kHz resolution; the X2u tops out at 16/48kHz, and Icicle at 16/44.1kHz. You can also aggregate two MicPort Pros for stereo recording, and if size matters, it’s the smallest of the bunch—but it uses a mini-USB jack, and while it provides zero-latency monitor, blending needs to be done in your software app.
So if you ever needed proof that “you get what you pay for,” these three prove it. The X2u is positioned exactly between the Icicle and the MicPort Pro, and for most people, provides all the essentials for transforming whatever mic you use into a USB mic—with notable build quality.
Monster Turbine Pro Copper In-Ear Speakers($299.95 MSRP, $270 street; www.monstercable.com )
We reviewed the Turbine Pro Gold earbuds last issue, which are designed more for high-end consumers. Within hours of the magazine going to the printer, we then received the Turbine Pro Copper earbuds, which are designed specifically for pro mixing—and they’re so good they merit their own mention.
The differences between the two are subtle, but significant. Gold emphasizes low bass, with a little less high end; Copper is more neutral overall. However, this is not a night-and-day difference— it’s more like the difference between two excellent sets of speakers.
Like the Golds, the Coppers are beautifully constructed (with a lifetime warranty—that’s confidence!), and exhibit the same imaging, detail, transparency, and superb transient response. However, the same caution applies to both products: Selecting the correct tip for your ear is crucial, so take the time to check out all the options.
Can’t decide between them? If you want to mix, have your MP3 player sound transcendent, and truly enjoy the movies on planes, go for the Gold. You can easily learn to compensate for any response differences. But if you’re interested solely in the most accurate reproduction when mixing (or even mastering) with a mobile studio, the Coppers get the nod. In either case, these are astonishing transducers that will cause you to re-evaluate just how good “earbuds” can be.
Zoom H4n($549 MSRP, $300 street, www.samsontech.com )
Zoom’s H4n has nailed the portable recorder. The sound quality is exceptional— not just “good for a portable recorder”—even with the internal condenser mics, which you can rotate to optimize positioning for close-up or wide-field recording. When using your own mics, there are dual “combi” XLR mic/high-Z 1/4" ins (with phantom power and a built-in mid-side stereo decoder), and the H4n can record four tracks simultaneously as well as overdub and mix those tracks.
For “instant monitoring,” there’s a built-in speaker. Battery life? Up to 11 hours if you don’t need more than 16- bit/44.1 WAV or MP3 recording. Storage? The H4n records to SD/SDHC cards; a 32GB card (1GB is included) means 15 hours at 24/96kHz or in MP3 mode, weeks of continuous recording. A pre-record buffer covers you for two seconds prior to hitting record, and you can also trigger recording based on level.
The H4n includes several extras, like 50 built-in DSP effects (including amp sim emulation) and a variable-speed phrase trainer; the USB 2.0 interface isn’t just for transferring audio, but lets the H4n serve as a cross-platform audio interface or card reader . . . all in a package only slightly larger and heavier than Zoom’s H2.
What’s not to like? Maybe someday, I’ll find something. But overall, the H4n hits an undeniable home run—you won’t find better at this price.