It seems like every musician and sound tech I know is packing an iPhone these days. And it has little to do with the phone part. The number of audio apps is pretty amazing--everything from dB meters to recorders to, hell…you can even run a version of SMAART on your phone. When the iPhone 4 came out and it upped the game with HD video capability, things got even more fun.
But there has been one holdup in the iPhone audio love-fest. The mic built into the phone is made for a phone. And especially when it comes to high volume content (like your band) or trying to analyze audio at a show, it is just not up to the task. (Our intrepid leader Rev. Bill told me about running into Buford Jones on a Brittany Spears tour a few years ago. Buford is one of the best engineers in the biz having mixed everyone from Pink Floyd to Led Zepplin to James Taylor and he is one of the nicest guys around to boot. They both had the same Soundmeter app on their phones and Buford asked the Rev. if he had calibrated the mic on the phone to the app. The Rev. admitted that he had kind of sort done it but that he knew it was not right. When he asked Buford how he had calibrated his mic, Buford told him he did it in the anechoic chamber at Meyer Sound. Great idea. Those of you without access to a million dollar anechoic chamber where they test loudspeakers, read on…)
The Fostex AR4i is an affordable, well-designed and super useful way to get decent audio into you iPhone for any app that needs it. It's small--about the same size at the iPhone but a little deeper. With good analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog audio converters and the ability to capture stereo audio in both vertical and horizontal perspectives plus adjustable input levels, a built-in limiter, low cut filter and headphone output, it gives you pretty much everything you need to get a good audio recording on your iPhone. There is even a "hot shoe" for attaching a flash or external light plus the whole thing mounts on a standard camera tripod. You can also use the handy-dandy screw-in handle that comes with it.
Things get really interesting with the free Fostex app which gives you control over EQ, input levels, filters, and other mic settings. It runs on two AAA batteries and they say you get 10 hours of record time on that. I am still on the batteries that came with the unit.
So, you can use the AR4i for a ton of things, but let me tell you how I used it. For me, it is all about the video. I play in several bands in Las Vegas and try to capture all of my gigs to video for either promo use or just so I can look back later and see where I sucked and what I need to work on. I also do a streaming video show on uStream every week from a club just off of the Vegas strip. I have been using a small setup that we outlined in the last Live2Play eZine for this (http://live2playezines.com/L2P61/page3.html). I knew I could do it from the phone but the lousy sound I was getting from the mic made that idea a no-go. Until I got the AR4i.
I would tell you how great it is, but with this whole active online format you can just check it out for yourself. There are two videos linked here that you can get to by clicking the buttons to the left of this text. (Remember, click the button once to bring the video up and click the button again to make it go away.) Video 1 is my rundown of all the features of the AR4i
The second is video of two bands: The first is a band called Playground--one of the top rock cover bands in Vegas, which features Frank DiMino from the band Angel and Oz Fox from Stryper. The show is in a club called Vamp'd with a really good sound system and a sound guy who knows how to run it. And the audio on the video stinks. I did this one with just the mic on the iPhone 4. The mic is overdriven and the sound is distorted and pretty sucky.
The second band in the video is my band the Voodoo Cowboys at a club called the Las Vegas Country Saloon. Nice place and another good sound guy in the house. But the room is tough with lots of hard, reflective surfaces including a glass wall that runs the entire side of the club. This one was done with the AR4i and now the audio quality matches the video.
Using the AR4i could not be easier. You literally slide the phone into it like a docking station, plug the included mics in and you're ready to rock. It's idiot-proof. And affordable. The list price on the AR4i is $140, but we found it online for more like $120. The video camera, mixer and outboard recording mic I was using to get the same results cost well over a grand and if I wanted to stream it, I needed a laptop and a wi-fi hotspot, on top of that. Now you're looking at a solid $1500. So, for 1/10th of that you get the same capabilities in a package that fits in your back pocket.
The AR4i is definitely a keeper.
Fostex AR4i Audio Interface For iPhone
By Scott Woodward