How to Record Great Audio in iOS and Android Video Production

As cameras on smartphones and tablets keep improving, it increasingly reveals audio as the weak link in mobile-produced videos. Actually, to be fair, audio is the weak link in any video when you use the camera’s internal microphone to record audio. That’s why virtually all video producers use external microphones when shooting with their camcorders or DSLs. In this article we’ll describe how you can do the same with your iOS-produced videos. Next month, we’ll provide some mini-reviews of products customized for mobile audio capture.

iOS and Android Audio Compared

Apple’s and Google’s obvious goal for their video recording apps was to make them as easy to use as possible. In this regard, neither allows you to change microphones within their respective video recording program. However, when you plug a new microphone into an iPhone (and presumably other iOS devices) it automatically becomes the default microphone. That holds true whether you use the headphone jack or the lighting connector. You’ll want to record a quick clip to be sure, but that’s how it worked in all our tests.

With the Nexus tablet we tested, however, Android made microphones plugged into the headphone jack the default mic, but only for audio recording apps. In our tests, the video recorder always defaulted to the internal microphone. Interestingly, when we plugged a USB mic into the USB port, we had to use a special software program called USB Audio Recorder Pro to recognize it. None of the other audio recorders we had installed would recognize it. And again, the Android Video Recording app never changed from the internal mic.

An Android video recording app named IgCamera App promises to let you change microphones within the program’s interface, but we never got satisfactory results in testing. While it seemed to recognize mics plugged into the headphone jack, it crashed repeatedly.

We tested in March 2015, and things change. If you have an Android mobile device and want to try recording with an external mic, check to see if the video recorder lets you switch mics, or if it switches automatically when you install a new mic.

Most of the next section applies equally to iOS and Android devices.

Start With the Jack

All mobile devices include a 3.5mm headphone jack, and most of these include a microphone input. If you’ve ever tried to simply plug a 3.5mm microphone into this plug, however, you know that it doesn’t work. That’s because the connectors don’t match up, as you can see in Figure 1. Fortunately, there’s a simple solution.

Figure 1. Apple EarPods on the left, stereo microphone on the right

Figure 1. Apple EarPods on the left, stereo microphone on the right

On the left is the connector for Apple EarPods that come with an iPhone 6. Three lines break the connector into four separate channels: one carrying left and right audio from the phone to the headphones, one carrying mono audio from the microphone to the phone, and one serving as the ground. This is called a TRRS connector, for Tip, Ring, Ring, and Sleeve.

On the right is a stereo connector from a standard 3.5mm microphone. Two lines divide the connector into three channels, two for audio in, one for ground. (Since virtually all of these devices have a single microphone the audio signal isn’t stereo, but let’s not quibble: We’re happy the listener has sound in both ears.)

Figure 2. The Azden i-Coustics HX-Mi TRRS Mic/Headphone Adapter

Figure 2. The Azden i-Coustics HX-Mi TRRS Mic/Headphone Adapter

Looking at Figure 1, you can see that the channels don’t match up, which is why the mic on the right won’t work when plugged into a mobile device’s TRRS jack. The solution is to use an adapter like the Azden i-Coustics HX-Mi TRRS Mic/Headphone Adapter shown in Figure 2, which costs $20 on Amazon. It has a TRRS connector on the left, with separate TRS (Tip, Ring, Sleeve) plugs for the headset and microphone.

Most inexpensive mics with 3.5mm TRS connectors use electret sensing devices that require low levels of power from mic input plugs. This is called plug-in power. EarBuds, for example, get that power from an iPhone. Not all adapters carry plug-in power from the plug to the microphone, although the Azden adapter does. Before buying an adapter, check to make sure that it carries plug-in power to the microphone.

Through about 2012, there were two competing (and incompatible) TRRS standards: the CTIA spec used by Apple, and the OMTP spec used by other manufacturers, including Android tablet and phone manufacturers. In 2012, most Android vendors saw the light and switched over, so most Android phones and tablets manufactured after that year use the CTIA spec, as well. That said, the sheer number of Android devices out there makes it impossible to say if a CTIA adapter will work with one device in particular, especially if manufactured before 2012.

Figure 3. Azden’s WHD-PRO+i system for smartphones and tablets.

Figure 3. Azden’s WHD-PRO+i system for smartphones and tablets.

Until around 2010, when DSLR video production started becoming mainstream, most high-end mics used XLR connectors. To ride the DSRL wave, however, several vendors started producing high quality mics with 3.5mm connectors. Azden offers several DSLR-focused products that, with the use of an adapter, can be used for mobile video production. Check back next month for a review of two of those mics, both contained in Azden’s WHD-PRO+i Shotgun/Lapel system (Figure 3).

If you’re buying a new mic for a phone or tablet, search for a TRRS mic. You’ll find plenty that connect directly to an iOS and Android device and don’t need an adapter.

What About XLR Gear?

Figure 4. The iRig PRE XLR to TRRS adapter

Figure 4. The iRig PRE XLR to TRRS adapter

Many video producers prefer microphones that terminate in XLR connectors, which, in many instances, require 48 volts of phantom power to operate. No sweat, there are multiple XLR to TRRS adapters, including the IK Multimedia iRig PRE shown in Figure 4 (about $33 on Amazon). It runs for 10 hours on a 9-volt battery. We tested the iRig PRE with several XLR-based mics, including the Shure SM93 lavalier mic and a couple of headset and studio mics, and it worked as advertised.

Going Beyond the Plug

Multiple manufacturers now offer microphones that connect directly to the lightning port on more recent iPads, iPhones, and iPods, including two HK Multimedia units we’ll review next month, the iRIG Mic HD and iRIG Mic Field (Figure 5). The benefit of using the lightning connector is that it supplies more power than the headphone jack, and it leaves the headphone jack open for listening during playback. In our tests, the recorder switched to the new mic automatically, so you should have no problem getting the video recording app to recognize either.

Figure 5. The iRig HD handheld and the iRig MIC Field both connect via the lightning connector.

Figure 5. The iRig HD handheld and the iRig MIC Field both connect via the lightning connector.

You can connect a mic to the USB port on many recent Android devices and record audio with some apps. However, we couldn’t figure out a way to use the mic in the video recording app that we tried. So while the thought of recording video with high-quality USB mics is alluring, at this point, we couldn’t figure out how to make it work.

Read part two for our mobile audio mic reviews.


Comments are disallowed for this post.

  1. If you successfully plug a mic into a given Android, will it still be subject to frequency shaping emphasizing voice frequencies?

    Posted by David | March 29, 2015, 9:56 am
  2. Good question to which I don’t have a firm answer. My assumption would be that this would be up to the individual app developer, so there’s not one answer for every Android app. And I would assume that because it’s still a voice app, most developers wouldn’t make a distinction between an embedded and external mic. But that’s just an assumption.

    Sorry I don’t have a better answer.

    Posted by jan | March 29, 2015, 8:21 pm
  3. I had some success with the Cinema FV-5 App on Android for using external microphone with video. Works for both USB and 3.5mm. I had some big issues with video/sound sync before I upgraded my Sony Xperia Z3 Compact to Android 5.

    Posted by Jan | May 6, 2015, 6:44 pm
    • Why “some success”. What went wrong?

      Posted by Marcello | January 26, 2016, 4:13 pm
    • I found that Cinema FV-5 works good as I’ll using my phone(rather than comp) for recording video and audio simultaneously.

      Posted by Andy Ng | February 14, 2016, 11:33 pm
  4. Good evening:

    I have a rather unique situation and wondered if any folks know of a cable that would allow me to record audio — from an external device — on my iPhone 6 Plus. I’ll outline that unique situation below.

    I attend a number of international conferences where key note addresses and presentations are given in various languages. The conference organizers do provide translation — in real time — of those presentations into several different languages.

    Each participant receives a little wireless “receiver” that has several channels — one for each “language” (Spanish, German, English, etc.) Each participant can then plug in standard headphones or ear buds — and hear the translation of the presentation — in “real time” — in their own language.

    I use an iPhone 6 Plus and also have the little app for it — “Voice Record Pro.”

    I would like to be able to “feed in” the audio from the “receiver” that has the standard audio connector — and “record that audio feed” using the “Voice Record Pro” app on the iPhone 6 Plus.

    I realize that this is a fairly special application — and wondered if you know of a cable source that would facilitate this. If possible, I would like to do so via the lightning connector on the iPhone

    Thanks for any suggestions you might have.

    Dave ve3csb

    Posted by Dave | May 14, 2015, 10:30 pm
  5. Please Help
    I’m trying to record to a Samsung Galaxy S7 using Sennheiser EW100 G3 wireless mics (I have 3 sets). Using a Rode SC4 TRS to TRRS adapter (or without the adapter), I cannot get the phone to recognize or record with this mic. I have tried with samsung Note 3, Samsung tablet and a Nexus 5 phone as well. All of these are Android and none work. It does work fine with apple products (iPhone 6, ipad and MacBook).
    I can record to/have tested the Android products with Shure Lavalier, Rode Lavalier, and Rode Smart Lav on both Android and Apple. All these wired lav mics work fine on both.

    Desparate Peter

    PS Sennheiser support recommended a PCV 05, but changed later recommending a PCV 07 saying it is OMTP comparable. Problem is I believe my phones are CTIA and don’t want to order if it on work.

    Posted by Peter | July 29, 2016, 2:00 pm
    • I feel your pain, Peter. I just ordered this adapter today from B&H after having the same experience with the Rode SC4 (worked for iPhone, but not my Samsung Galaxy S6). I’d be happy to let you know if it works, if you’d like!

      At least I now know I’m not completely crazy! 🙂

      Posted by Sharon | August 2, 2016, 9:49 pm
      • Actually, I misunderstood your post, Peter. This may not help you at all. Sorry about that.

        I’m having trouble connecting my Samsung Galaxy S6 to my Zoom H4N, which is connected to either a wired lav or a shotgun mic. The SC4 doesn’t seem to be registering.

        Works fine with iPhone, but not Samsung.

        Using Filmic Pro App for recording.

        I’m open to suggestions if anyone has any!


        Posted by Sharon | August 2, 2016, 10:10 pm
      • Thanks,
        I’ve since tried on other brand Android phones but still no luck so I’m convinced it’s an Android based phone problem. As I mentioned, for me, wired lav mics (at least the ones I tried) did work on my S7.
        So far sennheiser hasn’t been able to help and Rode never bothered to my request.
        Frustrating to say the least.

        Posted by Peter J. van Haren | August 6, 2016, 12:26 am
      • Peter, Have you tried talking with the folks at KV Connections? They’ve been the most helpful to me so far. They are the only company I’ve found so far who tests specifically with Samsung Galaxy phones (which I hear are trickier to match). Just a thought!

        Posted by Sharon | August 7, 2016, 11:39 am
      • Hey Sharon,

        I know this is a long time posted by you, but I was hoping if you can help. I am also trying to connect Rode SC4 with Sennhesier with my Samsung s6 phone. I know you had similar problem, did you end up figuring out what the problem was? And how to fix it? Thank you!

        Posted by Faizan Uzma | September 19, 2017, 12:57 pm
  6. Oh my goodness, I’m clearly not reading your posts correctly, projecting my own problem on to yours. sorry about that! 🙂

    KV also told me there’s a difference between cables that attach directly to a mix and those that connect to a recorder or receiver. Either way, it might be worth taking to them, as they seem to know their stuff.

    Posted by Sharon | August 7, 2016, 11:45 am
    • Thanks again Sharron and sorry for the slow replies. I will ask KV to see if they can help.
      I haven’t given up, but getting there.
      KV will likely be the last resort before changing equipment.

      Posted by Peter J. van Haren | August 15, 2016, 9:53 am
    • KV Connections saved the day.
      Can now hook up our sennheiser’s to android. Thanks for the tip Sharon!

      Posted by Peter | September 1, 2016, 1:54 pm
  7. I need to record video with Samsung S7 or S8 smartphone WHILE simultaneously record audio from a device through an XLR connector. Please advice if there’s a cable/adapter that will allow me to accomplish this. I am trying to avoid editing audio and video to sync by using the video and audio after the recording. Thanks in advance.

    Posted by Faheem | February 14, 2018, 8:50 pm
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