I enjoy doing audio recording especially when I’m traveling. And while the built-in microphone on the iPhone five is certainly adequate for short clips it really fall short when you wan to get a proper sense of the world around you and if you want to do anything like recording an interview. To achieve far better results you really do need to use an external microphone.
There are two types of microphones you can attach to an iPhone or iPad or for that matter likely any digital device. You can either plug a microphone into the devices headphone jack or in the case of the iPhones and iPads their lightning port. Plugging into the headphone jack will certainly work and the microphones that are available for that option are easily gotten and usually cheaper. However plugging into the headphone jack which is the analog input is going to result in microphones that are also noisier.
If you can plug directly into a digital jack in this case the lighting port (on your computer it is going to be USB port) you are more likely to get cleaner signal because you can put a better analog-to-digital converter into your microphone and then have no additional corruption of the signal as it goes through the digital input of the lightning port. These microphones do tend to be a little more expensive but the gain in audio quality is worthwhile. Until recently there were no lightning equipped microphones for the iPhone five. Zoom released last spring there IQ5 stereo microphone to be used with lightning equipped iPhones and iPads. Since then a couple of companies have joined the market notably Blue and Rode.
I purchased a Zoom IQ5 a few months ago and I’ve been using it with pretty good results overall once you learn the quirks of the microphone. All microphones have idiosyncrasies and it does take time to learn how best to use them under varied conditions. This is especially true when you’re working in the field typically outside or the very least in environments where you have no control over the ambient sound around you.
The Zoom I Q5 is a stereo microphone using two electret condenser microphones that you can configure into two different stereo patterns or to record mono. You also have control over the input gain on the microphone. You can either set it to auto, set it to be a limit which you have control, or you can turn to manual and set the gain using a knob which is what I prefer to do.
There is an addition a headphone monitoring jack on the IQ5 to monitor the sound you are getting. While there is no latency the sound monitoring is of somewhat limited value since the monitor is at full volume. It doesn’t change as you adjust the gain on the microphone. For that reason it’s best to look at the recording level meters of your favorite audio app whatever it might be.
Zoom has created an audio recording app that they use with their microphone and that app called HandyRecorder does take advantage of some of the microphone features. However, I find the app rather limited in its usefulness especially since you cannot easily export the audio recordings you make from the app to other apps on the iPhone. There are a plethora of audio recording apps out there I tend to use TwistedWave myself or sometimes Multitrack DAW. There is also on the Zoom IQ5 a little red LED that flashes when you are peaking. It’s of somewhat limited value because when you position the microphone for best recording if you’re recording yourself, you can adjust the microphone and several different orientations forward and back up and down, it’s likely you will not be able to see the LED flashing on and off when the mic is speak. Just another reason to carefully watch the levels on your favorite recording app. However, if you can see the LED it’s little blink will be a helpful tool. If you’re serious about your audio recording you are almost certainly going to want to buy a windscreen for the microphone.
While they look incredibly silly I do recommend purchasing a Redhead windscreen. It’s in the style of the Rode Dead Kitten windscreens which means it’s incredibly bushy and a little silly looking. However it does cut down wind noise and dramatically reduces plosive sounds. Plosives are those exploding “P” and “B “ sounds. It also cuts down on sibilants the “S” sound from snake or sister. While the microphone will work fine without a windscreen it works far better if you can cut down unwanted ambient noise.
(Samples from the IQ5 microphone with the windscreen, then without a windscreen, then just the built-in microphone.)
The build quality of the IQ5 does feel a little bit plasticky because the microphone is plastic. However, it has proven to be robust easily handling jouncing around in my pocket or in my small camera bag with other travel accessories. If you are serious about improving the quality of your audio not only for your audio recording but for your video recording too spending $99 for the Zoom IQ5 microphone and another $35 for a Redhead windscreen is probably well worth considering. Links to both we’ll be in the show notes.