Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Technology Disappointment

I've been waiting nearly three weeks for my Griffin iMic to arrive - I thought from Australia, since I bought it on eBay Australia, but it turns out that the company is American and it shipped from Germany.

It finally got here yesterday, and I plugged it in today to try it out - and was bitterly disappointed. The iMic is basically an analog-to-digital converter, meaning that it takes the analog input of a microphone (or tape deck, record player etc.) and converts it to a digital signal which goes into the computer via a USB port.

The idea is that this gives a cleaner input signal with less noise. If you plug your microphone into the microphone port on your computer, it's going through an analog to digital converter in your soundcard, which is sitting there among all the other computer components picking up noise from them. Having an external ADC is supposed to remove that problem, meaning nice clean sound input.

Not in this case, though. Anything I run through the iMic sounds like there's a jackhammer working in the background. It's far, far noisier than when I just go through the sound card.

There's nothing in the FAQ on Griffin's site. I've emailed the company I bought it from to see if they can suggest anything, but I very much fear I've got a faulty unit and will have to ship it back to them, probably at my cost, and wait weeks for a replacement.

I've been waiting for this gear so that I could start making good professional recordings to sell on my website. I may just start recording anyway, since I have a better microphone now (an Audio Technica ATR35s, which is about the cheapest mic AudioTechnica make but still a very good one).

The iMic came with a trial version of GoldWave recording software, which has several features I've been missing in Audacity (parametric EQ and the ability to chain effects together in a kind of macro, plus removal of long silences - since I pause a lot when I'm recording, that's useful). So I'm going to give that a whirl and see if the relatively small amount of noise I get off the ATR35s can be adequately dealt with in software. If so, I may just ask for a refund on the iMic.

UPDATE: Yes, I can pretty much cut all the noise out using GoldWave. But I just tried the iMic again and the guy with the pneumatic drill is gone as mysteriously as he appeared. (Probably noise from the hard drive being picked up by the USB port for some reason.) However, the input is very quiet and the output keeps muting itself for some reason - so we're not out of the woods yet. The input is clean, no noise, but not very much signal either.

UPDATE 2 (15/11): I've been emailing back and forth today with Griffin tech support, and they've offered to ship me a new unit, which is very good after-sales support (and I told them so). They've taken a lot of time to understand the issue and suggested some sensible tests. It appears that they think the unit is faulty.

Further bulletins as events warrant - but even if it turns out that my microphone and the iMic just aren't meant to work together, I'm a happy customer in a service sense.

UPDATE 3 (20/11): The new unit arrived this morning, but, sadly, is no better. Actually it's a little worse, it introduces an annoying high-pitched hum into the audio, but you can really only hear that when you amplify the sound - it's just as quiet as the old unit. I made a demo of the sound through the sound card, the old unit, and the new unit. (The old one is silver; the new one is their version 2 product, which is white, smaller, and has a label on the "mic/line" switch.)

I tested with three different microphones in four different USB ports on two different laptops; the only thing which makes a difference is whether I record via the laptop's built-in soundcard (normal volume) or the iMic (unacceptably quiet volume).

My plan at the moment is to pay them for it and sell them both on TradeMe, since it seems they're not defective units as such, they're just no good for what I wanted them for. (Update: They refused my offer of payment.)

Back to recording through the soundcard and filtering out the hiss in software. (When I amplify the sound recorded through the iMic, I can hear just as much hiss as when I record directly through the soundcard.)

Technology problems like this are my least favourite thing to deal with. At least their customer service was good, though.

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