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Review: iKEY Plus

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Review: Gemini iKEY Plus USB Digital Audio Recorder

This is a multimedia Gallery, so as well as still images you can find video and audio clips and other goodies.

However, though I can snap away with my camera to gather images and video, for example, the Gallery has sorely lacked any consistent way of gathering snippets of audio. The best I have been able to do in the past has usually been an "audio memo" on a previous Sony MAVICA, or maybe the voice recorder on my mobile phone; neither great bandwidth nor signal 'quality'.

For the Gallery I need something relatively portable (eg battery-powered, small and light) that I can carry with me most of the time to catch ambient or unexpected sounds, that does not need to be connected up to (say) a laptop to operate, that saves audio in formats easy for me to edit and for Gallery users to download and use, and that records to a medium that is easy for me to access in a number of ways, eg not tied to one expensive computer or operating system or manufacturer. And I don't want to spend hundreds on something too complex for me to even understand!

With those constraints in mind I saw this review of the iKEY Plus portable direct-to-USB digital audio recorder in The Register, which looked pretty good for Gallery purposes, even if not quite the target DJ/musician market.

iKey with mic and USB stick plugged in

The immediate plus points of the iKEY Plus for me:

  • Not expensive ~£115 (GBP115/USD200) when I bought it from the very helpful djkit.co.uk site (tel:+44(0)1635-580448).
  • Small (can go in a biggish pocket) and using ordinary AA rechargables, and has a soft pouch to avoid scratches.
  • Stereo recording with small microphone supplied.
  • Can record in a variety of MP3 encoding rates (128kbps to 320kbps) up to uncompressed CD-quality (44.1kHz) stereo WAV.
  • Can record directly onto a USB memory stick, which I can read directly on a Mac or Windows laptop for example, for editing and upload. This worked perfectly with the first one I took out of my toolbox!
  • Relatively simple to use.
  • Works "out of the box" using the mains power adaptor.

Some immediate weaknesses/annoyances:

  • Quite tricky understanding which buttons to press to start with; I think I'll be able to manage without lugging the instruction manual around but I'm not sure. Maybe they could put a sticker with a minimal set of "quick start" instructions on the back like (say) Sun do with their multi-thousand-dollar computer boxes? Saves a lot of head-scratching.
  • Seems to need to be turned off and on after inserting a USB memory stick to recognise it.
  • Needs to have the REC key held down for 3 seconds to flush recordings to the USB stick; why not have it do so automatically after a small period of inactivity?
  • wind baffles held on with elastic band The anti-wind-noise microphone covers fall off at the slightest provocation, so I've resorted to an ugly elastic band to hold them on!
  • Would be nice if the unit was even smaller and lighter, say candy-bar mobile-phone size.
  • I will probably need to get a self-powered dynamic mic to get really good recordings, especially of relatively quiet sounds such as bird-song.

iKey with mic and USB stick plugged in

Here are the first few test/calibration recordings taken with it:

In all cases, given that the supplied passive microphone/mic is not very sensitive, I had the iKEY input sensitivity turned up to more-or-less maximum. The sound seems reasonable to my cloth ears.

All pictures of the iKey Plus.

Buy online from Amazon.com (USD145 as at 20070217).

Buy online from Amazon.co.uk (GBP119 as at 20070217).

Damon Hart-Davis, February 2007.

Update March 2007: bought a Yoga EM-268 electret condenser stereo mic to try to better capture lower sound levels, ie for higher sensitivity.

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