Spontaneity at heart of ‘Spire’ portable recording studio
Spontaneously recording your ideas is where this device really shines.
Whether in the shower, or about to fall asleep, inspiration can hit at the weirdest times – that is, essentially whenever you’re least able to pick up a pen and write it down, or record it. iZotope brings us the portable Spire Studio for $350, although it won’t help in those situations unless you place it beside your bed along with your keyboard or guitar. For those of you musically inclined though, the 8-track recorder hooks up to almost all your gear, and is surprisingly easy to use.
Capturing musical ideas is a snap with this solid, but oddly shaped, 8-track recorder. If you can afford it that is.
Music recording has been democratized with the computer, however they can be cumbersome if you’re simply looking to jot an idea down. Cable adaptors, complex software, varying sound levels are just some of the complications. Necessary audio ports & hardware are shoved into a stubby ‘spire,’ and The Spire is also able to connect to an easy-to-use companion app over WiFi.
Firstly, we have the industry-standard audio inputs. Connecting my guitar, bass, drum machine or synth was as easy as plugging them into a soundboard – the Spire offers two XLR/TOS combo ports. Unlike with a computer, there’s no adaptor or dongle hunting required. The four-hour battery life of The Spire also means you don’t need an extension cord to record anywhere in the house.
The ‘Sound Check’ button on The Spire and the app allow you to keep audio levels from being all over the place. Simply press the button, play an instrument or sing into the mic, and the Spire will automatically find an appropriate level for that input. Having tested it with different guitars, keyboards, bass and synths, it seemed to produce solid audio levels adequate for mixing.
It only takes a few taps in the companion app to play, record, and mix those normalized tracks. You’ll find that each is color-coded, so it’s easy to identify which audio is what. Having said that, a way to quickly name things would be helpful, especially if you have more than a single track of a particular instrument.
Prior to recording each track, there are virtual maps as well as “spaces” (acoustic recreation of a room) that can be added if looking for a more robust, deeper sound. This is all old hat for iZotope though, as they have a long history of software-focused audio manipulation. Each effect can be fine-tuned as you please. Although the amps are primarily for the bass and guitar, they can be applied to any instrument you plug into the Spire.
The app will automatically create two new tracks to record on if you connect a couple instruments at once. This means playing a single instrument by yourself is as easy as singing while playing, or playing with another band member. The built-in mic is also suitable for singing or acoustic guitar, but only really in a pinch. The acoustic quality is actually impressive, but nowhere near as nice as using a high-end microphone, or plugging in your instrument.
Once you’re done playing and recording, “mixing” is as easy as moving your tracks in a virtual space. Move left or right for stereo mixing, or higher in the space to achieve louder. All tracks can be adjusted easily on the fly, and you’re able to hear the tracks in real time to preview the finished song. As they did with recording, iZotope have taken something that is often a pain, and have made it incredibly visually easy to understand. If only elements of the app’s slick design would translate to the actual hardware.
My biggest problem with the Spire is its circular form. There’s no carrying case for the device, and a case is hard to find due to its stubby shape. A square or rectangle might not be as visually interesting, but its design would make it easier to shove in a gig bag. The lights on top are great as visual indicators, but the device doesn’t need to be a circle for that.
Despite the high price point and odd shape, the Spire is still an exquisite piece of kit for musicians. Missing old tape-based-4/8-track recorders and their spontaneity? Have a large enough bag? Maybe the Spire is worth checking out.