Audio Interface For iOS
The Duet 2 was reviewed in the March 2013 issue of SOS, but Apogee have already released an updated version of the design suitable for use with both iOS devices and Macs and, to make this absolutely clear, the new name is Duet For iPad & Mac.
The plus points noted in the Duet 2 review remain: typical Apogee sound quality, a useful (but small) OLED screen, assignable touch-pads... But by revising the internal hardware to support iOS devices, Apogee have significantly widened the appeal of the Duet to include all those who wish to make high-quality audio recordings on a mobile device as well as on their Mac.
The rear panel of the new Duet features a further socket that will please those of you who held off buying the Duet 2 because of its lack of MIDI support: a USB type A socket supporting 16 channels of MIDI I/O. It has to be said, though, that the omission of a USB cable from the supplied cables seems a little stingy on Apogee's part, especially given that this is not exactly a budget interface. On the other hand, you do get a dock connector (old-style 30-pin) to mini-USB lead (which powers your device and conforms to Apple's 'Made For iOS' program), a mains adaptor and a breakout cable with two XLR/TRS combi input sockets and two TRS output sockets. Owners of iOS devices with Lightning connectors will need a suitable adaptor.
Most of the features of the free Maestro II software for Mac have been ported across to the free Maestro iOS app, including volume controls (which update the position they display depending on the position of the single hardware control) and switchable soft limiting to guard against clipping. One feature missing from the Maestro app is the ability to switch sample rate. Due to the nature of iOS, this is achieved within the app used for recording, if that app supports multiple sample rates. Rates of 44.1, 48 and 96 kHz are supported by iOS itself, so an app like Auria would allow you to record at this rate using the built-in hardware or the Duet, but you are only likely to hear the benefit using the Apogee. GarageBand's sample rate is non-selectable, and so remains fixed at 44.1 kHz.
I was, as usual, impressed with the sound quality afforded by Apogee's gain circuitry and A-D/D-A converters. The rogue noises noted in the Duet 2 review when adjusting input gain are still there, and are especially noticeable the first time you adjust gain after selecting a new channel; almost as if the pots are dirty! That's a bit odd, considering that this is an all-digital system.
The Duet 2 was a good bet for Mac, so this new Duet has become a great choice if you want an interface with independent headphone and speaker outputs that will support capture and playback of high-quality audio from both your Mac and your iOS device. Mike Watkinson
The popular Australian microphone manufacturers have extended their small but growing range of mobile device microphones with the new SmartLav personal 'lapel' mic. Like the iXY mic we looked at in the May 2013 SOS, the new SmartLav is a conventional 'lapel' or 'lavalier' microphone designed for use with most mobile phones and tablets (Rode list around 125 compatible models from Apple, Google, HTC, LG, Motorola, Samsung. The SmartLav is terminated in a four-pole (TRRS) mini-jack plug, so you can expect it to work with pretty much any smartphone.
Sadly, the nanny state appears to have reached as far as Australia, as the mic cable is threaded through a lurid warning tag advising any customers with IQs in single figures that it presents a strangulation hazard! Arrrggghhh! Fortunately, I managed to avoid strangling myself, and so I can tell you that the omnidirectional electret microphone capsule is pretty slim. It measures just 4.5mm in diameter and about 25mm in length, and is fitted with a 1-metre Kevlar-reinforced cable that is about 2mm in diameter. The SmartLav is supplied with a removable 'water-resistant' foam pop-filter and a single horizontal mounting clip (with a very useful cable-management slot to minimise cable noise). There is also a little drawstring storage pouch, which is a thoughtful feature.
The capsule can be inserted into the clip easily in either direction, to suit the desired mounting orientation on the artist's clothing, with the pop shield slipped over the top, if required, afterwards. Normally, the mic would be clipped to a shirt placket (the thicker bit in the middle with the buttonholes) or a jacket lapel, and the cable tidied neatly away ('dressing' the cable is important, as it can transmit noisy rustles to the mic if you're not careful). The built-in cable-management slot in the clip is a big help in this respect.
As the mic has an omnidirectional capsule, the actual orientation (up/down/sideways) doesn't really matter as far as being 'on-axis' is concerned, but I've often found that mounting lapel mics upside down provides useful protection against air-blasts from the artist's nostrils, something that is surprisingly common!
With the four-pole connector plugged into a smartphone running suitable recording software, you're ready to go. Rode offer their own Apple iOS recording app in two forms: the basic but free 'Rec LE' version, and the full-fat 'Rec' alternative at £3.99$5.99. (Both require iOS 5.1 or later.) I tried the SmartLav mic with an Apple iPhone 5, an iPad, and an HTC Desire (Android) phone, and achieved excellent results with all three. For a £40$60 mic, the Rode SmartLav turned in a very credible performance and can be recommended. Hugh Robjohns
Mastering App For iPad
Although perhaps still regarded as a toy by some, the iPad is carving out a niche as a serious mobile music production platform with apps like Auria, the multitrack DAW, and supported by high-quality audio interfaces, as we've seen elsewhere in App Works. One piece missing from the jigsaw until now has been any facility for mastering, but this is addressed by Igor Vasiliev's new Audio Mastering app, which packs a surprising number of features into a relatively straightforward GUI. Igor has teamed up with plug-in developer DMAX, who recently released a suite of mastering plug-ins for the Mac (reviewed in Sound On Sound June 2013), and ported the same high-quality algorithms of those effects to the iOS platform. The tools on offer are:
- Sample-rate converter (supporting 44.1, 48, 88.2 and 96 kHz sample rates).
- Bit-depth converter (supporting 16, 24 and 32 bits).
- Linear-phase 10-band graphic equaliser.
- Loudness maximiser.
- Three-band stereo image processor.
- Harmonic saturator (with three sets of harmonics).
- Dithering with noise shaping.
The app also features preset hotkeys, with the ability to create your own presets. You can apply processing to one or a group of files, and all processor settings are stored with each file. Fade-ins and fade-outs can be added with three different fade curves, and you can set in and out points manually or on the fly. One thing the GUI does not allow — and which is certainly something we have come to expect from iOS audio apps — is the ability to pinch-zoom the waveform for more accurate placement of in and out points. If future developments to Audio Mastering include audio editing (which this version does not), perhaps that facility will be added.
The lack of an equivalent to iOS's camera roll is still a headache for those working with audio, and Audio Mastering works around this by supporting iTunes file sharing (so you can copy files to and from your Mac), Sonoma WireWorks' AudioCopy/AudioPaste protocol, and file transfer through its own internal web service. The recent update has also added 'Open in...' support, so you can pass audio directly to the app from email, or other supporting apps such as Twisted Wave (a great audio editor).
Sample rates up to 96kHz are supported by iOS (although you will need an external audio interface to hear the benefit), and Audio Mastering supports MP3, M4A, AIFF and WAV file formats, so you can potentially record and mix at 96kHz and 24-bit in Auria, then pass the stereo mix across to Audio Mastering.
I must admit that I was sceptical about the performance of a £6.99$9.99 app as a mastering suite, but once I'd used it, I was very pleasantly surprised. The audio quality is really very good indeed. You can hear unpleasant artefacts if you push it too hard, of course, and best results will be obtained only with a decent pair of monitors and a high-quality external audio interface, but now it really is possible to make meaningful mastering decisions on stereo files using just an iPad. Recommended! Mike Watkinson