Zoom ZH4N

MyTools: RØDE iXY Microphone for iPhone/iPad

A few days ago I promised a series of posts covering the tools that I use in Collaboration Matters on a day-to-day basis.

Some will be must-have applications, others will be gadgets or accessories and others just a bit left-field!  All take an important role in how I go about doing business.  I’m calling this series ‘MyTools’…

First up, the RØDE iXY Microphone for iPhone/iPad.

Zoom ZH4N
Zoom ZH4N

At previous conferences you may have seen me using the ever popular Zoom H4N digital recorder to record snippets of audio or entire podcast episodes.  The Zoom gets amazing quality stereo audio, runs for hours on a set of AAs and allows a wide range of adjustments for audio quality, tone and recording size.  However, it’s both too heavy and rather too bulky to carry in a backpack on a regular basis.

So I’ve always looking for a more lightweight replacement that retains the audio quality and flexibility.  Back at the start of the year, I found one in the form of the RØDE iXY mic for iPhone and iPad.

RØDE iXY Microphone for iPhone/iPad

This retains the dual recording mics of the Zoom, but dispenses with the rest of the recording hardware in favour of using the iPhone or iPad that you already carry.  This significantly reduces the weight and bulk of the device and thus means that I can carry the mic all-day every-day.  Just as the smartphone becomes ‘the camera you always carry’, the iXY means that iPhone is also the high-quality digital recorder I always have with me.

The iXY package contains four key components:

  • The dual microphone accessory, including 30-pin dock connector and LED to indicate recording activity
  • A small but robust case for the microphone including clip to allow attaching to a belt or backpack
  • A foam wind muffler
  • User Guide containing a complimentary download key for the RØDE Rec digital recording app

At this juncture you’ll have spotted one of the key points to note – the RØDE iXY currently ships only with a 30-pin dock connector, so is ideal for connecting to iPhones up to the 4S and the iPad 3 and early models.  It does work with the Lightning to 30-pin dock connector and so can be used on the iPhone 5/5s/5c, the iPad Mini and the iPad 4, however this isn’t ideal.  RØDE say that they are working on a Lightning-equipped model of the iXY so this issue should be resolved soon.

iXY on iPad and iPhone
RØDE iXY on iPad and iPhone

So what does the iXY give you?  A really high quality recording device that is excellent at capturing both music and vocals at a short- to medium-range, with exception noise cancellation abilities.  A great example of this was my recording of podcast-quality interviews at the Connect 2013 conference.  Nothing unusual about that, except that those recordings were made in the Kimonos bar during the final evening of the conference, whilst Karaoke was being ‘sung’ about 3m away!  Truly, the recordings were both clear and suffered from remarkably little background noise.

It’s a tiny and beautifully-manufatured piece of hardware that records full 24-bit 96khz stereo audio.  The mic weighs just 41g.

Whilst the iXY can be used with any iOS recording app, it does work best with the RØDE Rec app.  This app combines professional audio features with an intuitive and easy-to-learn interface, making it straightforward to record, edit and publish broadcast-quality audio directly from your iOS device.

The app features real-time waveforms, a pretty cool suite of non-linear editing capabilities and powerful EQ and gain controls.  It even allows sharing to the popular social networks direct from the device.  The app itself works with the onboard mic in the iPhone/iPad as well as the iXY so if you regularly record audio from your device, this might be a useful purchase in its own right.  RØDE Rec costs $5.99/£3.99 from the App Store if you don’t have an iXY.

The iXY costs $199/£149 from Amazon and other retailers.

I’ve found it to be an excellent investment, using it for podcasts as well as for recording customer reference interviews, meetings and workshops.  In addition, using a mount that I’ll mention on this blog next week, I’ve often attached my iPhone and this mic to the top of a DSLR or camcorder to capture an additional audio source when recording video.

I’d definitely recommend the iXY for anyone that has a suitable device quipped with a 30-pin dock connector and needs to record quality audio on the move.  If you have a newer iPhone or iPad then I’d suggest waiting for a few more weeks for the Lightning-equipped iXY.  Either way, it’s a great device.

‘MyTools’ – an upcoming series

A few years ago, I ran a series of blog posts on apps, services, products and tools that I use in my day-to-day job and to run Collaboration Matters.

Given the advances we’ve seen in the consumer and enterprise IT sectors, and particularly in cloud and mobile technologies, I figure that it is time to revisit the meme.

So look out for a number of posts over the next month – I’d love to have your feedback on whether you agree with my selections, or indeed if you have similar tips of your own!

Skitch menu bar

My Tools – Skitch (image capture)

Running as many blogs as I do – my own Lotus-focused ones, personal/family and contributing to a number for my customers – one of the most common requirements I have is to create screenshots of applications or sites to include in posts.  

There are a number of tools out there that do this job, from the built-in functions of the OS (Cmd-Ctrl-Shift-4 on OS/X – for the digitally flexible, or Alt-PrintScrn on Windows), through third party adds that do the basics well (FS Capture on Windows) to the full blown bees-knees of integrated capture and posting tools.

My personal favourite (at least currently) is Skitch.  It is Mac-only, is free, is in beta right now, and does a tremendous job of capturing, annotating, posting and sharing the images – in short it manages the entire workflow of image capture in relation to blogging.

When launched (typically on log-in/startup), Skitch sits in your Mac menu bar, ready for action:
Skitch menu bar

A click on the drop down gives you straightforward access to the main functions of the application, the ability to take fullscreen or, more usually, crosshair snapshots of your screen. You also have the ability to grab an image from the iSight or other webcam.  As you can see, there are simple keystrokes for performing the captures too:
Skitch menu

Once the image is captured, the Skitch editing window appears, offering full annotation tools, drag-resizing of the image, cropping, rotation, copy and paste of images, saving to local file, send to bluetooth or email and so on :
Skitch in action

Most importantly, however, is the ability to provide one-click “webpost” to the skitch.com website (you can also post to an FTP or SFTP server, or to Flickr). This takes just a couple of seconds (and the specifics of how the post is setup are very configurable), then the option to Share appears.
Skitch ready to share

Click on this, and a browser window will appear connected to the Skitch site:
Skitch ready to share

On this page, it is easy to change the details for the image (name, description, access etc), or to share the image elsewhere, by embedding or linking to the image.  I tend to use the “Full size” link which just creates an img src tag which can then be pasted into your post (as all the images above have been).  The images then get pulled from Skitch rather than from your own blog server, thus reducing bandwidth use and typically improving performance.

This is just a subset of Skitch‘s features, but hopefully gives an overview of why I find it such a useful tool in my day-to-day work.  Let me know what you think…

Get Skitch

My Tools – the laptop

My tools – an occasional series of posts on the tools of my trade – the technology that I couldn’t live without…

A rather obvious start to proceedings, but probably the most important item in my kitbag – my laptop.  

Like most of the folks in this industry, I’ve spent most of my working life sat in front of a Windows PC – I was on an IT placement from University when Windows 3.1.1 for Workgroups was released, then had just started at my first proper full-time job when Windows 95 became available.  The company I started out with, Dyadic Systems, were a Microsoft development partner, and so I played with most of the Windows betas as they came along, then adopted the gold versions as soon as they were available.  So, I can almost mark the key moments in my working life my the beta or gold code I was running at the time – scary that Microsoft has had such an influence really.  

However, as Dyadic was inherently a Unix shop – we designed, implemented and supported high-end IBM RS/6000 (and then pSeries) systems running AIX – I spent a lot of time sat in front of a Unix command line too.  I always liked the ease of use of Windows, but adored the power of the Unix command line – I still think in terms of greps, pipes, redirects, awks and seds even now.  That lead me into playing with Linux, right from the early 0.99 kernel days, through many versions of Redhat, SUSE and now Ubuntu.  I’m comfortable on that platform and push it as our server platform of choice, particularly for smaller businesses, but have never truly adopted it as my desktop during all these years, mainly because of lack of application or device support.

Then, of course, there is the Mac. I first spent time on the Macintosh platform back at school, probably c. 1989/90, writing up my A-level reports on MacWrite and adoring the Wysiwyg interface when everyone around was still fighting with text based word processors. However, I then didn’t touch another Apple product until a colleague, David Hiley,  joined Dyadic back in 2003. He had an adorable Powerbook 12″, and proceeded to show me the OS X user interface, the great Mac apps that were out there, and why this really was the client platform of choice.  While there were certainly some major issues with using the Mac in an IBM BP environment (Notes 6 for the Mac anyone?), it certainly opened my eyes to the possibilities.  When my wife needed a new laptop later that year, I bought her a Powerbook G4 15″, and since then we have had many more Macs through the household.

So, the point of this story… When I came to set up Collaboration Matters at the start of this year, I needed to buy a laptop that would be with me for the first 2 years or so of running the business, consulting for my customers, designing solutions, testing new products, blogging, developing new ideas and generally as my main sidekick whilst earning my living.  What would it be?

To be honest, even after evaluating a lot of the options, there really was only one choice:

My Macbook Pro 17″ with 2.5GHz CPU, 250GB disk, 4GB RAM, high-resolution 1920 x 1200 screen.

Why? Well, of all the time I’ve spent on Windows, Linux and OS X, there is really only one choice when it comes to my overall productivity.  I simply get more done, more quickly and with less stress on the Mac.  It’s a fast machine no doubt, but I could have got a fast machine from Lenovo, Sony, Toshiba or any of the others.  What really makes it right for me is OS X. It really does “just work”.  It doesn’t crash, doesn’t have a load of unnecessary functions and features (and 3rd party add-ons) that I don’t need, doesn’t need any time to manage or keep up-to-date, but does support my ways of working brilliantly well.  The tools I need are either part of the basic OS/iLife package (things like Garageband for producing podcasts) or else are available free or at small cost elsewhere.  Underneath the great UI, there is the power of the BSD-based Darwin Unix kernel – hence I still have the ability to get to the command line and script my way through any tricky problems.  I have VMWare Fusion installed with images of all the Windows and Linux environments that I do need access to, so there is really nothing that this machine won’t do that I need on a daily basis.  

The 1920 x 1200 screen was a no-brainer for me too – the screen real estate is these days more important than ether CPU or RAM – so many of the interfaces I use daily are now “peripheral vision” – Twitter, FriendFeed, Sametime etc. – and you really can’t beat those extra pixels.  The 4GB is advisable, particularly when running VMs – as many others have said, don’t buy it from Apple – mine came from Crucial and was only 50GBP for the full 4GB.

This spec sounds pretty high-end, and as Macs are generally thought to be expensive anyway, surely this must have cost a fortune?  Well actually, no. Firstly, when you really compare apples with apples (particularly w.r.t the screen resolution), the MBP quite often comes in cheaper than an equivalent Lenovo or Sony system. Secondly, Apple do some great leasing deals for small businesses, and so this system costs the company less than 50GBP  a month – about the same as a single cappuccino a day – a worthy trade if you ask me!

In addition to the technical aspects, and in some ways this is just as important, this machine helps to create the right impression. As a consultant, particularly one who deals with Web2.0 and social software regularly, I need to be ahead of the game, moving along with (or preferably just that one step ahead of) my customers.  I am seeing these organisations adopting Macs (and to a lesser extent, Linux) at an ever increasing rate.  Unless I am using, abusing and living with these products and technologies day-in, day-out, then there is no way I can properly advise them of the possibilities, issues or implications of making these investments within their businesses.

Lastly, there is nothing better (except perhaps the iPhone 3G this week) at starting conversations in an open plan office!  Get the MBP out, and it’s amazing how many folks wander over to have a look, or to ask how I do X, Y, or Z on the machine.  These conversations often turn into discussions about their work environments, issues with the applications they use, or areas where things could be improved.  Perfect information for any consultant 😉

So, my first tool – the Mac Book Pro.

My Tools – an occasional series

I’ve always believed in imitation being the highest form of flattery, and hence I am going to shamelessly steal an idea from another blog… In this case, from Graham Chastney (@grahamchastney) over at Oak-Grove.  I’ve been a fan of Graham’s for a while now, as he blogs beautifully and covers a a wide area of topics that really interest me.

So anyway, this post is to launch a series on “My Tools”, the hardware, software, sites and technologies that allow me to do what I do – running my business Collaboration Matters, consulting for my customers, delivering quality collaborative solutions, publishing the blogs, and generally keeping my life on track.  There will be some that will be obvious, and a lot more that you may not be aware of.  Hopefully either way, you’ll get some benefit from the posts and maybe find some tools that will help you do what you do even better, and I’ll realise just how many important (or not) some of these items are to my daily existence.

As always, feedback is the key, so please do leave comments where appropriate – I’d love to know whether you use the same tools as I do, or if not, what do you use instead?

First post to follow later today!