When we reviewed SwitchEasy’s $13 ThumbTacks Micro-Microphone, a high recommendation was almost a no-brainer: the amusingly shaped microphone offered acceptable voice recording quality in the user’s choice of three colors, at a price that was impossible to beat. Now Ozaki has released a same-priced competitor, iPill, with a different design, colors, and microphone. Like ThumbTacks, it’s compatible with the iPod nano 4G, iPod classic 120GB, and iPod touch 2G, plugging into the headphone port rather than the Dock Connector, and enabling monaural rather than stereo recording.
Consisting of two halves that split apart to reveal the microphone’s 3.5mm connector and a protective cap, iPill samples arrived in two versions: white with a red cap, and black with an orange cap, each highly similar to an actual pill except for size—iPill is larger—and the presence of a tiny eyelet on one side that could be attached to a thinly designed wrist strap or necklace mount. Neither is included inside the iPill package, but either one could make the potentially easy-to-lose accessory that much simpler to carry safely.
On the other side of iPill are five tiny holes for the microphone, which obviously faces directly downwards on the iPod nano and iPod touch, or upwards on the iPod classic, as is the case with the ThumbTacks microphone. Given that they similarly protrude roughly .7” from the iPods, one might guess that iPill and ThumbTacks would sound the same or at least similar when used at the same distance from one’s mouth. But they don’t.
Whereas ThumbTacks sounded like a slightly muffled, less sibilant version of Apple’s Earphones with Remote and Mic at the same general volume level, iPill is dramatically louder: it is set to a volume or gain level that makes near-proximity voice recordings much easier to hear without having to turn up the volume on headphones. While there’s a little sibilance, it’s not as pronounced as in Apple’s microphone, and the overall voice balance is more natural—like a less muffled version of ThumbTacks. Hear an audio comparison sample here.
Most interesting was the fact that even distant-proximity recordings sounded better with iPill: at a four-foot separation between user and microphone, ThumbTacks lost considerable amplitude and had a slight pickup in ambient noise, while iPill’s amplitude fell only a little while its pick up of ambient noise increased somewhat. In both cases, iPill’s recordings sounded better than ThumbTacks, and to our ears, better than the Apple microphone, as well; that said, some users may prefer to make lower-volume recordings and tweak the levels manually. For them, another mic might work better; we would sooner go with the higher volume levels of the iPill, recordings from which are especially easier to hear through the integrated speaker of the second-generation iPod touch.
iPill’s only comparative failings are two: the slipperiness of its glossy body, which may make it disappear more easily than ThumbTacks, and the fact that it remains difficult to find in the United States more than a month after we began testing it for this review. If you can find it, iPill is a strong, inexpensive little audio recorder and the sort of cool accessory that doctors might have fun showing off to their patients—we’d call it a strong rival for the same-priced ThumbTacks and a highly recommendable microphone, one we plan to keep around until and unless it slips away.
Company and Price
Compatible: iPod nano 4G, iPod classic 120GB, iPod touch 2G