Review: IK Multimedia iRig PRE XLR Microphone Interface
As the iPad has become a more prominent tool in many professional recording studios and applications, the market has grown for iPad audio interfaces that allow musicians, vocalists and recording engineers to use the pro-grade audio equipment at their disposal. To that end, IK Multimedia's iRig PRE ($40) is an XLR microphone preamp designed to allow artists to connect their preferred higher-end microphones to the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. The iRig PRE connects to the normal audio input channel and can be used with any iOS audio recording app; IK Multimedia also provides its own iRig Recorder and VocaLive apps on the App Store.
Designed to be as unobtrusive as possible, the iRig PRE is an in-line preamp with an XLR connector on one end and a 20” hardwired 3.5mm cable for connecting to the headphone port on an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch on the other; they’re accompanied by a 3.5mm output port for connecting a set of monitoring headphones, or a mixer or PA system for live performances through an effects app such as VocaLive. A gain control is found on the right hand side, along with a three-position power switch on the top.
Rather than drawing power from the iOS device, which would not be possible using only the headphone port, iRig PRE is powered by a standard 9V alkaline battery that’s included in the package. This battery is used both for the preamp and an external microphone’s phantom power, when required; the power switch allows the users to choose between normal operation or phantom power. IK Multimedia promises 30 hours of runtime when using a standard dynamic mic or approximately 10 hours for phantom-powered condenser mics. Unfortunately, no external power option is available here—not unreasonable given the device’s small profile, but something that may still be a minor point of concern when working for longer sessions; users will likely end up needing to switch in a fresh battery beforehand to make sure that they don’t run out of juice at an inopportune time.
A small 5” Velcro strap is also provided in the package. The strap attaches through a slot on the bottom of the iRig PRE, and can then be looped around a microphone stand or other object for convenience. iRig PRE’s fixed 20” 3.5mm cable can of course be extended further with normal extension cables should the accessory need to be positioned at a greater distance from an iPad or iPhone, although realistically there are no controls on the iRig PRE that would need to be adjusted during actual recording or performance, and most users will likely just use a longer XLR microphone cable instead.
We tested the iRig PRE with two higher-end vocal mics—a Shure Beta 87 condenser mic and a Shure SM58 dynamic mic—as well as a Shure Beta 57A condenser instrument mic. In all three cases, the results were very impressive with very clean sound and an impressively low noise floor across multiple iOS recording applications. While the quality was partially attributable to the microphones, it’s worth noting that the iRig PRE provided sound quality and clarity that was indiscernible from the same microphones connected through a Presonus StudioLive 16.0.2—a $1,200 mixing board. Improved input quality also give effects processing apps such as VocaLive more to work with, resulting in better output here as well—especially useful during live performance situations.
The iRig PRE is a very cost-effective solution for bringing the sound quality of professional microphones over to the iOS environment, with results that compare favorably to considerably more expensive mixing equipment. While only slightly more expensive standalone preamps may offer additional options, most do not provide output designed for an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, and the iRig PRE keeps things appropriately simple, directing clean audio into an iOS app where adjustments such as filtering and effects processing are more appropriately handled. Although the iRig PRE would benefit from using a replaceable 3.5mm cable as well as including an option for external power, neither of these are serious deficiencies, particularly when considering the affordable price and the device’s relative “plug-and-play” ease of use. For the most part, we feel that musicians looking to integrate an iPad or iPhone into their studio environment or live performances will find the iRig PRE to be an excellent fit, making it worthy of our high recommendation.