Spire Mobile Studio Recording System
Remember when 'mobile studio' meant a van?
by Chris Loeffler
iZotope Spire Studio recently completed its Kickstarter campaign and is a multitrack recorder that combines hardware recording with an iOS app for deep control that allows up to 8 tracks of 24-bit audio. The Spire automatically sets input levels based on its assessment of the signal it’s receiving and provides options for mixing, effects, exporting and sharing your music.
What You Need To Know
The Spire’s physical recording package is small enough to fit into a gig bag and, in conjunction with an iOS device, creates a powerful and portable recording bundle. Equipped with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery with a four-hour capacity, the Spire can also be powered in real time with the included AC adapter.
The Spire seems to be built around the concept that most musicians lack deep recording experience and knowledge, and operates via an exceptionally simplified user interface to give access to everything needed to polish a track, featuring as much automation in mixing and EQ as possible. This ease of use is a godsend for players not looking to master audio engineering, but leaves enough control for those with well-honed studio experience to capture mix-ready scratch tracks.
The top panel on the Spire Studio hardware device has a touch-sensitive display that lights up with status indicators for various functions such as headphone and microphone level and track activity. The five physical buttons include Play, Record, New Song, Soundcheck, and Volume.
The Biggest surprise the Spire held for me was how good the built-in omnidirectional mono condenser mic sounds. Acoustic guitars, vocals, and light hand percussion all recorded large and detailed, and whatever combination of software and hardware the Spitre uses organically dropped virtually all the room noise without compromising the fullness of the instruments. It has plenty of gain and is surprisingly quiet.
Connecting instruments and external mics to the Spire Is as simple as using the included combo jacks to feed the Grace Design preamps that form the heart of the unit. Phantom power is available, and a handy lighted power button functions as a battery status indicator.
The spire allows for up to six hours of recorded music to be stored internally (that’s an hour of six track recording), which can be downloaded to your personal computer for archiving or mixing/mastering within you primary DAW.
The Spire Studio app is a free app and runs on an iPhone or iPad. WiFi setup to the Spire is a breeze and is accomplished in a few minutes the first time and then is nearly instantaneous. The app is built around projects and lets you launch, preview, or delete existing projects in addition to creating a new one. The Spire Studio supports AIFF, WAV (stereo only), m4a and mp3 formats and can also import preexisting audio files.
The recording and mixing process is as intuitive as possible without doing everything for you, and the visual interface is a 101 class to get you what you want.
The Soundcheck feature is an optional, automatic level-setting feature accessible from either the app or the hardware unit that automatically adjusts the input level to an appropriate setting, allowing recording without the worry of unwanted distortion. Monitoring On, helpfully, lets you monitor a track’s input in the headphones without affecting playback.
The Recording Effects option includes seven effects. Three of them are amp models; a clean Fender-like amp with tremolo and reverb, an AC30-style amp with tremolo, and a bass amp. All have simple EQ, and the AC30 and Bass models have Drive controls. The other effects category, Spaces, has four delay/reverb effects, all of which have good default settings and can be tweaked.
While there aren’t user-controlled EQ or compressor settings, there is no doubt there is some EQ and compression tone sweetening going on behind the scenes as is evidenced in the polished recording. Tracks you record have a finished sound to them, which is like magic for the novice, but might irk a mixing purist.
I was somewhat surprised to discover that the Spire Studio’s effects are only available on input, requiring you to commit to a particular effect and setting in advance if you want to use it.
The Spire Studio app only offers rudimentary waveform editing; there aren’t cut, copy and paste editing options, which is limiting, and it only offers limited zooming of the waveform display.
Each track in the app’s Mixer page is represented by a circle, which you can drag up or down to change its volume and side to side to change its panning position. The mixer is easy to use and makes level setting and panning very intuitive. The option exists to mute individual tracks as well as changing tracks that have been converted to stereo by the effects to mono.
You can export the entire mix as an M4a file, send it to Sound-Cloud or another music app on your mobile device, or share it to another Apple device using AirDrop.
Individual tracks can be exported as 24-bit WAV files to import into your DAW, which most seasoned studio guys will probably want to do. You can also export a Spire Studio project file (.spire) for archiving in your PC or Mac.
Effects can only be added on input. Rudimentary editing features.
The Spire is a highly portable, self-contained way to capture high quality recordings either through direct inputs or via the built-in microphone. Wi-Fi connectivity and app controls are so seamless they are nearly invisible in the user interface and everything just works well, especially for the low price of entry. While deeper users may miss the ability to apply additional effects during mix down, they likely already have the tools to do it in their main DAW. If you don’t already have a portable solution for capturing quality recordings in the move, the Spire might be just what you’re looking for. -HC-
Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.