Way back in November last year I got excited about the prospect of the increased recording quality allowed by the software in the (then) new 5G Video iPods. With three different microphone plugins fairly quickly announced, but more than half a year later, Belkin’s page for the TuneTalk Stereo has been up for months, but still displays the disclaimer “Coming soon. Please check back for updates on availability”, while Griffin Technology haven’t even got an official page yet for their upcoming iTalkPro. Thankfully, the first microphone plugin to hit the market, the XtremeMac MicroMemo has arrived!
At first glance this is actually a pretty impressive little device. The MicroMemo plugs straight into the iPod Video (5G) with no fuss, and instantly the record menu pops up. There are two quality settings (16-bit audio at 22 kHz and 44 kHz) which can easily be toggled between and recording starts at the press of a button. Unlike past iPod mics, the MicroMemo has a microphone on a flexible lead, so it can be positioned easily for recording either one person or two in an interview setting (although, it should be noted, the recordings are not in stereo). The MicroMemo also has a switch to allow you to record line-in from any mini-jack (the bundled microphone can be unplugged, unlike the design of the iTalkPro or the TuneTalk). There is also an embedded speaker that’s by no means loud, but is adequate to check that your recordings are working properly (this can be toggled on or off by holding how the single button on the front of the device). Even though it records in uncompressed WAV, with a 30Gb iPod as the lowest usable size, you can record more than the average interview (and far longer in low quality). The only major drawback is that the while recording the iPod’s harddrive continuously spins, so the battery life is only a few hours for continuous recording (and, annoyingly, you can’t charge while using the MicroMemo). That said, in usability terms, it’s pretty smoothly designed and straight-forward to use.
In order to check the quality of the recordings, I conducted four tests of the MicroMemo with the microphone very close to my face (about 10 -15cm away) and also with the mic about 50cm away (which is the more likely distance if it was on a desk during an interview or similar circumstances). I recorded for roughly thirty seconds at both distances on the High Quality setting and the Low Quality. You can judge with your own ears, as I’ve posted these four tests, completely unedited (in their original recorded WAV formats) here:
 MicroMemo Audio Quality Test – Low Quality – Close to Face (1.5Mb)
 MicroMemo Audio Quality Test – Low Quality – Mic 50cm from Face (1.4 MB)
 MicroMemo Audio Quality Test – High Quality – Mic Close to Face (6.1 MB)
 MicroMemo Audio Quality Test – High Quality – Mic 50cm from Face (5.9 MB)
While there was a notable difference in the volume moving the MicroMemo away even to 50cm, a quick tweak with Audacity or any other audio editor to increase the volume finds pretty decent sound quality. The low quality is a lot smaller in size, but more than adequate for playback and for most podcasting recording (unless working to professional production values). For more detailed tests of the MicroMemo, check out reviews at both iLoungeand The iPod Observer.
In a nutshell, I wanted to know if the MicroMemo would be a useful device for student podcasts, recording interviews and other audio production citizen media rather than professional media in nature. I think the MicroMemo is more than up the the task and I hope with all the iPod projects going on in universities across the world, this little plugin will make student podcasts (not just lecture recordings or coursecasts!) a more sizable part of university curricula. My only major gripe is that the MicroMemo can’t record directly to a compressed format like mp3 – that functionality would really make this device ideal!