Review: Griffin Lapel Mic Stereo Microphone
Pros: An iPod-matching external microphone designed for use with iTalk, other iPod voice recorders with external microphone ports, and computers. Solidly built, with enough cord to reach from the average person’s pocket to shirt collar if desired. Good price.
Cons: Won’t work with certain combinations of iPods and iTalks, and doesn’t make use of its stereo capabilities when coupled with any iPod - both issues attributable to Apple’s iPod design limitations, but also not fully explained in advertising. Requires additional ~$40 purchase of iTalk in order to function.
One year ago, Griffin Technology released iTalk (iLounge rating: A-), a voice recorder for iPods that bested competing Belkin products by including both an internal microphone and a port for external microphones. The external mic port worked fine with iPods available at the time of iTalk’s release, but when Apple quietly changed the hardware inside 4G iPods and iPod photos, connected external mics no longer worked properly.
We discovered this in the course of testing Griffin’s new Lapel Mic ($14.99), a white plastic and metal tube that contains a stereo microphone and attaches to your shirt with a large spring-loaded, 360-degree swivel clip. It includes a matching white cable that connects to any stereo minijack-sized microphone port, including the one on top of the iTalk. According to Griffin’s web site, the Lapel Mic’s designed to let iPod and computer users access “the highest quality stereo or mono audio input for recording interviews, lectures and other events.” “An iPod equipped with the Griffin iTalk voice recorder,” Griffin’s web site continues, “instantly becomes a mobile recording unit.”
As it turns out, this is partially accurate. When the Lapel Mic is used with certain iTalks and iPods - specifically, one of the following combinations - it works pretty well, producing clean-sounding recordings that aren’t quite as loud as having the iPod at the same distance from your mouth, but are better than recordings produced with the iTalk using a cheaper external microphone (such as the one included with DLO’s VoiceNote). Because of Apple’s cap on iPod recording capabilities, it records only in mono, not in stereo, and therefore doesn’t take full advantage of its capabilities. And when the Lapel Mic is used with other iPod and iTalk combinations, it doesn’t work at all - a problem not directly attributable to the Mic, but rather to the differences between the iPod and iTalk hardware.
Combinations that work: 3G iPod + Any iTalk; 4G iPod + Revision 2 iTalk; iPod photo + Revision 2 iTalk
Combinations that do not work: 4G iPod + Revision 1 iTalk; iPod photo + Revision 1 iTalk
With the right iPod, the Lapel Mic isn’t so much adding a mobile recording unit (that’s the iTalk) as a way to avoid waving your iPod in someone’s face, or holding it near your own. The microphone’s cord is long enough to reach from pocket or lowered hand to your head or neck, and its clip is easy to connect both to clothes or to other cables for mounting on a desk.
The Lapel Mic also works when connected to a computer, so long as the computer’s audio input port is capable of handling mic-level input. PC owners with mic-friendly sound cards won’t need anything more than the Lapel Mic to get good results, but some Macintosh computers (including Power Mac G5s) will need yet another peripheral such as Griffin’s iMic ($39.99) in order to enjoy the Lapel Mic’s abilities - including the aforementioned stereo recording feature, which many microphones in the $10-15 range don’t offer. As was the case with iTalk, our recordings from the Lapel Mic sounded very good when connected to a compatible computer.
Overall, we were happy with the look and build quality of the Lapel Mic. It’s a solid match for today’s full-sized iPods - the only ones currently capable of voice recording - and both its body and clip feel tough and resilient. But there’s also no denying that iPod owners will need to take some precautions in order to get it to perform as expected: only use it with a new (light gray-labeled as opposed to dark gray/black-labeled) iTalk unless you’re using a third-generation iPod, in which case any iTalk will do the trick.
Purchased alone for $15 as an alternative to comparable microphones, the Lapel Mic is a pretty good deal. As contrasted with DLO’s recently released VoiceNote (iLounge rating: B-), which includes a mono external lapel mic with an iTalk-like iPod accessory for under $40, the combination of a new iTalk and Lapel Mic has the advantages of superior sound and full 4G/photo compatibility, but a higher overall asking price of around $55.
Though the Lapel Mic is a solid product and its limitations are more attributable to iPod and iTalk changes than anything wrong with the microphone, our B- grade reflects this product’s value specifically for iPod owners: it’s a niche add-on to an add-on that may surprise some customers by not performing at all unless they change either iPod or iTalk models - a fact not explained in the product’s advertising, or on Griffin’s web site at the time of this review. With the right combination of additional hardware, though, the Lapel Mic works well, so if you have or are willing to buy the components it requires, you’ll like it.