I’ve personally always been happy carrying around any one of a number of portable USB/FireWire audio interfaces. But as readers pointed out following Blue’s announcement of the Icicle yesterday, various solutions have offered direct mic – to – USB hardware with preamps for connecting a single mic to a single USB port. And several tech blogs picked up on the Icicle announcement, so clearly there’s a need for someone.

The major oversight of the Blue Icicle is that (as near as I can tell) it doesn’t have a headphone jack. Result: the only way to monitor the microphone would be through your computer, which adds latency. And I’m a little hesitant on what the quality of the pre is, as well.

The Icicle isn’t your only option. Readers point to the Mic Mate Pro from MXL, and I’ve heard very positive stories about CEntrance’s MicPortPro. The MicPortPro gets high marks on audio fidelity, both anecdotally from those we’ve heard from and in reviews from Keyboard, TapeOp, and the like. Ronald Stewart writes to say he uses it with his Indamixx, the UMPC-based, tiny portable PC, so I imagine it’s an interesting option for those who like obsessive degrees of portability.

Most importantly, the MicPortPro corrects a number of the weaker points of the Icicle. It has the headphone jack for zero-latency monitoring. It’s made of aluminum, and seems to be pretty solid in build. It supports 24-bit/96kHz recording. ASIO drivers are available on PC (still not sure about that on the Icicle). And it has nice, dedicated knobs for gain. There’s even a software driver for aggregating more than one MicPortPro. It’s roughly twice the cost of the Icicle, but if I were in the market for such a thing, the MicPortPro looks like it wins on just about every single point.

My one gripe: it’s nice to have the unit bus-powered, but why not add the ability to put in batteries so it can double as a standalone mic pre when you aren’t using your computer?

Ultimately, a dedicated mic pre and/or dedicated audio interface seems more functional to me for most folks. But I’m pleasantly surprised to see the MicPortPro is able to make this category make a bit of sense for those who want it. The bottom line seems to be for some people, portability is everything, even just to supplement gear you’ve already got.

CEntrance Product Page

Thanks to everyone who sent in feedback. As always, keep it coming. Even the grumbling – I may grumble back, but grumble away. You’re among friends.