External Microphones for iPhone 5, 4S, iPad and iPod Touch Audio input

iPhone 5 with Microphones and Input Adapters
A few of the many microphone options to make your mobile recordings better.

Note on iPhone 5: Right now the only confirmed way to record stereo on the iPhone 5 is with the GuitarJack Model 2 and an Apple 30-pin to lightning adapter. All other headset-jack based solutions work as well as the iPhone 4/4S!

To dramatically increase the quality of the sound you record on your iOS device, you should use an external microphone or mixer, or a direct line input.

You can use external microphones/inputs with any of the following iOS devices:

  • iPad (audio recording), iPad 2/new iPad/iPad mini (audio or video recording)
  • iPhone 3G, iPhone 3Gs, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5 (audio or video recording)
  • iPod Touch (3rd/4th/5th generation) (audio or video recording)

Skip to: Recommendations | Details

Video: iPhone External Mic Comparison

(See also: iPhone 4/4S External Microphone Comparison, listing of mics and adapters used in this video)


My Recommendations

Software - App Recommendations

  • iPad: Use GarageBand. It's not expensive, and is awesome for recording and editing.
  • iPhone/iPod Touch: Use FiRe, FourTrack, or even built-in Voice Memos.
  • Camera/iMovie (Built-in) - Quick and simple to use, can lock focus, but has very few settings/features. Handles different audio inputs, but without much configuration or level control, and no monitoring.
  • For Video: Although the built-in Camera app is pretty good, I prefer FiLMiC Pro, which allows focus, metering, and white balance lock/unlock, and has a built-in audio meter. No audio play-through yet (as far as I can tell).

Simple, one-mic setup (podcasts, one-person interviews)

Buy a RØDE smartLav, and plug it into your iPhone. If you need more than about 5' of cable (so you can record an interview with the iPhone's camera, for instance), buy a 2m TRRS extension cable as well.

Another option, which allows you to have a more flexible mic setup so your mic can be used with other equipment, is to buy a microphone and adapter to use together:

For better quality recordings

This setup will allow you to record a little nicer quality sound, especially since the VeriCorder cable or Tascam adapter boosts the signal a bit so it comes into the iPhone at the right level for more clarity and amplification:

For wireless mobility and great quality

Another option, for more freedom of movement, a perfect recording level, and much more flexibility with one mic (this is the kit I use most often now - plug the line/headphone output on the wireless receiver into the KVConnection line-level adapter):

For multiple-mic interviews/recordings

Buy a Dual 1/8" Microphone to iPhone adapter from KVConnection, and plug one Audio-Technica ATR-3350 into each jack. (If you use XLR mics, get this adapter instead).

Another couple of options include:

  • The GuitarJack Model 2, into which you can plug a stereo input source (or two microphones that go one in left, one in right channel).
  • You can get a Monster iSplitter and plug a lavaliere microphone into each side, then plug this into a KVConnection mic adapter. (See example video).
  • The Fostex AR-4i works great for the iPhone 4/4S (put one lavaliere microphone in on the left channel and one on the right), but doesn't work with the iPhone 5.
  • The Line 6 Mobile In, which also has a stereo input like the Guitar Jack.

For recording loud music, concerts, environmental sound

Right now, there aren't a lot of out-of-the-box options for recording sound in high SPL situations (loud rock concerts) or other environmental sounds. However, there are three solutions I recommend:

  1. The Tascam iM2 - a great stereo mic for the iPhone 4/4S/5 that provides a simple AB-pattern stereo microphone (that can handle up to 125 dB).
  2. The GuitarJack Model 2 (read my review of the GuitarJack Model 2) allows for padding and relatively high sound level input.
  3. A preamp or mixer in-line before the iPhone. This is more clumsy/less portable, but if you simply plug the output of a mixer or preamp into the iPhone (or a product like the AR-4i or GuitarJack), you can handle as loud of sound levels as your mixer/preamp can handle.

For line-level inputs (Guitars, Mixers, Sound Systems)

One option right now is the Apogee Jam, a nice interface for guitars and other 1/4" plug line-level inputs, that works through the Dock connector, and is specifically advertised for use with GarageBand on the iPad. Another simple option (if you want a little nicer build quality than the KVConnection adapters) is the iRig from Amplitube. Another inexpensive option is the iJAM cable from Ampridge.

KVConnection provides two nice adapters, though, which I use because they're cheap and reliable: Line-level 1/4" adapter w/ attenuation ($28), and Line-level 1/8" adapter w/ attenuation ($28)


The Details

I'll run through most of my kit for mobile recording, following along with the picture below:

Mobile iPhone 4 3G/3Gs video and audio external microphone podcasting kit

  1. iPhone 3G/3Gs/4 Tripod (instructions for building the tripod mount)
  2. Crown Sound Grabber II PZM Boundary microphone ($80)
  3. Audio-Technica ATR-3350 Powered Lavaliere Microphone ($20)
  4. KV Connection microphone-to-iPhone audio adapters (read more about them, and about available alternatives below)
  5. Spare batteries - you can never have too many
  6. Sony WCS-999 Wireless Microphone Adapter ($100 - Note: Throw out the included mic, and use the ATR-3350 with this. Only good for 10-50 ft., but nice and cheap, that's why I'm recommending it.)
  7. (NOT PICTURED: The following items have been added to my kit since I wrote this article)
    1. Rode VideoMic shotgun/condenser mic ($150)
    2. VeriCorder XLR Adapter Cable ($70)

One option for easy external audio in a pinch is to plug in your headset, hit record, and voila! You have a much better sound-isolating mic than the iPhone's built-in mic (especially over distance). The disadvantage here is that the iPhone's headset cable is pretty short.

My typical video setup (especially for interviews) used to be a Canon GL/XL series camera with an XLR -> RCA box with phantom power to a condenser mic, or a wireless lapel mic, and it worked great... but it was rather bulky. I now use my iPhone and get set up in about a minute or two.

Recording with a Shure SM58, Lavalieres, Shotgun Mics, Line-Level Inputs

The iPhone basically requires a mic-level, 800Ω or better input through it's headset jack, so you'll need to do one or two conversions: first, you need to get the correct physical connection, and second, you'll need to have your audio at the right input level (otherwise, the iPhone will switch back to its internal mic).

Connections

Whether you have an XLR mic, a 1/8" mic, a line-level source with a 1/4" TRS plug, or an RCA/phono jack, you can likely find a direct adapter for the iPhone's 4-connection TRS plug from KVConnection (read their guide to mobile audio adapters).

Here are the KVConnection adapters I've tried, and my notes on their usage:

I also recommend the VeriCorder XLR Adapter Cable for XLR mics, and the Tascam iXZ for XLR, 1/4" or 1/8" mics or line-level equipment, though both of these products are slightly more expensive.

If you buy any of these, you can almost always find adapters at your local RadioShack, or make your own, to get from any connection to any other connection. I carry a box of about 20 audio adapters in my car for just this purpose.

Attenuation and Impedence-Matching Transformers

In order to get a line-level signal into a mic-level input (like the iPhone's), you need to attenuate (or 'pad') the signal. Some of KVConnection's adapters do this for you, but if you want to try another method, you can find line-to-mic transformers/pads from a variety of sources. Just be sure you have the right adapters to get your audio from source -> iPhone!

You'll also need to be wary of the impedance (measured in ohms or Ω) of the output of your microphone or audio device. It needs to be at least 800Ω before the iPhone will recognize it as a valid audio input.

A few caveats:

  • If you're using an unpowered or dynamic microphone (like the SM58), you'll need a preamp, mixer, or low-to-high impedance transformer to increase the gain, or the iPhone will simply switch back to the built-in microphone.
  • For a good mic preamp, try finding a portable headphone amp like the Shure FP12 (an old, but rock-solid amp with level adjustment - see more on my Shure FP12 here).

Recording in Stereo on the iPhone - Two Inputs

There are two solutions for stereo recording for the iPhone currently available:

One is from Fostex, the Fostex AR-4i for $149. Read my review of the AR-4i. (Note that this product doesn't work very well with the iPhone 5!)

Another is the GuitarJack Model 2 from Sonoma Wireworks. It's a great audio interface (with three inputs and one output) for all iOS devices; it has a stereo 1/8" input that works with pretty much any mic or stereo audio source, and a mono 1/4" guitar jack that also works with a variety of guitars, amps, mixers, and other sources. Read my review of the GuitarJack Model 2.

Note: The Tascam iM2 also looks like a good solution if you simply want a stereo microphone (that can handle pretty good sound pressure levels) for your iPhone (but it doesn't have a separate input jack).

Recording on the iPad - Stereo or Mono

In addition to using the adapters for the headphone jack on the iPad, and recording with a mono input, you can use the iPad's Dock Connector in tandem with the iPad Camera Connection Kit's USB adapter to use most USB-Audio Compliant audio I/O devices with the iPad... meaning you could record two tracks (stereo) sound into the iPad, iPad 2 and the new iPad (with retina display)!

First, you'll need to have the USB adapter from the iPad Camera Connection Kit ($32 from Amazon).

Then, you'll need one of the following USB interfaces to translate analog inputs to the USB connection:

Then, you'll need one of the following apps to support multi-channel recording and mixing:

Further reading: USB Audio Devices that work with iPad.

Recording Samples

Recording with Two Lavalieres - through Y-Adapter

If you have two powered lavaliere microphones (or any other similar mics, with mic-level, high impedance connections), you can plug them both into a y-adapter (I use a $5 RadioShack adapter or a little more durable Monster iSplitter), and you will then be able to have two independent mics (both into one mono connection, though) running into the iPhone directly (using the 1/8" iPhone mic adapter from KVConnection)! Click here to watch the video. [Update Jan. 2013: KVConnection now makes an adapter with two microphone jacks, so you wouldn't need the Y-adapter mentioned above. Looks like a good option if you don't already have their other adapter.]

More sample Videos

Audio-only Recording on iPhone and iPad

Here are a few audio samples recorded using the Voice Memos app on both my iPhone and iPad!

A lot of people have asked me to recommend some microphones for use with these KVConnection Adapters. Here are a few of my recommendations:

Related posts from elsewhere:

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