After my recent “first look”, here is the review of IK Multimedia’s iKlip A/V preamp/mount/grip for smartphones & small cameras. This article review includes an audio test recording I made through the iKlip A/V’s onboard pre-preamplifier using a balanced XLR dynamic microphone to my Nexus 6 smartphone. With the iKlip A/V, IK Multimedia is even more directly entering the market space traditionally attended by pre-preamplifier manufacturers like BeachTek and JuicedLink, although with a unique approach combining the mount/grip and default TRRS connection for smartphones, although also offering an optional TRS cable for small cameras with that type of audio input. This article also describes how the iKlip A/V can be used to feed the output of an automatic audio mixer to your smartphone, with examples from Audio-Technica, Behringer/MIDAS, Shure and Sound Devices.
Of course,I have covered mounts and grips before (iOgrapher and The Padcaster).
A closer match to this style of mounts and grips might be MXL’s MM-CM001 Mobile Media Camera Mount Kit (shown above). But none of those has a built-in pre-preamp to connect your XLR microphone or mixer. I prefer to call it a pre-preamp, since like the original iRig Pre (reviewed here), Beachtek products (reviewed here) and JuicedLink products (covered here), iKlip A/V is designed to go before the main preamplifier in the recording device or streaming device. In fact, that’s what the FetHead (covered here) and Cloudlifter products (covered here) do too. They are all pre-preamplifiers and they do the heavy lifting for an often noisier preamp in the recorder or streaming device, which in some cases don’t offer enough clean gain… or enough gain at all. Most of the ones from Beachtek, IK Multimedia and JuicedLink have a balanced XLR input and an unbalanced output to feed their target recorders/streamers, while the Cloudlifter and FetHead products have balanced outputs to feed theirs.
The idea is to combine iKlip A/V, your smartphone or other small camera, and your favorite professional XLR microphone for the particular shoot, be it a dynamic or condenser mic (or even the XLR output from an audio mixer, as I’ll cover ahead in this article). In the past, I have covered several omnidirectional dynamic microphones for ENG (Electronic News Gathering), including the Audio-Technica BP4002 (covered in this article), the ElectroVoice RE50N/D-B, the RØDE Reporter (reviewed in this article), and the Senal ENG–18RL (reviewed in this article).
iKlip A/V works with either professional balanced dynamic XLR microphones (like the ones I just mentioned above) or professional balanced XLR condenser microphones, since the preamp in the iKlip A/V offers optional (switchable) phantom power for those microphones that require it.
iKlip AV also works with wireless systems that offer an XLR output.
As I have covered in several prior articles, the ENG (electronic news gathering) community generally prefers the use of dynamic handheld microphones for informal interviews and standups. The exception are professional balanced XLR lavalier mics and shotguns, which are nearly always condenser, and often require phantom power, which is fortunately available from the iKlip A/V at the flick of a switch. The output of the iKlip A/V is TRRS 3.5mm, and includes a detachable cable for that, which will fit just about any smartphone, be it Android, iPhone or Windows Phone. In addition, IK Multimedia also offers an optional adaptor cable to TRS 3.5 mm to connect to small cameras that use that type of input.
For more information about that, see my TS/TRS/TRRS/TRRRS: Combating the misconnection epidemic article from August 2015 (illustrated above).
iKlip A/V also includes built-in support for holding most popular wireless microphone receivers with XLR output, and can also be mounted on a tripod or monopod, thanks to its 1/4 20 threaded hole at the bottom.
Test recording with the iKlip A/V
Again, I have decided to skip SoundCloud and its MP3 encoding for your better listening pleasure. I am exclusively publishing an uncompressed WAV file, which I have embedded using the HTML5 audio player code. My understanding is that you’ll be able to play it in the latest versions of all popular modern browsers, in alphabetical order: Chrome, Edge (which is Microsoft’s replacement for Internet Explorer), Firefox, Opera and Safari. If you only have Internet Explorer in your computer, either download one of the others or go visit a friend who has one of the other browsers installed and updated.
The above audio is 4:10 (four minutes ten seconds) after trimming. It describes which microphone was used and why, for us to determine how clean the iKlip A/V’s pre-preamp is. Fortunately, I was able to get the desired -12 dB level in the recording app (Auphonic for Android, reviewed here) by setting the gain to about half of its total potential magnification, which fortunately means that the iKlip A/V has gain to spare, even with a dynamic microphone.
The Audio-Technica BP40 (shown above, reviewed here) is the one I used to test the cleanliness of the iKlip AV’s pre-preamplifier.
Using iKlip A/V with an automatic audio mixer
Last month, I published an article called Multitrack audio for best control later, versus live mix. There I explain that both in field production or in the studio, ideally, we record every audio source on its own track for absolute control in post. For many years, I have been covering devices to accomplish that. However, more than ever nowadays, some producers need to stream live or to record live-to-drive, where all audio sources are mixed on the fly, i.e. when little or no post-production is ever to be done later. In those cases, it’s time to get it right, now or never! The iKlip A/V is perfect for those cases, since both its output and the TRRS input of most smartphones are mono. (The only way to allow “stereo” or multitrack recording on most smartphones is to use a digital device connected to the 30-pin, Lightning or USB port. I have covered many of those, but that is outside of the scope of this article. I know of very few smartphones that allow stereo input via a TRRRS, with 5 conductors instead of 4, but that is also outside the scope of this article.)
Although in the past, due to older low-impedance inputs, it would be considered a “no-no” to use a Y-cable to connect multiple microphones, nowadays it indeed can work, although with limitations, as I explain in detail in that article. However, what I really want to cover in this article is the option of taking the output of an automatic mixer to feed the XLR input of the iKlip A/V. Ahead, I am going to review both the practical and technical details.
I first covered the main advantage of automatic audio mixers in the review article called Cure audio spill in multi-mic situations with an AT-MX351a automatic mixer. In a nutshell, automatic audio mixers solve the problem of a phenomenon known by three popular names: spill, bleed or crosstalk, when the voice destined to one microphone also bleeds into one or more others. Automatic mixers can solve the problem by either reducing the gain of the microphone(s) belonging to the person or people who are not currently speaking… or by using a technique called cross-gating.
The Audio-Technica AT-MX351a automatic mixer (shown above) has four XLR microphone inputs, and an XLR output which can be connected to the input of the iKlip A/V. The XLR output can be switched to offer either mic or line level.
The Behringer X AIR XR12 automatic mixer/recorder (shown above, covered here, which I plan to review soon) also has four XLR inputs and two XLR outputs, even though we only need one of them to feed the input of the iKlip A/V. The XLR outputs are at line level. See the section below About levels and matching for more about that.
The Shure SCM410 automatic mixer (shown above) also has four XLR inputs and an XLR output which can be connected to the input of the iKlip A/V. The XLR output can be switched to offer either mic or line level.
The Sound Devices 688 automatic mixer/recorder (shown above, which I’d like to review soon) has six XLR inputs and several XLR outputs (two direct, others via breakout cable), even though we only need one of them to feed the input of the iKlip A/V. The XLR outputs can be switched to offer either mic or line level.
About levels and matching:
- +4 dBu is considered the nominal level for professional line level.
- −10 dBV is considered the nominal level for consumer line level-
- −60 dBV is considered the nominal level for microphone level, although microphones vary greatly from that.
Although the iKlip A/V is advertised to be used with mic level, I have personally verified that its gain knob ranges down more than enough to accept +4 dBu with no problem. In fact, at the minimum position of the iKlip A/V’s potentiometer, it was actually too low, and had to be raised slightly to get the desired conservative -12 dB peak target on the meter of the recording app I used to make the test recording of the iKlip A/V for this article: Auphonic for Android (reviewed here). The results were just as clean as with the test recording published above in this article, although that one was made with the iKlip A/V connected directly to the Audio-Technica BP40 studio dynamic microphone (reviewed here).
Nonetheless, if you would like to use the Behringer X AIR XR12, but would prefer to be using the mid section of the gain potentiometer instead of the lower part, you could always use an XLR attenuator like this one.
After my “first look” article, I received many offline comments from readers who were extremely interested. I get the sense that even though other mounts/brackets and separate audio pre-preamps have existed, some people love the simplicity of getting it all together in a single, simple tool, rather than a separate pre-preamp device. The beautiful, smiling Italian models in IK Multimedia advertising photography can’t hurt causing interest either 🙂
Obviously, the iKlip A/V is ideal for people who either already own —or otherwise— prefer one of the following:
- traditional XLR microphones
- wireless systems whose receiver offers an XLR output
- an audio mixer with XLR output
The iKlip A/V’s pre-preamp is not compatible with digital-only microphones like the handheld iRig Mic HD (reviewed here) or iRig Mic HD-A for Android (reviewed here) or with unbalanced TRRS microphones which require plugin power (not phantom power), including handheld models from IK Multimedia MXL, and RØDE. If you have one of those types of microphones, you would be using only half of iKlip A/V’s functionality, at least when you use those TRRS or digital-only mics, since they connect directly to the smartphone.
As you probably heard in the test recording, iKlip A/V has a very clean signal path with gain to spare. It’s ideal to use with either a single XLR microphone, a wireless system with XLR output, or with an automatic audio mixer with XLR output, together with multiple audio sources, when no multitrack recording is desired, and you have to get the audio right, now or never. Bravissimo IK Multimedia!
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