After years of resistance, I broke down and bought myself a shiny, black, 30GB video iPod. It wasn't the chance to watch Lawrence of Arabia on a screen the size of a sparrow's pillowcase that won me over; rather, Apple finally added "CD-quality" recording to the popular music player. As a longtime guitarist and field-recording enthusiast, I was intrigued and hopeful.
Even the earliest iPods had rudimentary recording capabilities, but what I heard back then made me long for the glory days of monaural cassette tape. The iPods made after 2005 (except the Shuffles) boast 16-bit, 44.1kHz stereo recording. But is it really possible to record CD-quality audio on your iPod? To find out, I tested three popular add-on mics: the Belkin TuneTalk Stereo, Griffin iTalk Pro, and XtremeMac MicroMemo.
Each connects to the docking port at the bottom of the iPod, includes a built-in microphone, and has an 1/8" stereo input for an external mic or line-level source (such as a mixer or tape deck). Each supports the iPod's two recording resolutions—8-bit, 22.5kHz mono and 16-bit, 44.1kHz stereo. The Belkin and Griffin units handle both full-size iPods and the smaller Nano (second-generation); the XtremeMac MicroMemo comes in distinct normal and Nano versions. And yes, all three come in black.
Sadly, iPods can't record using Apple's terrific lossless encoding format, or even compressed AAC. Instead, Apple chose the WAV file format common to Windows. So be aware that your recordings will take up a lot of room. How much? Figure 10MB per stereo minute at the highest resolution. Still, that's about 48 hours on a 30GB iPod. Ought to be sufficient, eh?
No matter which device you choose, recording on an iPod couldn't be easier. Each device has a button that calls up the iPod Voice Memo screen. A click of the iPod's wheel is all it takes to start recording. (One mic even offers a shortcut for that.) A second click stops the recording and saves it to the Extras menu under Voice Memos. When you sync to iTunes, you're asked if you want to upload the recordings to your computer, where they appear as a new playlist called (ta da!) Voice Memos, all neatly labeled with the time and date.
Alternatively, you can turn on the iPod's external-drive mode and drag the files over. But the WAV files won't display such clear naming conventions once you're outside the iEnvironment. (See Figure 1.)
Fig. 1. You can drag your iPod recordings to your computer instead of transferring them with iTunes, but the file names are hard to read until you realize they're in
yyyymmdd hhmmss format.
Before I discuss each recorder individually, I need to say one more thing: Recording eats up your iPod's battery faster than a puppy gobbles a milk bone. Chances are you'll run out of juice long before you max out the memory. I did a test at high resolution with a fully charged battery. After just 37 minutes, the iPod's battery icon glowed an ominous red. I'd read that you could ignore it, so I did. But the iPod shut down at one hour and 26 minutes.
The good news is that I didn't lose the file, but one-and-a-half hours isn't much when you're recording lectures or meetings. Although I've heard that recording at the low resolution increases battery life, that wasn't my experience.