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Last Edited
02/19/2008

Apple iPod Recording
with the Belkin TuneTalk Stereo Microphone

(special thanks to Cams for the recommendation)

Our family owns both the nano and regular size models of the latest generation iPod music players. I love the nano for it's convenience but when I figured out the regular size iPod had video playing and audio recording capabilities I thought it fit my needs more than the smaller nano. I somehow shamed my oldest son into trading with me since he needed a smaller more convenient nano  iPod and never used all his features anyway.

My first discovery was how I could easily  import various quicktime guitar lesson videos from my site onto the iPod which I can play and share anywhere on the road. The video quality is remarkably crisp and detailed for such a small screen. Then I noticed my friend Cams pull out his iPod at the last annual acoustic jam and begin recording a guitar lecture that was going on. I was blown away how cool and easy it was to record with the iPod and even more impressed when I heard the quality of the audio after he posted it as a free POD CAST on the web. There are sites that allow you to post these recordings to share with other iPod users but these recording files can be used any way that you choose. You could post them on your own personal web site or myspace, burn them to an audio cdrom or convert and edit them to any format you wish.

This might be the perfect solution for regular non technical folks to record near professional quality recordings of music, practice, lectures, seminars and more.  There are other iPod microphones to consider and there are also other portable mp3 recording devices but for the money I'm pretty sure the iPod is about the best quality hardware out there. It's a very reliable platform.

Belkin TuneTalk - This module is fairly expensive if you buy full retail (79.00) but I was able to locate it online for 49.00 at B&H Photo. It comes with a USB cable so you can connect the iPod to the computer while the Belkin module is attached. This is a feature some other iPod compatable microphones did not have. The photo below shows the Belkin microphone module that attaches to the iPod and the accessories that come with it. You get a plastic spacer that you install if you are not using the stand. The iPod recognizes the mic instantly and requires no additional configuration or software. It's just magic. The coolest feature is the record button that makes the iPod go instantly to the recording mode without having to navigate the menu.  I have the 30gb model that was out last year but it's the same as the 60gb and larger models available today. The recording quality is better than you would expect from a small device like this and the Belkin mic doesn't have a boxy sound but I can hear little clicks from the hard drive during quiet moments in the recordings. You can hear those in my sound samples below. I don't know if newer model iPods have a more silent hard drive but the total hiss and noises are acceptable for the purposes intended. I wouldn't expect to record your next CD on this solution but it would be great for seminars, lectures, acoustic instruments or any semi-professional needs. There is another input jack on the bottom for line inputs if you ever want to capture audio from another source. They recommend using the AUTO-GAIN switch in the on position when using the internal Belkin stereo mics. I recorded using both settings and I can hear more compression going on when this feature is enabled but it does keep the input signal nice and fat. I can also hear some hiss and noise in general but it's totally acceptable for my needs. I can always edit and manipulate the recordings with a sound editing program when the need arises. I've documented the sound test and other procedures below and hope this will help in your own research for recording devices. If you already own an iPod the decision is a simple one.

Updated Information - My friend Cams says in his tests the low quality only records in mono mode. He also states that in his tests using an external stereo mic in high quality mode only yielded one single track and not stereo. I've not been able to confirm the external mic limitation but that could be a negative mark if true. I tried to test the Belkin's stereo external recording ability by connecting a cassette tape deck to the iPod seen in the photo. It worked and recorded both channels using my brand new Belkin. I tested without auto-gain on and got a weak stereo recording. When I switched auto-gain on the signals got stronger when recording but had more hiss. I think the best solution would be recording without auto-gain on and boosting the line-in levels to make the iPod record with higher signal levels. I'm still investigating these features and possible limitations. When I'm able to confirm the mic limitation reported by Cams I'll update this article.

TIP: FREE WAV TO MP3 CONVERTERS


 

RECORDING QUALITY TEST

(click here and scroll to bottom for even more sound tests from Cams)

 

RAW from iPod converted to mp3

Cleaned up with effects

Test 1 HIGH Quality
(auto-gain off)

 

mp3 mp3
Test 2 HIGH Quality
(auto-gain on)

 

mp3 mp3
Test 3  LOW Quality
(auto-gain on)
mp3 mp3

 

How to Record Step by Step

Below is the plastic spacer you remove when installing the fold up plastic stand. It snaps off.

Below I have slipped the Belkin connector through the white plastic hoop sticking out of the plastic stand. When I connect these together the stand and iPod become loosely attached as one unit.

Now this is the iPod with the microphone installed and standing up. This positions the stereo mics in a good position for recording. They naturally sit at a 90 degree spread which is ideal.

Below: You can browse the iPod menu and select the recording quality and mode but one easier way is to simply press this record button on the side and the menu jumps directly to the recording mode and you only need to press the center iPod button one time to begin or pause recording. It's very simple.

Once you press the button above you only have to press one more center button to begin recording. Here's what that screen looks like. Ultra simple.

Below: The Belkin mic has a few options on the bottom. One switches the auto gain on which regulates the input levels when you record with the internal mics. It's recommended to switch auto-gain off when using the external line in connector on the right. The other connection to the left is the USB and power which allows you to have power or connection to a computer while the Belkin is in use.

Obviously this makes it harder to stand it up on the stand when power is connected but as you can see below it can be done and you can even lay the whole thing on it's side. The optimal recording position though is when the power is not connected.

Sitting on the back

Sitting on the side. This might actually be good if recording vocals and guitar.

 

How to record and then get the files on your computer, web, cdrom or other medium.

Below: Once you press a few buttons you see the iPod screen counting away and recording. You can only do two things while recording. You can pause and continue which is a very handy feature. Or you can stop and save the recording. You can see I've been recording for 15 seconds.

Below: Once you stop recording it saves the file and returns to this menu. You can simply playback and listen to the recordings with the headphones or delete them. You can also change the quality of recording. Both quality levels sound excellent and you can only choose HIGH and LOW. The high level uses about 10mb of space per minute of recording or about 600mb per hour. The low quality level uses about 2.5mb per minute or about 150mb per hour. Each recording is displayed by the date and time they were recorded.

Recording rates vs file sizes as I tested them
HIGH - 4.8mb for 29 seconds high quality wav = 9.93mb per minute, 595mb per hour
LOW - 1.89mb 45 seconds low quality wav = 2.5mb per minute, 151mb per hour

 

Connecting and retrieving the recording files from the iPod

IMPORTANT STEP BELOW:  I'm prompted when I connect the iPod whether to add these new wav (memos) recordings to my Itunes music library or just leave them alone as they are stored on the IPod. Say no to this if you plan on easily locating and copying the file off of the iPod. If you say yes to this question it renames the wav file and hides it in the ipod in folders with your regular music. I don't recommend answering yes. Say no to this question and the files will remain on the iPod inside the original folder named "recordings". Now let's see below how to copy those files to your computer since that's what most people will be doing.

Below: Oooops my iPod software has detected it needs a firmware update from Apple to bring it up to the latest level. I went ahead and chose Download and Install. Just be aware you might see this message when connected the iPod.

Below: Now I'm back to trying to grab the recorded wav files off of my iPod and putting them on my computer. This basic procedure will work almost identically on the Mac as the PC. Have no fear non-techies this is simple. First go to the MY COMPUTER icon located under Windows. Or basically take a look at all of your disk drives with the file manager or explorer. One of the disks you will see is your iPod . My iPod is labeled Doug LittleBrother and I can see it's the "F" disk drive so I double click on F disk to explore it's files and folders. Please continue through the next several steps.

WARNING IF YOU GET THIS ERROR TRYING TO BROWSE THE IPOD you may have to eject the Ipod from the Itunes interface but this is not always required.

Once I clicked on the F disk I can see the folders contained on my iPod which is nothing but a hard disk anyway. See the folder called "Recordings"? Well click on it and let's see what's inside.. and proceed to the next step.

Below we see there are two recordings located in this folder as wav files. They are numbered so that the oldest recording has the lowest number. Now we simply drag these files and copy or move them to your desktop or any other folder on the computer's hard drive.

 

Below:  I waited until the wav files were copied off the iPod and onto my computer desktop then I opened one of them up with my AUDIO editor because I want to crop off the sloppy ends and then save it as an MP3 format so I can share it on the web. You could also add effects, noise reduction or anything you please. You can even burn these to audio cdrom or any form of media you wish. Many software editors are also free and you might check sites like www.download.com or www.macdownload.com for free software. You might also look into real full versions that sell on Ebay for a fraction of the cost in shrink wrap. For example the last version of Adobe Audition 1.5 can be bought for 20-30 dollars at times. Or there are many free ones you can locate as I mentioned. In either case you dont need much technical expertise to convert wav files to mp3. There are some programs that do nothing but that task. FREE WAV TO MP3 CONVERTERS

 

Warning: Always remember that before disconnecting your iPod from the computer USB port please right click on the DEVICES "Ipod Name" on the left side with the mouse and choose EJECT. Itunes shows much info about your iPod and you can get more help from within Itunes or visiting the support forum on the Apple.com web site.

 

POWER TIP: If you plan on recording long battery draining events that last hours at a time you may decide to buy a power supply for the home or automobile. They come in a variety of combinations for auto and home. If you want to use the iPod while connected to a computer and use it as the power source simply EJECT the ipod from the iTunes menu and you can regain full control of the menus and record for hours without draining batteries.


 

WINDOWS USERS TIP

If you install Itunes for the first time it might take over the responsibility of playing mp3s and other files on your windows PC. If that happens simply open up the Windows Media Player program and take back ownership of those files under the tools and options menu selection. See below. Select all then click okay and quicktime will stop playing everything you click unless it's an actual Apple movie.


 

END OF ARTICLE

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