External Microphones

The biggest growth market in gadgets for broadcasters has to be audio interfaces.  There is great debate about whether or not we should be using an external mic when we use an iPhone.  It falls into two camps – those who think the iPhone’s microphone is perfectly adequate for most broadcast uses.. and those who are wrong.  For a studio-style link in a package you will need an external mic.  For a live outside a noisy shopping centre with cars and people going by you’re probably best with the internal iPhone mic.

Be aware that if you rely on an external cable and microphone set up for the iPhone two things will happen:

1. You will lose the cable

2. Once you replace the cable you will lose your microphone

Let me put it another way:  how many pairs of headphones do you own that don’t work properly or crackle when you move them around?  That’s why external cables and microphones are a bad idea on a domestic product like an iPhone.

But if you’re still reading this, then you’re fairly adamant that you want an external microphone.  So what are the options? SP-COMPUTER-Y-CABLE-428x380

You can buy – quite cheaply – an audio breakout cable.  One cable plus into a pair of headphones, the other into the microphone via a 3.5mm to XLR cable).  You can buy them by searching around on Amazon or eBay.  You might find there isn’t enough gain on the mic.  In which case you’ll need to take the next step up and buy a specialised breakout cable such as the one provided by Vericorder.com  or Luci.eu .






There are other alternatives though.  For a couple of years the iRig Pre has been the best solution around for those needing phantom power.  irigpreadapterWith a 3.5mm plug on one end terminating in a box housing an XLR socket and a headphone output the Pre allows you to have one cable feeding from the iPhone splitting, further down the line, to mic and cans.  It’s cheap – around £29 and gives great results.

But the iRig Pre has been blown out of the water by the iRig Pro (see what they did there?).

Have a listen to this comparison recording of the internal iPhone mic, the iRig Pre (£24) and the iRig Pro (£119) and then read on.

The company provided an iRig Pro for me to test.


The Pro is made of rubberised plastic – meaning it is less likely to slide off the desk than a hard plastic case.  It takes a 9v battery to provide phantom power if your mic needs it – but if you don’t need a phantom mic you don’t need to fit a battery which cuts weight down a little.  The gain control on the device is really well weighted – it doesn’t spin round and feels good and solid and allows you to change your mic gain according to your needs.  In this digital touch-screen world there’s something reassuringly nice about a physical wheel.  The Neutrik connector handles both an XLR and a 6.3mm jack plug in one device which could be useful if you ended up with an XLR to 6.3mm lead for one reason or another.

The biggest change though is that instead of plugging it into the headphone/microphone socket it plugs into the bottom of the iPhone or iPad using a Lightning or 30-pin connector (it comes with both cables) – as well as a USB cable to let you plug it into a laptop.

câbles-irig-pro-ik-multimédia-02The first iRig device, the Pre, was simply an adapter that converted an XLR mic into a 3.5mm plug but the Pro is totally different: it’s a digital audio interface and, inside the 3″ box is a a/d converter.  The microphone signal is switched to being a digital signal before it goes into the iPad or iPhone – and it’s a huge difference.  The quality is really outstanding although it’s only when you put it next to the iRig Pre and the internal microphones that you really tell the difference.

Inevitably the weakest part of the chain is the connector and with the iRig Pro there are now a number of junctions.  There’s the one between the 30-pin/Lightning/USB cable and the iRig Pro.  Using the old maxim “if the cable pops INTO place it can just as easily pop OUT of place” it’s something to be aware of.  I wonder how the connection will hold up to being thrown in and out of my kit bag.  Time will tell but I might put a couple of loops of tape around it to ensure it stays in.  Unlike an analogue plug and socket, if you break the connection between the iPhone and the iRig Pro it takes a few seconds to reconfigure itself.

A bigger problem for reporters on the move, however, is the loss of the headphone monitoring socket on the iRig Pro.  Presumably it was one bit of communication too many for such a small device and you now have to plug in your headphones in the top of the iPhone.  This can pose a slight problem as it means two cables running off the device – the risk of a snarl-up is doubled.  If your iPhone is flat on a desk while you’re working then it isn’t an issue but if you’re wandering around then you’re likely to get in a tangle more easily than you would with the company’s first design.



10 thoughts on “External Microphones

  1. FYI my last attempt at commenting has appeared in a strangely garbled state.
    Oh, and the audio sample doesn’t seem to be working.
    Best of luck…

  2. Diminishing returns – I’m consistently amazed at just how good the adequacy of the iPhone audio is. The best sounding mic I’ve found for the lightning connector is the Apogee MiC 96k but I’d only bother using that indoors (I’ve boomed with it, too).

    The fact Apple have/had Thomlinson Holman consult with them, and some guy from Audience has joined Apple recently too, so they take audio seriously, which gives me confidence.

    Avoiding zooming when recording video and I find the audio perspective is a perfect match, DSP amongst the 3 mics takes care of off-axis noise reduction a bit like the CMIT.

  3. Do you recommend any microphones for recording on the move with the iPhone, Nick?
    I know you’re a huge admirer of the internal mic, and rightly so, but as you’ve rightly pointed out – there does come a time for an external mic.
    Thanks in advance.

    1. sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Mics I carry include the Rode Videomic Me – very cheap but analogue – and while it fits the current iPhone range it may not work in future models if they drop the analogue headphone/mic socket. The windshield on it is terrific though. I’ve just been sent a review copy of the Shure MV88 – which is a lot more expensive but the build quality looks great. I’ve not had chance to test it on the windy hills of West Yorkshire but the amount of shielding that comes with it suggests it will be good. I particularly like the fact that it uses the lightning connector – so is digital – but it’s a trade off: do you always carry it? Is it always to hand? I’ve yet to be convinced that ANYTHING is better than the device that you carry all the time.. hence my love of the internal mic.

  4. Hello, I have used the audio breakout cable but somehow the internal microphone doesn’t disable (I’m using an android) and so I still pick up a lot of background noises. Any way of disabling the internal microphone? Thanks.

    1. sorry – I’m not an android user. suggest you tweet it and put the mojo hashtag – some of the android guys are sure to help.

  5. New to this so apologies if this is a dumb question, but I note this article is a few years old. Presumably we have got bluetooth microphones now? Or some other kind of wireless? Connecting cables seems a bit 20th century….

    1. Hi Steve, bt mics are still a bit flaky… unless you spend a LOT of money… prone to disconnections and latency. I still favour wired mics for video work for the same reason… there’s a greater chance of them working. The holy grail is a wireless mic with a good battery…

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