In this article, I’ll review the new <US$150 iRig Pro I/O cross platform audio interface, with preamp and A-to-D converter. SPOILER: It sounds as clean as a whistle, even with a dynamic microphone, cranked up to near max. When I say “multi-platform”, I mean direct connections for Apple’s Lightning connector (used on all current iOS devices, including the iPhone/iPad/iPad Touch) and USB for Android, Chromebook, Mac and Windows devices. I am also including a 9-point pro/con comparison to its closest competitor on the market, the <US$150 i-XLR from RØDE (which is Lightning-only), including test recordings to hear the preamp and A-to-D quality, specs and practical pros/cons, and a “How to choose” section.
The following test recordings were made sequentially, the same day in a semi-treated environment, using the same Shure palindromic 545 dynamic microphone (illustrated above, reviewed here, Amazon link • B&H link) with its enormous A81WS windscreen (Amazon link • B&H link). Both are uploaded as 48kHz WAV, normalized to -16 LUFS. Since the members of the now defunct ABBA group were unfortunately not available, both recordings are with my voice.
iRig Pro I/O recording with native iRig recorder app for iOS:
iRig Pro I/O recording with Auphonic app for iOS:
Preamp gain and cleanliness
IK Multimedia has not published or responded with any spec for the official maximum gain of the iRig Pro I/O (Amazon link — B&H link), but based on my observations, it seems to be approximately +52dB max. With the palindromic Shure 545 dynamic microphone (reviewed here, Amazon link • B&H link), I had to set it near to max to get our desired -12dB in raw recordings. However, I was happily surprised to hear a clear signal even at near max. In fact, it seems much cleaner than the preamps in the <US$270 Zoom H5 recorder (whose max gain is officially +52db, Amazon link • B&H link) when both are at near max. Fortunately, with the iRig Pro I/O, I didn’t hear hiss or noise, as typically happens when you bring most preamps near to the max. The palindromic Shure 545 dynamic microphone is not the gain hungriest dynamic mic on the planet, and it isn’t the hottest either, but it is much more so than most condenser mics. Like the SM57 and SM58, the 545 is closer to the middle of the dynamic mic spectrum. If you plan to use the iRig Pro I/O with one of the gain-hungriest dynamic mics, like the Audio Technica RE20 or the Shure SM7B,
you should add a pre-preamp like the FetHead (shown above, B&H link), which would be powered from the iRig Pro I/O’s phantom power function. In this case, the phantom power would power the FetHead, not the mic, and the FetHead would not send any phantom power to the dynamic mic. Normally, you would leave phantom power OFF when connecting the iRig Pro I/O directly to a dynamic mic, which is what I did with the direct connection to the palindromic Shure 545.
On the other hand, as covered in my review of the i-XLR (Amazon link • B&H link), RØDE has explained that the i-XLR has a max of +80dB. That is plenty of gain for even the hungriest dynamic mic. With the same palindromic Shure 545, I had to set the i-XLR’s gain to absolute minimum to get -12db (with the attenuator off). However, the i-XLR is a one trick pony (iOS only/Lightning only) and does not officially offer phantom power. The i-XLR is intended to be used with dynamic mics or self-powered condenser mics (i.e. with batteries inside).
SUMMARY FOR THIS SECTION:
The iRig Pro I/O (Amazon link — B&H link) has sufficient clean gain for a dynamic mic like the Shure palindromic 545 mic, which is very similar in gain requirements to an SM57 or SM58. The iRig Pro I/O has more than sufficient clean gain for a condenser mic or hotter dynamic mics like the Senal ENG-18RL (reviewed here, B&H link). If you need to connect an even hungrier dynamic mic with the iRig Pro I/O (like an ElectroVoice RE20 or Shure SM7B), consider getting a pre-preamp like the FetHead (B&H link) to complement the iRig Pro I/O.
Sampling frequency and resolution
Fortunately, both the iRig Pro I/O and the i-XLR offer 48kHz, the absolute standard for audio sampling for video production and distribution. See my related article All audio production & distribution should go 48 kHz.
In addition, both the iRig Pro I/O and the i-XLR offer its 2x cousin, 96kHz. Finally, the iRig Pro I/O also offers 44.1 (a throwback to the ancient CD-Audio standard. Not recommended for video) and its 2x cousin, 88.2 kHz (not recommended for video either).
In terms of resolution, fortunately both also offer 24-bit. See my related article: Understanding 24-bit vs 16-bit audio production & distribution to understand the advantages of recording 24-bit even when not planning to distribute 24-bit.
The iRig Pro I/O is extremely versatile, covering Android, ChromeBook, macOS, iOS, Windows, including necessary cables. It even has MIDI.
On the other hand, the i-XLR is a one-trick-pony, offering only iOS via the Lightning port.
Flexible power options for either interface
The new iRig Pro I/O (Amazon link — B&H link) has multiple power options depending upon your recording situation. When used as a standalone interface for an iPhone, iPad or Android device, you can power iRig Pro I/O with 2 – AA batteries that can also provide switchable 48V phantom power for condenser mics or for a FetHead (B&H link), as explained earlier in this article.
When used with the optional <US$40 iRig PSU 3A, iRig Pro I/O will charge your iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch while plugged in for endless or extended recording and playing sessions. (I didn’t receive an iRig PSU 3A or test that.)
When used with a Chromebook/Mac/Windows computer, iRig Pro I/O gets its power from the USB port and the connected laptop.
On the other hand, the i-XLR normally gets its power exclusively from the iOS device. As designed by RØDE, the i-XLR cannot charge the iOS device either.
However, the i-XLR will likely work together with the iRig PowerBridge (Amazon link • B&H link) from IK Multimedia for <US$70, to get external power and charge the iOS device. (I didn’t receive an iRig PowerBridge or test that.)
Clarifying the phantom power situation
The new iRig Pro I/O absolutely offers switchable 48-volt phantom power, either to power a condenser microphone, or to power a FetHead (B&H link) if necessary to use with an extremely gain-hungry dynamic mic like an RE-20 or SM7B.
The i-XLR officially offers no phantom power. However, some other users and I have discovered that it does power a few XLR condenser mics that demand very low voltage.
CONCLUSIONS FOR THIS SECTION:
The iRig Pro I/O works great with phantom-powered condenser mics (with phantom power ON), medium-to-hot dynamic mics (with phantom power OFF) or (optionally) with very demanding dynamic mics via a FetHead (with phantom power ON). On the other hand, the i-XLR works great with any dynamic mic (including those that are very gain-hungry), or a small group of condenser mics that have a very low voltage requirement.
Unlike its predecessor, the original iRig Pro (reviewed here),
the new iRig Pro I/O does have a 3.5 mm jack for a stereo 3.5 mm headphone. However, I am surprised and a bit disappointed that IK Multimedia did not make it hardware-based and latency free, as the company did with the iRig Pro DUO, which has 2 XLR inputs instead of 1. In the new iRig Pro I/O, the monitoring is software dependent. This means two things:
- The software you use to record must offer a live monitoring feature. In iOS, most professional audio recording apps do offer this; IK’s own iRig Recorder does, and FiLMiC Pro does. However, the Apple stock Camera recording app does not.
- The latency you hear will depend both upon the software and the hardware.
If you are just in charge of shooting and/or sound (but not trying to conduct an interview or be a vocalist simultaneously), you can probably tolerate the latency. However, if you are also planning to participate by conducting an interview or recording yourself, i.e. a self-portrait (“selfie”) standup or a voiceover, you may not. In that case, I would leave the live monitoring active only doing a sound check, and then deactivate it.
On the other hand, the i-XLR fortunately has hardware-based latency-free monitoring. That will work with any app, without any delay, even consumer apps like the Apple stock Camera recording app or conferencing apps.
Conclusions, and how to choose a single-source XLR interface for your mobile device
I titled the this section as such, because it is not feasible to give a summary of advice for a laptop or desktop computer, given the enormous number of desktop/AC-powered options available, of which there are also many, and I have reviewed several before. That’s why this summary and guide is for mobile devices only, i.e. phones and tablets, and for a single-source XLR.
IF YOUR PHONE OR TABLET IS ANDROID
If your phone or tablet is Android, and you want to record from a single XLR source while bypassing the (typically inferior) preamp and A-to-D converter in your Android device, then the iRig Pro I/O (Amazon link • B&H link) is your only option, since the i-XLR does not work with Android at all.
IF YOUR PHONE OR TABLET IS/ARE EXCLUSIVELY iOS
If your phone or tablet is iOS (iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch) and you don’t have any need to use your audio interface with a different platform beyond, and you also want to record from a single XLR source while bypassing the (typically inferior) preamp and A-to-D converter (which disappeared anyway starting with the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus) then other factors should affect your decision.
- If you want to use a condenser microphone that requires 48-volt phantom power, the iRig Pro I/O is your only choice, despite any other consideration.
- If you want to use MIDI, the iRig Pro I/O is your only choice, despite any other consideration.
- If you want to use a dynamic or very low-voltage condenser microphone for which you have already verified compatibility with the i-XLR (or is self-powered, i.e with inboard batteries or an external phantom power supply), you will likely favor the i-XLR (Amazon link • B&H link), since it offers latency-free monitoring with absolutely any app, tally and Record/Pause onboard (at present, only with the free RØDE Reporter app), and offers much more preamp gain without the need of a pre-preamp like a FetHead (B&H link).
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