Provides: USB audio recording with noise cancellation
Developer: Blue Microphones
Minimum Requirements: Mac OS X or Windows XP/Vista/7, USB 2.0 port
Availability: Out Now
Appletell recently got a chance to go hands-on with Blue Microphone’s Tiki, a quite snappily styled and sophisticated little USB microphone. With technology designed to “mimic human hearing,” Blue’s Tiki mic packs intelligent listening features that filter unwanted background noise to capture the fullest range of audio possible for musicians or podcasters.
Intelligent (by) Design
One of the Tiki’s biggest advantages over your Mac’s built-in microphone is its use of two microphones and digital signal sound processing (voodoo, as Blue calls it) to cancel background noise. When used in Intelligent Speech Mode, the Tiki automatically reduces background noise, resulting in clearer calls/chats. This means that only your voice is sent to your FaceTime/Skype buddy, who probably appreciates the sound of your voice more than the sound of computer fans, an AC unit, traffic, etc.
The Tiki’s second Intelligent Speech feature is its ability to automatically and intelligently mute/unmute. During a lull in speech, the Tiki automatically mutes so background noise is eliminated entirely, which is great for distraction-free conference calls or conversations. When you start speaking, Tiki automatically unmutes; veteran conference callers will surely appreciate the feature as it eliminates the embarrassment of proclaiming a great idea, only to realize you were not heard by the other participants. When recording in Intelligent Speech mode, the Tiki has a blue LED indicator, which switches to orange when muted.
Voodoo is great, but sometimes you want a microphone to pick up every nuance of sound rather than filtering. Tiki offers a Natural recording mode suitable for podcasts, interviews, and music recordings (just to name a few). Noise cancellation and intelligent mute are both inactive in this mode; the voodoo processing is instead utilized to achieve richer, fuller sound with surprisingly clear details from such a tiny package.
Just as important as the digital tweaks are physical design, and Tiki does not disappoint. The dual-microphones can intelligently detect where you are and maximize the recording, while a USB lead cable ensures you can precisely place the mic to maximize sound pickup. There are even soft tracks along the bottom of the extended docking cable to isolate the microphone from any sound transmitted through the surface you set it on.
- Intelligent Speech Mode: During FaceTime calls, Tiki was able to take the loud rushing of a box fan down to a gentle background hum (it was not able to eliminate the sound entirely, however). Participants were able to hear clearly, and the intelligent mute reduced background noise to absolute zero when other participants were talking.
- Natural Recording Mode: Using QuickTime to record in .aiff format, Tiki was able to record music playing on a set of speakers across a room with an impressive level of stereo separation. Moving the audio source closer resulted in increased clarity. While you would likely not record a studio track using this mic, you could easily lay down the audio for a YouTube/Vimeo video with it.
One of Tiki’s biggest advantages may soon be lost as Apple moves ahead with dual-mic setups in the MacBook line. First introduced with the Retina MacBook Pro, the two mics enable your Mac to filter out background noise (this is a feature lifted directly from the iPhone 4, which has two mics and applies noise reduction to voice calls). Unfortunately, this still leaves the mics fixed in one position, meaning you will need to be close to your speakers (where the mics are located); of course, Apple also does not have an equivalent to the intelligent mute feature. Until we all have shiny new MacBook Pros, however, existing MacBook owners lack the dual-mic hardware, making Tiki a useful addition for those who chat or record audio.
In terms of physical design, the Tiki is beautiful but also a bit challenging to use. It is a very wide accessory, so it may not fit in your MacBook’s USB port if you have anything plugged into the other port. In addition, the USB plug itself is exposed, rather than covered, which can make it a bit difficult to insert.
Construction and finish are top notch, however, and Blue earns bonus points for making the packaging double as a carrying case. The instruction manual is a good read as well, with some witty-but-useful instructions.
Gotta Hear It
As a separate, standalone mic, Blue’s Tiki has several advantages over your Mac’s built-in mic, especially if you are trying to record podcasts and need extreme portability or find yourself chatting in very noisy locations. At the modest price of only $60, and with a tiny size (and convenient carrying case) suitable for even the most weight-conscious MacBook Air-toting road warrior, Tiki provides superb voice quality for Skype calls and FaceTime chats. It is also an impressive portable mic for recording pure audio with impressive fidelity, so you can capture your latest performance for YouTube or post a podcast from just about anywhere.