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Product Review: Shure MV88 Digital Microphone [u]

March 26, 2016  •  By Larry Jordan

[Originally published on March 26, 2016 by Larry Jordan.]

logo-Shure[ Please read my product review disclaimer here.]

[ Updated Mar. 29, 2016, with additional information from Shure.]

If you are a musician, know a musician, or enjoy listening to music, you need to read this review.

Shure just released a new digital stereo microphone specifically designed for iOS devices – especially the iPhone – called the MV88. They loaned me a unit for me to write this review.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

ShureMV88001The Shure MV88 is a small, stereo, condenser microphone that attaches to iOS devices via a Lightning connector that is designed for portable recording. While it can handle interviews, its principal goal is recording music.

It requires the Shure MOTIV iOS app, which allows control of gain, EQ, and stereo width, along with 5 DPS presets to configure the mic for various recording sessions.

Shure was founded in 1925 as a radio parts wholesales and has become a global leader in audio electronics; especially in designing mics for music.

Manufacturer: Shure
Website: http://www.shure.com
Product: MV88 iOS Digital Stereo Condenser Microphone
Product Link: http://www.shure.com/americas/products/microphones/motiv/mv88-ios-digital-stereo-condenser-microphone
MSRP: $149 (sold through a wide variety of dealers)

SPECS

  • Mic type: Condenser mic (doesn’t require a battery)
  • Pickup pattern: Adjustable Width Stereo / Mono Bidirectional / Mono Cardioid / Mid/Side
  • Mid/side architecture for a phase-perfect, clear stereo image
  • Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz
  • Requires MOTIV app (free) installed on your iOS device
  • Includes 5 DSP presets: Speech, Singing, Flat, Acoustic Instrument, Loud Music
  • All-metal construction engineered to withstand the most demanding recording conditions
  • Records 24-bit / 48 kHz WAV
  • Saves to a variety of compressed formats ALAC, AAC, 96, 128, 256
  • Includes zippered carrying case, windscreen and user guide

The MOTIV app is free and supports:

  • iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6, iPhone 5s, iPhone 5, iPad Air 2, iPad mini 3, iPad Air, iPad mini 2, iPad (4th generation), iPad mini, iPod touch (5th generation).

UNBOXING

The MV88 arrives in an attractive cardboard box.

In which lives another cardboard box. Everything all nice and recyclable.

Inside is a very cute zippered carrying case – small enough to fit in your pocket.

Here’s the mic itself. (Image courtesy of Shure.)

Here is it, with its included windscreen, attached to the bottom of an iPhone 6s.

Notice that the mic attaches via the Lightning port and has an elbow, allowing you to point the mic in the same direction you are shooting with your phone.

THE MOTIV APP

Installing the MOTIV app, which is required to control the mic, is as easy as installing any other iOS app.

NOTE: For best results, be sure to switch your iOS device to Airplane mode with Do Not Disturb turned on. This prevents the application from being interrupted during recording.

When you first run the app, it requests permission to access the microphone.

Then, the on-screen Help files allow you to quickly configure the mic.

CONFIGURATION

The MOTIV application allows you to configure the mic, starting with setting the Gain (recording level) of the mic. Setting the Stereo width allows you to “focus” the mic into a specific area.

For example, narrowing the focus allows you to minimize echoes, while expanding the width improves the pickup of room reverberation (think trumpets in a cathedral).

NOTE: The five icons near the top are the five DSP presets, allowing you to configure the mic for speech, singing, flat (meaning all EQ, limiter and compressor settings are turned off), acoustic music or loud music.

The MV88 software includes a built-in limiter and compressor, along with wind reduction (a low-cut filter) and the ability to swap the left and right channels to match what’s happening on screen.

NOTE: For better results, I generally recommend using a wind-screen, rather than the wind reduction filter, which simply cuts low frequency noise.

I strongly recommend recording with the Limiter on, while setting the Compressor to Light or, preferably, off.

There’s a built in equalizer allowing you to boost or reduce specific frequency ranges.

NOTE: I generally recommend recording with all EQ settings set to 0 dB, then add any EQ later during mixing. It is VERY hard to hear EQ properly when you are recording in a noisy environment.

You are also able to set five different mic pickup patterns to configure the mic for specific recording environments.

MIC QUALITY

Here are two links, supplied by Shure, to let you hear the musical quality of the mic. In this first example, all the audio was from the MV88 captured live, without any post processing.

This link below was one of Shure’s beta testers, an audio/multimedia guy for the Swedish national orchestra.

For myself, I went into our studio and recorded two spoken word audio samples: one using the MV88 and the other using a Shure SM-58 hand mic. You can listen to these two samples yourself by clicking this link (3.8 MB):

NOTE: My audio was recorded as a WAV file, 48 kHz sample rate. I did not apply any post-processing, except to adjust levels so the two mics would sound roughly the same. No limiters or compressors were used.

LARRY’S THOUGHTS

The MV88 is created by a company known for high-quality microphones. It is small, easily attaches to an iPhone and seems ideally suited to recording concerts for posting to YouTube.

It uses a mid/side microphone, which is a long-standing technology that allows shaping the stereo signal after the recording is made.

NOTE: Learn more about this technique here.

However, after working with the microphone for a bit, I have several concerns:

  • Getting files exported from your iOS device to your computer for editing or post-processing is not simple, nor obvious. While the app will email short, compressed files, longer uncompressed files are too big to email. Dropbox is supported, but, the app needs to make it easier to transfer files to your computer. (More on this in the next section.)
    [Update] Shure tells me that the app does transfer large files, the problem is that not every email client (gmail, outlook, etc.) will handle large files.
  • The mic is designed for recording music in concerts, meaning LOUD. I have a strong voice, but was only able to get a reasonable recording by turning the Gain setting in the MOTIV app up to full. Soft-spoken voices or recording in noisy settings will not record well.
  • When attached to the mic, the windscreen does not display which way the mic is pointing, which is essential for a stereo mic.
  • File naming is REALLY awkward. File names can not be preset, you can’t include a default date or location, and the naming process requires too many thumb-strokes.
  • The lightning connector requires that you remove the cover to your phone in order to attach the mic. The connector is not long enough to connect through a cover.
    [Update] Shure tells me: “The lightning connector is a proprietary connector that you can only get through Apple, so just like any other standard connector (1/4”, XLR, etc.) we have no option to extend or lengthen it. Since there are so many cases out there Apple requires you design your device to work without a case. There are numerous cases (including the standard apple case) available that are open on the bottom panel and an MV88 works great with them.”
  • Lightning connectors disconnect easily. If you are doing an important recording, tape the base of the mic to your iPhone so that it doesn’t slip out. It would be nice if Shure could provide a tether cable, or something, to help secure the mic to your phone.
    [Update] Shure tells me: “To protect the device in the event of a drop or something similar, Apple does not allow external accessories to be tied down to the lightning port because there is risk of damaging the connector or the port. The mic is designed to break away cleanly from the phone (and survive) if dropped.”

A CONVERSATION WITH SHURE

Because of these concerns, I reached out to Shure and spoke via phone with Soren Pedersen, the Product Specialist at Shure who lead the design of this mic. (This dialog is paraphrased from our phone conversation.)

Larry: Thanks for talking with me, Soren. Who is the market for the MV88 mic?

Soren: Content creators, with an emphasis on younger artists, that need to connect a mic to an iOS device. It has a really powerful DSP (Digital Signal Processing) engine.

Larry: How would you compare this mic to other Shure mics?

Soren: That’s difficult. Its different from other Shure mics. The MV88 has two mic capsules that share technology with the PG-Alta series of mics, which also use MOTIV technology.

Larry: How does the MV88 compare with other Shure mics?

Soren: All Shure mics are engineered by Shure and pass all Shure quality tests. The tradeoffs are in consistency between microphones. For example, in a performance setting, you may have multiple singers all using SM-58 hand mics. You want every mic to sound the same. The MV88 is designed to be used by itself, so it doesn’t need to match the sound of other MV88’s with quite the same precision that we demand of higher-end mics.

These are not drastic shifts in sound quality, more likely they will be heard as shifts in sensitivity (recording gain) between different units.

Larry: What recording environments did you design the MV88 for? For instance, when I was recording my voice, I had the crank the gain all the way up.

Soren: Music. The mic is not very sensitive to the spoken voice, as you discovered. It is designed to record live music, especially very loud live music. It is very hard to overload (to send into distortion). The DSP settings are tuned for music applications.

Larry: How do we pick the right mic pattern?

Soren: We designed this mic using a mid/side pickup. This allows you to dial in the stereo mix after the recording is complete. With this mic, you can:

  • Record mono narration
  • Record in stereo
  • Record bi-directionally, where you pickup from the sides but not the front
  • Change the stereo width AFTER recording
  • Record “raw mid/side,” where each mic capsule is recorded independently[Update] Shure explains: “These last two [points] are related and sort of redundant. By recording in raw mid/side, you can change the stereo width after the recording… but not in our app. A customer would have to take the recording they made in raw mid/side in our app into a DAW or some other program then take some manual steps.”

Larry: How do we export large audio files? This is not easy or obvious.

Soren: Yeah. It can be done, but its pretty hidden. We have a webpage on our site that explains this. Here’s the link.

[Update] Shure adds: “File transfer off an iPhone is an Apple controlled process through iTunes. We did not hide it because there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Larry: File naming is awkward and slow. What are your plans here

Soren: I can’t announce anything at this time, however, we are aware of this and working on improving file naming in the future. One of the nice things is that all the controls are in the app. It is far easier, and faster, to change an application than to change the mic hardware itself.

Larry: The quality of any mic is determined partly by the mic, but even more by the A/D converter it uses to convert it to a digital signal. Did Shure develop its own converters or license one from someone else and how would you rate/describe the quality?

Soren: Unfortunately I can’t talk specifics about what’s under the hood, but the converters are part of the MOTIV ‘engine’ that we built. Since it’s part of that system it’s hard to evaluate it against other converters.

What I can say is we’ve gone to great lengths to optimize the system, and they are a nice improvement over the converters onboard the iDevices. My favorite example is the settings for the DSP modes. What ended up in the app at launch was the 72nd revision, we were making tweaks every few days until we got it where we wanted it. These may be at accessible price points but we take the sound of them just as seriously as any other microphone we’d make.

Larry: If you could talk directly to an end use, what would you tell them about this mic?

Soren: Everybody should have an MV88 – great pairing with iPhone. It’s made some really outstanding recordings. Wonderful products. Super flexible. A necessary tool for bands – every musician should have one.

Content is such a part of our life and, all too often, audio gets left behind and takes backseat to video. Now, the MV88 equalizes the playing field. It was a fun thing to work on and a game-changer for all musicians.

Larry: Thanks, Soren, I appreciate your time.

SUMMARY

It is said that the best camera is the one you have with you. In that vein, the best mic is one you can easily carry around. The MV88 fits that description. Higher quality and more flexible than the built-in mic of an iPhone, an easy-to-use app with lots of configuration controls, yet presets that allow you to record quickly without understanding a whole lot about audio.

If you are interested in recording music with an iOS device, this mic needs to be on your short list for affordable, easy-to-use, high-quality devices.

Would I use the MV88 to record interviews? No. Would I use this for professional music recording? Maybe, but probably not. Would I recommend the Shure MV88 for easy, high-quality music recording at concerts, family events and life in general? Absolutely yes.

The MV88 is small, light-weight, high-quality and built with the legendary Shure reputation for ruggedness. Its a very cool little device.

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