Production

Review: RØDE i-XLR and RØDE Reporter app

After a couple of additions to the associated software, the i-XLR and corresponding RØDE Reporter app will absolutely rock for iOS. No Android version hasn’t been announced yet…

i-XLR

i-XLR is an ideal bridge from a single XLR balanced microphone or other mono audio source to an iOS device (iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch) with a Lightning port. I first covered the i-XLR from RØDE in September 2015. Now, the i-XLR is finally available, and I have tested and evaluated it thoroughly. Ahead you’ll learn why I consider i-XLR’s hardware to be a quantum leap compared to comparable competing pocket-sized solutions (i.e. iRig Pre and iRig Pro) which target the same purpose. In this article, I compare i-XLR, describe its benefits, its compatibility and use with FíLMiC Pro for audio/video recording; what I applaud about the new RØDE Reporter app, and what really must be added to it in an forthcoming update. I’ll also briefly discuss the lack of an Android version so far.

i-XLR: the hardware

i-XLR_next-to_iRig-Pre

Above you can see a size comparison between an iPhone 7 Plus (thanks to Memo Sauceda), an iRig Pre (compared in the article) and an i-XLR

The US$149 i-XLR hardware is a dream compared to prior solutions for the same goal, like the ±US$40 iRig Pre (which I reviewed here, back in 2009, but is still available) and the ±US$130 iRig Pro (which I reviewed here in 2014) since the i-XLR has the following benefits:

  • The i-XLR never, ever needs a battery, since it gets all of its power from the iOS device. On the other hand, the iRig Pre always needs a battery, whether used with a microphone that requires external power or not. The iRig Pro needs a battery whenever it is required to send phantom power to a microphone.
  • Like the iRig Pro, the i-XLR fortunately bypasses the the iOS device’s lower-quality built-in preamp and A-to-D (analog-to-digital) converter, delivering a purer digital signal to the iOS device at up to 24-bit resolution. (See my prior article Understanding 24-bit vs 16-bit audio production & distribution to understand the benefits of making the initial audio recording at 24-bit, even when we don’t distribute the final product at 24-bit) while the original iRig Pre only boosts and matches impedance, but still delivers an analog signal to the iOS device.
  • The i-XLR has latency-free monitoring inboard. This is a key benefit over either of the two other devices, since neither of those offers hardware-based latency free monitoring. The iRig Pro doesn’t offer inboard monitoring at all, and the iRig Pre offers a headphone jack but requires a return audio signal from the iOS device, which is app-dependent and subject to latency. (To be fair to IK Multimedia, the newer ±US$175 iRig Pro Duo does offer true latency-free monitoring, but it is not pants-pocket-sized… nor can it just hang off of the end of a reporter mic, so I am not including it in this comparison of pocket-sized devices for a single mono source.) RØDE even made the headphone jack on the i-XLR foolproof, so it even works properly whether it is used with a proper TRS headphone, or with an inappropriate yet ubiquitous TRRS earbuds or headset with built-in microphone, since the i-XLR’s 3.5 mm receptacle has been intelligently wired to ignore the headphone’s built-in microphone. See my TS/TRS/TRRS/TRRRS: Combating the misconnection epidemic for details.
  • When matched with its corresponding audio recording iOS app, RØDE Reporter (not to be confused with the dynamic microphone of the same name, which I reviewed here and here), the i-XLR has a built-in momentary button which can initiate and pause an audio recording, and offers visual confidence via an LED to indicate whether the the recording software is indeed recording or in pause, without having to look at the iOS device’s screen.
  • I love the software-switchable 20 db pad and the software-switchable HPF (High Pass Filter), which is sometimes called a Low Cut Filter. (Is your glass half empty or half full?) However you call it, it let’s the good sounds continue, while eliminating the undesired low frequency rumble.
  • Even though RØDE has strangely underestimated the total available gain it its marketing materials, it is actually much better than it initially sounds, as you’ll see in this official response I received:

“We have a set 20 dB gain at the front end for all inputs, then an additional 20 dB switchable in hardware. Finally 40 dB at the A/D stage that is software controlled from within the app. Giving us a total gain available of 80 dB, with 60 dB of that variable.”

Beyond its official phantom power, the only other benefit that IK Multimedia’s iRig Pro offers over the i-XLR is additional compatibility with Android and desktop computers, at least as such time as RØDE or some third party makes an adapter for the i-XLR to connect the Lightning port to Micro USB (for legacy Android), USB C (for newer Android and newer laptops) and to USB A (for traditional computers and laptops), or until RØDE offers a native version for one of those connections.

Can the i-XLR power a condenser microphone, or not?

The answer is: officially no, but unofficially: sometimes, yes.

Officially, the i-XLR is supposed to work with:

  • the balanced XLR output of dynamic microphone
  • the balanced XLR output of a condenser microphone which is self-powered (either with a-built battery or an external phantom power supply)
  • from the mic level output of a wireless microphone receiver (like the RØDELink Newsshooter Kit I’m about to review)
  • from the mic level output of an audio mixer

However, at least one person I found on YouTube successfully used the i-XLR with a RØDE studio XLR condenser microphone without any external power. His recording made me curious, and then I successfully used the i-XLR with the RØÐE HS2 head-mounted microphone (my review is coming soon) via RØDE’s own VLXR adapter. Bottom line: the i-XLR might power your condenser microphone, and it might not. If that’s what you really want, test it extensively before you count on that working. The i-XLR was primarily designed to work with a dynamic microphone plugged in directly via XLR, which is the most popular type ENG (electronic news gathering) microphone.

What I love about the i-XLR’s corresponding app for iOS

Despite its confusing name (which is probably intentional to sell more of the RØDE Reporter dynamic ENG microphone), I love the following in the RØDE Reporter iOS app:

  • The app is simple.
  • The app works with the i-XLR hardware button to initiate and pause audio recordings, and provides a handshake to the i-XLR hardware LED for visual confidence, without even having to look at the iOS device’s screen.
  • I applaud that (along with the 96 kHz sampling frequency, which is really overkill for the spoken word) the i-XLR and the RØDE Reporter together offer us 48 kHz, as I indicated in my article/open letter All audio production & distribution should go 48 kHz. Learn why..
  • I love the “Flag” where we can import our logo to appear on screen during an interview.

What should be improved in the RØDE Reporter app

First, a summary of the three missing features in the RODE Reporter app.

  1. There should be an option to record uncompressed WAVE 48 kHz/24-bit (in addition to 96 kHz/24-bit and 48 kHz/16-bit which are currently offered).
  2. There should be an option to record in mono, and it should be the default when the i-XLR is detected and selected by the app. (I realize that the same RØDE Reporter app can also be used with other microphones, some of which are truly stereo.)
  3. While recording, there should be an onscreen indication of an estimate of current recording mode (i.e. 96 kHz/24-bit mono WAVE, 48 kHz/24-bit mono WAVE) and remaining available recording space in the device, in Days, Hours, and Minutes, as the Auphonic app now offers on both Android and iOS. This feature will alleviate the operator’s stress immensely.

Why 48 kHz/24 bit mono for our field recordings with the i-XLR?

This subsection justifies requests 1 and 2 listed above.

In my article/open letter, All audio production & distribution should go 48 kHz. Learn why, I already justified why we should be recording in 48 kHz. Fortunately, the i-XLR and the RØDE Reporter app already supports the 48 kHz sampling rate. Now let’s discuss why should be recording 48 kHz with a resolution of 24-bit, not 16-bit, and why in mono. As I covered in Understanding 24-bit vs 16-bit audio production & distribution, and especially considering that the i-XLR does not include a hardware limiter, we must record with a very conservative original level to be absolutely sure not to clip, knowing that in post, we’ll be increasing the level to one of the LUFS standards (i.e. -16 LUFS, -20 LUFS, -23 LUFS or 24 LUFS) depending upon the distribution target, as I have covered in prior articles). By recording with 24-bit resolution (even though we’ll very likely not be distributing with 24-bit resolution), we can assure minimum artifacts when amplifying the original recording to the target loudness standard.

Now let’s talk about the practical numbers. This will explain why it doesn’t make sense for most people to record at 96 kHz stereo just to get 24-bit resolution, considering that that is the only available 24-bit setting in the initial version of the RØDE Reporter app. The i-XLR is a mono device, since its only input is a single XLR plug. Unless the analog section of the hardware allows padding one single channel of a a pseudo-stereo signal when it’s still analog, we can’t do audio bracketing anyway (i.e. with one channel attenuated as a safety track). So if there is no possibility of audio bracketing, we have no advantage to recording a quasi-stereo recording from a mono source, even if our final program will be stereo, as I covered in Advantages to recording mono, even for a stereo show.

Here our numbers with the current version of i-XLR with the RØDE Reporter app, for one hour of uncompressed WAVE recording:

  • 96 kHz/24-bit fake stereo: 2073.6MB (2.0736 GB) (huge)
  • 48 kHz/16-bit fake stereo: 691.2 MB (Wasted space for fake stereo, without the benefit of 24-bit resolution or audio bracketing.)

Now, here are the numbers for one hour of uncompressed WAVE recording, if RØDE accepts our request:

  • 48 kHz/24-bit mono: 518.4 MB (All of the benefits of quality, headroom; the efficiency of a mono recording, with none of the compromises.)

(Number crunching thanks to ColinCrawley.com’s calculator.)

With this requested mode, we will have a smaller data file, the ideal quality, including the additional resolution/headroom required to record at a very conservative level, with negligible artifacts when amplifying to our desired loudness in post. The way the RØDE Reporter app is currently, we must have a enormous file size just to achieve 24-bit resolution. This means that the iOS device fills up exponentially much faster, and uploading takes much longer, and if using mobile data to upload, either cost us more money… or hits our data cap much sooner, with no justification. Please RØDE, add 48 kHz/24-bit mono WAVE mode to the RØDE Reporter app so we can save 75% in space, bandwidth, time and money!

Use of i-XLR for audio/video recording with FiLMiC Pro

I tested the i-XLR with FilMiC Pro (thanks to Memo Sauceda) and it fortunately worked fine. In fact, FiLMiC Pro detected the i-XLR as if it were an i-XY-L stereo microphone (reviewed here), so I suspect that the chip inside the i-XLR is making FiLMiC Pro believe it’s that microphone.

Conclusions

Thanks to its quality and ingenious features, i-XLR is the most attractive attractive hardware I have seen so far to go from a single mono analog audio source to an iOS device, especially when phantom power or bias voltage (aka plugin power) is not required, unless it has been tested and proven to work, as described in the article. The i-XLR’s proper latency-free monitoring and touch to record/pause remote control for recording and visual confidence make it unique in the market. The associated RØDE Reporter app will become equally awesome as soon as RØDE adds my requested features. I also really hope that RØDE will create a version of i-XLR for Android.

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FTC disclosure

No manufacturer is specifically paying Allan Tépper or TecnoTur LLC to write this article or the mentioned books. Some of the other manufacturers listed above have contracted Tépper and/or TecnoTur LLC to carry out consulting and/or translations/localizations/transcreations. Many of the manufacturers listed above have sent Allan Tépper review units. So far, none of the manufacturers listed above is/are sponsors of the TecnoTur programs, although they are welcome to do so, and some are, may be (or may have been) sponsors of ProVideo Coalition magazine. Some links to third parties listed in this article and/or on this web page may indirectly benefit TecnoTur LLC via affiliate programs. Allan Tépper’s opinions are his own.

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Born in Connecticut, United States, Allan Tépper is an award-winning broadcaster & podcaster, bilingual consultant, multi-title author, tech journalist, translator, and language activist who has been working with professional video since the eighties. Since 1994,…

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Daniel J. Lewis
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Thanks for the review!

What I’d like to see more of is a comparison between such similar products based on the preamp noise.

Aside from the Røde and IK Multimedia gear, Shure also has the MVi, and I expect we’ll see more XLR-to-Lightning preamps soon.

Allan Tépper
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Thanks for reading and commenting Daniel. I have published many side-by-side preamp and A-to-D comparisons in the past, and I’ll do it with the i-XLR too. I am shocked to see that the Shure MVi you mentioned has only +36 dB published gain, not enough for use with most dynamic mics. Perhaps Shure underestimated its published gain (as RØDE did, as I clarified in this article). Unfortunately, Shure has been quite non-responsive to my emails over the years compared with all of the many other manufacturers I deal with. Despite that, I do like some Shure microphones. You may have… Read more »

Fred
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Fred

Hi Allan. Do you know if on an iPhone 7 it will work with the Belkin Lightning Audio + Charge RockStar™ adaptor?
Link: http://www.belkin.com/uk/F8J198/p/P-F8J198/

Allan Tépper
Guest

I don’t know for a fact, since I haven’t tried it, but I would expect it to work fine.