just a short time, the Apple iPhone and its myriad Android cousins have changed
the face of personal communications, gaming, photography, portable computing
... and now audio recording for radio broadcast.
Radio reporters are using
smartphones in the field as recording devices for collecting nat sound,
conducting interviews and — with the proper app — editing and mixing files down
for delivery. Quite often, portable USB Flash recorders are being left behind
at the station in favor of the speed and portability of smartphones.
But what has been generally
lacking in this arrangement has been a decent microphone. There has to be a
better way to acquire good audio than by awkwardly pointing a phone at a
subject, especially when there are multiple reporters in your way.
together an adapter for a standard EV 635 mic isn’t always a good solution, and
there is the hassle of figuring out the pin out of those odd four-connector 3.5
Which is where the MicW
product line steps in. Part of BSWA Technology Ltd. of China, MicW offers
multiple microphone products and adapters for audio acquisition, all designed
primarily for use with the iPhone, iPad and other mobile devices.
MicW products all are electret
condenser-style units, phantom-powered by the smartphone’s audio jack. No
batteries — other than that of your phone — will die unexpectedly and botch a
recording. Mics come in both omni and directional patterns, and all are
precision-made and offer wide frequency response.
I have limited my review to
a portion of the MicW lineup, concentrating on specific requirements: cardioid
(directional) response for rejection of off-axis sounds, a sturdy mic mount to
avoid damaging the phone or the connector when used in hostile conditions and
decent audio specs that hopefully come in better than the phone’s internal mic.
should be noted the company offers one mic — the i436 — which is a
flat-response omni mic best suited to audio analysis. Good to know about and
probably handy in the lab, but not really suited for gun-and-run field audio.
shown with iPhone
out of the box is the model i266 ($169.99 kit, $129.99 mic only), a
high-sensitivity mic surprisingly hefty; it’s about twice the weight and
diameter of other MicW models.
This mic comes in a plastic
case with locking lid, a robust metal tube for storage, extension cable and
headphone adapter. You can connect it right to your phone’s audio jack and
record on the fly, or use the included lapel clip and pop filter to pin the mic
to the clothing of your interview subject.
frequency response chart packed with this mic shows some peakiness around 10
kHz and 16 kHz, and a long bass rolloff starting around 600 Hz downwards. This
is confirmed audibly (if not scientifically) in test recordings made on an LG
smartphone running the RecForge Lite audio app.
A recording made with this
mic is going to sound much like what you might hear in TV news audio:
articulation of consonants will be fine but with little punch in the region
where human vocal energy is the greatest (below 300 Hz). This response is not
much different from what you might find in a typical lavalier-type mic, so you
shouldn’t be expecting RE20 response.
I found the polar pattern description generous
in referring to this mic as cardioid. Side rejection is minimal, and rear
response is at best passable. If you’re going to use this mic, try to use it in
a quiet area.
Also, the published specs
indicated an S/N ratio of “more than 55 dB.” I would rather see about 65 to 69
dB as a starting point, much like what is offered by something like the
Audio-Technica AT831R lavalier.
slightly narrower i456 ($159.99 kit, $119.99 mic only) was next in my testing.
Half the weight and radius of the i266, and packed in the same case and tube as
the previous model, the i456 turned in a slightly lesser performance. Bass
rolloff began as far up as 900 Hz and the highs jumped off a cliff starting
just below 8 kHz, with a little blip up around 4 kHz.
One mic kit in the
collection that caught my eye is the i855 lavalier kit ($209.99). Packed with
an assortment of adhesive pads, clips and a few pop screens, this MicW product
is meant for sit-down, serious interviewing where the mic is pinned to the talent
rather than stabbed into the end of the phone for a grab-and-go actuality.
on this mic is generally what one would expect from a standard lav mic: rolloff
starting around 200 Hz and a brightness bump around 12 kHz, but nicely flat in
between. But like the i456, reports of its performance as a cardioid mic are
somewhat exaggerated, charting more like an omni.
i855 (it’s in there!) and its accessories
cable between the mic and plug is thin and oddly stiff, for anyone used to
using lav microphones. Manufacturers like Countryman also use very thin cable
on its tiniest mics, but the cable typically has a little more give to it.
Whether this impacts on its durability and function remains to be seen.
dog honors has to go to the iShotgun mic kit ($249.99). Packaged in a foam-lined
locking plastic carry case, this mic is designed more for smartphone video
acquisition than radio ENG, but is just the edge needed to lift a mic above a
crowd of reporters to get close to the action.
Low-frequency response cuts
off between 80 and 100 Hz, so street rumble and A/C noise are somewhat tamed. A
lift centered around 3.5 kHz helps with clarity without being shrill, and the
longer shotgun body helps with directionality. The specs state “super cardioid”
and it does indeed have better rejection than the other models tested.
The kit also comes with a
shockmount ring that can mount to a camera shoe, and a clever telescoping wand
and cable that lifts the mic a full yard in the air for those out-of-shot (or
all the accessories in this kit is too cumbersome for gun-and-run audio, but
the beauty of the MicW line is that you can connect anything directly into your
phone, point and record, without all the extras. But this is the most versatile
of the bunch.
If you have not had
experience with a shotgun mic, be aware that you need to be pointing your mic directly at your subject. They don’t
call them shotguns for nothing, and an errant bump in the arm or a moment of
distraction that takes you off-axis will be quite obvious during playback.
MicW microphones fulfill a
need for accurate, clear-sounding smartphone-oriented microphones in the
smartphone era. Manufacturing is top-notch, with well-finished metal bodies
instead of fragile plastic ones.
The designers outdid
themselves on several fronts. First, they crafted the metal storage tube used
in several of their products to pull double-duty as a safety case and a
mic clamp to allow mounting to a stand (with a threaded adapter, not included).
This is the kind of inventiveness one might find in an Ikea product.
mic kits are packed with a headphone/mic splitter that let you plug in a set of
buds to listen in on your recording. And most are also bundled with a 6-foot
cable to extend the reach of the mic off the phone — although now mechanical
handling noise of the mic becomes an issue.
MicW I Series
+ Fills a need for accurate mobile audio recording
+ Compatible with Apple, Android and Windows devices
+ Small size and well manufactured
+ Accessory kits with adapters, cables and lapel clips in some models
- Directionality and frequency response less than ideal in some cases
Prices: i266 ($169.99 kit, $129.99 mic only); i456 ($159.99 kit, $119.99 mic only); i855 lavalier kit ($209.99); iShotgun mic kit ($249.99)
For information, contact MicW in Washington state at (425) 635-8117, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.micwaudio.com.
The plug end of several
MicW microphones is fairly wide and may not fit the 3.5 mm jack on your mobile
device. Assuming the jack is not recessed, the problem is likely a too-narrow
hole in the cellphone cover.
Buying a new protective cover, or spending two minutes with an X-Acto knife,
solves that problem.
I realize mic design can
only go so far, but if there were a way to improve the directionality and S/N
specs on these models, the engineers should pursue it. As smartphone audio
acquisition becomes more of a standard process, the demand for better audio
will not be far behind.
If it were up to me, I
would probably go with the iShotgun, with a tossup between the i266 and the
i855 lavalier. The 266 mounts right to the smartphone or pins to a lapel and I
don’t have to worry about a thin cable flexing out on me; but I like the audio
specs on the 855 just a tiny bit more.
on the model and brand of smartphone in use, audio acquisition may be a breeze
or a bother. One popular manufacturer decided to mount the audio jack at the
bottom of the phone this year, making it awkward to point a mic and watch the
display at the same time.
Finally, don’t let the accessories
affect your purchase decision. The idea is to reduce the amount of gear
we go out the door with, and a bag filled with goodies may slow you down. Being
able to record, edit and upload via smartphone is an enormous time- and
budget-saver; no sense bogging it down with pieces we may not need.
Peterson, KJ4IVD, is an SBE-certified audio engineer, a longtime RW contributor and production director
for the Radio America Network in Arlington, Va. Contact him at