Something rather different on Got A Ukulele this week, but a device that I think will be of interest to a great many uke and musical instrument players out there. This week we look at a small condenser microphone for iOS devices in the form of the Shure MV88.
The MV88 is a small condenser microphone specifically designed for direct connection to Apple devices (iPhones and iPads) that use the newer Apple lightning port connection. (Sorry Android fans..). It replaces the poorer quality and mono onboard microphones that come with these devices with a high quality (Shure quality - very good in other words!) external stereo directional condenser microphone. And that means loads of applications, including using the iPhone as a dictaphone, field recorder, recording audio of live gigs and shows and probably countless others. But I saw the likely interest with ukulele players based on the huge increase in the last few years in recording own performances, either for pleasure, for YouTube, or an increasing number of online open mic competitions. In fact, I am seeing a large increase in the number of questions appearing on social media ukulele groups asking exactly that - what do I need to record good audio and video of myself? And that's great to hear because recording yourself is one of the great things you can do to improve ukulele playing.
Of course, for recording yourself there are tons of other options out there, and most of my own videos for this site are put together with the video from a HD camcorder, coupled with a separate audio track from a Rode Condenser microphone, through a Focusrite audio interface into a Mac where they are spliced in Final Cut Pro X. That's a far more serious, complex and expensive set up, and likely to be something that many ukulele beginners will not want to consider on those grounds alone. And for that reason they often turn to their phones or tablets to do the recordings for them. Sadly, whilst cameras in these devices have improved massively in recent years, the microphones they come with have not. In fact, with an iPhone you are basically recording sound with the receiver used for phone calls. The alternatives either mean going the full on PC / Microphone / interface route, or what many people do which is to get a USB microphone for their computer. Those too however require a laptop or computer and this is where the Shure model aims to offer another solution for people who want to get by with phones and tablets alone. Let's look under the hood.
The MV88 is a directional capsule microphone which actually contains a bidirectional stereo condenser microphone meaning it can pick up clear left and right signals into a stereo image. The whole thing is housed in an attactive and tough all metal casing that feels strong and professional. Unlike many consumer items in this category, this is all metal, including the moveable hinge that directs the microphone, and that is great to see as it means it should stand up to use. Recordings are made at up to 24bit / 48KHz, which is significantly better than in built microphones
On plugging it in to an Apple device with the integral lightning connector on the base, your iPhone or iPad will ask you to download two 'Motiv' apps from the iOS store, one for audio recordings and one for video. The Motiv app is really the brains behind controlling the microphone. These can be used standalone as recording apps themselves, but also serve the purpose of changing a plethora of settings on the microphone itself for use in other apps too, but I will come on to that a little later.
Plugged in the microphone is moveable to face the front of the device (for use if recording using the facetime camera) or out to the side for use as a field recorder and pointing the end of the device towards a subject when not using video. One thing that is utterly beyond me though is the fact that the rotation is only through 90 degrees. If you want to point it in the other direction (ie switch from facetime camera to outward facing camera) the microphone needs to be removed and re-attached in reverse. It's not a huge job to do and there is no re-installation of settings, but surely it would have been easier to make the hinge turn 180 degrees? Still, as I say, the whole thing feels solid and high quality.
When in use, either with the Motiv apps, or with 3rd party Apple apps like iMovie and Garageband, the device tells you it is on and recording with a green light on the base. It's an odd place to put the light as it's on the opposite side to where you would look if recording yourself, but there you are.
Also included in the package is a great quality zippered tough case to carry it around in and a foam wind reduction cover that is easily removeable. And that comes in at a fairly serious RRP of £135.
But we need to come on to the apps before looking at the performance as that is really where most of the magic happens here. I mean, Shure as a microphone manufacturer need no introduction, and they are a very safe reliable name in that sector, but this isn't just a one trick pony device.
As I say above, the Motiv apps both can be used for tweaking a mind boggling range of options within the microphone, that it then saves to the device it is connected to and applies to 3rd party apps. You get, of course, the ability to change the gain of the microphone (ie the sensitivity) to make the quiet louder and to stop the loud from clipping at the other end of the scale, but there is much more going on here.
First up you get a range of Processed presets, from flat, through vocal, singing, acoustic music and loud music. They basically adust things like the limiter, EQ, compressor and the gain for different scenarios. Recording bird song or somebody softly spoken? Use the vocal setting. Recording a death metal band in an arena? Use the loud music setting. Simples..
Yet those are just pre-sets. You can manually adjust the compressor and sound limiter yourself, you can turn on wind reduction, you can swap the left and right in stereo and you can open a simple EQ to tweak various frequencies. Then there is the hugely fun ability to change the pickup pattern of the microphone to include stereo, mono cardioid (like a standard dynamic vocal mic), mono bidirectional and something called 'raw mid side' which is a mix of the last two.
Even more fun is the ability to adjust the stereo width from a tighter pattern of 60 degrees making the thing act more like a shotgun microphone for pointing at a soundhole for example, up to 135 degrees for a wide stereo field. Really clever, really helpful and something that gives you tons of options depending on your scenario. Set these, close the app, and the microphone will remember them. Cool.
Rather embarasssingly i've had to do an edit here - it turns out that the barrel DOES turn on itseld, but there is a lack of documentation in the box to tell you that, and the movement is so stiff, I had assumed it would't - happy to correct here!!
Plugged in the microphone then takes power (as all condensers need) from the Apple device itself, and here comes my next complaint. This thing really draws power from the device. I spent an hour doing some test recordings on an iPhone 6 with this and it seriously ran down the battery on the phone. Sure, you can charge up the phone again pretty quickly, but it seems silly to me for Shure to not include a pass through power socket on the body of the microphone to allow you to charge your device when the mic is in use. You really do need to ensure you are fully charged before a recording session with this, and I just don't see how most phones would last with a day of recording without occasional top ups. Irritating.
But on the positive side, the sound quality really doesn't disappoint at all. It takes a bit of playing with the stereo patterns, but even on a completely flat setting the audio it records is night and day better than those with the internal microphones. The sound is massively clearer has better bass, picks up far less background noise due to the directional nature and has impressive dynamic range. It also is much quieter in terms of not having background hiss than cheaper or inbuilt microphones. I'm not suggesting this is on a par with a professional ribbon microphone or even consumer condenser microphones, but for something so small, so easily carried and adjusted and, well, just so cool looking - well I think it's pretty impressive.
In my video review below, I give you a better look at the settings and end with some video comparisons recorded on an iPad Pro using both the internal mics and the Shure MV88. Listen through headphones and I think they speak for themselves.
Yes I have a few gripes, but I suppose they are not really end of the world stuff and I think they are outweighed by the sound performance, size and ease of use. All in all, I'm pretty impressed.
Worth a look if you are finding your iPhone and iPad home videos are lacking something on the sound front. Sadly, Android users need to look elsewhere.
Superb build quality
Directional shotgun mode works very well
Wide stereo is expansive and rich
Good noise reduction on hiss
Great sound that is leagues above internal microphones
Lovely carry case
No power pass through
Only 90 degree directional
Pointless operation light that can't really be seen
© Barry Maz
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