Top 4 Best External (Lightning) Microphones For iPhone Audio


When recording audio (with or without video) directly to an iPhone, quality is often an issue. External microphones do a much better job at capturing audio compared to the built-in microphones of the iPhone, regardless of the iPhone model.

So what are the top 4 external microphones for iPhones?

  1. Apogee MiC 96k
  2. Shure MV88
  3. Zoom iQ7
  4. Boya DM-1 Lightning

Note that the above microphones are my top choices when connecting directly to an iPhone. However, there are plenty of mics on the market that will outperform the above 4 if we properly adapt them to connect to an iPhone. For this article, we’ll discuss the 4 best mics that are designed for use with the iPhone.

For more information on connecting external microphones to iPhones, check out my articles How To Connect An External Microphone To A Smartphone and How To Connect A Wireless Microphone To A Computer (+ Bluetooth Mics).

For more information on the built-in microphones of the iPhone, check out What Kind Of Microphones Are Used In Cell Phones?


Criteria Of A Great External Microphone For The iPhone

Before we get into our top 4 best external iPhone mic, let’s go over some criteria that make up a great iPhone mic:

  • Physical connection: a microphone that can attach to an iPhone with or without a case is a big deal. Does the mic move independently of the iPhone and how well does it stay connected to the phone?
  • Electrical connection: the transfer of audio, whether analog or digital, is critical when connecting an external mic to an iPhone. How reliable is the electrical connection for proper signal flow?
  • Audio quality: Lightning is a digital connector, so these microphones must have analog-to-digital converters. Audio quality is essential at the capsule (analog) level and at the iPhone input (digital) level).
  • Frequency response: choose a microphone with a natural frequency response in order to capture natural sounding clean audio.
  • Durability: choose a microphone that is built well and will last a long time. Chances are the microphone, just like your iPhone, will endure some abuse.
  • Overall functionality: how easy is the mic to use? Does it interfere with the camera(s) of the iPhone? Does it have multiple options to improve versatility? These are all questions to ask ourselves when picking an external mic for our iPhone.

We’ll discuss each of the top 4 external microphones for the iPhone through the lens of the criteria mentioned above.


A Note On iPhone Audio Inputs

Since the iPhone 7, Apple has stopped designing their iPhones with the standard 3.5mm (1/8″) TRRS jack.

Therefore, physically connecting an external microphone to new iPhones is done via the Lightning “charging port” of the iPhone. Alternatively, wireless microphone connection is done via Bluetooth.

So if you’ve got an iPhone 6S or an earlier model, a microphone with a 3.5mm TRRS (CTIA) plug will work. But if you’ve got an iPhone 7 or a later model, you’ll be stuck deciding between a wireless Bluetooth microphone and a hardwired microphone with a Lightning connector.

Fortunately, there are TRRS-F to Lightning-M adapters to convert TRRS to Lightning in order to connect 3.5mm microphones to new iPhone. CHARGEWORX has one with great reviews. I’ll mention two TRRS microphones at the end of this article, but for the main section, we’ll talk about the top 5 mics that can connect directly to new iPhones.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that most “lightning” microphones that are designed to attach to iPhones are designed to do so when the phone is not in a protective case. This is an issue. Personally, I dislike having to take my phone out of its protective case at all but especially when recording with it.


Apogee MiC 96k

The Apogee MiC 96k is a large-diaphragm USB condenser microphone that is capable of outputting up to 96 kHz/24-bit digital audio via its micro-USB output.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mnm_300x300_Apogee_MiC_96k.jpg
ProsCons
Excellent digital audio output specs.No headphone amp for monitoring.
Ease of use.Does not connect directly to iPhone.
Audio quality.

Apogee MiC 96k Professional (link to check the price on Amazon).

The Apogee MiC 96k is a standalone microphone, meaning it does not attach directly to an iPhone. Rather, this mic connects via a Hirose-to-Lightning cable.

This cable allows for excellent digital audio transfer and connects securely to the microphone and iPhone.

As the name suggests, this Apogee microphone outputs digital audio at a sample rate of 96 kHz. The bit-depth of the digital audio is 24-bit. These are excellent specs for digital audio and the Mic 96k’s analog-to-digital converter is incredibly effective at maintaining the quality of audio from the mic capsule to the mic output.

To read more about digital microphones, check out my article Are Microphones Analog Or Digital Devices? (Mic Output Designs).

As for frequency response, Apogee does not include a visual graph nor does it provide a frequency response range. However, this mic sounds fairly natural without any super-obvious peaks or valleys across its response.

The Apogee Mic 96k is both compact and durable. It has a solid all metal construction and is designed to last.

All in all, the Mic 96k is a studio quality USB microphone. It has a clean ADC with a preamp capable of delivering 40dB of gain. Its 19 mm small-diaphragm condenser capsule captures sound in a very natural way and that sound is converted to digital audio all within a small microphone body.

This microphone is great as an iPhone microphone when recording interviews, podcasts, voice overs, and plenty more applications where mic movement is not necessarily required.


Shure MV88

The Shure MV88 is a mid-side stereo condenser microphone capable of outputting up to 24-bit/48 kHz digital audio via Lightning connection.

ProsCons
Mid-side stereo and mono cardioid options.No headphone amp for monitoring.
Adjustable angle.Does not connect properly with protective case.
5 built-in DSP settings in app.
Up to 24-bit/48 kHz digital audio output.

Shure MV88 (link to check the price on Amazon).

The Shure MV88 connects directly to the iPhone via the Lightning connector and sits flush against the bottom of the phone. Unfortunately, this connection means that the mic cannot be connected while the iPhone is in a protective case that adds any layer to the bottom of the mic.

The MV88 has a joint near the bottom so that the mic can be positioned (pointed) along a 180° angle. This makes it easy to point to the microphone in the correct direction when recording video with the front or rear camera or when we’re recording just audio.

As for the digital connection of the Shure MV88, the internal ADC converts the mic’s stereo audio signal into a digital format that is transferred via the Lightning connector. The electrical connection is secure, but only if the microphone is properly attache to the iPhone (meaning the iPhone cannot be in a protective case).

The Shure MV88 design allows for an in-phase clean stereo image and the digital audio specs are at a professional level at 24-bit 48 kHz.

In addition to this, the MV88 comes with its own app (ShurePlus MOTIV App). With the app, we can monitor and record; adjust gain; adjust compression and equalization; and select our polar pattern (stereo, mono cardioid, mono bidirectional, or raw mid-side stereo).

The MV88 has 5 digital signal processing (DSP) settings that offer EQ, compression, and limiting for better results with less processing in post. These DSP settings are labelled as Speech, Singing, Flat, Acoustic Instrument, and Loud.

A frequency range across the entire spectrum of human hearing (20 Hz – 20,000 Hz) means the MV88 will pick up sound similarly to our ears. Shure does not provide a frequency response graph for the MV88, but the microphones sounds pretty clean and accurate. Depending on the DSP mode selected, there will be different boosts and cuts in the EQ/frequency response.

To read more about microphone frequency response, check out my article Complete Guide To Microphone Frequency Response (With Mic Examples).

All in all, the Shure MV88 is pretty durable. When not in use, keep the microphone in its travelling case. The Lighting connector sticks out and could be snapped off if not protected properly. The hinge should also be treated with care, though it’s certainly durable when not abused.

In terms of overall functionality, the Shure MV88 scores pretty highly in my books. It lacks a headphone amp for monitoring and can only connect to an iPhone out of its protective case. However, it makes up for this in increased functionality (5 DSP options; adjustable angles; and a stereo audio signal with professional specs).


Zoom iQ7

The Zoom iQ7 is stereo condenser microphone with XY options at 90° and 120° and a mid-side option. This microphone outputs 44.1kHz/16bit or 48kHz/16bit digital audio via its Lightning output connection.

ProsCons
Mid-side stereo and XY stereo (90° and 120°) options and mono cardioid options.Does not connect properly with protective case.
Up to 24-bit/48 kHz digital audio output.Relatively cheap build quality.
Headphone output for playback and monitoring.

Zoom iQ7 (link to check the price on Amazon).

The Zoom iQ7 is another microphone that connects directly to and sits flush against the iPhone. It connects via the Lightning port and requires the iPhone to be out of its protective case in order for proper connection to take place.

The digital connection is questionable with this microphone and is a common concern for users. Most of the time, these microphones work as designed. However, there have been many complaints made about the iQ7 and its poor connectivity and audio. This is more an issue of quality control by Zoom than anything.

As for digital audio quality, the iQ7 sounds great when it works properly. It captures clean and accurate stereo audio and has a decent quality ADC to output 44.1kHz/16bit or 48kHz/16bit digital audio.

Zoom does not provide the frequency response for its iQ7. It varies depending on the stereo pattern chosen. The actual response sounds a bit bright and brittle, though it is certainly a big step-up from the internal microphone of the iPhone.

Though this microphone is still good (it made this list), there are problems with it. The main issue I have with this mic is its cheap build. The plastic body and switches are not durable. This microphone is not designed very well for the regular wear and tear of a mic, though it does work very well when taken special care of. If you plan on doing run-and-gun and/or outdoor recording, this mic may not be for you!

All in all, the iQ7 is very functional (when it functions!). It has a headphone output for monitoring, which is awesome. It can also be altered 90° about its base to better suit audio-only recording or audio/video recording.

The mic also features 3 stereo options (mid-side; XY 90°, and XY 120°). These are common coincident pair stereo techniques and will greatly improve the realism in your iPhone recordings over the internal [mono] microphones.

For more information on stereo microphones, please consider reading the My New Microphone articles titled Do Microphones Output Mono Or Stereo Signals? and Top 8 Best Stereo Miking Techniques (With Recommended Mics).


Boya DM-1 Lightning

The Boya DM-1 is a miniature hardwired lavalier microphone. It outputs 24-bit / 48 kHz digital audio via its Lighting output.

ProsCons
Ease of use.No headphone amp for monitoring.
Long cable (236").Cheap design.
Small microphone size.

Boya DM-1 Lightning (link to check the price on Amazon).

The BY-DM1 is a wired lavalier mic, so it connects directly to the iPhone via the Lightning connector at the end of the cable. The cable is a whopping 236″ (19’8″) long, which provides more than enough length for most iPhone filming applications.

For more info on lavalier mics, check out How And Where To Attach A Lavalier/Lapel Microphone.

The ADC (fitted within the larger cylinder in this mic design) converts the analog audio from the microphone to digital audio at 24 bit/48 kHz. As for the actual Lightning connection, the DM1 connects effectively and can connect while the iPhone is in its protective case.

This omnidirectional mic has a frequency response between 30 Hz – 20 kHz. It clips directly to the speaker, interview, etc. and sound natural and clean. Like any lavalier microphone, ensure the mic is not rubbing against the speaker or his/her clothing, which can cause unwanted noise in the mic signal.

This microphone is durable enough and should survive regular wear and tear. Obviously we do not want to do anything that could potential break the microphone, but some physicality is bound to happen. The BY-DM1 should be able to hand that without issue.

As for the overall functionality, the Boya BY-DM1 may not be as versatile as the above mentioned microphones. However, any time we need to mic up a person, this mic works wonders. This is especially true when we need the microphone to be inconspicuous in the video frame.


Notable Mention For Bluetooth Connection

Earlier, we discussed new iPhone and the limited options we have for connecting a microphone. We’ve already discussed the physical connection of the Lightning port. Now let’s talk about the other common method: bluetooth.

It’s important to note that bluetooth audio is, by default, more compressed than other wireless formats. This does have an effect on the audio, but for vlogging and iPhone recording, the bluetooth technology itself shouldn’t overly degrade the audio.

If there’s one mic that can connect directly to the iPhone via bluetooth without the need for a separate receiver (and therefore a physical connection between receiver and iPhone), it’s the Hey Mic!

Hey Mic!

The Hey Mic is a compact wireless clip-on microphone that transmits its audio signals via bluetooth (2.4GHz-2.48GHz).

ProsCons
Easy to use (with proper app).Relatively poor audio quality.
Bluetooth wireless with no physical connection to iPhone.Only works with the app.

Hey Mic! (link to check the price on Amazon).

If you’re looking for a wireless microphone that does not connect to the iPhone via the Lightning port, the bluetooth Hey Mic! is an option worth considering.

Note that this microphone requires its own software app in order to function properly and has issues being used with other apps, such as Facebook and Youtube Live.

The audio quality honestly isn’t great in the Hey Mic! and I would opt for a wired microphone over this mic (such as the 4 mics mentioned above). However, if bluetooth wireless connection is a priority, check out the Hey Mic!


Notable Mentions For Older iPhone Models

Rode smartLav+

The Rode smartLav+ is a miniature electret condenser lavalier/body microphone. It is wired and connects to the iPhone via TRRS (CTIA standard). This means that, unfortunately, it will not connect to the iPhone that do not have a headphone jack (7, 7 Plus, 8, 8 Plus, X).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mnm_300x300_Rode_smartLav.jpg

Rode smartLav+ (link to check the price on Amazon).

The Rode smartLav+ is an excellent little lavalier microphone and outperforms the aforementioned Boya BY-DM1 in terms of audio quality and durability (though its cable is much shorter).

The obvious reason this microphone did not make the main list is because it does not have a Lightning output. That being said, the smartLav+ can easily be adapted to connect to a newer version of the iPhone. My 3.5 mm to Lightning adapter is made by chargeworx (link to check the price on Amazon).

IK Multimedia iRig Mic Cast

The IK Multimedia iRig Mic Cast is an electret condenser microphone with options of both omnidirectional and cardioid polar patterns. It connects directly to older models of the iPhone and outputs analog audio via its 3.5mm TRRS plug.

IK Multimedia iRig Mic Cast (link to check the price on Amazon).

The IK Multimedia iRig Mic Cast is another versatile microphone that directly attached to the headphone jack of certain smartphone models.

It features a Hi and Low gain setting; omnidirectional and cardioid polar pattern options; and sounds clean.

All that being said, it doesn’t connect directly to new iPhone models because it doesn’t have a Lightning connector. Unlike the Rode smartLav+, it’s not even practical to adapt the iRig Mic Cast to a lightning connector since it’s designed to attach to the smartphone.

So, if you have a pre-iPhone 7 model, this mic works great. If you have a new iPhone, I wouldn’t recommend this mic at all (though it could absolutely be adapted).

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