Audio for Mobile Video

Audio is always a problem with Smartphones and Tablets. The in-device mics are useless for video production. While the jack on your iPhone or iPad appears to be a standard mini-jack, it is not. It requires something called a 3.5mm 4 conductor TRRS connection. As a consequence, there is an entire ecosystem of accessories that has blossomed around overcoming the audio limitations of your phone. (Click HERE for an entire list of video accessories for your phone.)

 

We are beginning to see lavalier microphones designed specifically for smartphones and tablets. The Gold Pro Tie Clip Lapel Lavalier mic from Micronic comes with a gold plated TRRS 4-pin plug (the connection on your iPhone’s and iPad’s headphone jack) so no KV adapter is required. Cord lengths vary from 3 to 90 feet, and the microphone is available as either omnidirectional or cardioid unidirectional microphones. This is a UK based company and you purchase directly from the manufacturer. Price for the cardioid version with shipping to North America is approximately $55.

 

The Rode SmartLav microphone is a bit more expensive. Like Micronic’s mic, this lavalier is designed specifically for production using mobile phones.The mic cable is less than 4 feet in length, which is fine for most head-and-shoulders framed interviews. But if you are looking to place the camera more than arm’s length away you will need to purchase an separate TRRS headphone extension cable. This microphone appears to have been designed only with digital audio recording in mind, rather than video production, as evidenced by this snappy product video. The expected audio only production path is the likely explanation for the unreasonably short cord. Price is $60

 

At some point in time you will need an audio cable to extend the reach of your microphone. One example is the TRRS Headset Extension Cable by StarTech. A cable like this extends your microphone’s cable length when shooting. Because you are using microphones that leverage the special TRRS connector, you need to ensure your cable has the same connections. Unfortunately, a standard headphone cable from the electronics store rarely works. A TRRS cable like this is less than $7 and will afford you the flexibility to get the shot you are after without the hassles of trying to use the wrong cord.

 

Click on image to visit the Micronic sales site.

This $25 cable from KV Connection is a must if you are using  standard TRS connector microphone (like the Pearstone or Audio Technica mics described below.) The TRS-type connector is used for most headphones, earbuds and low-cost microphones.

 

Unfortunately, most smartphones and tablets require a TRRS connector. To use a low-cost microphone you need a converter cable like this KV cable to connect your mic to your phone.

 

It is easy to tell the difference between the two once you know what to look for… simply count the number of metal sections on the pin. The TRS has 3 sections, and the TRRS has 4. Click on the image above to see the difference. Be it iPhone, iPad, Touch, S5, S5 or Windows Phone, you can’t simply plug in a mic and have it work. It needs an adapter to connect the microphone to the smartphone.

Click on image to visit the KV Connection sales site.

The Pearstone OLM-10 Omnidirectional Lavalier Microphone is one heck of a bargain. This $25 investment, paired with the KV connector, will make a significant difference in your video. If you audience can’t understand your story they will leave. A mic like this will keep them listening to your video.

 

The Audio-Technica ATR-3350 lav microphone is also a very cost effective solution for good audio when shooting an interview or talking head… especially when using a small format pocket camera like the Kodak Zi8 or Zi10. At $24-$30 it is very affordable.

 

Most of these lower cost microphones use a small hearing-aid-type battery for power. Unfortunately the on-off switch is left on or turns itself on in transit. Murphy’s Law says the battery will be dead when you need it most. It is recommended with the Pearstone or similar-type mic that you carry extra batteries with you.   I keep my mics in a small bag (Ziplock sandwich or makeup bag) to hold my mic, the clip, the windscreen and a spare battery or two. It will save your shoot sometime.

Click on image to see the Pearstone Microphone

IK Multimedia has rolled out a hand-held iRig microphone that plugs directly into your iPhone or Android device. It comes with a special connector with the TRRS plug and a headphone jack built into it. The headphone jack only works during playback (no monitoring your video recording, unfortunately) but it is a quick way to check your work without having to swap cables in and out.

 

If you are shooting with a later model iPhone (one with a lightning connection like the 5, 5d, & 6) you may find that the iRig Mic HD is a better fit. It is a hand-held condenser mic with a 24-bit A/D signal converter. Solid metal construction improves the durability ot the mic.

 

IK Multimedia also sells the iRig Mic HD-A that connects to your Android device via an OTG cable. The microphone's body is made of metal, rather than plastic, and it affords you the flexibility to record in either 44 or 48k sample rates.

Click on image to see the iRig Microphone

Often I am in a situation where I would like to leverage one of my professional microphones. Most require something called phantom power (a low voltage external power source) and the KV cable won’t cut it. IK Multimedia has a solution, the iRig Pre, a small preamplifier that connects your XLR microphone to your device (Android or Apple). It has 48v Phantom Power using a 9v battery and runs only $36.

At $400 this solution is not cheap, but if you expect to be in a variety of difficult audio situations a great pre-amp is worth its weight in gold. The juicedLink RA222 Riggy-Assist Dual-XLR Preamplifier has both phantom power and an audio meter. Designed for use with DSLRs, it works great in the small form factor of mobile production when paired with the KV cable. I would expect for you to be shooting often to justify the expense, but it will save you from bad production over and over.

The Apogee Duet is an audio interface, headphone amp and MIDI interface that makes it easy to create professional recordings on your iPod touch, iPhone, iPad or Mac. The digital audio conversion and mic preamps affords a way to capture high quality audio with your device.

 

The Duet leverages circuitry designed to deliver professional performance for iPad use along with low latency USB 2.0 performance for Mac.

 

For an in-depth video tutorial on how to get the best audio with your smart phone click on the thumbnail to the left. This excerpt, from a 90-minute training video on how to use your smartphone for video production, will help you to better understand overcoming the challenges of shooting video with your phone.

Finally, one note about audio quality when using any of the mobile video solutions currently in the market. The pre-amps in most smartphones tend to be a bit noisy, so expect some hiss in the noise-floor of your recording. The noise usually has more to do with your handset and less to do with your microphone. But a bad microphone in phone is only marginally better than a no external mic. I recommend you select the best mic you can afford. It will make a significant difference to the quality of your videos.

© STORYGUIDE 2016