Review: The iRig Mic Lav records good audio in noisy places

IK Multimedia's compact lavalier microphone plugs into your smartphone so that you can interview with confidence.

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Credit: IK Multimedia

In the last few years, smartphone cameras have improved vastly. Unfortunately, though, the microphones that come with these devices haven't improved quite as much. You can shoot a great piece of video with your Apple iPhone 6S, Samsung Galaxy S7 or Google Nexus 6P -- but unless you're in a quiet environment, the audio is going to be barely adequate at best.

IK Multimedia has come out with a new tool that could help: the iRig Mic Lav, a lavalier microphone that plugs into your smartphone and lets you record an interview even in a noisy environment. It is available both on its own for a retail price of $43 (Amazon price - What's this?) or in a two-pack (so you can record two people at once) for $80 (Amazon price).

The iRig comes with a compact omnidirectional condenser mic that plugs into your phone's audio port and that, according to the company, can capture a 30Hz-16kHz frequency range of sound. The cable is just under five feet, long enough to let you hold your phone (or place it on a nearby surface) while the interviewee is standing or sitting at a comfortable distance. And it comes with a handy carrying case.

That's all pretty good, but for me, a big selling point is the 3.5mm TRRS port located partway down the cable. You can use it to connect another iRig Mic Lav and record with two feeds at once; or if you flip a tiny switch on the port, you can plug in a headset and monitor a single audio feed as it happens.

Well, that is, if you have a iOS device. When I tried to monitor my audio as I recorded using iRig Recorder, the company's Android app, I couldn't get the monitoring feature to work. When I contacted the company, I was told, much to my disappointment, that the Android app doesn't offer audio input monitoring. On the other hand, I was able to chain two Mic Lavs together so that two people could be recorded simultaneously.

In fact, the hardware in general worked quite well. I used the iRig (together with its foam pop shield) to record interviews during TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2016, which was held in a large, echoing room filled with the representatives of hopeful startups and curious attendees. Although the environment was very noisy -- there were a couple of times when, while doing the interview, I could hardly hear the answers to my questions -- the recordings that resulted were clear and very audible on replay, certainly good enough to use as reference material (although they would have taken some processing to be good enough for a decent podcast).

Unfortunately, I can't be as enthusiastic for the iRig Recorder app. While it did a decent job of recording the audio, there were problems along the way. A couple of times, the app stopped responding when I hit record, so that I had to close and reopen it to make it operate properly; and once it completely crashed, taking all my recordings with it. (Much to my relief, it was able to recover the active files, which is a point in its favor).

The app offers a number of processor add-ons to let you hone the audio quality -- you can get a volume processor free upon registration, and several others are available as in-app purchases. However, there are enough audio recorder apps available so that Android users can, if they wish, probably find something a bit more reliable.

The app aside, I found the iRig Mic Lav itself to be a very handy (and relatively inexpensive) lavelier microphone that could be highly useful for anyone planning to use their smartphone to record interviews.

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