iZotope's Spire Studio is an adaptable portable micro recording studio with features to spare.
Massachusetts-based iZotope, Inc. is an audio technology company founded in 2001 that may not be familiar to many Android users but should be recognizable to anybody who has explored the world of audio recording. The company is more typically well known for its digital audio software for both amateurs and professional musicians and artists but its latest product, the Spire Studio, also fits quite neatly into the mobile accessories category. Spire Studio is a $349 electronic device for recording, mixing, and tracking music, vocals, and other audio on Android or iOS. It offers a seamless, lag-free experience to accomplish those tasks, allowing users to take down an idea for a composition or record a performance whether they're at home or on the go.
That description obviously sets Spire Studio outside of the usual fare for Android Headlines but since several of our writers do also play instruments, testing out Spire Studio was not an opportunity to be missed. As it turns out, iZotope has done a spectacular job with Spire Studio. The device and associated software are very intuitive and easy to use with tons of options to suit a variety of needs, making this a nearly perfect tool for what it does. In short, this one device that is all but guaranteed to be invaluable for anybody with the ambition to generate their own music whether they're just getting started or a lifelong professional.
In terms of technical specifications, Studio Spire's hardware is packed into a 4.8 x 4.4 x 3.4-inch cylindrical housing and the entire package weighs 1.6 lbs. While the forward facing grill appears to encapsulate a speaker, that's actually covering a custom-built 48v Phantom Power condenser microphone for room-mic style recording. Around the back, there are two XLR/TS combo jacks coupled with Grace Design preamps. The sampling rate is set at 48 kHz/24-bit and recordings can be conducted using the built-in power supply or included power adapter. The power supply, once charged, is rated at four hours or longer. Connectivity with a smartphone is accomplished via Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n 2.4 GHz through the Spire app. For listening to playback or monitoring during recording two 3.5mm headphone jacks are included in the build as well.
In the Box
Everything needed to get started is included right out of the box with the Studio Spire but that doesn't mean buyers are going to have a whole lot of work to do. iZotope intends its device to take up as little space as possible and to be very straightforward and easy to use. So it follows that only the bare minimum is included beginning with an easy to follow user manual and a DC wall adapter. The only other item to be found inside is the Spire Studio itself.
Hardware and Aesthetics
The hardware included in the Spire Studio is designed to be minimal and functional rather than geared toward looking good but that doesn't mean it doesn't look great. Aesthetically, the gadget is similar to a small Bluetooth speaker with a slightly slanted top surface are. That's embedded with a gauge comprised of multicolored LEDs for showing the volumes of the different tracks of the currently loaded project. That panel is touch interactive for adjusting volumes. There are five buttons at the front, allowing for phone-free interaction and adeptly labeled 'new song', 'sound check' and 'volume'. Just below the mic on that side is one of two headphone jacks. A large 'play' and 'record' button sit front and center. Around the back are the power plug and button, a separate button for activating 48v Phantom Power mode, a headphone jack, and the two other input jacks. Ventilation is on the rear as well.
All of that is presented in variations of black from high-gloss to matte, with white lettering for easy readability and every aspect of iZotope's Spire Studio is extremely well-built. The buttons click through satisfactorily and the housing feels solid, with no give from any angle. Likewise, input and output jacks are snug, with no wiggle at all once a component is plugged in. The touch interface is responsive with no latency and the LEDs are clearly visible — although difficult to photograph properly — even under bright lighting. Under the vast majority of conditions, this hardware feels as though it is built to last through years of use.
Recording and Audio
Spire Studio can hold up to eight tracks of audio for each individual project and comes with storage for up to six hours of audio. Setting up to record varies in terms of ease depending on how that's being done but isn't difficult by any means. The device can be centered in a room to capture one or more performers at once via the 360-degree mic. Recording equipment or instruments can be plugged in at the back for direct capture. The audio quality of those captures is exceptionally good, with Spire Studio leveling everything out based on the default settings. Conversely, that leveling can be adjusted using the on-device soundcheck button. Regardless of how recordings are going to be caught, pressing that and then playing, singing, or rapping as normal will set a base level to keep audio clean and completely eliminate clipping and unwanted audio distortions. That's helped along by the fact that the built-in mic shuts off when the top input is used, completely removing external noise from seeping into recordings.
Everything is recorded exactly as intended too. That's true regardless of whether those were captured by directly plugging in the instrument, plugging in through secondary equipment for tone and modulation customizations, or through the built-in mic. We tested this gadget with a number of different instruments, including an electronic drum set, a bass guitar, and both seven-string electric and acoustic-electric guitars. In every case, the sound we were hearing during recording via monitoring with headphones is exactly the sound that played back when projects were exported or played back. This hardware isn't going to replace a full studio mixing board or what can be accomplished with a multi-thousand dollar computer built around music recording. But it does come close enough to the latter that most won't notice the difference, without consideration for in-app fine-tuning — which we'll discuss momentarily. With consideration for the pricing, audio quality, and the wide range of uses, Spire Studio excels at what it's designed to do.
Software and Application
On the software side of the equation is where Spire Studio really shines, thanks to the Spire app. Not only does it include specific modulations and sound tuning for the recording process, ranging from amps to vocal tools and pedal effects. There are a wealth of options available in terms trimming recordings down, directly importing audio from an external source and more. On the recording side, entering into a project immediately loads up a new track for recording. Buttons for adjusting effects and turning off or on monitoring are available at the bottom of the UI just above the record, back-to-beginning, and play buttons. Fine tuning of an input's level can be set there too on a track-by-track basis using the on-screen slider. A metronome is available at the top, alongside the share button for when a project is finished.
Mixing is available in a secondary tab and can be individually performed on each track. If three tracks are recorded, for example, track one can be moved to a higher volume and the centered while tracks two and three can be lowered or left centered in volume but placed toward the left or right audio channel. Individual tracks can be muted from that menu as well as muted and the record and playback buttons remain in place to allow nearly seamless mixing while listening. Songs can be exported in a few different ways. Files save as a .M4A file for texts or emails or as a .wav file for the best quality possible. They can also be shared directly as a Spire project file so that others can throw their own work into the same recording without everybody needing to be in the same room.
Through every step of the recording process in our test, regardless of the number of tracks we had loaded or the size of the tracks themselves, we experienced zero latency. The hardware buttons and those in the app also link up so it a hardware key is pressed, the appropriate in-app action is taken. There is a slight delay when using both intermittently but that never became a problem. One issue we did notice is that there's really no way to access recordings in the application unless the Spire Studio itself is connected to the user's mobile device. That's a feature that could make its way over at some point with an update but is missing, for now, leaving the app effectively worthless without the device turned on.
Whether for recording and mixing music to share or developing a new song one piece at a time while on the go, Spire Studio is a great solution for making music on Android. In fact, there's no comparison at all with regard to the standard mobile recording solutions available — typically in an application form that's massively held back by the hardware itself. Setting aside that it's one of the only products currently on the market in its particular niche, Spire Studio performs very nearly as well as high-end PC solutions. The resulting sound is extremely clean and professional, takes only a small amount of time to piece together, and doesn't present any of the difficulties found with those other recording methods. That, coupled with its relatively low cost and a lack of long-term additional costs, makes recommending iZotope's gadget easy. It's not only a pleasure to use but exceedingly easy for anybody interested in recording their own music for just about any purpose.Spire Studio - Amazon - $299