After getting our first look at the Tula mic in September, we have now had a chance to go hands-on with the new hybrid. Designed by the same team responsible for the professional Soyuz tube mics, Tula is a culmination of high-end recording expertise with a focus on affordability and standing out from the pack. It is specifically tailored to folks interested in field recordings, podcast discussions, and interviews, as well as musical recording and the like. It combines typical USB microphone features with a unique, retro-inspired design and some interesting tricks up its sleeve including built-in recording to its internal storage, noise cancellation, and the ability to connect another mic to it for 2-track recording. Head below for a closer look and our hands-on impressions of the new Tula mic.
Tula mic build quality
Created in conjunction with Red-Dot award-winning industrial designers in Barcelona, Tula combines retro aesthetic sensibilities with a modern, forward-thinking construction that is about as durable as it is attractive. It has that almost late-night talk-show vintage vibe with a retro-style housing and soft curves throughout. But don’t be fooled by the looks here, this is not just meant to be a pretty desktop or mobile recorder/streaming mic. This thing is incredibly solid and robust, made to take a beating out in the field. It’s the kind of mic you can just throw in your pocket at a moment’s notice to capture high-quality recordings without worrying about it breaking or having the internals get knocked around.
Made from a combination of stamped steel, nickel-plated zinc, and silicone (with plastic accents), metal strapping surrounds the main capsule and feeds right through to the mic stand connector mounted on the bottom. When you take your Tula out of the box, you will be greeted with the brand’s unique and particularly innovative flip stand already attached to your mic.
This metal flip stand is definitely a highlight of the physical design here and should certainly be considered best-in-class. It features a guided and proprietary mechanism that needs nothing more than proper alignment and a simple “1/4 turn” to get it in place or take it off. It is a notably fail-safe design that is both a joy to use and one that inhibits folks from affixing the stand incorrectly and damaging the mechanism. When unfolded, it provides a solid stand for the Tula mic, leaving it in an ideal, angled position for your desktop.
When you’re done with the stand, it flips around and neatly folds back up against Tula’s front bezel with magnetic precision — it never aggressively smashes against the mic when you’re folding it back up, it is always neatly waiting at the ready, and is far more sturdy than some of the more typical mini desktop tripod setups we have become accustomed to with USB and podcasting-grade mics. The Tula flip stand is also far more convenient to use in that regard, flipping back up and ready to get thrown in your pocket in a matter of seconds.
Note: Tula also ships the mic with a standard mic stand adapter so the flip stand can be removed. This allows Tula to connect to standard US mic stands, tripods, or anything else with the industry standard threading.
It doesn’t provide as much height off the desk as, say, one of those mobile tripods out there, which is something to keep in mind when building out your desktop setup. While the creators probably wouldn’t recommend it, the flip stand can, however, be positioned with a halfway vertical turn to lift the device an extra 3 or 4 inches off the tabletop, but you will lose some overall stability, as the stand’s flipping mechanism doesn’t lock in this position the way it does when fully expanded or magnetically closed.
On-board function buttons
Along the sides of the Tula mic itself, you’ll find a host of multi-function buttons to control the various features of the mic and its systems. That includes all of the usuals like mic input gain controls, mic pickup pattern selection, and volume controls, but you’ll also find a toggle switch for engaging Tula’s noise cancellation features (more on this below), and others for handling its internal recording functions. The buttons are simple to access and protrude slightly off the base of the device itself, making it easy to use without even looking once you know what you’re after. Some of these buttons are multi-use in nature with a “long-press” action in place to alter the functionality. The Skip Forward button flips playback to the next recorded file, for example, but will also fast-forward through the current recording by “long pressing.” Some of these take a bit of memorization, but everything is quite intuitive here, much like the aforementioned example, and didn’t take much more than a few recording sessions to get a handle of.
Tula’s robust frame carries omnidirectional ECM capsules (dedicated UNI and OMNI capsules), Burr Brown op amps, a TI audio codec, and a dual-function headphone output/additional 1/8-inch mic input. If that doesn’t mean much to you, the main takeaway here is that there are some serious internals in place with a focus on the highest possible recording fidelity and technologies you can put inside a totally portable recording rig of this nature.
Powering these internals is a built-in rechargeable 3.7v, 700mAH lithium-ion battery. It provides up to “17 hours” of continuous recording per charge without noise cancellation and up to “12 hours” with it. All of the charging takes place over the USB-A to USB-C cable provided in the box with handy but discreet LED battery indicators resting in the backside bezel of the mic itself. There’s nothing overly notable to mention here outside of the fact that everything works as intended with seamless charging via your computer or a typical USB-A wall charger. Just note that you will need some kind of USB-C to USB-C cable or an adapter to connect the Tula to newer USB-C-only devices and wall chargers.
Tula mic noise cancellation
Tula makes use of noise cancellation software known as Brusfri, created by the Swedish software company, Klevgrand. Noise cancellation, especially when it comes to recording, is tough — you want to rid the recordings of as much unwanted background noise as possible, but without comprising the fidelity of the actual recording source/your voice. Tula’s noise cancellation can be toggled on and off using the side-mounted control. It can be disengaged and enabled at will when using the mic in USB mode (recording into your computer), but you’ll need to have it on or off before each recording when using the internal storage.
Note: Tula will automatically create two files for each of your internal recordings when using noise cancellation. So despite the fact that you can’t toggle the NC on/off while taking a recording in Mobile Record Mode, both the clean (no noise cancellation) and NC-enabled version of your recording will be waiting on Tula’s storage anyway.
In my hands-on time with the Brusfri noise cancellation employed here, I found it to be essentially as advertised. It’s subtle when it needs to be and slightly overpowering in cases where most users won’t want it. If you’re looking for the highest possible fidelity on your vocal or instrument recordings for music productions, you’re likely better off disabling it and getting into a space where the ambient noise is either minimal or desirable. Having said that, to my ears it does a fantastic job at subtly getting rid of annoying background sound on interviews, podcast discussions, and the like where content is key and recording fidelity is far less scrutinized. But I should also mention that I am personally a little bit superstitious when it comes to using technology like noise cancellation on musical production or critical listening situations — some folks might prefer to have it engaged indefinitely, depending on the situation.
USB Mode + Mobile Record Mode
Tula can be used in USB Mode — connected to your computer or mobile device as an audio interface/microphone combo like any other USB mic — or in Mobile Record Mode — users record directly onto the device’s internal storage sans computer or iOS/Android gear entirely. That essentially means you’re getting the typical out-of-the-box USB recording mic functions and a completely standalone 8GB recording device. The creators say it is the “first fully portable USB mic that also doubles as a mobile recorder.” This Mobile Record Mode magnifies Tula’s portable nature significantly, making it far more mobile than your typical pocket-sized USB mic that is essentially useless without throwing a companion iPhone, Android device, iPad, or MacBook/laptop in your bag as well.
USB Mode works just as you would imagine with Tula effectively taking over as your device’s (laptop, mobile device, etc.) audio interface, allowing you to record directly into Logic Pro X or any other app with DAW-like features. Simply connect the USB-C to USB-A cable to your system and it’s ready to go. Connecting to iOS devices will require a sold-separately and approved adapter with an MFi chip, like Apple’s Camera adapter. And while I have not had a chance to test the device with an Android-based machine, Tula says any USB-C-equipped cable or adapter will do the trick.
Mobile Record Mode is how you can take advantage of Tula’s built-in recording and storage capabilities. Completely wire-free, Tula can be used to record directly onto its built-in 8GB of storage. While controlling a hardware internal recorder like this might seem cumbersome, the design and on-board, side-mounted controls are quite intuitive, if not slightly rudimentary. There are no click tracks or timelines to speak of here, but rather a simple rolling tape machine-like recorder with simple “start recording” function, as well as the ability to playback recordings directly from the internal machine natively. This is clearly a purposeful recording setup design that is likely more than enough in nearly all situations — overdubs or recording musical parts in Mobile Record Mode are going to get integrated/edited into the project at large elsewhere in most cases, and this sort of thing works great for linear interviews, discussions, and other field recordings anyway.
Note: All files recorded in this mode are automatically named (TULA0001.wav without1 noise cancellation and TULA0001-BRUSFRI.wav with). These files can be renamed at any time when Tula is connected to your computer, but in doing so you disable the ability to playback your recordings remotely directly from the mic system. All files and, subsequently, Tula’s internal storage at large are accessible like any other USB drive you connect to your machine.
Whether you’re conducting an interview, a podcast discussion, grabbing some recordings for your next album, or anything in between, so far Tula has been more than capable of being up to the task.
While for some folks using the iPhone already in your pocket as the recording storage medium really isn’t a big deal, there’s no denying how streamlined the standalone recorder nature of Tula really is. Unless you’re looking to conduct a somewhat rare on-site, mobile multi-track recording session (which would require more than one microphone anyway), whipping out the Tula and hitting a button or two, completely cable-free, is even more convenient in almost every use case scenario. All things considered, the bonus Lavalier mic input feature will allow for 2-track recording anyway (recording two mic sources in-sync simultaneously) — a particularly notable feature you’ll rarely find on anything similar to the Tula.
As mentioned above the mic’s flip stand is a more than welcomed add-on here, despite some folks likely needing an additional tripod to get it up closer to the sound source.
In the end, Tula mic makes for a compelling solution for anyone that might make good use of a streamlined, focused recording setup that can slide into your pocket and offer far better recording quality than any built-in options. Considering its $199 price tag is about as much as you would pay for a basic recorder without the USB-C microphone functionality, it’s also quite competitively priced for what it is. Plus, it is essentially an 8GB storage device as well, which might be an even rarer feature on products like this.
It is available in black, cream, and red for $199 directly from Tula with a “shipping in February 2021” delivery time.
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