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There has been a longstanding balancing act when it comes to smartphone audio quality, with creators often finding themselves trading off between quality and convenience. But this needn't be the case.
Improving your smartphone audio isn’t as complicated as you might think. In fact, with just a microphone and a little technical know-how, you can get professional-level sound without sacrificing convenience.
The RØDE Vlogger Kit (USB-C edition) in action
Whether you’re a filmmaker, content creator, podcaster or streamer, there are a few key things to consider when looking to improve audio on your smartphone, depending on your recording scenario.
Below we'll cover the importance of capturing high-quality smartphone audio, things to think about when recording, and break down the main types of microphones you can use with your smartphone and the appropriate scenarios in which to use them.
Before we dive in further, we must understand why it’s important to capture quality audio in the first place and the difference it can make to your content.
When talking about non-visual media such as podcasts, interviews or speeches, audio is everything. If you're recording with poor audio quality, you're already facing an uphill battle to keep your listeners engaged by diverting the attention away from what's actually important – your content!
It’s also very easy to downplay the importance of audio in video by falling into the mindset that visual content is the core and crux of a video, with everything else merely being a supporting element. This couldn’t be further from the truth – audio plays a much larger role in visual content than you might think.
Audio in video brings experiences to life – it evokes emotional responses, emphasises and depicts feelings and moods, and most importantly, it keeps audiences engaged. Imagine if your favourite film of all time had poor or low-quality audio – would the viewing experience still be the same, or would it still be your favourite film?
While your smartphone’s in-built microphone is convenient, the audio quality that it's capable of recording leaves much to be desired. In an era where the quality of content is at an all-time high, lacklustre audio will be sounded out from miles away.
The powerful RØDE VideoMic NTG connected to a smartphone
The single best way to improve smartphone audio is by using an external microphone. By using an external mic, you are utilising a device whose dedicated function is to capture high-quality audio and is far more capable of doing so than even the most advanced smartphones (there are myriad reasons why an external microphone is superior to your phone's in-built mic, but we won't go into them here).
Connecting an external microphone to your smartphone is easy. Simply plug one into its 3.5mm mini-jack (if your smartphone has one) or its USB-C or Lightning port and your phone will automatically use this as the default microphone.
You can find out more on how to connect a microphone to your specific smartphone or mobile device here.
It’s important to understand your particular recording scenario and potential factors that may affect your audio. Will you be recording outdoors where you may be exposed to windy conditions? Or are you going to record in an echoey room that may affect the clarity of your recording?
Ultimately, you wouldn't want a great recording to be ruined by things that are within your control. Here are some key considerations when recording:
When looking for a space to record indoors, you ideally want a room that contains as few reflective surfaces as possible. Examples of these include large glass windows, floorboards and untreated walls, all of which will contribute to audio reflections that may be picked up in your recording, creating a generally unpleasant sound.
If possible, record in a carpeted room and/or one with plenty of objects that can help absorb sound rather than reflect it, such as rugs, mats, couches and bookshelves. This will help you achieve a cleaner recording.
When recording outside, keep your ears peeled for any sound sources that might contribute to unwanted ambient noise in your recording, such as traffic or birds chirping. If possible, distance yourself from these sounds.
Wind is another factor that may affect your audio. If possible, avoid recording in windy environments. You can also help tame the elements by using a foam or furry windshield on your microphone, keeping your recordings clean and uninterrupted.
The Vlogger Kit iOS edition in use outdoors
Monitoring Your Audio
"Monitoring" your microphone's audio simply means listening to it in real-time through headphones. This allows you to adjust your settings to ensure that your recording is the best it can be.
We highly recommend always having a pair of headphones handy when recording to monitor your audio. Even a pair of earbuds will do just fine!
With the majority of smartphones ditching 3.5mm headphone ports, it’s important to use a microphone or device that has a headphone output so you can monitor your audio. The RØDE AI-Micro allows you to connect two 3.5mm microphones and a pair of headphones to a smartphone, giving you the ability to easily record and monitor your audio with crystal clarity. Microphones such as the VideoMic NTG and VideoMic Me series also have a headphone output for this purpose.
Correct microphone placement is a very important factor for capturing clean, clear audio. Do some tests before recording to find the ideal position and distance for your microphone that is comfortable and unobtrusive. The optimal placement and position will differ depending on the type of microphone you're using, which is covered in more detail below.
Finally, it’s important to take time to monitor and adjust your recording levels before getting started. Recording with an input level that is too high for your device will result in distorted audio, which cannot be rectified after recording.
Ideally, use a recording app that has a level meter so you can easily see where your recording level is sitting and make adjustments if necessary. Your recording app will most likely have some kind of indicator that tells you where the optimal recording level is, but in general, around the 75% mark of the meter is a good place to aim for.
Choosing the right type of microphone for your recording situation is critical for capturing the best audio possible. There are many different types of microphones to choose from, so let’s go through some of the common types that are compatible with smartphones and the appropriate situations in which to use them.
What are they? As the name suggests, directional microphones are those that are more sensitive to sound from a particular direction, while reducing sound from other directions. Microphones with cardioid, supercardioid and hypercardioid polar patterns are all directional microphones, which pick up more sound from in front, while minimising sound from the sides.
When should I use them? Directional microphones are great for scenarios where it’s important to isolate individual sound sources and minimise any external background noise, such as filmmaking, vlogging, livestreaming or interview/video calls.
Examples of directional microphones: The RØDE VideoMic Me series are super-compact directional microphones that plugs directly into the USB-C (VideoMic Me-C), Lightning (VideoMic Me-L) or 3.5mm port (VideoMic Me) on a smartphone, giving you quick and easy access to great sounding directional audio on the go.
The VideoMic Me mics are also found in the Vlogger Kit alongside the SmartGrip, Tripod 2 and MicroLED, which are handy accessories that provide a complete mobile recording setup that is perfect for mobile filmmakers, vloggers, TikTokers or even important work calls from home or abroad.
The VideoMic NTG is the perfect option if you're looking for a very high-quality microphone that you can use with a camera or computer as well as a smartphone. It's loaded with handy features to help you adapt to any recording situation, including a pad, high-pass filter, high-frequency boost and more.
You can connect it to your smartphone with the correct cable for your device – the SC15 for iPhones with a Lightning port or the SC16 for phones with a USB-C port (sold separately). Unlike the VideoMic Me, the VideoMic NTG has a shockmount, so you will need either a tripod (like the Tripod 2) or a phone case with a cold shoe in order to mount the microphone.
The powerful VideoMic NTG connected to a smartphone
What are they? Also known as lapel mics or clip-on mics, lavalier microphones are small, wired microphones that are a discreet and unobtrusive solution for recording dialogue. They usually have a 3.5mm TRS or TRRS connection and are mounted onto clothing with a small clip.
When should I use them? Lavalier microphones are ideal for scenarios that require a discreet solution for recording dialogue, such as filmmaking, vlogging, reporting to camera or recording an interview. One of the main advantages of using lavalier microphones is that they can be positioned close to the mouth while remaining out of sight. They generally feature an omnidirectional polar pattern for picking up sounds from all directions, giving you consistent audio wherever you decide to mount it.
How to connect a lavalier microphone to a smartphone – Connecting and using a lavalier microphone with a smartphone is easy with the AI-Micro. This is a compact interface that allows you to plug in any two 3.5mm microphones (like a lavalier), as well as a pair of headphones, making it perfect for mobile interviews, podcasts or two-person vlogs.
The Lavalier II plugged into the AI-Micro, which is connected to a smartphone
What are they? A wireless microphone is exactly what it sounds like – a microphone system without a physical cable that sends the audio signal wirelessly to a receiver via a transmitter. The receiver connects to the recording device, such as a smartphone or computer.
When should I use them? – Wireless microphones are great for a wide range of film and audio purposes that require an unrestricted, cable-free recording solution, including mobile filmmaking and podcasting, interviews, presentations or video calls, and many more.
Examples of wireless microphones – The Wireless GO II is a great example of a wireless microphone system that allows you to record high-quality audio on a smartphone while maintaining freedom of movement when recording. Each kit comes with a wireless receiver and two transmitters that feature an in-built microphone, meaning you can just clip it on and start recording. It also has a 3.5mm jack for plugging in a lavalier microphone.
It’s easy to connect the Wireless GO II to a smartphone via its universal USB output, which plus directly into the USB-C or Lightning port on your iPhone or Android smartphone (SC15 or SC16 cable required). You also can configure the Wireless GO II via the RØDE Central Mobile app, which gives you access to even more features and functionality adjusting the gain setting, activating the safety channel for stress-free recording and more. The Wireless GO II can also be transformed into a compact handheld microphone with the Interview GO kit for reporting-to-camera or interviewing in the field.
The Wireless GO II connected to a smartphone and mounted on the Tripod 2
What are they? – Stereo microphones utilise two separate capsules to record two tracks of audio at the same time, giving you a wider, more immersive sound field than mono microphones. They are great for capturing the depth of a sound source and essentially work by replicating how our ears hear sound in real life.
When should I use them? – Stereo microphones are great for situations where you want to enhance the sense of realism in your audio, such as recording live music performances or filming outdoors in nature.
Examples of stereo microphones – The Stereo VideoMic Pro or Stereo VideoMic X are examples of high-quality stereo microphones that are great for recording live music or outdoor ambience. To connect a stereo microphone to your smartphone, you will need an AI-Micro, which can be configured to accept stereo signals.
There are plenty of practical options to help you improve your smartphone audio depending on your recording scenario or situation. The great news is that it's now easier than ever to record amazing audio with gear that will fit in your pocket or your backpack.
Choosing your microphone and other equipment carefully based on your intended use, and making sure to pay attention to factors like your environment, recording levels and mic placement will ensure that you're always sounding like a pro.