Tucked away in a corner of Moscone I found the Microcone. Their booth didn’t have a lot of flash and was rather sparse (apparently because they sold out of all their product) and otherwise would’t have drawn a lot of attention, except for the Macworld Best of Show award they were sporting that drew me in. Good thing, because it turned out the Microcone may solve an interesting problem.
The Microcone is a cone-shaped USB microphone that is designed to record up to six voices sitting around a conference table. What’s unique about the Microcone is the software that’s bundled with it will allow up to six different voices to be recorded on six different audio tracks to allow for separate adjustment and editing. I was given a demonstration on the show floor, under less than ideal audio conditions and the device worked well. It was able to correctly identify three different vocal patterns and record three separate tracks of audio. However when I moved from one side of the Mic to another it did pick me up again and register a fourth audio pattern, though I would imagine in a true recording session most of the speakers are likely to be stationary.
I immediately thought about the few times a year the Mac Roundtable gets together live to record a show. We either have to deal with a complex audio setup and mic ever speaker, or we have to pass around a single microphone from speaker to speaker. Each of these solutions provide less than desirable audio quality. With the Microcone, we could carry one device, set it on a table between a series of speakers and not have to worry about passing around microphones, be able to individually calibrate and edit the audio channels for optimum quality and still be able to have the experience of a live panel with people talking over one another and all that comes with a live show. There are of course other applications for the Microcone besides podcasting such as recording of panel presentations, conferences or meetings. Though the device seems to work best when used in a “roundtable” setting.
I wasn’t able to get the exact details of the recording specifications, but I’m told that the Microcone does record audio as a compressed MPEG file and is suitable only for voice, not music. There are pros and cons to this. As a podcaster, I like to record in a lossless format, then edit and only compress down to MP3 at the final stage for distribution. By compressing the audio twice (once as it’s recorded and again for distribution) with the Microcone, you’re going to have some loss of quality, but it will likely be minimal in the overall scheme of things. If you were to record six tracks of any length in a lossless format you would quickly run into very large file sizes that would be overwhelming for the average use. Perhaps the better option would have been to default to the compressed quality with the option for advanced users to record lossless.
At AUD $359 (about $381.72 at the time of this blog post) the Microcone isn’t cheap, but it’s certainly a lot less expensive than buying individual microphones for multiple speakers and wiring up a conference room. The folks at Dev Audio must have been doing something right because by the time I hit their booth on Saturday afternoon they had one lone Microcone left to sell and it was their demo unit. I’ve never seen another product like this on the market and it fills a nitch