With a smartphone in your pocket, you always have a powerful video and audio recorder at hand. Recording sound on your smartphone can help you save an interview, create an impromptu podcast, chronicle a semester's lectures, and greatly enhance your home videos.
In all of these scenarios, poor audio quality has the power to undo your efforts. When you try to transcribe an interview, you miss words and phrases; when sharing audio with an audience, listeners will be frustrated by low volume or intrusive background noise. The same goes for filming videos: you don't want distorted noise to spoil your vacation clips.
That doesn't mean you have to carry a full recording studio with you, though. A few tweaks can greatly improve your phone's ability to record high-quality sound. Just tweak a few settings, download a few well-chosen apps, and invest in a portable microphone. Here are the apps and gadgets you need.
The basics of good tone
Smartphones don't have fantastic built-in microphones. But even before you even start downloading apps and purchasing products, there are a few steps you can take to maximize the quality of the incoming sound.
First of all, you should know where your phone's microphones are. You can usually find them on the bottom of the phone, where you speak, and by the cameras. Next, make sure that these entrances are not obstructed by sleeves, fingers, or other utensils. Once they are free, be sure to point them at your main source of sound.
Also, pay attention to the environment in which you are recording. Careful construction could reduce distracting noises such as wind noise or people chattering in the background. You won't always have time to get the area you want to record quiet. Try to amplify the sounds you want to pick up and muffle the sounds you don't want to pick up.
Even something as simple as getting closer to your subject can make your audio sound a lot better than it would from a distance. If you're at a public speaking event, don't try to pick up the speaker from the twentieth row - move yourself and your phone as close to the front of the room as possible.
Finally, before you start recording on your smartphone, mute the device or put it on airplane mode. You don't want to interrupt your recording with the ping of a new message or the rattling vibration of an incoming call.
Applications and settings
Due to the hardware limitations of the microphone in your phone, an external recording program can only do as much as it can. Therefore, when capturing video, your phone's default camera application will capture audio just as well as any other capture application. However, some external applications provide useful options and settings that you can tweak to maximize sound quality.
On iOS, the built-in voice memo application can record perfect sound, and you can improve it even further - just not within the application itself.
Go to Settings> Voice Memos> Audio Quality and change the quality to Lossless.
For more control, Voice Record Pro (iOS only, free or € 7 for an ad-free version) offers a start screen on which you can make various settings. Tinker with the gain control to keep distortion to a minimum, or increase the sample rate, bit rate, and encoding quality to improve the fidelity of your final recording.
Also worth mentioning is the Voice Recorder & Audio Editor (iOS only, free or €5 for an ad-free version with additional audio formats). It doesn't give you as much control over the output format as Voice Record Pro, but it's easy to use and does a good job of managing multiple recordings. The app also transcribes audio to text for you...if you pay the $5 upgrade fee.
On Android, Titanium Recorder (Android only, free, with ads) offers one of the most complete sound recording solutions. Tap the menu button (three dots) in the top right and go to Settings. Here you can adjust the sample rate, bit rate and gain to capture as much detail as possible for your recorded audio.
Another excellent option is Recforge II (Android only, free or € 3 for an ad-free version with longer recordings), which combines user control with automatic settings. This app allows you to configure the recording format and bit rate by tapping the menu button (three lines) in the top left and opening Settings. That way, you can also decide whether you want the app to record through all of your device's microphones or just one of them. The app alone can automatically control the gain settings. However, if you choose the free version, you won't be able to record clips that are longer than three minutes - you will have to sign up to upgrade.
Adding an external microphone is the main way to improve the sound quality of your phone. So if you want to add great sound to your videos and voice recordings, you need to invest in a good microphone.
First, you need to choose a microphone that will work with your phone. That said, it must have a Lightning connector if you want to use it with a current iPhone, and it needs a USB-C connector to work with most modern Android phones. While the cost of a microphone is usually a good indicator of its quality, a few other factors also play a role. In addition to the price of a potential buyer, you should also check the frequency response (the bandwidth of the audible sounds) and the sample rate (the fidelity of the recorded sound).
If your primary plan is to record the sound of a person speaking, look for a directional microphone, sometimes called a shotgun microphone. You can literally point this type of recording device at the audio source. If you want to record a wider area, such as when you are planning to shoot a movie or record the sounds of crowds, the directional microphone is not quite as useful.
For voice recording, the portable Sennheiser HandMic Digital (€228 on Amazon) is great for recording interviews, and it connects directly to an iPhone. For more sensitivity, try a lavalier microphone that attaches unobtrusively to a lapel or shirt. I like the Saramonic LavMicro-U1B ($50 on Amazon) which connects to most Android phones via USB-C.
To capture a wider range of sounds, I recommend the Shure MV88+ ($250 on Amazon), which comes with a Windjammer accessory to reduce howling wind noise. It plugs directly into your iPhone's Lightning port. A cheaper option is the iRig Mic Cast (€30 on Amazon). While it works well, this device requires a 3.5mm audio jack - if your phone doesn't have one, you'll need a USB-C or Lightning adapter.
If you only buy one device, buy a microphone...portable tripods can keep your phone stable in the field. And any kind of object - homemade or bought - that blocks the wind from hitting the microphone will help.