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Clear, quality sound doesn't have to come with a $500 price tag and a ton of equipment. Modern advances have produced many high-quality microphones that can directly interface with your iPhone.
With a few additional accessories you will be ready to record anywhere and everywhere with high-fidelity sound. I've written this guide to be a one stop shop for all the information you'll need for choosing the best microphone for iPhones.
Simply put - it must have a lightening port, or a lighting port cable. Most of the mics on our list have built in lightning ports and connect directly on your iPhone.
These mics are designed specifically for iPhones so they will be compatible with all software. This includes Garageband, voice memos, camera, Instagram, and Vine.
The great benefit of having a microphone that is designed for the iPhone is you can forget about all the power source worries and complexity.
No worrying about phantom power or an underpowered microphone. Every mic will function exactly as designed and will have enough power to capture accurate sound.
You have a few options here. The most popular iPhone mic styles are:
Generally, two first-order cardioid microphones are used at 90-degree angles to produce a stereo image.
These microphones are lightweight and extremely portable. You are also able to alter the angle of each microphone for your specific recording situation.
They can be easily mounted atop your iPhone without any inconvenience. X/Y mics are usually best for close micing scenarios. Keep in mind, as they are designed for close range, they will have a reduced low-end response when used for longer distances.
If you are looking to do some instrument recording you may want to consider a condenser microphone.
These generally have larger, more sensitive diaphragms that work best for picking up the sound waves generated either by a guitar or vocals.
Don't use these if you are going to be recording anywhere with a lot of background noise (say in an outdoor environment) as they tend to be very sensitive to background noise.
Lavalier mics can be great hands-free options and are great for longer recording sessions.
Microphone Sound Quality
The bad news is you aren't going to get studio quality sound here.
There is just no way the iPhone will be able to generate enough power to run internal mic electronics to get the sensitivity required for studio quality sound.
However, the good news is the sound quality of these mics will still be a huge step up from the internal iPhone mic.
As with most things, you'll get what you pay for. Have a look at the recording frequency and bit number of the mic to get a sense of the quality of the recording.
You're going to want something with at least 96kHz and 24-bit recording capability. The quality of the recording will also be determined by use-case. As mentioned before, using a close range mic for long distance recording will most likely leave you disappointed.
You are going to want a microphone that can record in WAV format for CD quality recordings. They should also be capable of recording in AAC if you want a faster file transfer.
How To Avoid Buying The Wrong Microphone
The first step is to know what you will be using it for. If you are looking to record interviews or other close-up vocals, you need to be looking at X/Y mics.
If you just want a simple voice activated recorder you can check out my article here.
These mics allow you to adjust the microphone angle for different recording scenarios. Placing the mic arrangement at 90 degrees will give you a tightly focused image, while the 120 arrangement will give you an immersive wide-angle stereo image.
For some microphones, you can record the mid and side mic signals as 'raw' M-S data so you can adjust the stereo width from 30° to 150° at will.
If you want to record sound that requires a little more sensitivity and nuance, look for a condenser microphone. The tricky part here is finding a condenser microphone that will be able to be powered using the iPhone battery. Because the microphone uses delicate electronics to record sound it requires a steady power source to function.
This is typically accomplished using phantom power. However, there are a few options specifically designed for the iPhone.
Trying to mix and match microphones can be dangerous as they may not be compatible with the iPhone software. They also may end up being underpowered.
The best way to avoid any confusion is to look for a mic with a lightening port output. This is a surefire way to meet any compatibility requirements.
- Please also consider purchasing a microphone that has a metal casing. While not an issue to live or die by, the metal casing will prevent any electromagnetic noise from entering your recording from your iPhone.
- Lightning port output
- X/Y microphone for close-range or ambient applications
- Condenser microphone for instrument and vocal recording
There are a few 'nice to have' features that you can watch out for. For starters, some microphones will come with a windshield - something nice to have to cut down on any wind noise when out in the field.
There are also a few microphones that offer native applications to help with the recording and processing. They even come with a few effects, such as reverb and six-band EQ to help with the post-production editing.
Some microphones will also offer built in high-pass filters. These filters only let in signals that are above a certain threshold. This can do wonders for reducing any unwanted noise for ruining your recording.
If you really want to go into the weeds, you can look up each microphones sensitivity, frequency range, and max SPL (sound pressure level). We typically leave these technical details out of our guides as they tend to just confuse many readers.
You can also find a few microphones that allow you to adjust the gain right on the microphone itself. This can be extremely useful for quick adjustments during recording sessions.
There have been a few comments about the microphones picking up noise from the phone antenna. This can be mitigated by placing your phone in airplane mode.
The sensitivity of these microphones makes them very susceptible to bumps and shakes. This can be prevented if you buy a simple tripod for your iPhone.
Fine Tuning The Sound
As mentioned above, there are a number of microphones that give you plenty of options for recording possibilities. If you find you are still having trouble getting the sound quality you hoped for we recommend reading this quick guide to help with your recording.