So you want to record better audio on your smartphone? Let’s talk about how to pick the best external microphone to improve the audio of your specific smartphone!
Choosing the best microphone for your smartphone is simplified in the following steps:
- Know the microphone type needed.
- Determine the audio connection type.
- If need be, figure out how to physically attach the mic to the phone and/or accessories.
- Research compatibility and if software is needed.
- Stay within your budget.
In this article, we’ll dive deep into each of the 5 steps for choosing the best microphone for your smartphone. While doing so, we’ll look at popular smartphone microphone models as well as accessories that will help to improve our learning experience.
Though I won’t recommend any microphones in this article per se, this piece should put you in an excellent position to make your own choice of an external microphone for your smartphone.
Be sure to check out My New Microphone’s article How Do Microphones Work? (The Ultimate Illustrated Guide)!
Why Are External Microphones Better Than Internal Smartphone Mics?
Smartphones do not have high-quality microphones in their designs. These mics are inexpensive electret microphones (typically made with MEMS technology).
To read more about the stock microphones in smartphones, check out my article What Kind Of Microphones Are Used In Cell Phones?
Smartphone MEMS mics are mass produced and work find for most phone applications (like talking on the phone). However, they have limited frequency responses; poor signal-to-noise ratios; and significant compression, limiting, and distortion.
For more information on frequency response, check out Complete Guide To Microphone Frequency Response (With Mic Examples).
For more information on signal-to-noise ratio, check out What Is A Good Signal-To-Noise Ratio For A Microphone?
In other words, microphones are an essential part of any smartphone, but they are by no means the most important part. So long as they work and allow for speech intelligibility (which they all do), I would consider them appropriate for a phone.
External microphones, on the contrary, are designed with audio capture in mind. The manufacturers of these transducers focus on how to convert sound waves into audio signals in the most accurate and effective way possible.
So why are external microphones better than internal smartphone mics? Because they are [typically] of higher-quality and do a much better job at capturing audio. External mics also generally have more functionality and can often be positioned away from the smartphone, rather than positioned inside it.
Note that this is an article on how to choose the best microphone. To learn more about actually connecting external microphones to smartphones, check out my article How To Connect An External Microphone To A Smartphone.
With that being said, let’s dive into the 5 steps of choosing the best external microphone for your smartphone!
Know The Microphone Type Needed
Certain mic types are better suited for audio recording applications than others. When determining the best microphone for your smartphone, it’s important to consider the application in which the microphone will be used.
Let’s look at some common mic type examples:
- Lavalier mic: lavalier mics (otherwise known as lapel or body mics) clip-on or attach directly to a person speaking. They are designed to be an inconspicuous option (they are often hidden) for close-miking sound sources. Lav mics are often wireless.
To learn more about lavalier microphones, check out my article How And Where To Attach A Lavalier/Lapel Microphone.
- Desktop mic: “desktop mic” is a loose term to refer to any mic that would be positioned on a table or on a mic stand. These mics are great for monologue, interviews, and music.
- Handheld mic: handheld mics are a great choice for smartphones when the application has to do with on-the-go reporting or interviewing. Handheld mics are often wireless.
- Attached/clip-on mic: for lack of a better term, “attached/clip-on mics” are those external mics that attach directly to the smartphone or the smartphone’s accessories. These mics easily improve the stock audio of the smartphone while also maintaining their position as the smartphone moves.
- Stereo mic: stereo mics allow for an arguably more realistic audio capture since we naturally hear in stereo (two ears) rather than in mono.
To learn more about microphones and stereo, please consider reading my articles Do Microphones Output Mono Or Stereo Signals? and Top 8 Best Stereo Miking Techniques (With Recommended Mics).
- Wireless mic: wireless mics are advantageous any time we need to close-mic a source at a distance from the camera. There are wireless mic systems that have receivers to connect directly to the smartphone. There are also now bluetooth microphones on the market that connect directly to the smartphone itself.
For more information on wireless mics, check out my articles How Do Wireless Microphones Work? and How To Connect A Wireless Microphone To A Computer (+ Bluetooth Mics).
So depending on the situation, a microphone within a certain above-mentioned category will likely be “better” than a more capable mic of another category. This is critical to keep in mind when choosing the best external mic for your smartphone!
Determine The Audio Connection Type
It’s important to know the type of audio connection that is required when connecting an external microphone to your smartphone.
There are 3 main methods to connect an external microphone to our smartphone. This largely depends on the smartphone in question:
- 3.5 mm headphone jack.
- Charging port (Lightning, USB-C, micro-USB, Dock connector, etc.).
Since Apple first decided to omit headphone jacks from their phones with the iPhone 7 in 2016, many other smartphone manufacturers have followed suit.
Samsung has held out for a long time, but even they’ve began removing the headphone jack from their Galaxy smartphone designs, starting in 2019.
That being said, the standard headphone jack is a 3.5 mm (1/8″) TRRS (Tip-Ring-Ring-Sleeve) connection. Though, as the name suggests, this jack is most often used as an output for headphones, it can also work as an input for microphones (and as an input/output for headsets that contain headphones and a microphone).
Headphone jacks are analog audio connections. If a smartphone has a headphone jack, it certainly has an analog-to-digital converter and a digital-to-analog converter immediately inside the phone.
For your information, the TRRS connection is typically configured in one of two ways:
- Tip: Left headphone
- Ring: Right headphone
- Ring: Microphone
- Sleeve: Ground
OMTP is known as the “old standard” and is used in old model smartphones by Nokia, Samsung, and Sony.
- Tip: Left headphone
- Ring: Right headphone
- Ring: Ground
- Sleeve: Microphone
CTIA is known as the “newer standard” and is used in smartphones by Apple, HTC, LG, Blackberry as well as newer models of Nokia, Samsung, Jolla, Sony, and Microsoft. It is also used with most Android phones.
As stated above, many smartphone manufacturers have discontinued headphone jacks in their product designs. The only hardwired connection available for microphones in these new smartphones is the charging port.
Most new smartphones have either a Lightning port (Apple iPhones); a USB Type-C port; or a micro-USB port for charging purposes. These same ports can be and are used to connect external microphones.
The Lightning port is an 8-pin digital connector design by Apple Inc. and has been the standard charging port for iPhones since the iPhone 5 in 2012.
The USB Type-C port is a 24-pin two-fold rotationally-symmetrical USB design that has been around since 2014. Most new (non-Apple) smartphones have adopted USB-C over the old standard micro-USB.
Micro-A and micro-B USB connectors have been around since 2007. They each have 5 pins. As mentioned above, micro-USB is somewhat outdated as a smartphone charging port.
As shown above, there is a market for hardwired smartphone microphones!
Lastly, it’s possible to connect a microphone to your smartphone via wireless bluetooth technology.
That being said, the market for bluetooth microphones is still small and many bluetooth microphones act like regular wireless mic systems with a transmitter and receiver. These systems require the receiver to be hardwired to the smartphone (via the headphone jack or charging port).
Adapting To The Proper Hardwired Connection
There’s a bit of an issue with connecting microphones to smartphones: most smartphones today have digital inputs (Lighting, USB-C, etc.) while microphones often have analog outputs (not only 3.5 mm TRRS, but also XLR).
So connecting an external microphone to a smartphone often requires an adapter. These adapters act as analog-to-digital converters, changing the analog mic signal to digital audio for use in the smartphone.
Let’s look at some examples here:
The chargeworx 3.5 mm TRRS to Lightning adapter can be used to connect analog 3.5 mm TRRS mics to iPhones.
The Benfei 3.5 mm TRRS to USB-C adapter can be used to connect analog 3.5 mm TRRS mics to new non-iPhone smartphones.
The LyxPro XLRF to 3.5 mm TRRS can be used to connect regular XLR microphones to smartphones with a headphone jack (or be used in conjunction with the above adapters to connect to smartphone charging ports). Note that this cable also features a stereo 3.5 mm headphone jack for monitoring.
For microphones that require phantom power, there are preamp options with XLRF to 3.5 mm TRRS adapters. The IK Multimedia iRig Pre is one such option:
To learn more about microphones and phantom power, check out Do Microphones Need Phantom Power To Work Properly?
If Need Be, Figure Out How To Physically Attach The Mic To The Phone And/Or Its Accessories
A major issue people have with attachable smartphone microphones is that the mics do not attach properly if the phone is in any type of protective case. This is concerning. Personally, I never remove my smartphone from its case unless I’m quickly cleaning it.
Smartphones are pretty fragile and a protective case is pretty standard to keep the phone safe. When using the microphone as a recording device, I would argue the need for a protective case increases rather than decreases.
So, if you plan on purchasing and/or using an attachable microphone, at least be aware that the removal of the protective case may be necessary.
Sometimes this means attaching the mic directly to the smartphone’s audio input. Other times this means securing the mic to the smartphone accessories such as the tripod mount.
Let’s look at an example in the Zoom iQ6:
The Zoom iQ6 fits connects via Lightning and fits snug against the iPhone. However, if the iPhone has a protective case, the iQ6 would not be able to fit properly against the phone and the connection would not be possible.
Some microphones will attach to the “accessories” of the smartphone, like the tripod mount, for example. Eachshot has a solid inexpensive kit that can hold the smartphone (with its protective case) in place while also holding the microphone in place above it.
Note in the Eachshot kit pictured above that the microphone actually has a 3.5 mm TRRS output that requires an adapter to connect to the iPhone’s Lightning port. Note also that the iPhone is not inside a protective case, though it very well could be!
Research Compatibility And If Software Is Needed
Though most microphones are considered “plug-and-play,” some microphones require software to function properly with a smartphone.
Many microphones designed for use in a smartphone come with their won recording app software for the phone, but usually this isn’t necessary.
That being said, it’s important to keep this in mind when researching the microphone that would best serve your smartphone.
Microphones that output analog audio (like those with TRRS plugs or XLR outputs) do not require any software. The mics that connect wirelessly via bluetooth or hardwired via charging ports sometimes have their software.
Let’s look at an example in the Hey Mic!:
The Hey Mic! is a miniature clip-on microphone that transmits its audio via bluetooth. In order to connect this microphone to your smartphone, however, we must use the Hey Mic! iOS video app (for iPhones) or 3rd party apps (for Android phones).
Stay Within Your Budget
When making any purchase, it’s important to stay within your budget.
As always, I suggest doing your research and choosing the microphone with the best value that best suits your needs!
To recap this article, let’s go through the 5 steps one more time:
- Know the microphone type needed: this depends on what and how you plan on recording audio.
- Determine the audio connection type: what input(s) are available on your smartphone? Is there a headphone jack; what kind of charging port does the phone have; and does the phone supports apps and/or bluetooth? What adapters do you require?
- If need be, figure out how to physically attach the mic to the phone and/or accessories: Basically, how comfortable are you with removing the protective case of your smartphone in order to attach the microphone.
- Research compatibility and if software is needed: if software is require, it may interfere with recording audio in other softwares within the smartphone.
- Stay within your budget: don’t spend money you don’t have on an external microphone.