Sennheiser and Apogee Bring Professional Audio to Apple Devices

Audio professionals may soon be able to capture high-quality audio on their favorite Apple device with the Sennheiser/Apogee MKE 2 Digital Microphone kit.

As professional video production packages get more compact in size, computers are also eliminating some of the extra components traditionally used on a video shoot. One area where this is happening is with portable audio recorders and wireless microphones.

Soon, these devices may be replaced by a basic Apple iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.

This summer, Sennheiser and Apogee Electronics have joined forces with Apple to create the first truly high-fidelity audio system ever built for iOS devices. The MKE 2 Digital Microphone is one of the tiniest professional audio systems ever built. In fact, it’s little more than a 39-inch-long cord that is practically weightless.

Television and radio broadcasters around the world — including the BBC, National Public Radio and ARD in Germany — have shown interest in the new broadcast quality audio system, said Roger Robindoré, director of product evangelism at Apogee Electronics. “We have had a lot of interest from all the major broadcasters,” he said. “This is an incredibly portable system with impeccable audio quality.”Sennheiser contributed its high-end MKE 2 lavalier microphone and Apogee contributed an enhanced version of its inline preamp and 24-bit/96 kHz analog-to-digital signal converter to the package. Essentially the entire chain of components is built into a single thin cable. It plugs directly into the Lightning connector of any late model Apple iOS device.

The MKE 2 Digital combines a Sennheiser MKE 2 microphone and Apogee's inline preamp and A/D convertor. The small component plugs directly into an iOS device via a Lightning connector.

The MKE 2 Digital combines a Sennheiser MKE 2 microphone and Apogee's inline preamp and A/D convertor. The small component plugs directly into an iOS device via a Lightning connector.

There are two apps that can be used with the MKE 2 Digital Microphone. Apogee’s MetaRecorder handles recording and creates metadata for NLE editing. Because it creates XML metadata files, it’s especially suitable for Apple’s Final Cut Pro editing application. However, it also works with any major professional nonlinear editing system.

The other app is Apogee’s Maestro, which is designed to control audio levels and DSP processing for any Apogee product, including the MKE 2 Digital mic. Once levels are set using Maestro, the mic’s signal can then be routed for use by any third party app.

Essential features of MetaRecorder can also be controlled from an Apple Watch.

Essential features of MetaRecorder can also be controlled from an Apple Watch.

An Apple Watch can be used to start and stop recording, add a take to a favorites list, add markers or allow the setting of the microphone’s input level.

Because the Apogee preamp and A-to-D converter delivers its signal digitally to the iOS device, the device sets a new standard in audio quality. Most previous solutions plugged into the iOS device’s analog microphone/headphone jack. That jack is now freed up for headphone monitoring.

“Any lav that connects into the headset jack is going to have poorer audio quality,” said Robindoré. “With the Lightning connector, there is significantly less noise and much greater dynamic range. That headset jack’s input stage can be overloaded very quickly.” 

Roger Robindoré, director of product evangelism at Apogee Electronics.

Roger Robindoré, director of product evangelism at Apogee Electronics.

With the new Sennheiser/Apogee system, videographers or audio recordists can rely on an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch as a fully professional audio recorder. When paired with a DSLR or mirrorless video camera, the MKE 2 Digital Microphone and an iOS device make a compelling double system sound recording rig that can replace the use of mixers and wireless microphones in the field.

The Sennheiser/Apogee MKE 2 Digital Microphone kit is priced at $499. It is compatible with Apple’s iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5, iPad Air 2, iPad Air, iPad (4th generation), iPad mini 3, iPad mini 2, iPad mini and iPod touch (5th and 6th generation).

The companies also make a lower-cost package using Sennheiser’s ME 2 lavalier, a consumer level microphone. It’s called the Sennheiser Clip-Mic Digital and is priced at $199.

It works in a similar way, but is not built to the same rugged standards as the more expensive professional MKE 2 model. The Apogee converter in the cheaper model is made of plastic and has less dynamic range than the all-aluminum MKE 2 version.

The Sennheiser MKE 2 mic capsule has a tandem membrane and welded housing, is protected against dampness and can take the abuse of remote field production. It was designed for professionals recording speech and dialog in the field. The capsule provides a wide frequency range, superior transient response and an extended dynamic range. 

The Sennheiser MKE2 lapel microphone with wind screen.

“The difference between the two Sennheiser capsules is significant,” said Robindoré. “The MKE 2 is Sennheiser’s flagship mic. I come from a studio background and I see it as the Neumann U87 of lavs. It truly does have a greater dynamic range than virtually any other lav mic out there. It is just dead quiet and can record without any overload at all. It is also built to be very sweat resistant.”

In the converter module, Apogee has added a preamplifier specifically tuned for the mic capsule being used. Also added is digital signal processing, which is controlled by the iOS device’s computer. “The gain setting for the preamp is software controlled,” said Robindoré. “So you send converted digital audio from the module to the computer and then control data from the computer is sent back to the module.”

One of the applications being shown for the new mic system is targeted to outside broadcast news trucks, television news reporters and radio journalists. Apogee shows a video using the MKE 2 package doing multi-platform IP audio and video broadcasting from an iPhone using Technica Del Arte’s Luci application.

Apogee said the Luci system, based in the Netherlands, is already being used on the air by the BBC. The network is now evaluating the MKE 2 Digital Microphone, which has just begun being delivered to end users, Robindoré said.

Apogee’s MetaRecorder, installed on the iOS device being used, is a two-channel audio recording app made specifically for both Sennheiser/Apogee microphone systems. It can record, organize and tag the recorded audio. 

Apogee's Maestro app supplies level control and DSP processing. Because the microphone-to-iOS device is via the Lightning connector no analog transfer is required.

Apogee's Maestro app supplies level control and DSP processing. Because the microphone-to-iOS device is via the Lightning connector no analog transfer is required.

In the recording stage, the level of the audio recording can be changed by tapping the mic icon and moving the slider control. Once the level is set, recordings can be made by pressing the audio record button. Hitting it a second time pauses it. Hitting it a third time resumes recording to the same file. To record a new take, tap stop and then record again. Take numbers are automatically logged.

Once the recording is made, the user can scroll through the multiple takes using the take’s up-down arrows or a finger. Then markers, favorites or other metadata tags can be added.

Finally, the user organizes the files with the app’s built-in system. It has three parameters: Scene Name, Input Name (Roles) and Take #. 

The Apogee converter module contains a preamplifier specifically tuned for the Sennheiser microphone capsule being used as well as DSP controlled by the iOS device.

The Apogee converter module contains a preamplifier specifically tuned for the Sennheiser microphone capsule being used as well as DSP controlled by the iOS device.

Scene names can be changed to a descriptive title like “driving at night.” In the “roles” field, the user can add the name of the character being recorded or the type of microphone being used. The Take # is automatically implemented so there is never a duplicate take in any given scene. All the parameters are transmitted to Final Cut Pro as XML metadata.

Though this version of MetaRecorder was designed specifically to support Final Cut Pro, much of its metadata can also be read by Adobe Premier, Robindoré said. If the user is working with another NLE that doesn’t support metadata, the files can be organized by customizing how they are named. By using the film name format setting, the user decides what to call each take and chooses the order the clips appear.

While recording, there is other information about the session the user might want to capture. Included are a few different tags for this purpose. A very good take can be designated as a favorite. Double tap the waveform and then tap the star. Create a customized library of keywords and then use the keywords to tag each take. One can also add markers and notes at specific points in a take to review later on. Siri can be used to add notes.

Scenes can be shared three ways. One is via Dropbox, the popular cloud-based file sharing service. The others are via email or iTunes file sharing using a Lightning to USB charger cable. On the Mac, the user accesses the files from the scenes folder.

When Final Cut Pro chooses XML files, the scenes are then imported. The files show up in the NLE’s clip browser. Then, using Final Cut Pro’s parameters set in the metadata, the right clips are easily selected and used. For other brands NLEs, apps like Plural Eyes can be used to sync the audio with the video.

Sennheiser and Apogee are exceeding previous efforts to turn iOS devices into a professional level recording system. If they succeed, it could further reduce the size of field production systems in audio and video. “This is the highest quality audio system ever built for iOS systems using a lavalier microphone system,” Robindoré said.

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