Microphone Alternatives for the iPhone

In this article I test several microphones for use with an iPhone 6 with applications like FaceTime, Skype and Google Hangouts. The basic workflow is the same. I connected the microhones to my iPhone 6, then opened a Google Hangouts chat with my MacBook Pro, then captured the audio using Camtasia. These audio files will sound worse than the audio files in my article Choosing a Microphone for Webinars because I recorded those files directly into Adobe Audition. Since the files tested here were compressed by Google Hangouts and transmitted to another computer for capture, there is some quality loss and some dropout. 

You’ll get the most out of these comparisons using headphones. Note that it might take a few seconds for all the audio files to load. This page uses QuickTime, which Google Chrome has decided is the digital equivalent of some rare tropical disease. I found Safari the best browser for playing these files. 

iphone6.jpg

   This is the microphone on the iPhone 6 recorded from normal FaceTime distance of about 18 inches. Audio isn’t terrible, but you can hear the faint echo-y sound you get with microphones that far away from your mouth. The volume is also a bit faint. 

headset.jpg

This is the microphone on the headset that ships with the iPhone; I had to borrow this back from my daughter. Sound quality is actually pretty good, about the loudest of all tested solutions, and very natural. Because you’re using a headset, you avoid any potential feedback problem. Not bad for a free solution. 

plantronics.jpg

This is the Plantronics M50 (~$30) Bluetooth headset. The audio definitely sounds processed, but it’s crisp and clear. Again, there’s no risk of feedback because the microphone never hears that audio. 

atr3350_sm.jpg

This is the Audio-Technica ATR3350 lavaliere microphone recorded via a microphone adapter cable. The audio is a bit faint, but quite clear. 

I bought this microphone before Audio-Technica started offering it with an iPhone adapter (the device atop the image on the left) and bought an adapter cable for my tests. The adapter cable worked fine, but didn’t have a headphone jack so is unusable for conferencing. If you have the ATR3350, note that it will not work without an adapter. 

444c.jpeg

 

This is the AKG-C444 condenser headset microphone, which costaround $170 when new but is no longer sold. I’m driving it with an IK Multimedia iRig PRE which costs $34 at Amazon. 

This was not a match made in heaven. The audio sounds distorted and there was lots of dropout. Not a solution that I would recommend. 

sm93.jpeg

 

This is the Shure SM93 (about $150), a condenser lavaliere microphone also driven with the IK Multimedia iRig PRE which costs $34 at Amazon. Sound quality was quite good, with none of the distortion and dropout experienced with the AKG head worn microphone. 

The iRig comes with a headphone jack so you can plug in a headset or ear buds to listen in. Not a bad solution, but certainly the most expensive and ungainly, and the audio quality isn’t that much better than several cheaper solutions. 

After multiple listens, I have several conclusions. First, FaceTime will work best if you don’t use the embedded microphone. The included headset with microphone is a good solution, and my next favorite is the ATR3350, though you might have to speak up a bit to get heard. Make sure you buy the version with the iPhone adapter, it won’t work without it. 

The Plantronic headset is certainly superior to the iPhone’s embedded microphone, and I’m guessing most other Bluetooth headsets are as well. So, if you have a headset, I wouldn’t buy the ATR3350. 

The IK iRig was slightly disappointing to me; while inexpensive, I was expecting better quality. I’m sure it works great recording directly into the iPhone, but when using Google Hangouts, the audio compression really degraded audio quality so it wasn’t substantially better than the other alternatives. 

About Jan Ozer

I help companies train new technical hires in streaming media-related positions; I also help companies optimize their codec selections and encoding stacks, and evaluate new encoders and codecs.

Check Also

Tuning for Metrics: What About VMAF and VP9?

If you’re comparing codecs with video quality metrics, you should consider tuning for that metric. …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *