tl;dr: Likely the best interface for the iPhone headset jack, especially when considering the price. Hardware could use some improvement, but it works pretty well.
When I first heard about the Tascam iXZ, I was excited to try it out; it has a two-in-one input jack, with both XLR and 1/4" plugs, a stereo headphone jack, input level adjustment, an off/guitar/mic-level selector, and even built-in phantom power for condenser and powered mics. Kind of a swiss army knife of TRRS input adapters!
I was pleased with the iXZ, but not all was roses. The input jack was not as flexible as I had presumed, and level control was not perfect... but it's still a great tool for anyone who wants to get good quality sound into his iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad!
See my article on External Microphones and inputs for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad for more information.
Build Quality and Features
The iXZ is built entirely out of plastic, and has a built-in 1/8" TRRS plug on a 6" cable. The device could definitely survive a few falls, but would not survive somebody stepping on it more than few times. The part I would worry about the most is the cable itself, which is not removable—it's permanently fixed on the back of the device. I wish the plug was just a female TRRS jack, and the device would come with a male-to-male 1/8" TRRS cable instead, so it could be replaced.
On the front, the iXZ has a mode switch (for 'off', guitar, or mic input selection), a phantom power on/off switch (so you can turn on power to an XLR mic that needs it), and an input level adjustment knob.
All three controls feel solid enough for my use, and they don't protrude much, so I don't think they'll break anytime soon. The input level adjustment was a little finicky, and I found that I would need to very carefully turn the level up and down at the maximum end of the range to get the level I wanted. Not a huge deal, but something that will annoy me a little every time I use the iXZ.
The combo XLR and 1/4" jack on the front allows solid connections, and holds plugs tightly (even without a lock for XLR plugs), and the headphone jack on the back works fine with the three headphone sets I used with it.
There's a little light on top of the unit that lights up whenever the iXZ is in microphone mode, I guess so you know that the batteries are slowly being worn down.
There's a plastic battery door on the bottom that houses two AA batteries. Besides the built-in cable, I would be the battery door will be the first thing to break. It's secure for now, but it's finicky putting it back on once removed (there are four retaining pieces, along with a clip that pops in, so it's only a little more secure than your average remote control battery cover).
Combo Plug and Mic/Line Level selection
The iXZ has a combo 1/4"/XLR plug for input, which is very convenient for me. I was hoping that I would be able to use mic or line level settings with either jack, but alas, this is not so. Switching to guitar (line-level) mode only allows input through the 1/4" jack, while switching to mic (mic-level) only allows input through the XLR jack.
This means that if I want to use something like my favorite little lavaliere, the Audio Technica ATR-3350, with this interface, I need to also use a male XLR to female 1/4" adapter, as well as a 1/4" male to 1/8" female adapter—quite unwieldy!
But, you can't have everything... maybe in the next version of the interface, Tascam can make both plugs be switchable for mic or line-level signals to save on carrying more adapters.
As it stands, the iXZ works great with many of my mics and inputs, including a Shure SM58, a line-level acoustic guitar, and a line-level input adapted from a stereo mixer output.
The audio coming through the iXZ is about as good as you can get through the iPhone's headset plug. You can definitely get a little better quality/range if you buy a dock-adapter-based audio interface like the GuitarJack Model 2 or the Fostex AR-4i, but those solutions cost a bit more.
I tested the iXZ with a Shure PG48 XLR handheld microphone in three different situations. You can click on an audio sample to listen to it below:
- iPhone - Field Audio Recorder (1.6 MB AIFF)
- iPhone - Voice Memos (112 KB M4A)
- MacBook Air - QuickTime* (382 KB M4A)
(*Note that the audio interface works perfectly with any modern Mac, like my MacBook Air, since it has a TRRS adapter that works with mac's audio headset jack.)
I'm hoping to get ahold of a mic that requires phantom power so I can see how the iXZ's phantom power supply affects the audio quality. I'm also hoping to grab someone's guitar and play a few chords to see how that sounds. But for now, I'm very pleased with the audio quality I've gotten with the iXZ. Like I said, it's probably the best solution for audio through the iPhone's headset jack.
The Tascam iXZ is a versatile solution for getting audio into your iOS device through the headset jack—probably the most flexible product on the market in this category—but it still has a little room for improvement.
Buy the Tascam iXZ on Amazon for about $30.