Review – Can a Blue Mikey, a Joby Gorilla, and Heather Save the Day in Scotland?

Mikey, Gorilla and Heather went with me to Scotland this spring. My accomplices were two gizmos and a mouthpiece, the last with a sweet Scottish Highlands brogue. They kept me company while waiting for the skies to reopen under the volcanic ash cloud.

Mikey is a plug-in sidekick for my iPhone, a professional-quality stereo USB microphone that turns the phone into a portable recording studio.

Gorillamobile is a fully-articulated mini-tripod that snaps onto its own iPhone case, turning the phone into a stable camera for still or video photography.

Heather is a computer-synthesized voice, with a Scottish accent and manner that will smooth a man's kilt. She helped translate my notes into narration suitable for venues with bagpipe tunes on the Muzak system.

Our mission in Scotland was to meet with the steering committee for the Commission on Education and Communication for IUCN, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The group gathers annually to craft strategy for the 700-member commission that advises the IUCN on how to most effectively communicate and move people to action for the conservation of natural biodiversity.
 My volunteer role as "knowledge management specialty group leader" means I get to advise on the latest tech strategies for engaging people in saving the planet, ranging from social networking to mobile communication.

Mikey's twin microphones and snap-on attachment evoke a Mickey Mouse hat, causing me a strange pause each time I speak the device's name. Is it Mick or Mike? Regardless, this 2"x2.5" item from Blue Microphones gave me the same happy feeling when its product is played back: clear-as-a-bell, studio-quality recording, even in the most demanding, noisy environments.

The voiceover for this animation was recorded using Mikey and an iPhone on a streetcorner outside a pub in Arcata, California. Thanks to the seals for hanging in there. Fewer than 500 Mediterranean monk seals (Monachus monachus) remain on the planet, along with just 1100 Hawaiian monk seals (Monachus schauinslandi). Their cousin the Caribbean Monk Seal (Monachus tropicalis) was declared extinct in 2008.

Thanks to Iain Macdonald for the Glaswegian voice, and to CrazyTalk for the animation.

Three gain settings, selectable via a nearly-invisible switch on the back, adjust sensitivity for noisy, mid- and low-noise situations. It works in a noisy pub or in a quiet cubby. Even though this Mikey isn't fully compatible with my iPhone 3GS (it's meant for the iPod), it worked well enough to excite my anticipation for the new iPhone-compatible version due out this summer. The new model will rotate 230 degrees, a twist I hope will work better for recording video with audio. The current model's 180-degree turn doesn't aim the same direction as the iPhone's built-in camera. Coupled with Blue Microphones' free app, Blue FiRe, Mikey makes a complete mobile recording studio. While I'm on a roll anthropomorphizing my phone attachments, let me tell you about her legs.

The Joby Gorillamobile turns the iPhone into a contortionist fit for any circus. Whether balanced serenely and securely on most any surface, or wrapped with a tight three-fingered grip around anything within reach, this amazing tripod must stand on its tiptoes to reach six-and-a-half inches, but makes up for its size in agility. Plus it fits in a pocket, and as an extra bonus, includes a screw-on quick-release shoe that attaches to any standard camera mounting hole. Joby just released a new version with magnetic feet, which I expect is great for travel on the Queen Mary, visits to your local NASCAR event, or taking photos of whoever is raiding the fridge after midnight.

Gorillamobile also has its app, the free Gorillacam. Zoom, self-timer, time-lapse, anti-shake, a bubble level, three-shot burst, and best of all, a "press anywhere" option, altogether make an order-of-magnitude difference in the iPhone's camera versatility.

Heather does not yet reside in my iPhone, but she can move in whenever she's ready. I've got her reminding me of things on my Mac, and it's a pleasure every time she says "excuse me."

She's the flagship product of Edinburgh-based CereProc, the commercial spin-off of an academic partnership between the University of Edinburgh and Stanford University (there's that California/Scotland connection again!). They've applied research in text-to-speech synthesis to become a world leader in producing new computer voices that sound almost real, and have regional accents, to boot. Along with Heather, whose Highland Scottish English accent is liltingly pleasant, there are Irish, southern English, Black Country (not a racial distinction, rather an industrialized section of the West Midlands north and west of Birmingham, England), and even American English and German character voices. CereProc donated Heather's voice to all schools in Scotland, giving her a good head start on being as famous as Susan Boyle.

Can a Mikey, Gorilla, and iPhone become your next on-the-road video and audio studio?

The answer is yes! Amazing audio quality from the Blue Mikey, great flexibility and stability with the Joby Gorillapod Mobile, turns your iPhone into a journalist's dream for on-location work!

Andy Alm, Posted 7/2/10

For more information on the Blue Mikey visit:

For more information on the Joby Gorillamobile visit:

For more information on the CereProc's Heather visit:

To listen to CereProc's Heather visit: