the Izotope Spire Portable Recording Device Review - What do we think?

Using the Spire Live

Using the Spire Live

I have a nice little home studio, good gear, good pre-amps and great mics. However, I can't take it with me when I travel. If I want to sit and do a simple demo, its takes time to get things set up, check levels, gain stage, etc, etc. I tried using little portable devices on my phone and it was awful. I like good sound and I like simplicity. I want to plug and play.

I then heard about the Izotope Spire Studio, read about it, watched videos and thought, this is it. Why do more people not know about this? I looked in Canada and noticed you couldn't purchase it in Canada, i went online and the only place with reasonable prices was in the USA. So, i plunged and got it.

Long story short, i'm blown away by the ease of use, sound quality and the quickness you can produce a demo. I am sure some people will be able to make good songs with it.

Before I get into it, here are a few things to consider:

1) You need an ipad, ipod or iphone to run it. No android. I was lucky, I had a ipod touch laying around and it works great.

UPDATE: There have been a TON of firmware updates, all positive and now ANDROID IS SUPPORTED! Amazing.

2) 'if' you use the very good omni built in mic, it does pick up alot of background noise, which can be very good. So, you need a quiet environment unless you have a good mic to plug into one of its pre-amps

3) You can apply effects DURING recording but not after. That can be annoying if you record vocals then once you get your mix, you feel like it could use reverb or something. However, you can bounce the individual tracks as .wav files, so  you can mix/apply effects later.

4) You can not apply effects to the master, izotope does it all, however it sounds fantastic. Obviously a limiter is applied and likely eq'd as well.

5) You can only record 2 tracks at a time (ie, vocals in one input and guitars in another), which is fine for most people.

6) It can get a little confusing how to turn the Omni mic on and off. I hope they fix this in a firmware update.

7) My biggest issue, is lack of USB, however this could be negated if you could batch export songs. You can;t, you need to export a song at a time,which can be incredibly tedious. If you could select some function to just batch export all songs to computer over wifi at once, that would be incredible and in my opinion, a much needed feature.

Setting up the Izotope Spire:

It comes in a beautiful box all nice and packaged. You plug it in and it charges. Simple. Once you do this, you then need to set up your i-whatever (ie iPhone). Its a super easy process, but you need wi-fi to set it up.  Once you are set up, you are ready to go and don't need wi-fi anymore, unless you are uploading your song.

Recording with SPire.JPG

Recording with the Izotope Spire:

It took us a bit of time to figure this out at first, we had a Shure Beta 87 mic and a Boss Acoustic Pre-amp with an acoustic guitar. We couldn't figure out how to disable the main omni microphone. The issue was, the connection between the micinput and mic connected wasn't great on my device. This is important because, when you plug the mic into input 1, it disconnects/disables the built in omni mic. We were eventually able to sort this out. We plugged the acoustic in and then on the device, hit "soundcheck" and then we played and sang and bam, the Izotope Spire set our levels. Its amazing how easy, all the gain staging was completed.

Once completed, I chose "warm vocal" effect for the vocals and a reverb for the guitar. Clicked record and recorded two tracks. When we recorded, we didn't have good grounding and thus, you can hear a hum at the beginning. We will experiment with this more. 

{(UPDATE May 26, 2018) Grounding Hum - If you use the internal battery, the hum is gone. At first I thought it was a ground loop, but we tried this multiple ways and the only way to get rid of the hum, was to use the internal battery}

Perhaps it was the room we were in, but it sounded almost like a ground loop.  The other amazing thing, as the singer was singing (she can belt and she sang louder than the soundcheck volume) I saw the live recording waveform clip in real time, but the Izotope Spire automatically adjusted it to the right gain and reduce the clipping! Amazing.

After the two tracks were done, we recorded 2 more vocals and 2 more guitars for a 6 track mix.

Mixing with Izotope Spire

Mixing with Izotope Spire

Here are a few Tunes we Recorded with the Spire, They will show you the difference between Outdoor Recording using mics and indoor plugged into a wall. Big differences.

Mixing with the Izotope Spire.

This is so amazing and so intuitive, apart from a few minor things. I typically mix 50-70 tracks in a song in ProTools and its easy to get lost, Not in the Izotope Spire. To mix, you simply drag your number coded track within a rectangular space on the screen in the iPhone (see Image). Each track is represented by a Circle with a number (which represents the track) Moving the circle up makes the track louder, down quieter, and then to the left/right for pan. You can also click mono and you get mono. It is so quick and easy. For those with limited mixing/mastering experience, this is also an amazing way to learn mixing and panning. The issue however, You can forget your tracks, Being able to re-name these little circles would be very helpful, even if with a single letter.

Another problem, you have no control over EQ after it is recorded. However, there appears to be software within the Spire that controls this as the guitars on each track do not sound 'in the way' of others and the vocals are clean.

Mastering/Bouncing with the Izotope Spire

So, time to make a  stereo song. Easy to do, you can upload directly to Facebook or Soundcloud or other social media with the click of a button. Again, it is so easy.

You can also bounce your track to individual .wav files at 44.4/16 (CD Quality) for mixing in your DAW.

Quality assessment of the final song with the Izotope Spire.

We wanted to record a song that was simple, quick and using normal equipment. I didn't get out my fancy ribbon mic or AKG414, i stuck with a good quality inexpensive vocal mic, the Shure Beta 87a. The hum/ground loop is annoying and I suspect it is not the Spire itself, but we will experiment (See update above). The sound quality is stunning for something so small and simple. You can listen to our track of one of our songs below, "Away from Me" to see what it sounds like. As I said, we wanted it to be real and a real 'bedroom' type recording, so we did it in an actual bedroom. Can't get realer than this.

Areas for improvement

I love this device. The Izotope Spire is a dream come true to songwriters who want a very high quality, easy to use and inexpensive recording device. It is a DAW, Pre-amp and mixing/mastering software in one. A few things I'd like to see. One, a little easier to organize and delete your projects. It would be great to have the option to add effects and/or audition effects after tracking. The ability to apply EQ after recording would be fantastic. The ability to re-name track numbers to something that is easier to understand, rather than just numbers. Otherwise, right now, it is what it is and it works.

Summary Review of the Izotope Spire
Its defiantly a must have for musicians who want an easy solution for recording.

Below are two songs, one with the Spire plugged into the wall socket, the song on its internal batteries outside, you can see that when plugged in, you need to be careful of group loops as you can get some hum, but if you use everything battery powered, not an issue.

Recording our Patio Version of Drop Me with the Spire.

Recording our Patio Version of Drop Me with the Spire.

DROP ME - Recorded on the Porch using a Shure beta87 Mic, Handheld.
The Were Harmony Overdubs and some guitar overdubs. The guitar is two tracks, one with Omni and second with Mic held up to the guitar. You can hear the noise of the omni mic as the recording starts, but its a nice ambience. Once we get going, the signal/noise ratio improves and the Shure Mic, which is ultra quiet, takes over.

FANTASIZE - Recoded outside using ONLY the Omni mic built into the Spire. One Track.

FINAL "Bedroom Recording" USING IZOTOPE SPIRE (with Wall outlet Power) and external Mic (Shure beta 87A)