Review: Blue Mikey Digital for iPhone & iPad
A while ago we were asked by a reader, “How can I record my DJ set on my iPhone?” The initial answer was that this is not possible (iOS devices don’t have a line input). Plus, we reasoned, dedicated audio recorders are coming down in price all the time, so why would you want to record on your iPhone or iPad?
But if it were possible then there are indeed advantages to recording your sets this way. One of the possible workarounds we identified in our first article was the Blue Mikey Digital which incorporates a stereo line input into the unit. It wasn't available yet back then, but now we've been able to get our hands on one. Let’s take a look and see if this tiny little microphone/line input could be the answer...
The Blue Mikey Digital is small and incredibly lightweight, perfect for popping into your pocket along with your iPhone or iPod Touch on the way to a gig. The microphone part can be rotated to capture audio when recording external sound - particularly useful for field recordings (if you want to sample crowd noise, passing traffic, train announcements and the like). On the back of the Blue Mikey Digital is a small switch that controls the gain adjustments. There are three settings, kept simple for ease of use and speed:
- Left: Loud source - this will drop the gain to reduce the risk of audio clipping (good news if you’re recording a live band at a gig)
- Centre: Auto gain - this should detect the volume coming in and adjust the gain accordingly
- Right: Quiet source - this will boost the gain to pick up the quietest of sounds, such as distant bird song or perhaps a lecture (useful for students or spies!)
On the top of the Blue Mikey Digital is the answer to our reader’s question: the stereo line input jack. It’s a single 3.5mm input socket, which means if you want to record directly from a mixer you will need a stereo RCA to 3.5mm cable – these are cheap and easy to find.
On the base of the unit is a 30-pin connector which connects to the base of your iOS device. I was using a new iPhone and as such I needed a 30-pin-to-lightning adapter. (By the way, the Blue Mikey Digital also comes with a tiny soft pouch, along with a guitar jack adaptor in case you wanted to record instruments directly into your iOS device.)
If you want to monitor (on headphones) what you're recording via the Blue Mikey Digital using an iPhone or iPod Touch it is a little tricky because the unit overhangs the headphone socket. This isn't an issue on an iPad since the headphone socket is on the other end of the device. A point to note is that not all audio recording apps support this type of "pass-through" monitoring. It is a setting tucked away on the FiRe 2 app that I used to conduct this review, and I believe something similar maybe possible with the GarageBand app.
There’s also a mini USB socket, so you can choose to charge your iOS device at the same time as recording. You would need to be doing some lengthy recording session to need this feature though.
Using the microphone
There are so many audio recording apps available to choose from and the Blue Mikey Digital should work nicely with all of them without issue. I chose to use FiRe 2, a field recording app, which has a decent number of settings and adjustments available, including a wealth of file formats. You can edit the recording afterwards and upload it to SoundCloud and Dropbox within the app which is particularly handy.
A couple of important points to remember when recording using an iOS device:
- Always close down any background apps...you don't want them interfering with your recording or draining resource
- Always switch to Airplane mode...otherwise you'll also record your iOS device searching for WiFi networks
I started by recording my voice in a quiet room, using the iPhone’s built in mic at first (audio here), then with the Blue Mikey Digital on each of the three settings (Auto, Quiet and Loud). There is a noticeable difference between the built-in mic and the Blue Mikey Digital. It sounds as if there’s some EQ adjustments or filtering going on with the latter contributing to vastly superior results, whereas with the built-in mic the result was harsh and almost metallic.
I soon decided that recording my voice on the “Loud” setting wasn’t going to be a good enough test, so one Sunday I sat among six heavy, swinging bells in the belfry of our local church recording the sound of some method ringing. The end result was surprisingly good, the sound inside the belfry is incredibly loud so recording those on an iPhone with the built-in mic would have been impossible without a huge amount of audio clipping.
To counter this test, I recorded my daughter singing as quietly as she could using the “Quiet” setting on the Blue Mikey Digital. This worked as expected, picking up surrounding sounds as well. The three LEDs near the base of the unit give you an indicator of how loud the recording is; if it flashes red then it's too loud!
Using the stereo line input
Of course, the line input is going to be the feature of most interest to DJs wantig to record their sets. For using this feature I opted to record using the Auto setting. In retrospect, it would be good if the Blue Mikey Digital came with the option of switching all gain adjustments off completely.
I was worried that the Auto setting would result in my line recording bobbing up and down throughout, but it didn’t seem to make a difference during the mix. After playing for a while with vinyl and recording directly into the FiRe app, I got to wondering...if the Blue Mikey Digital works with this app, what else can I do with it?
I started using the Blue Mikey Digital as a cheeky way of streaming my vinyl mixes live via Spreaker. I also found that it works fine with the regular Camera app on iOS, so I could record a video of my DJ mixes with crystal clear sound and not via the speakers (as so many YouTube clips of DJs do, including one or two my earlier ones). Prior to this, I would have had to record the video and audio separately then match them up on a host machine before uploading. With the Blue Mikey Digital I can record both at once and upload directly from my iOS device - so more time to spend on having fun behind the decks.
Most digital DJs will be asking why record on an external device when my software can do all of this this for me? A fair and valid point, but perhaps you don't want to put that extra pressure on your laptop during a live gig and would rather have it dedicated solely for handling the wealth of complex functionality at your fingertips.
Some DJs maybe using several different sources to mix with (a laptop, CDJ, sampler and maybe an external FX box). In order to record your set you would need to do this directly from the mixer. The same would also apply if you're trying to record a number of different DJs on one night; each could be using something different and will certainly be using their own laptop so a centralised approach to recording the event makes sense. This is where the Blue Mikey Digital would be incredibly handy to have, especially if it was a last-minute request to record the gig.
The Blue Mikey Digital is much more flexible than a simple microphone because of the line input and the near-universal compatibility with a range of different apps. It is most likely to be used by musicians recording vocals or guitars (and other instruments) into iOS DAW like apps such as GarageBand, but for DJs it is a useful addition for recording mixes - either just the audio, or as a way of getting great quality audio for your videos.
Priced at around US$66 it is getting expensive, given that you may be using it simply to overcome an Apple-enforced restriction. Unfortunately for non-US buyers, the price is even higher. You could purchase a dedicated audio recorder to achieve the same quality stereo results for not much more, although if you want to do all your audio recording (and possibly video) and upload using a single device, then the Blue Mikey Digital is certainly a portable, reliable single-stop solution.
If you're thinking of buying, there's a compatibility chart for you to double check whether your iOS device can be used with the Blue Mikey Digital or not.
The Blue Mikey Digital is much more flexible than a simple microphone because of the line input and the near-universal compatibility with a range of different apps. It's a useful addition for DJs who want to record their mixes or as a way of getting great quality audio for your videos.
- Mikey Digital
- From: Blue
- Price: $66
- Reviewed by: