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iKey Plus Useful, Though Not Ideal

If you travel with an iPod and you make recordings in the field, GCI Technologies has developed a tool that will help you put that iPod to work.

(click thumbnail)If you travel with an iPod and you make recordings in the field, GCI Technologies has developed a tool that will help you put that iPod to work: the iKey Plus audio recorder.

It records to a USB flash drive as its native format; that means you do not need any card readers to start processing audio. The iKey Plus, if you haven’t guessed, also will record to either a Windows-driven or Apple iPod for even more storage. It is a record-only unit.

The iKey Plus records in stereo, which means for deadline news work you’ll either convert the track to mono, or split the track and use one channel when you open the file in your audio editing program. Of course, if you are making a stereo recording, skip this step. Select a recording format between WAV (16 bit, 44.1 kHz sampling rate) and MP3 files at sample rates from 128 to 320 kbps. If you use Windows, the size of the WAV file your computer can process is limited to 2 GB. A WAV file takes up to 10 MB per minute in stereo.

The device needs four alkaline batteries; it will recharge NiMH batteries when you power the unit with the supplied AC-DC power transformer. Access the battery compartment by undoing four thumbscrews.

Published specifications indicate approximately a four-hour battery life with alkaline batteries. The device ships with black, red and silver metal plates; we opted to use the silver-colored plate.

Arming the recorder takes some getting used to. You have to press the record button, wait for the LEDs to flash and then the recorder will roll, and record onto a USB jump drive. A set of LEDs will indicate recording level. They are a little hard to see in the sunlight.

When you are finished recording, you hit the record button again, wait for a series of LED flashes and then you can remove the USB jump drive and insert it in your USB-equipped computer.

The operator’s manual is exactly correct about what happens when you don’t follow the ejection procedure for a USB drive — nothing shows up on the USB drive when you plug it in to your computer.

It’s essentially plug-and-play for a Windows-driven iPod; you’ll take some extra steps with an Apple-driven iPod. Set or adjust levels while recording, and use a set of headphones/ear buds to monitor the sound. The LEDs also indicate when the USB drive is full and when the batteries are getting low. Quality time with the manual will explain all combinations.

Product CapsuleiKey Plus Location Audio Recorder

Thumbs Up

  • Palm-sized
  • Uses USB jump drives; no adapters/card readers needed to move audio
  • Records stereo WAV and MP3 files; MP3 sample rates from 128–320 kbps
  • AC adapter charges rechargeable AA batteries
  • Operator can monitor and adjust the record signal while recording; LEDs indicate level
  • RCA line inputs for phono and line level (–10) recording; can connect to RCA tape outs of mixers

Thumbs Down

  • Mic level too low when using outboard mics (XLR-R to 1/8th inch TRS)
  • Supplied electret condenser stereo mic works okay, but windscreens are easy to lose
  • Arming sequence slow and not intuitive; may miss seconds of audio unless machine is pre-rolling
  • File-saving sequence also slow; errors can result if procedures not followed exactly

Price $239

GCI Technologies Corp. | (732) 738-9003 | ikey-audio.comOn- and off-track

We used the iKey Plus to record voice tracks when covering the NASCAR Championship Weekend in Homestead, Fla.

The little windscreens on the supplied plug-in mic were lost early in the game. The mic is sensitive enough to discern the presence of plosives if the mic were held too close to the mouth. Any lavaliere-sized windscreen would fit the plug-in mic.

With a shotgun (Audio-Technica AT897) and an omni-directional hand mic (Shure SM63) plugged into an XLR female to 1/8th inch TRS male cord, the iKey Plus could only record at –20 level even with all the gain turned up. With the supplied stereo plug-in condenser mic, normal mic levels could be set. We tried this with two different units, and observed the same result with outboard mics.

That said, if connected with a 2 GB USB drive, and to an RCA line level output on RCA-style phono plugs, a reporter can leave the iKey connected to a line-level output from a mult box (a news conference, for example) and record that audio, while chasing a newsmaker in another location. If your machines must perform more than one task, that may limit your flexibility.

If a reporter or operation needs record and playback function in all of its field audio recorders, then the iKey will fill the record half of that requirement in real time. The playback is delayed by the time necessary to take the USB drive from the iKey and mount it to a computer.

Plugged into the RCA tape out jacks of a mixer, the iKey makes an effective backup recording of a line-level signal.

For instance, if the main outputs of a recording mixer are going to a laptop or other recording device, the RCA tape outs could be connected to the iKey. So if the main recording device goes down, or crashes in the middle of a live performance, the iKey can record everything that runs through the RCA outs of the mixer in stereo onto the USB stick or iPod.

It also can be connected to a turntable so analog phonograph recordings from an LP, for instance, can be digitally recorded. In the real world, those RCA “tape out” or similar outputs are usually available if you check with the sound technician before the event.

The iKey Plus is palm-sized so you can use it in an impromptu media availability, holding it close to the newsmaker to record sound. If you do use it that way, you might want to invest in another supplied condenser mic for the iKey Plus as a backup, in case the original gets lost.

The iKey Plus would not be my primary radio ENG recorder because of the inability to use standard professional XLR connected mics and record at nominal mic level, and the time necessary to arm the recorder. In a breaking situation, you need to be able to start to record immediately.

But the iKey will perform well as a backup recorder, with the proper RCA adapter cords to record a line-level output from either a mult box or RCA tape out jacks from a mixer. The supplied stereo electret condenser microphone is useful for voice tracks and impromptu audio if you can remember to start the recorder before you elbow your way into a gaggle of reporters crowded around a newsmaker.