Jonathan is a certified teacher who has taught in the UK and in the US. He now works as a digital learning consultant.
Moving Beyond Built-In Mics On iOS Devices
The built-in microphone on iOS devices definitely has its limitations. It doesn't always give you the range or depth of audio that you want, and the quality is mediocre at best. So, whether you are podcasting or recording video, there is no doubt that a good external microphone will greatly improve the quality of your audio. What follows are some of the best wired and wireless mics for iPad and iPhone users.
Connecting Microphones to an iPhone or iPad
If you're thinking that there is no way a USB microphone can work with an iPad, you would be wrong. Many do, and they work very well. How? With the help of Apple's Lightning to USB Camera Connector, you can successfully connect a variety of USB devices to use with your iPad. USB microphones are one such device.
Note that not all USB microphones will work with an iPhone and iPad. It just depends on how much power they draw from the device, but the majority will work just fine. For instance, Blue Microphones make a number of USB microphones that have been tested and confirmed to work with iOS devices using the Lightning to USB Camera adapter. The Blue Yeti and the Snowball are two such mics. They can record audio on an iPhone or iPad with exceptionally good results. Blue also make the Raspberry, which was created specifically for recording on iOS devices.
To get started, plug the lightning end of the USB camera connector into the charging port of the iPad, and then connect the microphone to the USB Camera Connector. You can now open the Camera app, or an audio app of your choice, to record high quality audio. If you have an iPad Pro, or the 2020 iPad Air, you can use a USB-C to USB-A adapter.
Connect XLR Mics to iOS via the iRig Pre/Pro
If you have microphones that use an XLR connector, you can use them with an iPad or iPhone, provided you invest in something like the iRig Pre HD or the iRig Pro I/O. Many schools and businesses have XLR mics as part of a PA system, so the iRig options can often be a very cost effective way to get some good quality audio recordings done on iOS devices.
The iRig Pre HD connects to the iPad or iPhone via the lightning port. If you have a protective case on the device, be sure that the connection is a good one and not obstructed in any way by the case. To connect the microphone, you plug it in to the bottom of the iRig Pre where the XLR connector is. You can adjust the gain (sensitivity) by using the adjustment wheel on the side of the unit, and even plug in some headphones so that you can monitor the audio recording in real time.
The video below gives a demo of how this works in practice and provides a number of examples to show how this might work.
Microphones for iPads & iPhones
If you would prefer not deal with adapters and pre-amps, there are a variety of microphones that will plug directly into your iOS device so that you can record audio quickly and efficiently. Things like the iRig Mic, Blue Microphone's Mikey Digital, or iRig's Mic Cast plug directly into the headphone jack or the charging port of your iPad to record audio. You can even have a lavelier or lapel style mic if you use the iRig Mic Lav, which is available as a single or dual microphone setup.
Some work a little better than others, but they are always an improvement over the audio you get with the built-in microphone because they are better at isolating sound recorded in a noisy environment. They also should give you recordings that are clearer and more professional. Of note, many of these microphones are lighter and more portable than traditional microphones, so that is another appealing feature.
Mr. Drozd, a high school teacher from New York, put together the video below to show a before and after comparison of the iRig Mic when plugged into an iPod Touch. The difference in quality, as you will hear, is clearly noticeable, even in a noisy environment like the one he chose for this test.
The iRig Mic: Before & After Comparison
Wireless Microphones for iPads and iPhones
So, can you go wireless with your iOS audio? Yes, and the quality is still very good. All you really need is a compatible Bluetooth microphone and receiver. Bluetooth microphones are a popular accessory for camcorders because they give you the flexibility to record your audio at greater distances. However, with only a small adaptation, you can use the very same microphones on an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch.
To get started, you need to turn on the microphone and the receiver and make sure that they are paired with each other over Bluetooth. The microphone should then be attached, or placed near, to the sound source you want to record. The receiver gets plugged into the headphone jack of the iOS device with the aid of a 3.5mm four-pin audio splitter.
The audio you get may not be quite as good as the audio you get with a wired microphone, but it is still much better than what you would get from the built-in microphone on your device, and you have the added bonus of being able to be much further away from your iOS device. This makes it a very useful solution for video work on an iPad or iPhone.
Check out the video below for a demonstration of how this works in practice.
Better iPhone & iPad Audio Without a Mic
Another way to get better audio on video that you record on an iPhone or iPad is to use an additional device like a smartphone or a digital audio recorder. You record your video like you normally would, but you record a second track of audio simultaneously on the voice memo app of a smartphone, or on a digital audio recorder, that is placed close to the subjects that you are recording.
When you are finished recording, open your favorite video editor, mute the audio on the video track and add the smartphone audio track as your main audio. Syncing this track can sometimes be a challenge, but once you get everything lined up the way you want it, you will see that your audio is markedly better than the distant, hollow sound you get with the built-in microphone on the recording device.
This method may not be an ideal solution for everyone, but if you forget your microphone, or want to record something quickly on the fly, then this is still a very valid option. It's also cost effective, because you can probably just use the smartphone that your subject already has in their pocket to record the secondary audio track.
Decisions, Decision, Decisions!
So, which one is best? The short answer is that it depends. I know that sounds like I am sitting on the fence, but it's true. It depends on your budget, the type of audio you are recording, the environment you are in, and the quality that you need. All of them offer better sound than Apple's built-in microphone, but each have their pros and cons depending on your needs.
However, whether you are recording green screen movies on your iPad, capturing audio from a musical instrument, or building segments for a podcast, an external microphone for the iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch is definitely the way to go.
Cast Your Vote in the iOS Microphone Poll
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Jonathan Wylie
DorcasJ on August 30, 2019:
Thanks for writing such an informative article. I admit, I’m still a little at a loss. I’m going to be using google hangouts on my iPad for interviews and meetings. I have a tablet stand to hold up the iPad, but I also want to get a microphone to clarify the sound on my end. What option is best for this? I would think that a mic that goes through the headphone jack would be a no-go, since I need to hear other people in the call? Or am I wrong? Would a usb mic be more appropriate? I hope I’m not asking too many questions
Jonathan Wylie (author) from Iowa, USA on July 08, 2019:
Although some of the latest iPads do have headphone jacks, (The iPad Air 2019 and the iPad Mini 2019 for instance), not all of them do. Sounds like you have a 2018 iPad Pro like me. It has a USB-C connector and no headphone jack.
You can still use your XLR mics with the suggestions in this article if you use a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter like this one: https://amzn.to/2LL8LgT because this will give you access to a headphone port.
Let me know if you have further questions,
Scott on July 08, 2019:
I would LOVE to use my XLR mics but the iPad does NOT have a headphone jack? Is this an old article?
Jonathan Wylie (author) from Iowa, USA on December 21, 2016:
I am not 100% sure but if you found a TRRS splitter, you should be able to add the mic to one input and headphones to the other. I would think that something like this would work, http://amzn.to/2igiw4y, but I haven't tested it. Worth a try...
Felicity La Rue on December 15, 2016:
Can someone please help me? I am using an ipad and I bought an IRIG Mic. It weill record audio, but how can i make it so I can listen to the audio as it is being reocrded?