We don't think too much about the pair of tiny microphones built into every iPhone, embedded behind tiny grills that flank the dock connector. Which is to say, they do the job they're supposed to do: They're more than adequate for talking on the phone or dictating a quick voice memo.
But some have found these built-in mics to be less than adequate for more demanding applications. Musicians and videomakers, to give two examples, oftentimes need microphones capable of recording high-quality audio and the ability to change settings to handle a variety of situations.
The Blue Microphones Mikey Digital, for both iPhones and iPads, is a handy audio-recording accessory that should satisfy those users. It boasts a larger pair of stereo mics that can capture more sonic detail than those on the iPhone.
The other important selling point is the sensitivity control. The iPhone and iPad telephone mics are low-sensitivity – this makes sense, as your mouth is always right next to them. (The microphone for video recording – embedded in that tiny dot next to the headphone jack on your iPhone – is high-sensitivity: It has to pick up sounds sometimes many feet away.)
The Mikey lets you choose from three different sensitivity settings. LED indicators show recording levels: If all three LEDS light up, it usually means your recording is too "hot" and that you should switch to the next lowest sensitivity level. The various levels of control result in crystal-clear audio capture, whether you're recording a metal-band rehearsal in a studio, a podcast in a noisy convention hall, or a lecture from the back of an auditorium.
Nice bonus features include a 1/8th-inch input in which you can plug in an instrument (like an electric guitar) or line-level signal device (like a CD player) – and a mic enclosure that can pivot up to 220 degrees, letting you position the Mikey to point upwards when your device is lying flat on a table or floor.
There are a few caveats to the Mikey Digital. First, you'll want to use a recording app that lets you capture and process high-resolution audio. For the budget-minded, that means Apple's GarageBand ($4.99) or Harmonicdog's MultiTrack DAW ($9.99). While you can get decent results with Apple's free Voice Memos app, the resulting files are heavily compressed and sound murky.
Second, the Mikey plugs directly into the dock-connector opening of older iPhones and iPads – and to current-generation devices via Apple's $29 Lightning adapter. A well-thought-out "passthrough" connector lets you charge your device even as you're recording.
The Mikey is not for everyone. It's not meant for those who only use the iPhone's built-in mics for phone calls and voice memos; neither is it a pro-grade tool. But it should be of interest to a wide range of iOS users – from musicians to students to videographers – who want to add a bit more usability and flexibility to their already powerful devices. [$89, bluemic.com]