From the January/February 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By James Volpe Rotondi
Talk to singer-songwriters at any level and the majority of them will tell you that they capture their song ideas on their smartphones, using voice memo, video, or other nonmusical apps, which don’t allow them to do anything with the tracks they’ve captured. Others will tell you they use dedicated recording software, though they might complain that the setup costs and the required technical mindset, which drains valuable emotional and creative energy that could be used for, well, writing songs, are too restrictive.
This is where iZotope Spire Studio ($299 street) comes in. It’s a professional songwriting device on a very human scale. Spire uses the power and storage space of that phone or tablet you already spend too much time on, via the free, sophisticated Spire: Music Recorder & Studio recording/processing app. And Spire Studio uses its own Wi-Fi network to outsource the tracking equipment to a small, cylindrical device that’s about the size of a peanut butter jar and weighs in around 1.5 lbs. It’s a whip-smart compact sketch pad that, especially in its new second-generation form, is packed with professional features that make it double as a proper tracking device.
The very sturdy yet light and compact Spire Studio unit contains a built-in omnidirectional condenser microphone, two preamps (upgraded in the second generation), and a pair of headphone outputs, plus transport controls, meters, two XLR/TS mic/line inputs with phantom power, and more—all excellent. Spire Studio runs via an AC power adapter or rechargeable batteries. It’s even cute, kinda like Darth Vader’s tiny baby brother. (I do wish it came with a protective travel bag, though.)
Working with the Spire Song Maker/Spire Studio partnership is really liberating, and this is also where the second-generation features really shine. Put your headphones on, plug them into Spire Studio, connect via the Spire Studio Wi-Fi network, and launch the app. Press the Soundcheck button on Spire Studio as you strum your guitar, sing, or both: Spire Studio will speak to the app, identify the instrument you’re using, and set your ideal input levels and EQ settings for you.
That’s huge right there. If you like, find a vocal, guitar, or master effect that inspires you—everything from vocal tuning to modulation to compression and beyond—or wait until afterwards, when you can choose from that same fine array of effects drawn from iZotope’s well-regarded Ozone, Nectar, and other pro signal-processing plugins. Spire Studio will automatically add compression, EQ, and saturation to vocals for a refined sound that would take the uninitiated hours to dial in.
Find your tempo by tapping it in, or simply setting it, and start recording. (You can also record without a click, naturally. And you can import beats, and track to them, too.) When you’ve finished, the latest Spire Studio will even clean up your audio for you, removing unwanted air conditioner hum, plosives, street noise, etc., using tools culled from iZotope’s RX line, like Noise Removal and Pop Filter. Again, that’s a huge amount of work you won’t have to think about. (Some features will require the Spire Pro subscription, which is free of charge.)
Do another take, add an overdub, a harmony, up to eight tracks in all. To mix, go to the mix page on the Spire Song Maker app: Use the little grid display to touch-move instruments around the stereo field or add effects—from lovely reverbs and delays to raunchy distortions and compression—and even widen or narrow the stereo field with ease.
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Immediately upload your piece within the Song Maker app to Soundcloud or social media; export your complete masterpiece as a WAV or M4A file, or export the individual tracks/stems to send to your collaborators, producer, or band members for use and further processing on your album. Yes, the tracks sound that good.
The second-generation Spire Studio is exactly the kind of device that acoustic players and songwriters in particular will absolutely thrive on creatively. You might say it’s made for our tribe.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.