Tech News on G4

TuneTalk Makes Your iPod a Voice Recorder

March 17, 2008

By Greg Gazin - Apple Gaziní - G4 Canada

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While the iPod revolution has gone through some major evolution, one feature found on many music devices, that’s always been missing on the iPod, besides a built-in radio tuner, is the ability to do voice recordings. We focus so much on the hearing, playing, shuffling and downloading – all output elements, we sometimes need a little input.

TuneTalk | BelkinAs a member of Toastmasters I find myself doing a fair number of speeches and presentations.  I like to record them to review how well I did and where I need to improve.  Also, as a Technology Journalist, ok, a Gadget Guy, I often find myself speaking with people and interviewing people on the road at conferences, tradeshows – wherever I can catch them J for many of my stories. But recording audio is not just for guys like me.  If you use Facebook or do Podcasts, (can I add plug for mine here?) let’s get real – ok?  You need a way to record some half-decent audio. Some of the sound that gets recorded from cellphones and digital cameras just doesn’t cut it.

Belkin’s TuneTalk Stereo turns select iPod Video and Nano models into a high quality audio recording device. A nice little compact unit, it easily snaps onto the iPod docking connector. It has built-in stereo microphones so it will record both the left and right tracks. It also has a 3.5mm input to attach an external microphone as well as a mini-USB connector and cable. It ships with a little plastic stand to allow your iPod to sit upright. A plastic spacer is also supplied to ensure the TuneTalk and iPod keep snugly attached.

Attach & Go!

What I like about the unit is its simplicity. Attach it and your iPod auto-detects the unit. No software or drivers to install.  Recording is easy – Attach the device. Either hit the Quick Memo button on the TuneTalk or use the iPod’s click wheel to select  Record or Cancel. It displays recording time in a large font – after which you have a big choice to make - 2 menu options Pause or Stop & Save – it’s that simple!

To retrieve your recordings, files are stored on the iPod under Extras->Voice Memos. Transferring files to and from the iPod is a piece of cake via iTunes the same way you would move your music.
TuneTalk | BelkinUncompressed Sound Recording

There are two settings for recording quality that can be easily set via the iPod’s “Extras” menu. Choose either Low (22.05Khz, mono) ideal for recording speeches or High (44.1Khz, stereo) - CD Quality. All recordings are stored in .WAV format, which can be either a perk or a hindrance depending your recording requirements.

Unlike MP3, the WAV format is uncompressed so you can achieve quality suitable for even CD or DVD. On the other hand, you also eat up more storage space- 10MB/ minute at the high setting.   If you are recording entire conferences, this may be less of an issue for the hard disk based iPod Video,  but not for the iPod Nano  which has a smaller storage capacity.

Now, if you have a computer handy, you can of course use iTunes to easily convert to other formats like MP3. Other music players like the iRiver, with built-in recording capabilities, can record in high bit-rate MP3, yielding great reproduction more than suitable for most podcasts.

But here, we’re talking about using your iPod.

Recording Results

I was quite pleased with the quality of the recording when using the built-in omni-directional microphones.  The sound was crisp and clear, much better than some of the hand held recorders I’ve used in the past. When recording in stereo, both tracks are present. However, true channel separation has its challenges by virtue of the close proximity of the two mics.  A two-level auto-gain switch located at the underside of the unit allows you to boost the signal to compensate for when you are in a quiet room, or off when you are in a noisy environment to reduce distortion.

I did notice however, that when using the iPod Video, if you listen carefully, you can sometimes pick up a very minor sound which originates from the spinning of the iPod’s hard drive because it’s so close.

Of course, to get the best results, you’re better off using an external microphone and again, very useful, you can set the Auto-Gain function depending on whether your microphone is amplified or not.

Listen to the short voice recording sample here.  ( insert 2 sample files)

Connect to Your PC or Mac

The TuneTalk’s mini-USB port and the supplied cable allow you to connect to your computer while the TuneTalk is connected to the iPod.  This give you two things: The ability to charge the iPod while recording and to connect to iTunes while still attached – which by the way will launch automatically once you plug in and ask you if you want to import the files – or “Voice Memos” as they are called to iTunes.

The unit does derive its power from your iPod so it will draw some juice. I tested the unit with a 3-year old 30G iPod Video – so the battery isn’t as fresh as it could have been. I still managed to get about 1 hour of recording at high quality before the battery warning light came on.

While this unit isn’t new, it’s been around for a year and a bit but its perhaps more relevant today as the demand for decent audio on the go continues to rise.

If you have the appropriate iPod, and like me, take it everywhere, then TuneTalk Stereo is a must. (Check the vendor’s site for details).  You never know when you’re going to need to record, so this is one gadget that you should carry around in your knapsack or pocket.

Belkin TuneTalk Stereo for iPod Video. Retails for $69.99 and carries a three-year warranty, but if you look hard enough you can probably find it for less – but no matter where you look, you’ll only find it in black.

Greg Gazin can be reached at gadgetguy “at” telus “dot” net.

NOTES for files:

Sample files recorded in normal room environment mic 6 inches from mouth, Auto-gain ON

Recording 1:  LOW Setting: 27seconds  WAV 1.2MB
Bit Rate 352kbps  22.050Khz Mono

Recording 2HIGH Setting: 27seconds  WAV 4.6MB
Bit Rate 1411kbps  44.100Khz Stereo


Greg Gazin can be reached at gadgetguy “at” telus “dot” net.

About G4 in Canada
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