Although there are several portable device brands, Apple iOS products (which include the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch) benefit from the biggest product ecosystem in the market. Both the tablet and music technology industry have changed drastically in the last few years, and it is currently a very good time to conveniently record high-quality audio on the go.
As always, the sound of a recording will depend as much on the quality and type of microphone as on the space in which it will be used (room size, acoustics, distance, outdoor noise and wind).
Today we’ll be looking at easy-to-use hardware specifically developed for iOS, ruling out the many other options that involve adapters of any kind. This means all of the below products can be plugged straight to an iPad without any further complication.
Interviews & Podcasts
Spoken word recording is fairly easy, but we are so used to the sound of the human voice that a substandard recording will immediately feel “off” and amateurish. In general, the best results will be had by recording in a relatively dead room, with the microphone quite close to the mouth and at a consistent distance. This is usually done with one of the following: a highly directional mic mounted onto the iOS device; a table-top model; a lavalier model, also called “tie mic”. For under £50, the Shure MVL and the Røde SmartLav+ lavaliers are your best bet. These plug directly into the headphone socket and can be used for any voice.
The Sennheiser ClipMic is a step up and more of a broadcast-quality model, improving on treble definition (most noticeable in “S” and “T” sounds) and completely removing the inherent hiss and distortion of the headphone socket mic input (which can sometimes be noticeable in quieter recordings) by plugging straight into the Lightning connector at the bottom of all new Apple portable devices with a tiny, yet top-of-the-line, in-line converter designed by Apogee.
For interviews or sitting-down situations where more than one person will be recorded simultaneously, The Shure MV5 tabletop model the will give you incredibly clear and natural results. Just bear in mind that in very reflective and small rooms, the sound of a sensitive mic like this one can be a bit unclear if you record more than a few inches away from it, so it might be a good idea to do some tests beforehand, and to get closer if needed in order to get a clearer and drier sound.
Device-mounted models are harder to get right, because they are usually used for video and therefore often further away from the speaker. They have to be very directional in order to block extraneous sounds and room echo but still sound natural at an angle, which is a difficult thing to achieve. However, the Røde VideoMic Me is a definite upgrade from the internal microphone and a must for anyone wanting to shoot quick videos without worrying much about mic positioning.
At this point in time, the most professional “point-and-shoot sound for video” offering we’ve seen has to be the Padcaster, which is not only a high-quality “shotgun-type” microphone, but also a protective case, a professional flash, and an optical lens that will ensure both video and sound quality are as good as they can be for this form factor.
Singing & Instruments
Unlike spoken word models, microphones aimed at getting “studio-ready” results are often designed to sound flattering and “larger-than-life”. Although many of them are marketed as vocal microphones, they will work perfectly well for instruments such as guitars, violins, percussion, and others.
On the budget side of the scale but providing very good results is the IK Multimedia iRig Voice, which can be handheld or mounted on a stand, and will do an good job at recording close-up vocals and instruments.
If you still like the handheld form factor but would prefer a digital connection through the Lightning socket, which will offer a far cleaner sound, then IK Multimedia also offer the iRig Mic HD, which is really the “go-to” handheld for Apple portable devices at this point. Since these are designed to be used up-close, they will record less room noise and room echo, and are therefore often the best choice when recording in untreated rooms.
Getting into the higher-end end of the spectrum we have the Apogee MiC, which is probably be the cleanest and most versatile recording microphone designed for iOS so far. Vocals, instruments and pretty much everything you put in front of it will come out loud and clear in any recording, although it is of course a single microphone and is therefore not really designed for ambient sounds or whole-band live recordings.
Possibly the most recognisably “studio-like” offering out there is Audio Technica’s AT2020USBi, which adds a lightning connector to their most famous mic the AT2020, already a staple of project studios around the world. It might not be quite as squeaky-clean as the Apogee model, but it is arguably the most flattering, and therefore the best option for recording singing vocals on most types of popular music – as long as you’re in a quiet and dead-sounding room, of course!
If, instead of recording sounds close-up, you would rather like to record an immersive, stereo sound, whether of a live show, or any “foley” sounds such as rain, street noise or even of recording a natural-sounding drum kit, then the best type of product is the device-mounted dual mic, of which there are a few options out there. We recommend the following three models, with similar yet distinct features:
The Zoom iQ7 is a mid-side microphone, which means it has a dedicated single mic for mono recording, and a second one for all the stereo information; if you often record mono sources – particularly spoken word – but you’d also like a stereo option in the same device, the iQ7 is a great option.
The Røde i-XY is a lovely-sounding stereo pair, most suitable for music applications. It sounds great on piano and acoustic guitar.
Possibly the smoothest-sounding option, although also the most expensive, would be the Shure MV88. it also comes with a great recording app that allows you to tweak the sound in just the right way for the given application. It’s a mid-side mic as well, but the capsules are smaller and a lot closer together, making the sound the most accurate out of the three, and therefore suitable for most applications – even orchestras.
As always, if you ever have any queries about any particular application, it goes without saying that it’s always best to contact your favourite audio retailer before making a purchase.