How to Record High-Quality Audio with Your Smartphone

Smartphones can shoot cinematic images, but when it comes to audio, they come up short. Here are tips to improve your sound.

For a majority of content creators, the smartphone is their only device to capture video and still images. Thankfully, the cameras inside our iPhones and Android devices don't slouch when it comes to quality. And when you add in apps like FiLMiC Pro and some helpful tips from No Film School, they can be darn right cinematic.

But when it comes to the audio quality that our phones can record, there's a lot of room for improvement. One of the biggest weaknesses of smartphones is that their microphone is omnidirectional, which refers to the sensitivity or polar pattern of the mic. An omnidirectional pattern picks up sound from all sides, so there's little control over what audio the phone records.

Compare that to a shotgun microphone that has a cardioid pattern, which has a more directional pattern and rejects any sound that's coming from behind. 

So out of the box, your smartphone is already at a disadvantage. However, there are several ways to improve the audio that your smartphone records. Check out the video below and meet back up after the jump. 

Voiceovers

Recording voiceovers doesn't need an elaborate set-up with an expensive microphone and a soundproof room. Believe us, that's a way better solution, but if you're like us, you may not have the budget for it. 

In the past, we've suggested placing a microphone in your closet in between hanging clothes to help reduce ambient noise. This is a cheap and effective way to create a soundproofed room in the comfort of your own home. When it comes to smartphones, their microphones are much smaller so you can get away with the concept by placing it on a couch and building a fort around your phone with the cushions. 

As the video points out, if you speak close enough to the microphone it can sound good. But before you go recording all your lines, it's best to do a test-run to make sure the setup works. You may need to adjust the distance you're speaking into the microphone if your voice sounds muffled. 

Be sure to check your audio setting as well. If there's an option to record WAV files instead of mp3, do that. If WAV is not an option, record to the highest quality mp3 setting that's available.

You can also download apps that are more intuitive than the default app on your phone. For Apple users, VoiceRecord Pro is solid, and for Android users, check out RecForce II

Adding a Microphone  

While you're building your couch-fort, check underneath the cushions for any loose change. Any you find can go toward a separate microphone to attach to your smartphone. 

Adding an external mic is going to make a world of difference. The quality that you can achieve by simply incorporating an inexpensive mic like the RØDE VideoMicro ($59) is going to be a vast improvement. In fact, if you're a vlogger or content creator, we absolutely recommend adding an onboard mic to your smartphone. Your audience will always be okay if the quality of your video isn't up to speed, but when it comes to audio, if it sucks, they're going to stop watching. 

Besides an external mic, you can plug a lavalier directly into the input of your phone. Some lavs come with a 3.5mm input, lighting connector, or a USB-C connector. Many people like the RØDE SmartLav and we do too. It runs about $79 and you can get fantastic results. But if that price is too steep, the Boya BY-M2 for $39 as well as the Deity V.lav for $49 are options we highly recommend. The Azden EX-503i is also worth a look at $41. 

If you need a wireless solution, RØDE offers the Wireless GO. However, there is a caveat. To use it with a smartphone you will need the SC7 TRS to TRRS patch cable. But that cable only works for phones with a 3.5mm input. To use it with newer iPhones, you will need to adapt using the SC6-L or the Apple lighting to 3.5mm adapter. With the SC6-L, it does allow you to record two audio inputs at once. 

Another wireless solution is the Sennheiser Memory Mic. The wireless transmitter has a built-in microphone that you can attach to your talent, and the audio is recorded through the Sennheiser Memory Mic App, which is available for Android or Apple devices.

Azden has the Pro-XR, a 2.4GHz wireless system that's compact enough for smartphones and doesn't break the bank at $249. 

Steven Soderbergh films 'High Flying Bird' with Bill Duke and André Holland on a smartphone Credit: Netflix

Separate Audio Setup

No matter how expensive the camera, having a separate audio setup for your production can go a long way. If you're a filmmaker shooting with a smartphone, you can treat your workflow the same way you would if you were shooting on a mirrorless or high-end cinema camera. 

There are many microphone types available, but when it comes to shooting narrative work, a shotgun microphone is best. But bear in mind, there is a lot more involved.

Not only will you need the shotgun mic, but you'll also want to get a boom pole, shock mount, windscreen, a separate audio recorder like a Zoom H4n Pro, and of course, memory cards to record the audio. On top of that, you'll need a sound person to work the boom and record the audio, which will need to be synced later in post. 

If you are shooting a film with a smartphone, we do recommend a separate setup. For one, it provides the camera operator with the freedom to move when it comes to framing a subject. With only an onboard mic, you can only be so far away for dialog scenes before the audio quality suffers. On top of that, if your smartphone isn't rigged properly, the internal or onboard microphone can pick up the handling noise from the operator. 

If you can't afford a separate setup, one tip to consider is placing a plant microphone nearby the talent to record the audio separately, which can be added to the edit. A plant mic can be as simple as another smartphone, or something more involved like a wireless transmitter with a lav and receiver, or a microphone plugged into a separate recorder like your phone. 

Some of our favorite shotguns include the RØDE NTG5 and NTG4+ on the inexpensive end, the Sennheiser MKH-416 and Sanken CS-2 at mid-range, and the Schoeps CMIT 5U, aka "that Blue mic," on the high end.

Summary

A smartphone is a valuable tool for any creator, allowing you to capture the fondest of memories. When it comes to audio, however, you'll need to consider your recording environment. If it's quiet, you might be able to get away with the internal mic on your phone. If quality is a concern, it's better to attach a separate microphone altogether. And if you plan on shooting a film or doc with your phone, consider a separate audio solution altogether

Remember, if your audience can't hear your story, you lost them.      

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