There are all kinds of ways that technology has improved the process of creating and consuming audio over the past 20 years. Wireless headphones, easier sound editing, streaming music services and the built-in recording capabilities of smart phones are just a few of them.
But if you walk into any professional music studio or even a room where podcasters who care about audio quality are recording, you’ll still find yards and yards of analog cables, mixers with dozens of knobs and microphones that are not fundamentally different from what Elvis Presley was recording songs on more than 60 years ago. You’d think more would have changed since then.
Lucky for us that there are companies trying new and novel approaches to capturing good audio. One of them, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based iZotope, has rethought what a mobile recording studio can look like.
The company’s Spire Studio ($349 retail price, but you can find it online for about $299) is an Internet-enabled mobile recorder meant for musicians, podcasters and anyone else who wants to grab clean sound while filtering out background noise outside of an actual studio.
The Spire Studio takes the form of a squat cylinder with a dial-array of lights on top. In lieu of a screen, the device has only a few buttons to keep things simple. There’s a button to record a new song, a button that does a “Soundcheck,” scanning the room’s ambient sound to give you a good filter to start with, and a button to enable volume touch controls. You can run your finger across the dial of lights to increase or decrease it and it works beautifully. Two big buttons for “Play” and “Record” are at its top center.
The Spire Studio has a headphone jack in the front and one in the back to hear recorded sounds or to monitor input while recording. It also has two powered XLR jacks in the back for those who want to plug in microphones or other instruments directly to it.
But you can do a lot with the Spire without ever touching the actual gadget and its built-in microphone or on-board data storage. It connects to an iPhone or iPad which allows for editing of up to eight tracks. You can import and export sounds files or Spire editing documents (with the extension “.SPIRE”) from Dropbox, iCloud Drive, or any other place your iOS device can store files.
And really, that’s where the Spire shines. In addition to doing a quality job of eliminating background noise on recordings, the app software is very good. It allows for easy multi-track audio editing even for someone who’s never mastered Apple’s GarageBand or who has only a vague sense of how to mix music. It simplifies functions such as positioning audio tracks (from left to right or rear to front or any combination therein), muting parts of a track and looping sounds.
Which is not to say that the Spire Studio is for everyone: even at $300, it seems like overkill for anyone not trying to put out professional-grade music or podcasts. For most people, a $50 USB microphone used in a quiet room with a laptop is good enough for all kinds of amateur recordings.
What the Spire Studio is good for, however, is people who need good audio on the go; whether it’s on a tour bus, for on-location podcast interviews, or for anyone who is used to carrying around a mixer and a bunch of cables. It seems more than capable of replacing most mobile audio setups and it doesn’t even need to be plugged in; its AC adapter charges the Spire Studio for a battery life of about four to six hours.
And this is a very subjective measure, but it’s also very attractive. The design of the Spire Studio is inviting and its colorful touch dial is slick. It looks like it would be at home next to some of Amazon’s Echo devices, but it has much more heft to it.
People who record a lot of audio and who’ve done so for a long time tend to be set in their ways; but lugging gear around is a huge hassle. Spire Studio is worth a look for anyone who needs to simplify their setup without sacrificing a lot of audio quality.
You can check out a video of Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile using the Spire in the video below:
Spire has been making the rounds at South by Southwest and Austin City Limits Festival. You can see a video of Austin emo puppet band Fragile Rock recording with Spire below:
Want to try out Spire Studio for yourself? The Austin Central Library has it on display for public use at its Technology Petting Zoo on the 5th floor. You can read about the Tech Petting Zoo here; we’ll be reviewing gadgets regularly on 512tech that will also be on display there in partnership with the library.