We first reviewed Apogee's MiC in our July 2012 issue, and enjoyed its combination of great sound quality and single-cable convenience for Mac or iOS use. It was designed for the songwriter, solo musician, podcaster, voiceover artist, or anyone else requiring high-quality miking with a minimum of fuss and outboard gear.
Apogee recently decided to take the performance of the MiC to the next level. The new MiC 96k improves on the performance of the original MiC (which remains in Apogee's product line) by providing 24-bit/96 kHz audio in apps that support it. (Apogee has also upgraded the A/D in its JAM guitar input device; look for a review of the new JAM 96k in a future issue.)
The MiC 96k was first announced at the 2014 Winter NAMM Show; we received a review unit just in time for this special issue on mics and miking, and I was able to quickly put it through its paces over a few days of informal recording sessions.
Out of the box
Measuring about 4.5" long and 1.4" wide, the MiC 96k features a roughly 3/4" diaphragm behind the grille. A medium-diaphragm microphone of this type is actually a nice compromise for general-purpose recording applications; it doesn't have the character of a large-diaphragm mic, but on the other hand it also doesn't have a large-diaphragm mic's weird off-axis response at treble frequencies.
The only control on the MiC 96k is a side-mounted Gain thumbwheel for the internal preamp. A user-facing LED glows faint blue for Power On and turns faint green when attached to software that recognizes it. The LED also serves as a quick and dirty level meter: it glows brighter green when it hears audio, and turns yellow, then red, when levels climb toward clipping.
A threaded mounting hole on the back of the body attaches to either of two mounting options included with the MiC 96k: a small folding tripod for tabletop use, and an adapter mount for use with a standard mic stand. The MiC 96k comes with three cables, for use with Macs via USB or old and new iOS devices via 30-pin or Lightning connectors. The cables are short (0.5 or 1 meter long), but Apogee offers 3-meter cables as an option (along with a carrying case). Note that these aren't off-the-shelf cables; they connect to the bottom of the MiC 96k via an unconventional locking connector.
Giving it a try
Setup on the MiC 96k was a cinch on my test Mac (running OS X 10.8.5) and my 30-pin and Lightning iPads (running iOS 7.0.6 and 6.1.3 respectively). It was instantly recognized, and in the case of recording apps that allow the user to select audio quality, like RØDE Rec, sample rates up to 96 kHz were automatically offered as a selectable option.
The Gain thumbwheel is easy to use, but the user will need to get used to adjusting it pretty much every time he or she sets up the MiC 96k. At higher settings, it overloads and clips very easily. Once you dial in the right gain setting, the sound is exceptionally clear; as this is a 24-bit device, you can safely leave yourself some headroom and not have to worry about wasting resolution in your recordings.
An informal test of the MiC 96k's polar pattern and off-axis response was very revealing. The published polar pattern for the MiC 96k is a wide cardioid with fair but not perfect rejection at 180º and relatively little difference between on-axis and 90º off axis. In tests with voice and musical material, the MiC 96k had a fairly wide "sweet spot" before tone began to be adversely affected; while this would be less than ideal for, say, a spot mic on a drum kit, it's perfect for applications like solo singer/guitarist or voiceover talent in a relatively quiet room. The performer doesn't have to worry about being right on axis and can move around a bit without compromising tone.
And speaking of tone, the MiC 96k was a delight. In my recordings with male voice, winds, and acoustic string instruments, I found the MiC 96k to capture what it was being fed with clear but not harsh highs, nice high-mid clarity and very controlled bottom end.
As a relatively wide cardioid mic, the MiC 96k has a very limited -- really almost nonexistent -- proximity effect; I couldn't get any real extra boom from my voice until I got so close to the capsule that the internal preamp overloaded. At the other end of the frequency response, the highest highs (via the trusty key-jingle test) were clear and well-defined with very little of the undifferentiated hashiness that one gets from a cheap condenser mic.
Aside from getting used to the very sensitive Gain adjustment, my only other issue with the MiC is that it doesn't have D/A conversion or a headphone jack built in. The user is forced to monitor at 16-bit/44.1 kHz conversion via the iOS device's headphone jack (although alternative outputs can be available on a Mac). This would have increased its cost significantly, though; Apogee's ONE mic/interface, reviewed December 2013, provides this extra feature if you need it, and other extras as well.
Over all, this is a USB/iOS mic that will do great service in tight spaces, recording high-resolution audio to any Mac, iPod, iPad, or iPhone. I see it as a better-than-the-usual way to capture song ideas, demos, interviews, podcast vocals, and more. Yes, there are more affordable USB microphones out there, but it's a great feeling to have Apogee sound quality close at hand for your next recording project.
More from: Apogee Electronics, www.apogeedigital.com