iTalk, by Griffin Technology
Posted: 5-Sep-2004

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Griffin Technology Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Hazel Valera Class: HARDWARE

Griffin Description
If you thought your iPod was just an MP3 player, boy are you in for a surprise. Plug the Griffin iTalk into the top of your iPod and suddenly you have a world-class voice recorder with literally thousands of hours of recording time.

With iTalk you can record seminars, meetings, classes, notes in your car, songs, whatever you want. iTalk has a built-in microphone designed to record crystal-clear audio, and its Automatic Gain Control assures you have the best possible signal level for recording. You can even connect an external microphone directly to iTalk for more recording options.

The iTalk's built-in speaker is great for playback of voice memos. In addition you can use iTalk as a mini-speaker for your iPod. Play your favorite audio book through iTalk or listen to a downloaded seminar. You'll never realize how much you've missed a built-in speaker - until you have one.

iTalk can play back your recordings through its integrated speaker, or through your headphones. It includes a pass-through mini jack so you can monitor your voice recording or listen to your music without removing iTalk. You can even download your recordings to play back on your computer, but iTalk's speaker is so good you may not want to!

Make your iPod so much more than just an MP3 player. Make it a portable, dockable dictation machine with a built-in high-quality speaker. Make your iPod listen to you - with iTalk.

Requirements

  • 3rd Generation (3G) iPod

Setup
The iTalk couldn't be simpler to use. Just attach it to the top of your iPod and you are immediately presented with a memo timer and status screen to begin a recording. Your iPod recognizes the iTalk, and triggers some built-in recording functions - no additional software need to be installed on the iPod.

In Use
The iTalk is a single white plastic enclosure, perfectly themed with the 3G iPod, and includes a single metallic dual-function jack, a small built-in microphone, a small red microphone LED, an internal speaker (covered by a silver grille), and a plug that interfaces with the top of the iPod.

As a trainer in the field of Real Estate, on occasion I record my classes for those students who were not able to attend my class. I normally use a micro-cassette recorder to record my classes, but instead I brought the iTalk for testing.

The room I was in could hold about 100 people, and there were probably about 50 people in the room at the time. I stood in the front of the room and had an associate, sitting approximately 20-25 feet away, hold my iPod and record myself and one other trainer. The other trainer has a soft voice, and I have one of those voices that really carries to the back of the room. After the class, I took my iPod home and attached it to my iMac to listen. In spite of obvious ambient noise in the recording, and the faintness of the other person's voice, I was still able to hear both myself and the other speaker. If I raised my iMac's volume setting all the way up, I could hear the quieter voice perfectly clear. These were very impressive results just using the iTalk's built-in microphone.

When you click the option to begin recording, about two seconds elapse before recording actually begins. This is not readily apparent to the user at the time recording is started. Apparently, this is the time needed for the hard drive to get going. Since there is really no confirmation between when you initiate recording and when you actually are recording, my advice is to always wait until you see the counter display one second elapsed before speaking.

I could access the recording screen on my iPod either by attaching the iTalk, or via the iPod's Extras>Voice Memos>Record Now menu. A large timer is displayed during recording, along with menu options to pause or to stop and save your memo. Each recording appears chronologically in the Extras>Voice Memos menu. Selecting a recording offers the choice to play it or delete it. Memo playback is functionally identical to song playback.

Griffin's product page states that the "built-in speaker is amazingly loud for its size." I played a new song on my iPod to a group of friends using just the iTalk's speaker, and everyone had no problem hearing it once I turned the volume up to somewhere around 90-95 percent. However, quality and volume are two entirely different things. The speaker is great for listening to a reminder you previously recorded, or for other brief playback needs. However, I wouldn't enjoy listening to an entire lecture or a playlist of songs from the iTalk's speaker. The speaker quality is what you might expect from something so small, perhaps even a bit better. For more enriched playback, you can always plug headphones into the iTalk, or download the recordings to your Mac and play them through your computer speakers.

With the iTalk attached to the iPod, the iPod automatically senses what is plugged into the metallic jack on top, and treats it as output (headphones) or input (external microphone). This is a pretty cool feature supported by the iPod's system software. Unfortunately, one thing you cannot do is use the iPod's remote control, because the iTalk covers the remote jack. The iTalk also covers the hold switch, so you cannot "lock" or "unlock" the iPod without first removing the iTalk. Then again, the function of the iTalk is such that you probably will only use it for specific recordings, and then remove it when not in use.

In one test, I plugged in a phone headset to the metallic jack to use as a recording device, and it worked fine. The quality of the recording varies with the quality of the external microphone. However, for my purposes, I found the built-in microphone to be adequate.

While the quality of the iTalk's internal speakers may not be so great, the recording quality itself is quite stunning when heard through headphones or decent computer speakers. According to Apple, the iPod records into 8-kilohertz, 16-bit, mono WAV files. The WAV files created are roughly a megabyte per minute, give or take. Hence, even if you have less than a GB free on your iPod, you probably have room for several hours of recording. It's a safe bet you'll run out of battery life before you run out of disk space. The one problem I experienced with the iTalk is that it is power hungry. I learned that the battery life of my iPod was not as efficient as I thought, because I had to keep recharging my iPod after using the iTalk.

To test the quality of the recorded files, I held the iPod/iTalk at a typical distance that I would hold it for recording - around 8 inches from my mouth - and recorded a few seconds of talking. When I played back the file through my computer's attached speakers, despite a slight hiss, the clarity was excellent. Even at a point when I raised my voice a bit, there was no distortion. Thus, for interviews and dictation, the iTalk passes with flying colors.

NOTE: I learned that you should not use the iTalk an inch or two away from your mouth, like a phone, as that begins to distort the sound.

In another test to play back recordings, I plugged in some headphones to the iTalk's metallic jack. Listening through headphones plugged into the iTalk is similar in quality to listening through headphones plugged directly into the iPod (i.e., the iTalk is serving as a pass-through device for playback). The recordings sounded great through the headphones (far better than just listening through the iTalk's built-in speaker).

The iTalk is not a device you should run out and purchase an iPod for (that would result in a voice recorder costing more than $300). Rather, the iTalk is an extremely useful add-on device for people who already own a 3G iPod. The iTalk can easily be marketed to journalists who are frequently taking interviews, students who like to record lectures, bosses who can record their dictations to their secretaries, and more.

iTunes
After using the iTalk to make recordings, it was easy to transfer the voice recordings to my iMac. I just synced my iPod to my computer, and iTunes pulled in the recordings. There is one small thing to keep in mind. On your iPod, the recordings are accessed in the Extras>Voice Memos menu. When you sync your iPod, they show up in iTunes as a playlist named Voice Memos. After synchronization, all prior recordings no longer show up under the Extras menu. Instead, they now appear in your iPod as a regular playlist named Voice Memos.

Once the recordings are in iTunes (as WAV files), you can use iTunes to move the recordings around, and organize them into your own playlists, and then re-import these playlists back to your iPod for on-the-go reviews. If you wanted, you could also use iTunes to convert your WAV files to MP3 files.

Summary
iTalk is an iPod-themed recording device that attaches firmly to the top of your 3G iPod. It allows you to use your iPod as a recording device on the go, in a studio, in the office, or anywhere you might have a need to record something. The microphone on the iTalk provides great recordings for dictation or notes in small or medium-sized areas, but don't expect the iTalk to make worthwhile recordings at concerts or large outdoor events. The iTalk provides adequate playback through it's internal speaker. To improve either the recording or playback quality, the iTalk comes with a dual-function jack that accepts an external microphone (for better recordings) or headphones (for better playback).

At a $39.99 suggested retail price ($31 street price), Griffin Technology's iTalk offers great performance and tremendous value for the dollar. With the ability to use built-in or external input and output devices, and excellent automatic gain control performance, the iTalk is well worth the price. If close-proximity recordings are (or could become) a part of your normal routine, the iTalk is small enough, cheap enough, and convenient enough to possibly be the best digital voice recorder you can buy. The iTalk is a great way to expand the usefulness of your iPod, and I highly recommend it.


Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Simple to use
  • Turns iPod into a recording device
  • Dual-function jack for external microphone or headphone

Cons

  • Weak speaker
  • Inability to use remote control
  • Drains battery life


Overall Rating

4 out of 5 Mice