REVIEWED: Saramonic SmartRig+
For years, Saramonic have been committed to providing a variety of wired and wireless products for the AV market. Budget-friendly solutions for videography, podcasts, home recording, live streaming and mobile recording mean their product range can cover all bases without spending a fortune.
Since the lockdown measures came into place, many DJs, musicians and vocalists have taken to various live streaming platforms to showcase their talent over the internet to a wider audience, leading to a rise in demand for 'plug and play' audio recording interfaces to enable the use of these platforms without any hassle. That’s where the Saramonic SmartRig+ comes in.
It is worth mentioning that there are three different versions of the SmartRig+. The standard SmartRig+ features a TRS / TRRS 3.5mm jack output, the SmartRig+ UC features a USB-C output and the SmartRig+ DI features a lightning connector, but more on this later! I was handed the SmartRig+ for this review which is the most affordable option.
Straight out of the box, the first thing you see is that it comes in a convenient carry pouch to keep your SmartRig+ safe in your bag or case. The stitched belt loop on the back of the pouch makes deploying the unit fast while you're on the move; a perfect, low profile solution for mobile recording.
The product itself features a combined XLR / 6.35mm jack and a 3.5mm jack connection for each of the two input channels, which gives plenty of connection flexibility. These input channels can also be switched between mono and stereo depending on how you need to record. Dynamic microphones can be used with this straight away, however the +48V switch will also allow you to use microphones on both channels that require phantom power, such as large diaphragm condensers and shotgun microphones. It is worth noting that this product is primarily designed for microphones, meaning that you should use mic level inputs for this to work as designed. It does work with line level signals but the gain level for both input channels would have to be at the lowest setting to avoid distortion. If you are working with line level inputs, the ideal solution is to ‘pad’ your signal with an attenuator or direct input (DI) box between the mixer and the SmartRig+ for better gain control.
A handy little feature is the headphone output which uses a separate 3.5mm jack socket to the main output. This is great for immediate monitoring or for mic checks before recording begins. A switchable TRS and TRRS mode on the front is clearly indicated by camera (TRS) and phone (TRRS) icons. The difference between these two is that the TRS mode will feed both signals in one direction, which is typically used on cameras and camcorders. TRRS will feed to your device and use the extra line to route back to the unit for monitoring. TRRS is standard in most mobile phones which still feature the 3.5mm jack as this works in the same way as a standard pair of earphones with an in-line microphone.
In TRS mode, both inputs feed directly to the monitor along with the main output, which allows monitoring audio while using the SmartRig+ with a video camera. On the other hand, TRRS mode feeds your signal back to the headphone output after processing. This feature means that you can add effects or EQ your inputs through an app of your choice and monitor the result.
Audio output from the SmartRig+ is accomplished via a trailing 50cm 3.5mm TRRS jack, although other variants are available with Apple’s Lightning connector or USB-C, which is now standard in most modern Android devices, so there’s a SmartRig+ to suit all devices. It’s worth mentioning that the switchable TRS/TRRS mode is only featured on this model, as it’s is the only variant in the range that is designed to be used with multiple different devices which may use those different modes. This is not a necessary feature on the SmartRig+ DI (Apple Lightning version) and SmartRig+ UC (USB-C version) as those are designed to work over their respective protocols.
Battery life is a crucial factor for any portable device nowadays, especially when those devices are used to provide a service for your clients such as ceremony or speech recording. Fortunately, the SmartRig+ lasts for up to six hours of constant use from a 9V battery; giving you plenty of recording time on a single battery. On the topic of the battery, this can be easily changed by sliding the cover on the back of the unit and is still accessible while the SmartRig+ is attached to a tripod stand or camera mount with the standard 1/4-20 fitting found above the battery cover.
Now onto the main focus: how does it sound? To make this a fair test I have used a small selection of microphones to see how the SmartRig+ handles different types, which would be used for different purposes. The first test was with a dynamic microphone (JTS TM-929) which is most commonly used with DJs, the second was with a condenser microphone (RØDE NT1-A) and the final test was conducted with a shotgun microphone (JTS SGM-14).
The dynamic microphone retains the familiar warm yet crisp sound without compromising on vocal clarity. On higher gain levels there was no distortion on either channel, even on direct monitoring via the headphone output. Moving over to the NT1-A and a quick flick of the phantom power was the only step needed to run the condenser microphone into the SmartRig+. Again, the condenser sounds as delicate and natural as ever compared to other interfaces used in the past. This is a true testament to show that budget friendly isn’t always budget quality. My final test was with the shotgun mic, which would commonly be used from a distance. As you can imagine, I needed to increase the gain to capture the main focus of my audio test subject at around 8-9ft away. With most budget end interfaces, you would typically notice an increase of ‘hissing’ on the line. For the SmartRig+, however, this is not the case at all and I was able to capture clear sound from the subject at a higher gain level.
I also tested a padded (-30dB) line level signal from a Roland DJ-707M and Allen & Heath SQ-5 desk. As mentioned earlier in the review, this does work – even though they both output a line level signal – you just need to make sure the gain for both inputs on the SmartRig+ are down very low to avoid any distortion. You can go straight into the SmartRig+ without using a DI box / pad attenuators, but you will need to keep the levels even lower. So, line level signals are generally not a problem as long as you set the input knobs right before you stream or record.
All in all, the Saramonic SmartRig+ has certainly ticked a lot of boxes by covering a vast majority of purposes in one compact unit and proves that you don’t always have to pay a hefty price tag for such versatility and high quality audio. The SmartRig+ range starts from just £119, which is very affordable given the dual channel setup and wide array of features.
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 102, Pages 84-86.