The last instalment on iOS devices, Microphones For iPad & iPhone, was focussed on microphones designed to be plugged straight into them either for recording, podcasting, audio for video, or just high-quality audio during calls. However, there are often times when more flexibility is required, and existing professional microphones are a better option, in which case a dedicated audio interface (also called a sound card) is your best bet. Professional microphones will usually have an XLR connector, and come in two main types: dynamic and condenser models, the latter of which requires “phantom” power. The specifics are outside of the scope of this article, but if you would like to find out more we recommend one of our earlier articles:
The cheapest way to plug in a mic to an iOS device is by using the IK Multimedia iRig Pre, a little box that separates the mic and headphone output signals from the mini-jack socket, and uses a 9V battery to boost the mic signal to a healthy level with no perceptible noise. It also comes with a phantom power option for condensers. Although the iRig Pre is pretty quiet, the built-in mic input is rather noisy on Apple devices, and the converters can lack the clarity required for professional recordings (although newer iPads and iPhones have got bit better in that respect). There can also be bleed from the headphone signal into the mic, and the phantom power supply might not supply enough current for some older studio models. All in all however, it will give surprisingly good results with a minimum of hassle at an incredible price point. A huge upgrade in terms of sound is the fantastic iRig Pro, which takes the same form factor but adds a digital interface, and plugs into the lightning connector instead of the headphone socket. This increases the quality of the sound and gets rid of the inherent hiss of the built-in mic input, providing fully professional results. It can be used to plug in guitars, synths, and even MIDI keyboards with the provided lead. If you are looking to record two separate audio inputs of any kind, the best iPad option is the fantastically practical Focusrite iTrack Dock. The iPad slides straight into the upper part, and a few easy-to-use gain pots are all you need to control the device. This is one of the very few interfaces that actually charges your iPad, which makes all the difference during time-critical situations if the battery is running a bit low. If you are looking for the highest sound quality in iOS-specific interfaces, your best bet is a model by Apogee, a company renowned throughout the pro audio industry for its high-end products. Their One, Duet and Quartet interfaces will plug straight into the Lightning port and allow you to record any microphone, guitar or other device with utmost accuracy. Apogee’s company philosophy is very similar to Apple’s with regards to quality, and that comes at a cost; however, the increase in sound quality, support, and reliability will be more than worth the price tag to professionals who can now rely on this kind of product for a living.
Of course, in order to be able to record any sound into your device, you will need a dedicated app. There are dozens of apps in the market, many of them proprietary, but the best choice is usually to get one that will work with any interface just in case. We are spoilt for choice nowadays, but we will recommend three standout offerings:
Dayana Networks Voice Record Pro
This good-looking app is as simple as it gets; It only records mono or stereo, but it does so very competently and is very easy to use.
The advanced options allow you to select the audio input and give you a lot more possibilities with regards to quality, going from standard MP3 up to CD quality and beyond (WAV to a maximum of 48 kHz, 24 bit).
Apple Garageband for iOS
Apple is renowned for the quality of its operating systems and software for Mac, but they actually have a team of developers focussed solely on audio; the same team codes Logic Pro for professional music production, Garageband for anyone starting out, and now Garageband for iOS, which is designed to take all the functionality from the original software into the iPhone and iPad. This is not an easy task, since the more functionality, the more complex and unwieldy software can become, but the end result is absolutely fantastic in both power and ease of use. It can of course do single mono or stereo recording, but it excels at multi-track recording, and contains virtual instruments which can be accessed either by playing the screen, or by plugging in an external keyboard. All in all, it’s the best all-rounder, and at a fantastic price.
WaveMachine Labs Auria Pro
The incoming sound of a recording is mainly dictated by the microphone and interface, but from then on you are then bound by the software’s flexibility and built-in effects. If you truly want the best possible sonic results when mixing music on an iOS device, then WaveMachine Labs Auria Pro is unquestionably your best option. The price is hefty, but it allows for a truly professional workflow, and you get access to some of the very best digital effects and software synths in the market, courtesy of PSP Audioware and FabFilter. It isn’t anywhere near as easy to use as Garageband, but a combination of a high-end sampler and fantastic synths can give you pretty much as much flexibility songwriting as can be had in a portable device, and in-app purchases allow you to get many of the finest effects out there as plug-ins for much less money than their desktop versions. A truly astounding app.
When the very first iPad was released, the possibility of doing professional audio work with it seemed distant, but there were grounds for optimism. The technology has since moved to a point to which one can truly record, mix and master music on pretty much any Apple portable device without having to compromise on sound. They won’t substitute the raw power and ease of use of a full-blown computer for the most processor-intensive and complex production tasks anytime soon, but anything from high-end classical music recording to straightforward music production on iPads is now not only possible, but a serious option to consider.
If you’re still unsure as to what to choose, do contact your favourite pro audio reseller to get some personalised advice. Happy recording!