In September 2015, Michele Baggio and his team announced their crowd-funding campaign on Indigogo, to develop Instamic: Possibly the next milestone in portable audio recording. Venturing out as the GoPro of Audio Recording, and showing much promise for Sound Designers, Musicians, and Filmmakers; we thought it was time to take a closer look to see what the buzz was about.
A Quick Introduction
For those of you who are new to Instamic, it is a pocket sized, bluetooth 4.0 enabled audio recorder. It can be controlled via iOS and Android Apps, and also allows standalone use. The Instamic is currently expected in two variants; InstamicGo, and the InstamicPro, each with slightly different build and performance specifications tailored to suit diverse applications.
In the original announcement, InstamicPro offered users the ability to record up to 2 hours of Stereo audio or 4 hours of Mono, but a successful campaign on Indigogo has unlocked their first stretch goal, officially upgrading the capacity to 4 hours of Stereo, and 8 hours of Mono. The audio itself is recorded in a 24-bit, 48kHz LPCM format, through dual omnidirectional capsules.
The InstamicPro is also waterproof upto 5 feet depth in water, which already makes it quite a dependable tool in your audio kit.
Edit: The instamic now has support to record at 96kHz, and stream to an app via bluetooth, allowing even better control than what this article talks about.
First Impressions: The Immediate Advantages of Instamic
On first sight, the whole packaging looks exquisite! A great form-factor with various mounting options through the availability of Quick Release Clips, makes Instamic usable in almost all situations the mind can conceive.
The actual microphone capsule itself is mentioned to be manufactured using the MEMS technology, which allows a pressure-gradient diaphragm to be embedded right onto a silcon wafer pre-amp, which explains the small size and exceptional portability.
Wireless use just makes everything more simpler here, allowing the user to just mount and record at the touch of a button. When this is combined with wireless control through iOS and Android apps, it becomes an ideal choice for run and gun situations in small teams of 1 or 2. It is important to note at this point that unlike other pocket-sized options like MikeMe, Instamic doesn’t seem to actually broadcast any audio to the bluetooth app controlling it. The audio is housed purely on the device itself at full lossless resolution, thus also allowing its standalone use, and making iOS and Android apps just an added convenience. Additionally, there hasn’t yet been an update on how many devices can be paired simultaneously, operating distance, or whether there are options to monitor the disk usage and battery remaining via the app, which would obviously make it more dependable on field.
Moving on, for the first time, monitoring and altering levels is at the user side, thus effectively eliminating the cumbersome rigmarole of checking with the talent for adjustments. Even better, is the trademarked SmartGain feature that auto sets levels by analysing the first few seconds of recording.
Accesories include windcovers to use in windy situations, and pockets to hide the instamic so that it camoflauges with some of its commonly expected surroundings, making the Instamic a great choice for Film and Sound Design use.
Concerns on Instamic: Everybody’s little dream?
The Instamic does seem to be a great choice for many applications but there are indeed certain concerns that are yet to be addressed, especially from the point of view of a Professional Sound Designer or Filmmaker.
Accuracy of soundscape on Instamic:
Among the first concerns are with the Stereo Capabilites when employing Omni-directional Capsules. While phase issues should be negligible, an omni capsule may not necessarily help create a very accurate or immersive soundscape, due to the lack of off-axis rejection and colouration. When compared with contenders like Zoom H4n or the H6, which clearly have directional mic capsules, a comment on the accuracy of the stereo image would go a really long way. On that note, the 3rd stretch goal is aimed at upgrading Instamic with an M-S recording capsule, however, initial concepts on the campaign’s Indiegogo page seem to depict the Omni-directional Capsules substituting for the commonly prescribed Figure-8 pattern. Honestly, we just expect an unnatural emphasis in the Mid Channel when it is mixed with the side channels, due the lack of Figure-8’s side rejection. There will also possibly be some unnatural phasing when one considers the way M-S audio signals are encoded to stereo formats. However, we still have faith in what it has to offer, with much mojo for recordists.
Edit: The Instamic Pro has already reached their 3rd stretch goal and now comes with the M-S recording capsule, out of the box.
When targetting sound designers, the ability to record AIFF or BWF formats becomes essential so that one can add Metadata to help find the sound better. What would really help sound designers further is to be able to add metadata using the iOS or Android apps. There hasn’t been any clear information on the ability to do metadata, so it is still a potential concern for designers.
Post-Sync Dialogue with Instamic:
Adding to this, Instamic does not support Timecode to help sync in post. So syncing in post can become a major inconvenience, especially if one were relying on a multiple recorder system. With systems like PluralEyes in the market, sync isn’t really a major concern these days, unless! one has to sync multiple cameras with audio from multiple Instamics, that don’t really have metadata, or any effective way to ID audio. Time to go back to verbose sound reports!
Instamic’s Preamps and Converters:
Another concern that remains to be tested is the quality of Preamps. Portable recorders in the market like Zoom H4n and H6 have very poor pre-amp quality that often induce a lot of self-noise, plus introducing digital artefacts at the converter stage when sampling at higher rates. What is important isn’t how high one can sample but rather, how high can one sample with a healthy sampler integrity. Instamic is currently set at 48kHz, which isn’t yet competitive with 96kHz and 192kHz options. Perhaps this was a quality conscious strategy, because it might be better to have good converters at a lower sampling rate, rather than a poor converter at a higher sampling rate. Nevertheless, Instamic would receive an upgrade to 96kHz, if they manage to reach their second stretch goal set at $250,000, which would bring a very interesting twist to the story. This would now become true audiophile, but would the converters stay top-notch?
Regardless of how it may perform in comparison to professional recorders, Instamic is still a great addition to one’s sound kit. It certainly paves the way for some creative recordings, especially where access and portability matter. It certainly beats the need to bring/rent hydrophones and other underwater recording gear. Personally, we can’t wait to get our hands on Instamic and record some crazy sounds. We’d also like to see how it performs under baffled stereo and jecklin disc setups under a mono config. The only thing that hinders us from trying is the long wait to Q1 of 2016, which is when the Instamic is expected to start shipping.