I’ve been using a Zoom Handy Recorder H4n audio recorder and Sony ECM-MS907 microphone to record interviews for the travel podcast Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer.

But when I travel, I like to carry as little gear as possible, so I asked fellow travel writer, Dick Jordan (Tales Told from the Road), who shoots video with his iPhone, about using my iPhone instead of my (heavier, bulkier) Zoom. Here is Dick’s incredibly detailed and well-thought-through response — which he has allowed me to share.

Why Use an iPhone?

While using an iPhone instead of your Zoom recorder may appeal to you because it would be one less piece of gear to lug around, the Zoom might still be a better piece of gear to use because:

  • The Zoom might produce higher quality sound than the iPhone.
  • Since you need your phone to make calls or connect to the Internet, extended audio recording could run the battery down before you have time to plug it in and recharge it. Unless you can connect the phone to a power source during recording, you may need to buy an external battery case for the iPhone (I use ones from Mophie; Apple now makes one of its own for the iPhone 6 and 6S) or a portable charger (they very in style, size, and how fast they can recharge a phone) to prevent your phone from running out of power. This will add either size/weight to your phone, or be another piece of gear to remember to pack (and not lose).
  • You may need or want to use a different mike with your iPhone than the one you’ve used with your Zoom recorder.
  • The cost of additional gear you might need in order to record with your iPhone might not be worth it.
  • You may find that it is actually easier to use the Zoom recorder than recording audio with your iPhone.

Headphones

Headphones are great for monitoring audio levels. You may want to use one with either an iPhone or your Zoom recorder (if it has a headphone jack), but you will have another, perhaps somewhat bulky gadget to carry with you.

I use Sony MDR-7506 over-the-ear headphones (recommended by Allen Bronstein who taught the BAIPA video class with me in July). They have both large and small tips for plugging into different sized audio jacks.

They are comfortable, not too expensive, and come with their own carrying/storage bag. (I think the Community Media Center of Marin uses the same or similar model headphones). But they definitely aren’t super-small, so you might see if you can find something better suited for traveling “ultralight.”

Connecting Audio Gear to iPhone

Most audio recording devices and players have a TRS headphone/earbud jack, and many microphones have a TRS plug.

But smartphones like the iPhone have a TRRS jack. (This article shows the difference).

If you use an external microphone with your Zoom recorder, it may have a TRS plug. While such a microphone plug might fit into the iPhone jack, the microphone won’t actually record into an iPhone app.

If that’s the case, you will need a TRS-TRRS adapter. As far as I know, only one company (kVConnection) makes them, and you have to order online and have it shipped to you.

There are several different types of iPhone adapters, some designed for microphones that draw power from phones, some that have internal power. If you want to connect both a microphone and headphones to your iPhone, you need to purchase an adapter that will work with the specific type of microphone that you are using, as well as the headphones.

Microphones

If your existing microphone won’t work with an iPhone, here are some options to consider.

RØDE, an Australian company, makes many different microphones, some designed specifically for the iPhone.

The RØDE i-XY dual stereo microphone plugs into an iPhone 30-pin or Lighting connector (although the specs don’t indicate whether it will work with the latest 6/6S iPhone models). I don’t think the mike itself has a headphone jack, so you’d plug headphones into the iPhone’s earbud/mike jack for monitoring during recording. The downside is that you wouldn’t be able to charge the phone’s battery while recording since the mike plugs into the where the charging cable attaches to the phone.

I have a pair of RØDE smartLav+ microphones. The smartLav+ mike draws its power from the phone, but I doubt that it draws the phone battery down very fast, and the advantage is you don’t have to carry spare mike batteries or worry about the mike quitting in the middle of an interview because its internal battery died. The smartLav+ cable (about 3′ long) is shorter than the 20′ one on another lav mike I have, so I bought a SC1 extension cable for both smartLav+ mikes.

I also have a RØDE SC6 plug that lets me connect two smartLav+ mikes and headphones through the earbud/mike jack on my iPhone. Since you want to include your voice, as well as the interviewee’s in your recording, two smartLav+ mikes and the SC6 might work well for you, and they are very small and lightweight.

In addition to making recorders, Zoom has an iQ5 microphone that, like the RØDE i-XY, plugs into the iPhone’s Lighting connector (and which works with at least the 5/5S, 6 and 6 Plus). It has a headphone jack for monitoring during recording.

iRig that makes microphones for iPhones/iPads.

Plugging in Through an iPhone Case

If your iPhone is inside a case, particularly a supplemental battery case (like a Mophie), you may find that your microphone or mike/headphone adapter won’t fit far enough through the hole in the case to actually connect to the phone and operate. If so, you’ll need an extension plug. (Although my Mophie case came with such an extender to use with iPhone earbuds, I found it didn’t work with all of my other audio gear, so I bought another extender at Electronics Plus in San Rafael.)

iPhone Recording Apps

I use the $9.99 TwistedWave Audio Editor iPhone/iPad app which was recommended to me by Allen Bronstein.

I’ve used TwistedWave to record voice-over narration for my video projects. I e-mail them from the phone to myself, download the e-mail to my iMac computer, detach the audio files, and drop them into iMovie.

RØDE, Zoom and iRig also make apps to go with their iPhone mikes.

Several other companies make iPhone audio recording apps, too.

The key thing to look for is whether the app allows headphone monitoring during recording, not just listening during playback. TwistedWave does.

If you need to record in stereo, make sure the app permits that. Twisted Wave does (although I haven’t used that feature).

Stands

Unless you want to hold your iPhone in your hand, or set it down on top of a table/desk, you probably should use some type of stand/tripod to hold it during recording.

iRig makes stands/cases for holding the phone/iPad.

Joby makes a variety of mounts and mini-tripods that are designed to hold smartphones while shooting video, but should work for recording audio as long as it allows the phone to tilt to vertical so you can easily use an audio recording app.

When recording voice-over narration for my videos, I’ve attached my iPhone 5 to a tripod with an Olloclip Quick-Flip case iPhone 5 that I bought to shoot video with the phone mounted on a tripod.

Square Jelly Fish also makes tripods/mounts to hold phones while filming, but which could be used to hold the phone during audio recording as well.

If you are going to buy a stand/tripod/mount, and are using any kind of a case (esp. a battery case) on your iPhone, make sure that it can fit around the “encased” phone.

Where to Buy Stuff

kVConnection adapters are only sold through online purchases directly from the company. Most of the other gear I’ve mentioned can be purchased through Amazon.com (sometimes at a significant saving, particularly if you are an Amazon Prime member and are entitled to free shipping).

BestBuy sells some of these items, but if you see one listed as “Marketplace,” it means it isn’t actually in stock a company retail stores, such as the one in San Rafael, and you’ll have to order it online and have it shipped to you.

Bananas At Large on 4th Street in San Rafael sells some microphones.


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