I recently had a email from a reader needing advise about the best way of attaching an XLR microphone to an iPad (3). So I though I’d create a post exploring this.
They want to be able to connect aa powered XLR condenser mic to their iPad, but don’t want bulky hardware, and also need a headphone output for monitoring.
So the brief is:
Suggest a lightweight and portable XLR microphone interface for iPad, which capable of providing phantom power.
Not as easy as one might think! Whilst there are a number of XLR to USB adapters available that can be used with the Apple Camera Adapter Kit, most of these can’t supply the phantom power required to make the mic operate correctly, unless they’re used with a powered USB hub. Not very portable I hear you say! There’s clearly a gap in the marked for a battery powered/portable audio interfaces for iPad…….
My first thought was the Tascam iU2. Sadly this unit can’t supply phantom power when used with iPad alone, it needs to be plugged into a powered USB bus such as a computer or powered USB hub (page 13 of the user manual confirms this).
Standalone devices that don’t require additional power (e.g. use internal batteries to supply phantom power)
Note: Unlike the hardware we usually feature here, these are non-USB types:
iXZ by Tascam
The iXZ from Tascam is a mic and guitar interface for iOS. Instead of plugging into the dock connector (or messing about with Camera Adapter Kits) the iXZ uses the headphone/mic jack connector of your iOS device to inject its audio.
Check out this short video introduction, produced by Tascam:
Providing a high impedance 1/4″ guitar jack input, together with an XLR input with switchable phantom power and input gain control, the iXZ is a compact portable unit.
The supply of phantom power for the mic is made possible by the iXZ incorporated battery power. The 2 AA batteries that are specified to last around 15 hrs. There’s also a headphone jack so that you can monitor what you’re recording and playback.
The drawback with any device that inputs via the headphone jack is that audio will go through the standard apple filters and processing, which will affect the recorded sound. But for the modest price tag the iXZ certainly provides a compact portable and affordable solution for recording on the move with your iPhone or iPad.
iRig PRE by IK Multimedia
As with the iXZ, the iRig PRE uses the iOS devices headphone jack input to inject the XLR audio source plugged into it. And with a compact form factor it’s very portable too.
+48v phantom power is provided by the integral 9v battery and is switchable. Battery life is expected to be around 15 hours (40 if used without phantom power as a pre-amp with a dynamic mic) . There’s also a gain control for setting appropriate levels.
Have a look at this short video introducing the iRig PRE:
The iRig PRE also provides a headphone output, so you can monitor what you’re recording. And there are 2 iOS apps to support to unit and are available to download for free from iTunes; iRig Recorder and VocaLive.
The iRig PRE isn’t available until June 2012. But can currently be pre-ordered from the IK Multimedia online store.
Units that use USB (via Camera Kit) or iOS dock connection:
ART USB Dual Pre
I’ve seen conflicting information regarding the use of the ART USB Dual Pre with iPad, but closer inspection of comments at Amazon from owners of the USB Dual Pre confirms that it can be used successfully with iPad (also check out the video further down this post).
The unit provides 2 inputs which will accept either XLR balanced or 1/4-inch TRS connections on the front and 2 balanced 1/4 TRS outputs on the rear for monitoring on speakers or connecting to other gear, together with a headphone output. There’s also a set of comprehensive control pots for mic/input gain on the front and on the rear there are monitor level and mix control.
The Dual Pre isn’t the most compact of the units mentioned in this post, but it is still compact enough to be portable. In fact, it’s designed to perform as a versatile mic pre amp and/or instrument mic pre amp in a wide range of scenarios such as remote field recording or just as a desktop interface.
The integrated 9V battery ensures that the phantom power capability can be used with XLR mics that require it, even when you dont have a somewhere to plug in your power adapter (there’s a 12v input available on the rear if needed). Battery life is expected to be around 20 hrs with phantom power and around 50hrs without. This feature is the one that is especially useful when used with the iPad, as it ensures that it doesn’t draw too much power to operate correctly with the Apple Camera Adapter Kit.
I’ll be trying to get hold of one of these to test to confirm iPad compatibility. I’ll report my findings. In the meantime here’s a video courtesy of Studio Mini TV (iPhone and iPad App) showing the ART USB Dual Pre being used with the iPad.
You can get hold of the ART USB Dual Pre over at Amazon.com. UK shoppers can find one at Gear4Music.com. A few also pop up on eBay.
There aren’t too many devices around (yet!) that can perform as a stand alone portable interface capable of supporting XLR and phantom power. If anyone knows of other devices that can perform this task please add to the comments.
The obvious drawback with the jack input type is that they don’t offer optimal sound quality. Having said that, I’m sure that many will find the quality of sound that they produce more than useable and quite satisfactory, especially if the intent is to quickly capture jam sessions, demos or track sketches.
It seems that the ART is probably the most suitable for the task, with battery power, flexible inputs, compatibility with the Apple Camera Adapter Kit and monitoring outputs. It’s also not too expensive and produces great sound quality.
But if I was looking for a way to capture sound with a good quality condenser mic, I would definitely be inclined to consider cutting out the camera kit requirement entirely and go straight for the Blue Microphones Spark Digital (article coming soon) or the Apogee MIC.
It is also worth mentioning that one final option would be to get hold of an XLR condenser mic that has on-board battery power such as the AKG C1000s or Rode M3microphones. This should reduce the current draw on the iPad (when the mic is getting it’s power from the battery internal to the mic) and enable you to use a simple and cheap XLR to USB adapter such as the Alesis Miclink - or the more expensive X2U adapter , although this may make the added features of this more expensive unit rather redundant (Here’s a link confirming that the X2U works with iPad and the camera kit until the Phantom power is engaged).